Pixels Nervosos Transforms A São Paulo Eyesore With Playful Projection Mapping

Like many cityscapes around the world, São Paulo’s concrete structures evolved over time, through construction, demolition, and rebuilding, occasionally leaving behind a relic, an anomalous feature that stands out as an oddity. It was such a structure that piqued the interest of local designer Alberto Zanella, who peered out of his girlfriend’s apartment at the adjacent building, whose facade featured a large, unkempt wall fitted with a door floating high up and leading to nowhere. Rather than an urban eyesore, Zanella saw it as a canvas.

The wall inspired Zanella to create Pixels Nervosos (“Nervous Pixels”), a sequence of dynamic graffiti projected onto the wall, utilizing its door as a point of entry and exit for the animations. Using 3DS Max and After Effects, Zanella created a VJ set with 120 video loops which he can control remotely via iPad or iPhone. Then he invited friends to join the party, giving them the chance to control the projection.

Wanting to know more about his inspiration for Pixels Nervosos, we spoke with Zanella about the project.

The Creators Project: Where did the idea for Pixels Nervosos come from?
Alberto Zanella:
A year ago, my girlfriend projected some things on this wall, just as an experiment. That planted the idea of producing content exclusively for this wall, thus starting the project. The Pixels Nervosos project is a little different from the idea of video mapping onto icons of architecture and huge classic façades, but it’s more about looking for details in the city, places no one pays attention to. This project is a way of giving personality, and driving attention to abandoned, forgotten places that are near expensive, sophisticated venues, or maybe even great São Paulo landmarks. For example, if you look at the upper left part of the video, you’ll see a major Brazilian financial institution’s clock tower building.

How did you choose the place for this installation? Was there something appealing about it besides the unkempt wall?
I believe the wall chose us [laughs]. It’s facing my girlfriend’s apartment balcony in this supposedly cool neighborhood in São Paulo. An unfinished wall, with a door from nothing to nowhere and signs of water infiltration, which was just there waiting for us to take aesthetic advantage of it.

What were the techniques and equipment used to develop the images and project them?
I started out by taking photos of the wall with a Canon 5D. Then I used those pictures as reference to make a 3D model of the wall, the stairs, and the door, with all its elements, lock, screws, and doorjamb, everything using 3DS Max. I produced animations where the door opens or falls apart and smiley faces come out of it, and the metaballs from the 3DS Max. I also used After Effects for the 2D animations and the post-production. All that material was imported to GrandVJ, which was the platform used to play the animations. As for the wall mapping, it was actually fairly simple—I just worked with keystone adjustment. The projector was hidden in the balcony garden.

How did the interactive part work, where people who attended would choose what was going to be projected?
I created a simple layout, a grid with 12×10 buttons on an iPad using TouchOSC. Each of those 120 iPad buttons would shoot a different video. The iPad was passed around to guests at the party. The interesting thing was that the buttons didn’t have any identification whatsoever, so it was always a surprise, a different experience for each button. I produced ten specific animations for this wall, and I also used video loops created by myself previously, when was VJing. That material was used as a mask on GrandVJ to limit the projection area.

You talk about this project as though it is graffiti, even though it’s digital, and digital works are largely ephemeral. Do you believe it has the same impact as graffiti made using paint?
I believe there’s no difference between the impact of this projection and that of graffiti. The message doesn’t depend on the medium, whether it’s light or paint, it’s got to have content. To me what really matters is sharing ideas. Everything else—graffiti, projection, walls, ourselves—it’s all ephemeral.