A Giant Heart

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Thu, 11/12/2009 - 19:00 -- Nick Dager

Creative design house 7thSense has supplied four of its Delta media servers to the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago for the new Giant Heart within the You: The Experience exhibit which opened last month. A state-of-the-art AV installation using multiple projectors the project imposed a unique set of technological demands which obliged 7thSense to develop and customize Delta in very specific ways. The largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s You: The Experience located in the Museum’s Abbott Hall is one of the first and most comprehensive exhibitions that showcase the connection between the human mind body and spirit in the 21st century.  The 15 000-square-foot exhibit provides a fascinating hands-on opportunity to explore and optimize your personal health fitness and wellbeing.  The 13-foot-tall Giant Heart is a focal point of the exhibit and allows guests to see different interior and exterior views of this amazing virtual organ—and it can even beat in time with guest’s own pulse. One of the major technological and architectural achievements in this project was the steel Xurf developed by Milgo / Lalvani and created by custom fabricator of architectural metal Milgo/Bufkin which is based in Brooklyn New York.   Tom Hennes principal of the New York-based firm Thinc Design conceived the strategy for the design and production of the Museum’s more than 13-foot-tall Giant Heart. AV systems integration was carried out by BBI Inc.  Scientific animation specialist firm Xvivo produced computer-generated 3D animated media for the Giant Heart. Across the front of the Giant Heart is a large steel surface which has a seamless moving image projected onto it by two F12 and three F22 high-resolution projectors from Norway’s projectiondesign.  Behind this surface and invisible in normal operation is a two-channel rear-projection screen also powered by projectiondesign F22 projectors which can show the internal workings of the human heart.  A soft central image mask within the external projection surface can be faded up to make the internal rear-projection visible. Ian Macpherson co-founder and director at 7thSense says “For this project we used four Delta servers configured in Mesh Mode into which a custom 3D mesh and movie texture from XVIVO is read and can be placed in 3D space exactly where the physical mesh is located in the real world.  Virtual projectors are placed around the mesh where the real projectors are located and the resultant output from the multiple PC cluster is geometrically matched to the real world so that little additional distortion correction is required.  The Delta outputs are soft-edge blended to bring the projected images into a single seamless image.” The guest using a touch screen console programmed by BBI can select a series of four different movies for the external projection surface.  These are a default general anatomical view blood vessel highlighting and a special 10-second infarction movie to show what happens during a heart attack.  Complementing these are four additional sequences for the internal rear-projection screen namely default internal structures blood flow visualization valves in operation and electrical activity. “Because any of these movies can be selected at any time we engineered a flexible sequence control mechanism which can swap out movies without pausing ” says Macpherson.  “Since we are serving a 2200 x 4000 movie from each PC this is not a simple requirement but by creating an innovative mechanism of swapping from high-resolution via a low-resolution version we allow the visitor to see a ‘smooth fade’ from one movie to another without pausing.” For the real-time mask control that allows guests to fade the external view down at the same time as the internal view fades up 7thSense added a dynamic transparency feature to Delta. This enables the guests to use a simple slider control to adjust the level of the internal view relative to the external one. Another key element of the Giant Heart – and perhaps its single most compelling feature – is its ability to synchronize its beat with that of the guest so that the audio and video of the pre-programmed movies are matched to the visitor’s heart rate as read into the system via two handgrips on the touch console.  This amazing interface between a guest and the Giant Heart was made possible by BBI and Chicago-based leading fitness manufacturer and pulse capture interface company LifeFitness. For 7thSense this posed yet another technological challenge. Macpherson says “Delta was designed as a fixed-rate movie server but for this project we added the ability to send in a simple external control command which alters the playback rate to the incoming demand immediately.  Not only does this keep the audio in sync with the video it corrects its pitch in real time so that the sound itself is not altered as the tempo changes.” BBI proprietor Mark Roos says “7thSense technology is extremely capable to begin with but for this project the company really went the extra mile – adding unique features to Delta assisting with the on-site integration and alignment and generally making themselves available whenever we needed them.  To pull off a project such as the Giant Heart with its multiple channels of seamless projection and synchronized Dolby 5.1 surround audio is never an easy task.  Having partners such as 7thSense just helps everything run that little bit smoother.” Photo: JB Spector Museum of Science Industry