Interactive Installation | The Hrytl Simulacrum @ The Mütter Museum

The Hyrtl Simulacrum is a multimedia, interactive augmentation to the museum experience. It makes curiosity contagious and infects others with a sense of wonder. The project uses museum artifacts as the foundation for creative historical fictions. These fictions are discovered through digital forensic facial reconstructions and analog interaction with story machines.

All work on this project from conception and presentation to planning and execution was all me, with a little help from my friends.

I recently received some great images of the final gallery installation, taken by Martin Seck, professional photographer working with the documentary crew from The New School. The Hyrtl Simulacrum was one of two projects chosen to promote the Design and Technology Department.

















The two dimensional aspects of the project have been added to the permanent collection of the Mütter Museum.

This project is also one of three chosen by Adobe and Icograda as a finalist in the Adobe Design Achievement Awards in Interactive Media, Installation Design. And was exhibited by Adobe and Icograda in the 2011 World Design Expo in Taipei. The Hyrtl Project will also be exhibited by Adobe at MAX 2011 in Los Angeles.


It looks like the last time I posted anything of significance was quite some time ago. A lot’s gotten done I’m happy to say. so much so that it would take too much time away for actually completing the project to post about it all. Meetings have happened. Shows have been prepared for. Deliveries have been made. Things have been built. A lot of printing. A lot of planning.

I will mention that the last meeting with the folk at the Mutter went very well. They are adding the 2d work to the permanent collection. They are making arrangements to add the work to a group show in the fall and a solo show in 2014. It will take that long to complete with budget constraints. But in project terms, 2014 will be here before I know it.

The stories begin with 8 of the 138 human skulls that combine to make up the Hyrtl collection, found in the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, PA.  Durning the late 1800′s Dr. Joseph Hyrtl wrote what he knew about each person directly onto their skulls.  The Hyrtl Simulacrum grew from these short stories written directly on bone. A famous Viennese prostitute, a tight-rope walker who died of a broken neck, a child murderer and a Tai bandit are only a few of the very real people chosen from the collection to become characters in this new narrative.

Combining my love of artistic anatomy, conceptual visual narrative, history, science and good story telling, the project has grown to include high-resolution CT scans of the original skulls, vintage photography, a variety of forensic reconstruction techniques, digital painting and image editing, large wooden interactive curiosity cabinets with miniature handmade dioramas inside and much more.

The Hyrtl Simulacrum enriches the museums collection, enhancing the visitor experience and creates an enlivened conversation about what it means to be human, a crucial part of the mission statement of the Mütter Museum itself.


Very Exciting, a lecture I am gave on the project is being endorsed by The New York Academy of Science!

I’m happy to say that a lot has been happening  with the Hyrtl project recently. Meetings have happened. Shows have been prepared for. Deliveries have been made. Things have been built. A lot of printing. A lot of planning.

The last meeting with the executives at the Mutter went very well.  They are adding the 2d work to the permanent collection! They are making arrangements to add the work to a group show in the fall and a solo show in 2014! It will take that long to complete with the current budget constraints (there is none, lol). But in project terms, 2014 will be here before I know it.

The lecture on May 31st at Observatory in Brooklyn went well.  I learned a lot about framing the project and expectations. I was happy to discover that the New York Academy of Science had promoted the lecture on their website.

So the big news is: My thesis is a success, concept proven. The director and curator are both thrilled with the project and excited to set things in motion. We are all now just looking for a little funding.

As for deliverables, I’ll start with an update on the 2D reconstructions:

The four final subjects for symposium are finished and a ton of print variations have been made for the Congress of Curious People show at Coney Island. All the minor adjustment have been made to the final images. Zini and Huber’s eyes, Farkus ears and brow, and Tozzi is finally finished.



I submitted final images for publication and uploaded the project abstract to the MFADT website.











And created a slideshow to loop next to the prints for the first weekend at Coney Island. I’ll bring the cabinet down the following weekend, April 16th.

I have to mat and frame the finales which required time to prepare and order materials but there all ready to go, earlier then scheduled! The frames are here, back from VA where they were originally sent. I wanted to get a good match on the stain for the cabinets and the best way to do that was to give the frames to the cabinet maker.  He did a great job on matching them up. (More about the cabinet later.) I ran around the city one day looking for affordable matting. No one would quote me over the phone of course, so I ended up going to 4 different custom framers before deciding to order online.

