Company Post

Cyber Samurai LIMB Seeks Worthy Master


Shiny robots and samurais of lore come together whimsically in LIMB an audiovisual installation that uses a robotic arm, lights and sounds to pay homage to the art of swordsmanship. Conceived of by St Petersburg-based collective TRIBE as the prosthetic arm of a giant cyber samurai on the hunt for a worthy master, this time and realm-crossing union is as convincing as it is strange. We spoke to TRIBE about their potentially dangerous but ultimately rewarding experience bringing this sword-wielding techno-samurai to life and how TouchDesigner fits into their workflow. 

The Installation's "Cast"

Taking their inspiration from ancient swordsmanship and mass-culture characters like Samurai Jack and Star Wars' Darth Maul TRIBE cast the robotic arm as the installation's protagonist. "Without a weapon it was an ordinary robot with some weird moves." TRIBE tells us. "As we gave it a tool - the LED sword - it gained purpose, becoming dangerous and meaningful.
From that moment we had to think twice while programming each move!
The LED PAR (Parabolic Anodized Reflector) light the robot in certain moments, creating tension and placing accents and emphasis and the fog machine creates atmosphere, making the lighting visible and giving it physicality."

Connection Scheme

Derivative: Can you give us a rundown of how this was put together technically?

TRIBE: Everything was controlled via TouchDesigner.  While there's no secret to controlling DMX devices with TouchDesigner, the robot stuff remains a bit of a black art. Mysterious. In this installation, the robot controller receives messages via UDP protocol, parses them and sends the data to the robot. The UDP message is a sequence of coordinates of each joint position. 
We handled all joints as time-sliced channels in CHOPs. Simple Python script translated these channels into the string which was sent to the robot controller via UDP. This method works for the Hyundai robot and it is not considered as "true" real-time, nevertheless it worked for our purposes.
To make it "true" real-time you need to pass the brains of the controller, which can be dangerous considering that we had a weapon attached to it!  
You can move slider, and it moves along with it with ~300ms delay and it can stagger on super fast movements, though the owner of robot told us that if we dig into its brains deeper, we can achieve true real-time without delays and staggering, but it can be very dangerous in our case with LED bar attached to it, so we decided not to take such risks and delayed the light content

Derivative: Any challenges or anything new you encountered in the process of realizing LIMB? And we always like to know what things in TouchDesigner you would like to see to make it all easier..?

TRIBE: We consider TouchDesigner to be a perfect masterpiece, the quintessence of all softwares. We use it in every project for veeeeeery wide range of tasks. Our programmer Sasha Koggio has established a kind of mental connection with TouchDesigner and it seems like he can do anything with it. He has deep knowledge of TD, so everything always goes smoothly, LIMB wasn't an exception.

It usually happens like this: There's a task > "Hold my beer" > Sasha opens TD > few minutes later > boom > ready!

So we can't even think what could be done better, because we haven't reached the bottleneck of TouchDesigner's capabilities even once so far. We mostly are using it for GLSL, controls, data processing, programming the lights, generative 2d graphics, and interactive stuff.

Derivative: Looking to the future, or past for that matter, are there any other projects you would like to highlight?

TRIBE: We created an epic project for the Interactive Museum at Olympic University in Sochi, Russia. It's an exhibition dedicated to the history of the Olympic Games. The space is 150 square meters with 75 mapped projectors and in at are two big installations which set the tone to all the exhibitions. 

"River of Time" is a projection surface that runs along the perimeter of entire room. Mapped with 30 projectors it cooks in real-time in TouchDesigner on 5 servers with the full resolution of the real-time imagery at approximately 40000x1080 px. The concept is that a lot of photos flow as if in a river through the whole room and visitors to the exhibition can follow its path the whole way along.

Columns were designed as decorative separators between screens that adjust their color to match the nearest area of the River of Time installation.

We also created 6 interactive installations with the Kinect that present the history of the Olympic Games and in honor of the Games, we mapped a sculpture of Zeus with 3 projectors!  Everything was of course made with TouchDesigner. 

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