It is the same old electronics and coding. But with an enriched entertainment value. Student-run in its entirety, Envisage attempts to build technology with a taste of entertainment. With a budget of about nine lakhs for a single evening, Envisage happens to be one of the most buzzing departments of Shaastra.
T5E correspondents, Nived Rajaraman and Abhishek Kelkar, review the events and take a look at the tech behind Envisage 4.0, that was held as a part of Shaastra 2016. Abhishek was also a coordinator for Envisage.
Pre-Envisage, the entire stage was abuzz with activity. Soundchecks were being done, equipment was being tested and re-tested, people were running around and yelling at each other to fix some tiny bits and the organising team seemed to have too many tasks to do with too little time to complete them. The tension in the air was significant to the point where refilling a tube of toothpaste would have seemed a more reasonable task to ask of them! Seventy-two hours straight in SAC with food being delivered to them and an average of 3 hours sleep per day (in SAC), the team was gearing up to rise to the occasion.
Talking backstage to us, Envisage organizing committee’s Parth and Prasad told us that they were carrying over 2 events from last year. Also, this time around, they focused a lot on making each of them revolve around a story and convey a message instead of limiting to a sheer avant-garde technical event. “A lot of hours had been put into making some of the performances just from a choreography perspective”, Parth recalled.
Eager to watch these performances, the turnout had been immense. As a result, the performance was conducted twice, and both were greeted by a full house. The gallery seated the more spirited attendance. There was a good deal of shoving and elbowing as everyone wanted the good seats. Quoting Tolkien, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to”. Incidentally, he authored the breathtaking Middle-Earth series that came out swinging when it was released (pun intended).
Half-an-hour past the scheduled start time of 6:30pm, most of the audience had seated themselves. There was the constant indistinct murmuring in the background — one could vaguely make out that the bar had been set quite high for the performances. The lights switched off promptly, and a huge “GO ENVISAGE!” was heard from backstage. Soon, the proceedings were underway. The evening’s agenda had 6 acts, namely:
The show started with one of the best projects this year. The Waterfall had a huge 20 foot rig from which were suspended several valves. With the exception of its size, it seemed pretty uninteresting a contraption. However, with the lights turned off, it turned into a completely different beast. Water vented from the nozzles at perfectly synchronized times to produce images that last for a fraction of a second before collapsing under gravity into the basin below. This project came into being at the sizable cost of 1.3 lakh rupees, but every penny was worth it.
The technicality involved synchronizing the valves to switch on/ off at the right moment and save the data for further use. Gravity ensured the rest. By using a specific code, the team was able to convert almost every possible image into a waterfall graffiti. A high power pump ensured that fluorescent water was pumped up at regular intervals to keep the flow running for almost over four minutes.
Post the proceedings, we spoke to a couple of people about what they enjoyed. One of them exclaimed: “The concepts used seemed pretty outrageous. Creating images with water? Never seen anything like it before!”
Wiremap also famous as ‘Lumarca’ was the second show Envisage had to offer.
Simply put, Wiremap was a bunch of fibers suspended vertically separated by gaps. Various multicolored patterns, which were in sync with the background music, were projected onto the strings by a normal projector. The calibration of the location of the projector and the wires was the most challenging part. The projector and the wires once placed were not to be moved. One tiny nudge and the whole effort would have been futile.
Overall, the amalgamation of light and sound was an audio-visual treat. But what really caught the eye was the precision with which they had implemented it. However, Nikhil Krishna, who was a seated a few rows ahead of Nived said that , “The Wiremap was good, but the music mixing wasn’t that great. I’d have chosen a different playlist.”
For the very first time in Envisage, this project was completely undertaken by the freshman community. With relatively less technicality and more focus towards choreography, it was a themed performance of the famous Celine Dion song “My Heart Will Go On”.A large screen was set up behind which performers with “glowing hands” around to form silhouettes of objects and people, portraying scenes from Titanic while the iconic song played in the background.
The secret of the “glowing hands” was the reflection from neon tubes placed on the stage. The gloves used by the performers absorbed the UV light to give a mesmerizing fluorescent effect.
Kinect (Saving Earth)
Next in the line of the immersive performances, was the “Saving Earth” presentation. It used a Kinect interface to record the motions of an actor to drive the motion of an animated character on the screen. The project was a live presentation unlike other hard-coded ones. It involved making background scenes to generate an environment for the animated character using the Unity game engine software. The game engine was utilized to develop a wholesome scenario for the narrator while the ‘Kinect’ (a motion sensing input device) was used as an intermediate to facilitate the syncing of the animated character with the on-stage narrator.
