Projection Technology Shines Light on the Tradition of Pueblo Pottery

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The ‘Exploring Pueblo Pottery’ project uses cutting-edge projection mapping technology and innovative experience design to shine new light on ancient motifs. Ideum worked closely with UNM instructor and potter Clarence Cruz and Acoma Pueblo artist Michelle Lowden to create an experience that allows users to investigate these intricate images, discover how they highlight important elements of Pueblo life, and learn about the art, history and culture behind their creation.

Nominating Company: Ideum, Corrales, New Mexico
Venue: Exploring Pueblo Pottery, Corrales, New Mexico
Project: Exploring Pueblo Pottery
Category: Experiential Design & Planning

BACKGROUND
The Pueblo of Acoma, about 60 miles west of Albuquerque, is one of the oldest communities in the United States, having been continuously occupied by Native Americans for more than 800 years. During that time, Acoma artisans have created a rich pottery tradition based on distinctive motifs drawn from nature and shaped by their spiritual worldview.

Our Exploring Pueblo Pottery project is an experimental initiative designed to advance technological frontiers while providing new ways for people to investigate Native American designs, history and culture. As visitors select and combine Pueblo motifs and see them come to life on a massive pot, they learn more about the meaning of the intricate images.

CHALLENGES
An innovative 360-degree projection mapping system allows users to explore traditional Acoma pottery designs. As visitors explore and select Acoma motifs, the designs are projected on the complex curved surface of a large, four-foot olla, or water pot. Seeing the pot come alive with these animated designs provides an interactive platform for learning about the symbols’ meanings and the ancient Pueblo culture they illuminate.

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Although projection mapping has been used to display content on curved surfaces, this project offered the opportunity to push the technology further by projecting particularly intricate moving images on a complexly-curved 360-degree object. Acoma pottery is widely known for the very fine lines and complex geometry used in many designs, particularly in motifs related to rainfall. Accurately rendering and integrating these images on the pot’s surface while maintaining their integrity and content required our projection mapping team to achieve new levels of precision with these techniques.

SOLUTIONS
Ideum developed the custom hardware and software for the visitor-controlled kiosk. Christie Digital’s Pandora’s Box was the media server behind the complex warping and projection mapping on the pot. This system also controlled LED lights that dynamically change as different patterns are selected.

We employed state-of-the-art projectors and projection mapping software from Christie Digital systems for the exhibit. Christie’s Pandora’s Box was used to seamlessly blend the images created by four projectors arrayed around the pot.

A sophisticated 360-degree multi-projector system is at the heart of this captivating experience. Users can select from a range of designs crafted by Lowden, an artist from a family of illustrious Acoma potters. The chosen designs are animated and cast onto an oversized white olla, or water pot, by four overhead projectors. Viewers then see the blank pot come to life with authentic stylized Acoma images.

RESULTS
Visitors are active participants as they use an ultra-wide 34-inch touch display to select patterns and designs that are displayed in real time on the body and neck of the large pot. As they make selections and create new combinations, they learn more about the meaning of the intricate designs.

The Exploring Pueblo Pottery project’s success in creating sharp, seamless and even moving images on an unusual shape breaks new ground in combining techniques and technology and presents new opportunities to tell stories about the people and ideas behind timeless traditions.

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PROJECT PARTNERS
-Jim Spadaccini (creative director)
-Becky Hansis O’Neill (project manager)
-Hugh McDonald (writer/editor)
-Michelle Lowden (artist, Acoma Pueblo)
-Joe Donovan (lead designer)
-James Romero (3D artist)
-Bill Pritchard (AV design)
-Morgan Barnard (lighting design)
-Chris Steinmetz (software design)
-Ryan Woodward (software design)
-Ben Hanken (software design)
-Malik Daniels (photography, video production)
-Clarence Cruz (artist, Ohkay Owingeh tribe)

Ideum won an a 2019 APEX Award in the Experiential Design & Planning category.

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