A Short History of the Works

I am Toshio Iwai. Mostly I was working in Japan. But now I am living in Germany as an artist in residence at ZKM in Karlsruhe. Today I would like to show you my works and some projects for TV broadcasting.

Flipbook in the textbook

At first I want to show you my oldest work that I made twenty years ago. This is my textbook from junior high school. I was twelve years old. My own cartoon character is transforming into another character. At that time I was making many of these kinds of Flip books with pencil drawings on my textbooks. I think it was my first experience to interact with moving images that I created myself. And it was also the beginning of being triggered by the image media.

Many years later as I entered university, I saw a lot of wonderful experimental animation films like from the Canadian film maker Norman MacLahren. Inspired by these, I began to make animation films. At the same time, I also became interested in the history of animation. Through researching this field, I found many moving image technologies in pre-history of cinema. I started to re-make such old image media, and Irealised I had to re-create them with new technologies.

Copy Phenakisti-scopes 1982

At first, I made this 8mm animation film with one of pre-cinematic toys, phenakisti-scope. I put a variety of objects, scissors, my hands, peanuts -on a copying machine and I made twelve copies of each, adjusting their positions slightly each time. I cut out all copies into fun-shapes. Then I built these phenakisti-scopes. For this, I covered the copying machine glass plate with rice grains, and then I opened horse-shaped spaces.

Computer Phenakisti-scopes 1983

The next work is also phenakisti-scope. Originally, the phenakisti-scope was invented in 1832. It is a optical toy consisting of a disk with slotted edges. Facing the disk to a mirror, and spinning it, you can see the moving images on the disk. I learned computer programming at my university, I made computer programs to generate geometrical shapes for this phenakisti-scope.

XY Plotter Flipbookk 1983

I also made flipbooks with computer generated images using XY plotter in 1983. I wanted to see 3-Dimensional computer generated images on the paper moving in my palms. I think this was a kind of simple form of virtual reality.

At that time, I was also making animation films, but I began to feel these flipbooks and phenakisti-scopes were more comfortable for me. To show movies, I needed to get a movie projector and find a dark room at the university. But to show my flipbooks, I could carry them anywhere, taking them out of my pocket to show them my friends at any time. I could control the speed of images with my hands. It has weight, space, sounds and vibration of flipping pages. I thought this was a personal, very interactive medium.

Video Books 1984

For this flipbook, I recorded real images with a video camera, then I printed out hundreds of frames on a video printer. I re-constructed the moving images on this flipbook to compare with the same moving images on video screen. I wanted to see how the difference between the moving image on the flipbook and the ones on a TV screen.

3-Dimensional Zoetrope 1988

This is also one of the inventions of the pre-history of the cinema, a Zoetrope. Originally, they used pictures for this zoetrope, But I put 3-dimensional Cray models in the Zoetrope instead of pictures. I wanted to see real 3-dimensional objects moving in front of my eyes. I used a rotating handle to see this zoetrope. I thought It was very important to synchronise a movement of the hand and moving images.

I was trying to combine a pre-cinematic moving imaging device like a flipbook, phenakisti-scope, zoetrope with contemporary technologies like a copying machine, a video device, and/or a computer. Then I tried to evolve these old media into bigger installations. I started to use TV monitors as a strobing light source to show actual 3-dimensional moving images.

Time Stratum II 1985

In this installation, I placed 120 paper human figures on a motorised spinning disk. Iset up a video monitor above them, while strobing the light down, the paper figures all burst into motion.

By using a video monitor as strobe light, I could change the colour and speed of strobe lights with the music. The images are transformed with changes in the light.

Time Stratum III 1989

In this work, in order to achieve a greater scale of 3-dimensional effect, I used 3 acrylic domes to place hundreds of moving shapes. I used 4 computers, one for the real-time performance of music and sending the synchronisation signals, and other 3 for making strobe lights in synch with the music.

I animated images of animals, plants and minerals, one in each of the three domes.

Time Stratum IV 1990

Here I used a video projector instead of a video monitor to create strobe lights. Several hundred computer-generated animation frames are affixed to 3 layers of spinning clear plastic disks.

These images look like moving objects underwater. You will feel you are almost able to touch these images.