It was once again a themed act that illustrated the existence of our planet from its birth and how we are exploiting it to our will in a time of scarcity and dearth. This production was a carryover from last year and had grown in both its story as well as production value.
Techno Cultural Show
The Techno Cultural Show or TCS was the highlight event of the evening. The story revolves around a young magician trying to save his beloved from the clutches of Satan and his vile minions. The first half is a beautifully coordinated sequence that established the prologue of the story, aptly titled ‘Free Illusions’. The stage was set for the dancer posing as a young magician to flaunt his wizarding prowess which ranged from the mesmerizing fire-crackers to the more cliched disappearing-a-bird tricks. The second half manifested itself as a stunning LED dance that enthralled the audience in its entirety. Masked minions wearing lights, some neon red, some green, boogied around the stage that left many wondering “how was that even possible?”. Some had qualms about the prep time between scenes, but others argued that it fit into the grand scheme of things and added a flavour of thrill to the overall experience.
The video making for the prologue was choreographed for the wizard to brandish his stalwart. This was accomplished using After Effects while the suits for the second part were made using electroluminescent wires. The EL wires are thin phosphor coated wires which glow when an alternating current passes through them. A fluorescent PVC sleeve provides the necessary insulation. The EL wires on all the suits were Arduino coded to sync with the dancers. Heavy duty batteries were attached to the suits so that they could last throughout the show. The second show meant another set of batteries.
The 3D Hologram did not make it into the first performance of Envisage due to some technical issues which got rectified before the second show began. It was essentially a pseudo-hologram, with images being projected onto a transparent, nearly invisible screen to give the impression of text and objects floating in the air.
The concept is known as “The Pepper’s Ghost effect”. An age old illusion technique dating back to the 16th century, it finds its application even today in children’s theme parks. When a screen, kept in a completely dark room, is aligned with a thin layer of transparent sheet, a reflection of a pattern projected on the screen, in bright light, generates a virtual image. This image is captured by the sheet to create an optical illusion of depth.
An attempt was made to reproduce this effect to give a 3D feel to the images. Although the team could not execute this to their best owing to these logistic constraints which were put upon them due to the arrangements in SAC. A team member quotes, “We had put in a lot of fight to make this humongous structure stand and present something good. But the effect was not upto the mark because we faced some issues with our screen the night before.”
The project, in itself was a novel approach towards obtaining something 3D out of images. For the animation, the team employed the video-making software Blender, that is a popular choice to create realistic looking images by computing the shadows and the depth giving it a perspective sense unlike After Effects.
Project Persistence of Vision
Project PoV, being carried over from last year, was again only partially successful. Since the first Envisage ever, the team has been trying to execute this project successfully, but to no avail.
This project uses an arm with soldered LED PCBs, rotating at high speeds of 800 RPM. The LEDs are hard-coded with the help of Arduino to show different parts of an image, as the arm rotates. Due to persistence of vision at high speeds, it comes across as a complete image. Involving a significant amount of coding, this project has been regarded to be the toughest project that the Envisage team has ever taken up. A past year project member, who came down to help the current team in the last few days of preparation, jovially remarks, “Now that this is my 3rd year with the same project, I might as well convert it to a BTP and earn credits for the same!
Post the proceedings, Yashwanth, Envisage core member, told us, “It was fantastic working with so many amazing people. Obviously we ran into a ton of technical glitches, some of them got the better of us, but we were able to resolve most of them in time. Overall, it was a great learning experience for everyone.” When asked about the vision for Envisage a few years down the line, he said, “Envisage has great scope from all perspectives. Our biggest challenge is that we have a new team every year and streamlining the design workflow becomes tedious. It is a learning process. As always, we are looking to take it forward and perform in front of larger audiences.”
As a first timer to Envisage, the sheer magnitude of their performances had me captivated for the whole one hour. From the stellar performances they put on to the intermittent VISA commercials, every moment ensued a lively reaction from the audience. But at the end of the day, I think we all agree that they need to give their acts better names!
My Rating: 3.5/5.0
I was fortunate enough to be a miniscular part of something this huge since the outset of this year’s preparation. Apart from the tech gyan I amassed, this topsy-turvy ride taught me a lot of things. With the projects getting bigger and better every year the response is overwhelming. When about thirty people spend almost three hours a day, six days a week, for one complete semester, just for this one night, you know that their dedication commands an ovation.
Team Envisage, take my bow!
My rating: 3.8/5
Photo credits: Shaastra 2016 Media Team