No one cuts mats on premises anymore. I’d be surprised it any of the “framers” I dealt with even knew how. Everything is sent out to be cut by lasers. All the frame shops had a 3 to 5 day waiting period and none of them carried regular mat board. They only offer acid free rag and UV glass, the most expensive option with the highest markup. The cheapest 16″ x 20″ mat I could order with a 2 1/8″ boarder around started at $30.00, I need 4. So I need the regular mat as bad as that is. I’m good at archival work and not bad at not so archival framing. (I’ll cut in a buffer of rag paper so it can stay framed with the bad mats for a short while.)  I offered to cut my own if I purchased the board even though I knew they’d say no because of insurance reasons, but I had to ask. I’ve picked up some precut glass from Michael’s. I think I will take one framed piece with me to Coney Island and display it on an easel.



I had at first thought I would only set up for the first weekend, but then I get the schedule for the second weekend and knew it was my best opportunity to get get some feedback from the “curious community.”  Here’s some quick name dropping of  the line up for the last weekend, for a detailed itinerary check out Observatories’ Post on the weekend.

Saturday April 16th 10:00 – 11:00: Keynote Speaker, Norman Klein, author of “The Vatican to Vegas: The History of Special Effects11:30 – 1:30: “The New Curiosity”, Mark Dion, Joanna Ebenstein, Wendy Walker, Moderated and introduced by Aaron Beebe 3:30 – 5:30:  “Immersive Amusements”, Elizabeth Bradley, Mark Dery, Amy Herzog, Moderated by Alison Griffiths

Sunday April 17th 10:00 – 12:00: “The Fairground and The Museum: Human Anatomy on Display”, Lisa Farrington, Anna Maerker, Mike Sappol, Elizabeth Stephens, Moderated by John Troyer, author of “Technologies of the Human Corpse” (Forthcoming) 1:00 – 3:00: “The 19th Century Dime Museum in the Contemporary Imagination”, Will Baker, Aaron Beebe, D. B. Denholtz, Evan Michelson, Mike Zohn, Moderated by Andrea Dennett 3:30 – 5:30: “Science and Technology for Public Amusement”, Laurel Braitman, Fred Nadis, Simon Werrett, Moderated by Lord Whimsy/Allen Crawford

I have one 6″ table and two chairs.  I’m hoping I can get some help bringing the cabinet to set up somewhere, but there may not be room for it. I ordered some binders to display the variety of prints available. I learned to keep track of print variables when I worked in stone lithography. The ability to make each print a bit different then the one before through the application of different inks is very familiar to me. It was one of the aspects of stone etching that I explored for years.  This process was similar in the unpredictability of first “pull” but, with good notes taking during the print process, the consistency of future prints is very reliable. I am beginning to feel towards my printed how I use to feel towards a troublesome but rewarding litho stone.

The last photos posted on this site of the cabinet was the still in progress pre-stained piece.  I feel like that was centuries ago.
















If you keep up with the BackwaterBlog, then you’ve seen some updates before delivery.

I solved the problem of the lighting with a simple, low energy and very inexpensive solution. USB LED laptop mini lights.  I tied several models, the seven LED model being the most like a floodlight to my dark little stages within the box.  I was going for a more spot lighted look and the little single LEDs on long flexible goosenecks work perfectly. I wrapped them in matte black gaffing tape to reduce the chance they might bee seen and to reduce any reflection they might give off. After some research I discovered the perfect USB hub that ran off it’s own power, was triangular so that it fit snugly into the corner of the box, was dark and had seven forward facing plugs.














I’ve decided to carve some of the central figures for the diorama.














Ishi, a colleague and classmate generously offered her help in Maya. I give her the skull of Girolamo Zini, The Rope Walker, and a very basic introduction in 3D/2D facial reconstruction. She gave it a few hours to quickly realized there was something ver off.  After some emails and a quick meet-up, we determined I had given her a GIANT Zinni skull. The scale was increased 15:1. So the pegs she had created were barely visible.  I’ll have to go back into OsiriX and find out what happened.  I’ll see if I can re-export the build or measure the skull.  Either way it’s an interesting problem and I’m also wondering if it contributes to the nomaniflod geometry. I’ll post more of an update on this later.


2D Reconstructions

Huber, Farkas, and Tozzi

So I’m working on all three of these folks at the same time and Mr. Farkus is really giving me a hard time.  He apparently wishes to be an alien …

As you can see there is some major distortion happening in his skull. This is not a distortion of the video or image, it happens when I create the 3D surface render. The slices look fine and there are enough of them, 409 of them total., but it renders like you see here. I checked online at the OsiriX site and posted a request for help on the forum. Well see how it goes.

I also found a plugin that fixes Gantry Tilt Correction [image to the right]. This may be the problem here but I’m just not sure.  I’ve tried to download the plugin several times however, and it’s doesn’t seem to want to download. I’m going to keep trying to attempt at a solution.  What choice do I have. Mr. Farkus is my “Wounded Heart” in the narrative, the story’s not the same without him.