While I was making these installations, I was always thinking about the relationship between moving images and us. When we go to the cinema, we must meet schedules, and sit still from the start on until the movie is finished with us. I like movies but sometimes I hated this one way situation.

For example, to see a sculpture, we can see it at our own pace, and from angles which we ourselves decided. These my Installations using strobing light source were a kind of moving image sculpture, and a sort of answer to my own questions about what would happen if nobody invented movies and one were to evolve pre-cinematic technologies this 100 years. I believe the movies didn't succeed some important things for us from pre-cinematic inventions to be mass media. I think one of most important things was interactivity.

Then, several years ago, I began to use the personal computer, both as creative tool and creative material. This has changed my work considerably. I realised that personal computers might extend elements found in pre-cinematic imaging technologies. Especially for the real-time manipulation of audio and visual components.

Man-Machine No.1-8 1989

I created Man-Machine-TV series to experiment with interactivity. I used eight identical televisions on eight identical boxes for eight variations of stimulating bonds between people and the world of visuals and sounds through eight extremely simple interfaces.

In this piece, there were two push switches attached the right and left of the monitor. Through changing the time between pushing these two switches, the user control the light patterns moving on the screen and their sounds. It was an attempt to show the complex operations generated by only two switches.

There are eight switches affixed on the monitor screen. By pushing any of these switches, a different kind of animated light figures and sounds would fly out. It was an attempt to change the monitor into some kind of percussion device.

In this piece, if you move the real joystick attached in front of the monitor, images of joystick on the screen also move in the same direction. This is a kind of joke.

Through spinning two wooden dials affixed to the box, the user can alter the orbits of red and blue lights on the screen in a number of ways.

I think It is not necessary to explain this one.

For this piece, I put a sound sensor in front of the monitor. This work gave the illusion that the user's voice was being visualised.

I put 4 light sensors inside of the box. If you move your hands in the box, each sensor affects the speed and shape of light and sound on the screen.

A video camera is attached to the side of a video monitor. The computer digitises two images of somebody standing in front of the work. They can see a simple two-frame animation. Once the user gains a sense of which moments the camera is digitising, they can begin to direct their own body movements and enjoy animations of themselves.

TV-Ring 1989

In this work I linked up 25 video monitors in a circle, facing-up, each of which was connected to a computer.

I put a sensor box besides of this circle, I put 2 light sensors inside of the box. If a viewer moves their hand in this sensor box, computers read the hand's speed, send images and sounds spinning around the ring at the exact same speed of their hand. As a ball will fly a distance relative to the speed at which it was thrown, here the light images and sounds were thrown according to how fast the viewer moved their hand.

Switch on the Glass 1990

There are 12 switches attached to a glass wall. The back of the glass acts as a screen, onto which images are projected from the computer via a video projector. Pushing any of the switches causes a variety of images and sounds to come flying out from the point of button.

Performance for "What's Next?" 1991

This is a special performance for short TV program. I attached several switches on the desk. On pushing the switches, it plays 3-Dimensional animations and sounds. Computer generated images were combined with live video images, the computer plays animations and sounds in real time.

Next, I am going to show some trials for public space

Another Time, Another Space 1993

This is an installation which I exhibited in Antwerp Central Station for the EC Japan Feest for cultural exchange between Japan and Belgium (1993). The installation featured 15 video cameras, 30 computers, 30 video monitors, and a videodisk recorder. The comings and goings of people through the station were filmed by the cameras, and were manipulated in real-time by the computer to deform shape, time reference, and showing a different time-space environment on each monitor.

With tens of thousands of people passing through this public space every day, I wanted to make a piece with a highly participatory aspect which with anyone could easily interact and perform. A great many people, regardless of age or sex, stood before the installation and played with it, far exceeding any expectations of my expectations. It was very rewarding.

Another Time, Another Space NHK version 1994

In this February, I tried to make a same kind of event in Tokyo. Instead of making installation, I used a huge monitor on a wall of a building at Shinjuku station in Tokyo. From the building, I used a video camera to take a picture of people who are walking around the station, and used the computer to transform the image. Usually, on this huge monitor, many commercial and music clips are shown all day long, and nobody pays attention. But, after I started this event, everybody stopped and began to enjoy to see themselves. I think this is one of the major powers of interactivity. This event was broadcasted to all over Japan by national television NHK.

