Deja View Master

The Déjà View Master is an interactive video installation for situations where people and their attention wander over the course of an evening. The audience uses a clock-like wooden controller to rewind surveillance video back from a live feed to some-time-before.

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There are two parts: a surveillance camera and TV monitor, recording video on a Mac running a Max/Jitter patch, and a wireless wooden controller sending position data to the computer, to move the playhead.

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Recording and Playing

The Max/Jitter patch takes video from a USB webcam and writes the camera feed to a hard drive as matrix files (.jxf), one per frame, while simultaneously reading them back for display on an external monitor (via a cheap VGA to RCA adapter). The files are numbered serially, overwriting the earlier files once a limit (time or drive space) is reached.

This is basically just doing what a DVR does, although it took a bit of figuring to get it running on an updating loop in Max.

The current frame (“now”) is set by a counter which resets at the maximum frame count. When the controller is set to display “now,” the live feed is actually reading the “now”-1 frame. As you dial the controller backward, it subtracts an appropriate number of frames from the current record frame, rolling backward through zero, until the earliest point of the recording is reached at “now”+1.

I added a video effect which becomes more visible the farther back in time you go — initially it was a feedback loop which caused motion blur, but I finally went with more visible and less processor-intensive black-and-white, with increased brightness and contrast. I’d still like to add a blur or luma increase during scrubbing, independent of distance from present, but that’s for a future version.

The matrix files recorded to a solid state USB 3 hard drive. I also added a rotate 180 degrees function (jit.rota) for when the incoming webcam is clamped upside down to the ceiling.

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Controlling

The controller is the fun part. It’s a wooden box resembling a clock, with a wooden hand which controls the playback.

The design was inspired by the Pimoroni Timber Raspberry Pi enclosure, using stacks of laser cut wood. I used 1/8″ ply, which ended up taking close to an hour of laser time. It turned out well, but I might go for a different approach next time.

The face and back are 1/32″ veneer finished with Briwax, which allow two hidden LEDs to shine through (“now” and “before” indicators).

The clock hand is attached to a linear 10k potentiometer, which is wired to a Teensy 3.0 development board running standard Arduino code (take a look at the code here), powered by an 850 Ah lipo battery (it’s a 3.3V system). The Teensy sends serial data to the Max patch via a pair of XBee radios; the receiver XBee is attached to the recording computer with an FTDI cable and XBee adapter kit. The whole thing is mounted on an Adafruit perma-proto board.

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George Del Barrio invited me to premiere the Déjà View Master at Vanderbilt Republic’s 2013 Art From The Heart photography show and event, curated by Renwick Heronimo. I had it set on a 70-minute loop, with the camera clamped to the ceiling, and monitor behind a transparent corrugated wall.

I may experiment with other controllers in future versions. The original idea was to use the position of a beer on a bar as the playhead, but I could see that ending with spillage. The wooden controller is pretty intuitive, as long as it’s obviously associated with the monitor. Another alternative to the current design is to use a radial encoder, so the hand can keep spinning as you wind through time.

Also check out the Photographic Monument that I programmed with Mark Kleback for the show.

[UPDATE 3/23/14: The Déjà View Master has evolved into Azimuth for the “Being and Time” art show.]

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