In 2007, Ricardo Rivera, one of the pioneers in innovative video design and lead at Klip Collective in Philadelphia, did what many regard as the unthinkable. He patented projection mapping.
Lest you think Rivera doesn’t have the cred to take ownership over the technique of video mapping, in the late 90’s he was experimenting with rudimentary projection mapping with a projector, a laptop, Photoshop and After Effects 1.0. He tapped into the projector with Photoshop full screen, drew a mask, imported that into After Effects, made some layered images, imported it into another editing system, laid it out to VHS and then played it back.
Though the earliest known instance of projection mapping dates back to 1969, projection mapping playback on VHS is still pretty impressive.
“I’m fuckin’ old school,” says Rivera. “I was entrenched doing visuals at raves, and doing lighting for Nic.”
“Nic” is Pier Nicola D’Amico, Rivera’s partner in Klip Collective. It was at those the early lighting gigs with Nic that Rivera says he learned to respect the marriage of commerce and art. One night, just for fun, he mapped out the kitchenette in his small apartment. He threw spinning fruit onto the cabinets and dropped in water onto the ceiling. Nic encouraged him, and less than a month later, the two friends launched Klip.
“I made up the word ‘video mapping,’” says Rivera.
He had lawyers advise him that he could patent it. So, he wrote it up, and was awarded the patent for the act of plugging in a computer through a projector and physically drawing out through the projector live.
Then, he made the mistake of tweeting about his patent and was inundated with people outraged that someone would try to take ownership over a form of art. According to Rivera, he thinks the community is lucky he owns the patent and not a large company, like Phillips.
If he can get the right capital, he would love to commodify the tech to, as he puts it, “liberate the medium.” He would build an off-the-shelf system so people can map their own homes. Then, they could go to an online store where they could purchase works of video mapping art. Projection mapping artists would have a place to sell their art. That is one of the frustrations with most art people enjoy, especially tech art: you can’t take home pieces from the museum.
Earlier this year, Rivera made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival with his projection mapped short narrative, What's He Doing in There?, inspired by the Tom Waits song of the same title. Rivera and Klip Collective transformed the front facade of the Sundance New Frontier venue into a 3D, projection-mapped parable. This Kafkaesque, existential mixture of live action and animation was phenomenal. On the surface, the building looks like the outside of a factory, but throughout the film, walls dissolve away and windows slide open, showing the never-ending toil of a solitary worker building…something.
What’s He Doing in There, 2013 – Sundance Film Festival, New Frontier
"I think it is a privilege to be an artist in America," says Rivera. And he knows that, to make a living as an artist in America, you must often create work for large corporations like SyFy and Nike. But this year's visit to Sundance made him remember his roots. He wants to build more intricate narratives with projection mapping.
This year wasn’t Rivera’s first time at the Sundance rodeo, Rivera first created work in Park City in 2007, the inaugural year for Sundance's New Frontier program.
“It was such an amazing experience,” says Rivera. “It almost changed my life in a weird way. It gave me a place to show my work. I don’t really have a place to show my work.”
Last year, when Shari Frilot, who curates the New Frontier program, approached him about creating a piece for the 2013 festival, Rivera agreed without hesitation because he knew he would get the artistic freedom he enjoys. When Rivera hit technical hurdles he couldn't clear, Frilot encouraged him not to worry about adding interactive elements that were perhaps superfluous. Her advice: focus on the narrative.
"I don't want to put something out there that has a big flaw in it,” says Rivera about showing work that doesn’t fully function. “That's all they will see. You're only as good as the weakest piece in your portfolio."
This fall, Rivera hopes to return to the New Frontier Lab in Utah to start his new project, Vacant America, a video projection mapped documentary. It will explore the current state of property and its future. The canvas for the video mapping are the abandoned spaces themselves – farms, factories, strip malls, public and private housing, and gas stations. Rivera plans to bring these abandoned spaces back to life by sharing glimpses of their past. It’s a project he and his wife, a former city planner, imagined years ago, before Klip Collective existed.
"I really want this to be my way of giving back. So many corporate projects, this can raise awareness to an important issue."