Next, I am showing you some TV programs. As an artist, I was creating many works for art exhibitions. Basically, through my works, I was rejecting the one-way mass media like TV. But I had a friend who is a director of Fuji Television in Tokyo. I was asked working with him to change the style of a TV program.

Einstein TV 1990-91

Einstein TV was a 30 minute late-night program for science topics in a "news program" format. This program was broadcasted every week from October 1990 to September 1991. I used a real-time computer graphics system to combine a computer generated virtual set and two female (live) announcers.

I tried to find a new style for this news show where the newscasters would be more able to freely manipulate their information using computer generated images in their virtual studio.

UgoUgo Lhuga 1992-1994

After the science news show, we started daily kid's show UgoUgo Lhuga from October 1992. We broadcasted early every weekday morning for 30 minutes. This show became very popular in Japan. For this program, I designed real time computer graphics system to play children with computer generated characters in their virtual playroom. This character is Mr. TV. This is another character. He is a painter. He speaks French. Now He is teaching French word.

Making of UgoUgo Lhuga

To combine computer generated images and live children, we used a blue back screen and chroma keyer. To playback background CG, we used a video disk player. And I made a special computer program to control the computer generated characters. The character's lips are synchronising with the voice-actors. I also used a video game controller to change the expression and action of the characters. With this system, the children were able to speak and interact with the computer-generated characters in real-time. The children's lines are by the way, unscripted. Through using real-time computer graphics, we were able to capture their natural charm in the most natural light.

This is another character, Robot. They are playing riddles. If the children give strange answers, he breaks down.

UgoUgo Lhuga was started as pre-recorded program. But because I designed a real-time computer graphics system, I hoped I would be able to use it for live broadcasting. I wanted the public to have access to this system. We started another style of UgoUgo Lhuga.

UgoUgo Lhuga CG Sumo 1993

This is a part of the live show. This section called "CG Sumo". Sumo is a traditional Japanese Wrestling. I made this sports into tele-virtual style. Children from across Japan sent their own sumo wrestlers drawing of postcards. Then I scanned them into computer. These wrestlers can be controlled by Kids' voice through the telephone line. During the program, watching their televisions at home, kids scream into the telephone; the louder they scream the stronger their character becomes, finally pushing the opponent of stage. In this match, a 4 year old and a 6 year old girl, each living in different areas, are playing their game on television.

Museum on the Air 1993

Last summer, I planned a special event to link this UgoUgo Lhuga Live with a exhibition at a museum.

I Installed 16 computers in the museum hall, and made a digital painting software program that would allow kids to create simple animations.

During one week of the exhibition, there were live broadcasts from the museum, which featured the children's electronic paintings sampled in real-time, and showed them interacting with the show's computer-generated characters.

Fax art was sent to the museum from viewers nation-wide which were also featured within the program. Children familiar with the thronged to the museum, and over three thousand of facsimile were sent from all over the country.

The television is a huge mass media, and museum is also a kind of traditional big media. Both the television and museum are typically closed communications media. But I thought there would be new possibilities if I linked them together. I believe we can create totally new media by linking some existing medias using new technologies.

Finally, I would like to show you something I am making for Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Originally, this was a one of my art works; Music Insects. I created this as a permanent exhibit for the Exploratorium in San Francisco. I decided to make this advanced version of Music Insects for Nintendo, because I wanted to show this work all over the world.

Music Insects 1992, 1994

You can see four small Insects walking on the screen. These Insects have their own sound. They are kind of walking musical instruments.

Using the mouse, you can choose a colour from this palette, you can draw something like a paint software. If a insect crosses a colour dot, the insect makes a sound and light pattern.

Each colour means musical scale, like do, re, mi, fa...

If you paint randomly, these insects make random sound.

But there are some techniques to make this sounds like real music. These white and two grey colours change the direction of the insect. If an insect meets a white colour, the insect changes to the opposite direction. The red one is a drummer. You can put some colours in-between whites. You can make a drum pattern easily.

Light grey means turning right. You can make a longer circle pattern like this. Dark grey means turning left. You can pick up an insect using this tweezers.

If you want to change the sound, you can choose any 4 insects out of these 16 insects.


updated 1993