A pioneering digital project by UBC Journalism’s Charles Berret is being showcased at SIGGRAPH 2019, one of the world’s largest gatherings of researchers, artists and practitioners of computer graphics and interactive technologies.
Berret collaborated on a series of 3D-printed sculptures called Knowing Together, which are on display in the conference art gallery in Los Angeles, CA. It was selected as one of five finalists for best in show out of more than 200 submissions in total.
Knowing Together is a collaboration with Rosalie Yu, a creative technologist at Columbia University’s Brown Institute for Media Innovation, where Berret served as a research fellow and earned his Ph.D. before he arrived at UBC.
Beyond his work in the creative use of emerging media technologies, Berret’s research has also examined data-driven storytelling, digital typography and tools journalists use to protect sources.
Yu’s artistic practice centers on developing new approaches to digital archiving through innovative 3D scanning and printing techniques.
In early 2018, Yu received a grant to design a workshop in which 35 participants learned photogrammetry and collaboratively produced images of each other. The resulting images were stitched together into 3D models, with distortions between each participant’s images preserved as intentional noise in the final models.
According to Berret and Yu, the creation process of the image suggests a new approach to photogrammetry that pushes beyond conventional photorealism.
Yu then developed a novel 3D printing technique to create sculptures using the negative space around the collaboratively-produced images. This technique circumvented the intended use of the 3D printer, creating an entirely new sculptural form at the cost of breaking the machine at least six times over the two-month creation process.
The project is called Knowing Together because it’s about the ways disaggregated knowledge or individual perspectives can form a whole image, Berret explained. He also noted that this piece calls attention to pitfalls in the apparent wisdom of crowds.
“We essentially threw out one of the initial premises of photogrammetry, which is photorealism, and we decided to turn the work into something collaborative, yet personal and intimate,” said Berret.
“I think one of the reasons the project resonated with the judges and attendees is that nobody had really thought to approach 3D image-making in this particular way, as anything other than a straightforward archiving technique” he added. “It’s a provocation.”
The next iteration of the project will relate more closely to journalism. This next project will draw the initial artistic work of Knowing Together toward a form that would be more at home in the news, in the spirit of the Brown Institute, which funds interdisciplinary collaboration through its annual Magic Grants to develop new forms of storytelling through emerging media.
The plan is to find a way to give people using their phones the capacity to take many photos all at once as a group to create a 3D images.
“Say you’re at a demonstration and you take photos of a subject like a police barricade all at once with a dozen other protestors,” Berret said. “If the app synchronizes the photos and then we have some way of — and this is the hard part — stitching together these images on the fly, you could create 3D images of events that groups of people decide it’s worth capturing and sharing with the world.”
For Berret, it’s important for journalism schools to embrace media innovation and test the limits of conventional approaches to news that are already established in the field.
He said forward-looking conversations and investment in research and development is “absolutely necessary for journalism schools to be leaders and to plot a path forward in a constantly changing media environment.”
An image from Knowing Together will grace the back cover of Leonardo, an academic journal published by the MIT Press that covers the application of science and technology to the arts. The journal will also publish a piece by Berret and Yu in its art essays section which outlines the novel process they developed for collaborative photogrammetry.