In the meantime I’ve finished Ms. Veronica Huber. This is Veronica in the Frankfort Horizontal. I’ve been creating videos to capture the skull in the true Frankfort Horizontal from OsiriX before I render the skull in 3D and bring it into Photoshop. On my computer I can scrub smoothly from frame to frame [unlike what happens when you do it here online]. It’s a perfect reference while working!  Turning layers on and off while working is very helpful, but it can become overwhelming when working with so many layers. This method also keeps the skull on a stable axis so I can constantly examine the details in the correct position, very handy.

Here a few images of our “Child Murderer”


In my narrative for Veronica she has “murderer” her own child, or what most of us now simply call an abortion. It was perhaps very common in victorian era for women and girls to have illegal abortions, as it still is in areas of the world where it remain illegal. Many women and girls die as a result, from the unclean and unsafe methods, or at the hands of the authorities. Authorities who condemn what they see as murder with murder. The only value victorian society gave to any female was tied up in her sexuality, it was also the way easiest way to completely devalue any female. Maybe things haven’t changed too much, or maybe that have. I’ll let you be the judge.

Veronica’s story intersects the narratives of the other character in the collection in the following way:

She falls in love with Girolamo Zini, The Rope Walker She has a fling with the Julius Farkas, The Wounded Heart She is escorted to her execution by Gianbattista Tozzi, The Courageous Cop


The Hyrtl Simulacrum on Kick It!

A few days ago I started getting a few more hits and pledges on the Kickstarter page and was wondering what was going on.  Whatever was happening, I liked it and wanted to make sure it kept happening. So I did a little digging. I found out that a collaborative group had picked up my project and was helping to promote it on their website.  Alright. {!}

The group is really a creative conference called Kick It! and is associated with Lab 24/7, an “underground space and incubator for creative projects and events” operating from the cellar of an old brownstone in BedStuy. They have the project prominently featured on their front page under “Projects We Like.”   Wow!   A very humble Thank You to you folks.

But let me let them tell you about the conference in their own words …

“KICK IT! is an afternoon of presentations, performances and exercises focused on getting projects off the ground. KICK IT! is about motivating and connecting people who want to get things done.  If that sounds like you, then keep reading…

At the heart of KICK IT! is a series of demo’s by individuals and groups that are actively starting up a project, business or community effort.  The projects could be an album release, a cookbook, the invention of a new water gun, or a conference around a cause.  Based on the demo’s, the audience will vote for their favorite project, who’ll receive a cash prize.

Getting things done requires learning from the mistakes, and successes, of others. So you’ll also hear advice from people who’ve hit the nail on the head, and others who miscalculated.

And if you have an idea, we’ll give you an opportunity to pitch it, and match you up with other people who may want to help *you* KICK IT! That will take the form of concept lightening pitches, followed by team matchmaking. So if you have an idea that you want support on, bring your one minute schpiel.

Get ready for a collaborative experience that will inspire you to cross that chasm between procrastination and action.  Because the time is now for entrepreneurs, artists, and creatives to take hold of the 21st century.  The time is now to Kick It!”

I’d received a comment/compliment  from one of the folks from a group a few days ago but the link to the site wasn’t working at that time. I tried to fine it myself on the interwebs, but I had no luck and it kind of got placed on the back burner.  But not anymore!  I applied to present on March 19th, so we’ll see how it goes.  Until then: Thanks Jonathan Landau for the props. :)


Kickstarter Video

I wanted to make a video for the project home page on Kickstarter. There is so much to read on there already that it was suggested something a little more dynamic would be nice. And sometimes it’s just nice to be told a story while you look at pictures.  :)

So I finally got the video for the Kickstarter project page completed and posted.


Publish and Press

I’ve been busy trying to get the word out about the project. I created a Kickstarter page to try and raise the funds needed to do all of the 3d printing and get the cabinet built.

I also posted the project on the Behance Network, all over Facebook and I sent a press release to RELAY.  I also requested to present at Observatory and hopefully that will happen.

The owners and operators of Observatory also publish an online magazine called Morbid Anatomy. Again, hopefully they will be interested in writing something about it.  I’m also hoping the Mutter will post the Kickstarter widget on their site to support and help publicize the work.


2D Composite Facial Reconstructions

Zini Gets a Makeover

After working so closely with the vintage photography these past months I started to think of them as another possible way to complete the reconstructions while working on the problems with the digital 3d reconstructions.

