A few weeks ago I got an email through the Syyn Labs mailing list about a South Pasadena Kids Faire looking for local makers to show projects to the kids. I signed up and then didn’t hear anything back from them until yesterday morning. I spent most of last night working on the physical hardware upgrades. Even though you can’t really tell the difference from the outside, I felt better having the innards more solid before letting a bunch of kids have at it.
I brought one Portal to the South Pasadena Middle School this morning (since I didn’t have access to wifi I only brought one) for a few hours. I also changed the street view so it was a view of the school we were at. It’s hard to tell in the pictures but the animations were also being overlaid on top.
This was the first time I’ve taken a Portal outside of the studio walls, so I didn’t have much planned/prepped aside from just grabbing the box. I would have liked to have more visuals/handouts etc. But it was interesting doing some user-testing. The most frequent comment from the kids was just “that’s so COOL!” which isn’t super helpful feedback but it’s nice to know they’re into it.
Even though it’s really only half the system, watching people interact with it I noticed a bunch of little things and got inspired for some additional things..
Some notes/observations for myself… (in no particular order)
I need to secure the screen via straps or something, as pressing up against my belly cause it to pop into the box while I carried it to my car.
I need to get some padding on the portholes. Having the portholes doubles nicely as handles, but they’re pretty tough on the hands for transporting. Having padding would also make it a little less painful to use in its “normal” way.
People frequently attempt to reach towards the front of the box, I think because the spacial relationship of the image being in front of their hand makes them think they need to go forward. After the initial confusion people get it, but I should probably create some sort of affordance to encourage people to reach back instead of forward.
Having the big open space in the front half of the box just serves as a cliff for things to fall into. I need to fill this with something. Still considering putting speakers in there.
These two images above are awesome. I had been meaning to try the white sleeve thing for quite some time but hadn’t gotten around to it. But this kid happened to be wearing a white shirt, which keys out perfectly. I love how the disembodied hand just sort of hovers around. I think I need to include the white sleeve thing as part of it. Also fun to note that the boy in the blue shirt next to him tried to put his shirt into the box too after seeing this.
Interacting with the Portal is a very intimate experience. Of course the way it’s designed you end up being pretty close to the screen, but observing people of various heights and ages there seems to be something that makes even spectators want to huddle in a little bit closer than usual.
Table height is probably the most optimal in terms of accessibility, though that little asian girl in pink was having a hard time even when she got a boost from her dad. But I don’t think she was more than 3 or 4 years old and her arms just weren’t long enough to reach in. I started with the box set back from the edge but noticing how short everyone’s arms were it got moved closer to the front. But I should remember to bring a little step stool or something next time. But I like that even a 3 yr old can use it.
When I opened up the top to show the innards to some kids their mom was like “look, don’t touch so much” and I had to tell her “it’s ok, it’s sort of meant to be touched a lot.”
The little characters are way to light in foam core and fall over super easily. Of course their paper base isn’t very stable either. But I think these pieces will be have to have a solid acrylic base to give it some more heft. The other problem with the characters is that the fiducial markers don’t stand up to the constant rubbing against the bottom.
I’m glad my project can exist outdoors. Luckily we were in the shade, I don’t think it would survive in the sun. But I like that it doesn’t have to exist in a controlled dark room.
My “photographer” character looks like a hobo. At least according to one kid.
If no one is using the Portal and someone came by they would often just stand back and just look at it (probably thinking “uh this looks like a screen”). But upon seeing someone use it they shift to being amused/surprised.
Couple of kids were asking for more characters. I really need to start working on a system that lets add more animations more dynamically. This is a code thing. It’s a little daunting so I’ve been putting it off but I think I really need to figure it out.
I found that the girls tended to stay more engaged with the project for some reason. I think both the boys and girls were into it but it seemed like the girls were more likely to linger for a while or return to play with it. At least that’s what it seemed like.
Kids would often bring a parent over and animatedly explain how the Portal works to the adult. For the most part the kids also already knew what green screening was.
Co-creating characters and modular animation augmentations
At about 2:30 am last night it occurred to me I could make the demo set up more engaging by allowing people to draw/design their own characters, with little interchangeable markers on the bottom (snap on lego style or something). Of course I didn’t actually have time to prep stuff for this but I intend to incorporate that aspect the next time I demo it. While I still want special specific characters to do specific things, like the photographer, there is also something interesting about the idea of a physical and modular way to use animation, and being able to pick your own animation. It’s like going to the bead store. Or maybe it’s more random, like you don’t know what you’re going to get until you put it in. Then it’s like a secret message that gets revealed. I’ll definitely need to flesh out the object > animation relationship system for this to work.
Maybe one box will contain my specific characters while the other box is the free for all. Or maybe just go with it and “crowd source” all the “extras” live. But then do I keep the characters people make or let them have it as a take away gift? I think the take away is more fun. Maybe I just need documentation of all the characters that end up getting made and that can go back into the space as a print out or something…