The Treachery of Sanctuary

The Treachery of Sanctuary is a large scale interactive installation directed by Chris Milk, former music video director and more recently, interactive video director. From early on in the project life cycle, Milk worked closely with interactive designer Ben Tricklebank who contributed design and creative direction. The technical director was James George, an artist in his own right with impressive technical capabilities. Several other individuals worked on the project, bringing the total number of contributors to at least 19. The project was sponsored by the Creators Project, a partnership between chip maker Intel and online magazine Vice, and debuted at Fort Mason, San Francisco, March 2012.

The installation consists of a triptych of 3 large screens each of which presents a unique interactive experience powered at its heart by a Kinect camera used to sense and track human form and motion. The first screen displays the viewer’s silhouette which then breaks down into a flock of birds which proceed to fly about. The second screen has a similar flock of birds attacking the viewer’s silhouette, taking chunks out of it. The third screen, perhaps most impressive, has the viewer’s silhouette transformed by the addition of a massive pair of wings when he/she reaches upward with their arms.

The Creators Project | San Francisco, CA

The Creators Project hosts an informative documentary on the making of the project which discusses the story behind the installation, including some key motivations on the part of the director.

James George also details the technical approach on his blog, the project page can be found here.

It is evident that The Treachery of Sanctuary was a well resourced project that relied on contributions from a range of individuals who might be considered to be experts in their fields. The technical aspects are of great interest, but perhaps more so are the narrative construction of the piece and the sense of emotion and atmosphere that are evidently created.

In an interview with Wired in which he discusses the installation, Milk talks about the 2-way nature of interactive art and its ability to ‘speak back to the person in front of it’.

For me, this installation is great inspiration because it takes a relatively simple idea and transforms it into a fantastic and unique experience using some very clever techniques. But, although the technology is a such a key element, it is effectively transparent and subordinate to the creative vision. Also, the interactions are couched within a narrative construct that imbue meaning and context, rather than just being ‘cool’ and fun, which they undoubtedly are too. From an interaction design perspective, I like the way that the image of a viewer is captured (via a Kinect camera) and then abstracted, initially as a silhouette, into a designated scene. The viewer implicitly and intuitively understands the control they have over the scene by the realtime response and more fundamentally, by the familiarity of their own silhouette.

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