There is a forensic technique of creating a facial composite of an individual using a database of photographs.  This is a very general collection, meant to represent universal adverages and genaric features that can be refind and refine by making choices in a branching method until a reasonable likeness is achieved.  For instance, you would be asked by the compositor or compositing system if the person had a big nose or a small nose, high, low, narrow, wide, straight, crooked, and so on until all options have been exhausted and the image you are left with should be the best representation of the nose you have in mind.

To the right you can see a facial composite of Saint Paul (* 7-10; † 64-67); created by experts of the Landeskriminalamt of North Rhine-Westphalia using historical sources, proposed by Düsseldorf historian Michael Hesemann.  The facial composite of the Apostle Paul helps to make this historical figure more accessible and real; something I want to achieve with the Hyrtl subjects.

To test this case I again turned to Mr. Zini our Rope Walker.  In his case the I decided that the most appropreate features and image would be those of his relatives, his time, and his culture. I started my search by looking at images found through a search using his last name to determine hair and eye-color and dominant features. I have an idea of build from his age, occupation and historical context. I looked for central and eastern european photographs of men taken from 1830 to 1870.  This would have been range of  time he my have died within. For Mr.Zini I decided to use the vintage photograph on the left to create a two dimensional composite of his likeness from his skull.

I then begain by importing the 3d rendering from Maya into photoshop.  There where gaps in the bone that had to be reconstructed before markers could be positioned onto the skull. I accomplished this by I first drawing over the skull to get the contours and plans mapped out.  I then painted the bone into place, only filling in where it was nessicary. As you can see I did not reconstruct his teeth. He will not be smiling so it would have been a wasted effort. I did however remove the hardware that was captured in the CT scan, it just doesn’t belong there.

Once I had Mr. Zini’s skull structurally clean I divided the features as seen below from the source image. and slowly began to sculpt them in photoshop using a wide range of tools, primarily transform warp and liquify.  It was necessary for some parts to be completely redrawn, such as the side of the head.

As always I found some of the process shots to be just as important and strong as the finished piece.  It seem inevitable that I get wrapped up in these in-between states. The glimpse beneath, the history of a thing is always distracted to me in an inspiring way.  Not to mention I think they just turned out looking kind of cool.

These are onionskins of the photo-composite technique.  So, meet Mr. Zini, The Rope Walker.  On the next 2D, which will be hand drawn, I think I’m going to go back to less but more “tailored” facial hair. Keeping the center of the left eye (his right ;) you can see how the features changed from the original to the finished reconstruction.

I “adjusted” the rest of the image to fit Mr.Zini’s features.  He seems to be a bit of a tallish fellow as compared to his “ancestor”.  I’m very happy with this first prototype. I’ve received very favorable responses and a few request for copies. Which makes me hopeful that with a little more work these will be successful incentives on Kickstarter.


I’ve had  this 30″ x 40″ poster of  Mr. Zini hanging in my living room now for about a month and it still distracts me.  If it can have the same effect on others, then I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished a lot so far.


Prototyping in Maya

Great Glitch! Sometimes the render problems seems to come out in interesting ways.  I couldn’t have done a better job at this one if I had tried.


Prototyping the Diorama | 3D

I decided to keep test the 3d images, especially I can not get the stereolithography done for the final piece.  I’ve worked in Klean Klay before, it’s the primary  material used in 3d forensic facial reconstruction.  If I’m able to get one of the Hyrtl skulls printed I’ll used this to do a true reconstruction, but it’s no good for createing the tiny diorama pieces. Too soft and not permanent.  Instead I’m testing several different material that might be a substitute for print 3d.

I first tried sculpy. I’d never worked in the material before and found it difficult at beat to get any significant detail at the small scale I have to work in. You can see more photos of those below at 11/04.



I then attended a puppet show at HERE Art Center called “the Fortune Teller”

I loved the look of the puppets and of course immediately wanted to make a puppet show.  That’ll  be next on the list. :)  I was able to go back stage after the show and see the construction close up.  I asked a lot of questions and decide to give “cell-u-clay” a try.  That was the material used to create the puppets. I felt the scale might still be a bit tight for the material, but I tried it anyway.


Simulacrum Cabinet Sketches

I thought I post some of the sketches and ideas for the cabinet that will house the diorama, camera, lights, and all the guts of the simulacrum.

These are not complete, but just sketches.  I’m not a arcitect or draftsman, I’m not sure how to draw them as blueprints.  Luckily I know of a few folks who have been kind enough to help out in this department. I’ve also briefly discussed this with with Jim Rogers, the master cabinet maker (and my brother-in-law ;) who’s going to be building this for me if I’m able to come up with the funding.  He’s not asking for much and in return I’m willing to give him some space to add his own creative touch.

I’ve played around with the idea of using a planetary gear on the bottom of the diorama table.  I think this is going to be the most stable.  And from the testing I can see right away that the sketches below don’t leave enough room between the camera and the closest focal point within the scenes. That has to be redesigned to accommodate about a foot of clearance.

I’ll update when I have something substacial to post.  Until then, I’m sure you can get a good idea the direction I’m head from the previous posts, the Thesis page (^tab at the top) and these drawings.

Think steampunk, that should help.  ;)



Testing the Follow Focus

The follow focus on the simulacrum is being built with a help of a friend and photographer Louis Lucci.  We set it a few times now and ran some test and took the measurements for the cabinet based on the dementions of the rig and the diorama table together.  I’ve tried a few different mounts and while I think the Skil mount is best for movement, it will not support the weight of the follow focus.







The video is recorded directly through the camera and streamed live into

the living room.  No great feat, but no small accomplishment either.

The ruler allows me to get a better idea about placement and focus when setting up the dioramas. This also lets me see how much space has to exists between the camera and the diorama.  Right now the measurement looks to be around one to two and half feet from lens to the closest focal point in the scene, close to what I expected.



















This second video is the documentation of that test.  Louis and I are taking the measurements and also getting an idea how the scene changes when view in a different way.

I had a real heart wrenching moment the second time we set up the entire rig.

I had returned to my family home in Virginia over the holiday to pick up some of my mother’s camera equipment to use in the project. My mother was a photographer and my best friend. She died on May 1st, 2005 at the age of 66; too young with too much undone.  I decided to take back a two tripods, a few lens and filters with some other odds and ends to use in the prototyping.  I carefully separated out the things I’d used and backed them up to return to New York with me.  The one thing I took that was particularly special to me was her 50 mm lens.  This one has a lot of very fond memories attached to it for me.

Louis had been setting everything up while I was in another room working on the diorama.  When I finally saw it all put together with my mom’s lens, I just cried.

I’m just so happy to be using it and I knew she would be thrilled with what I was doing and would have been right beside me helping if she could. In a way it made me feel like I was still able to include her and at the same time it made me sad that she couldn’t be here.  I miss you mom ad this one’s for you all the way.

and a side note:

This 90° gear is found inside the main compartment of the follow focus. It’s pretty substantial and it’s actually just what I need for the crank to shaft in the final build as well.


Prototyping the Mechanism

I had not used this particular set of tools in a long time and it felt good to get them out and work with geometry again. I got this set during my second year in college and it has more them past the test of time, that extension are is perfect for this job.








The first few prototypes for the turntable’s gearing where pretty unsuccessful.  My biggest problem is simply making something sturdy enough. I was given a great book for beginners in gears and simple analog mechanical movements.  This helped with understanding the basics and getting started with figuring out the ratio.  I also had to start thinking about the placement and accessibility of the handle and how each user is going to experience the function.

Coat-hangers, cardboard and foam-core don’t seem to cut it, they’re all too flimsy to last longer then a few turns and even those struggle to move the diorama.  Nothing I’ve put together so far moves very smoothly, but that’s the point of prototyping, right?  I like the 1:1 ration for rith now, it’s more intuitive to “scroll” through the scenes at this 1:1 movement.

I also decided to allow the gears to work in both directions.  This allows the viewer to “rewind” the narrative.  They can return to what they have already seen or actually view the entire thing in revere. This is one less restriction to the narrative.







There is no question that I’m going to need the construction to be much more substantial.  Not only to support the weight of the diorama itself, but to support the force required to also turn the thing smoothly and effortlessly.  In the second or third iteration of the gears I replace all the cardboard shafts with wooden ones.  This improved the stability and tremendously, but it also added to the weigh.










My next step here is to laser cut the gears in MDF or black plexiglass.  The weight of these will be supported by the wooden cabinet that will eventually contain all the guts of the simulacrum.


Prototyping the Diorama | 2D

I haven’t posted anything on the diorama construction since the 11/16 update (a few post below). So lets catch up. I’ve been constructing the 2d diorama by altering period photography, drawings, paintings.  I decided to concentrate on the 2d for testing until the problems with the maya mesh can be worked out.


I’ve cut out most all of the images and details that I need to get started on the completion of Zini’s scenes and possible one each of his connections. I’ve also started to “modify” the images to reflect the narrative.






These are most of Veronica’s pieces, our child murder. Below you can see pieces form Zini’s and also a few images that will be used for the Wounded Heart, visually he’s become the Boy with the Charlie Brown Heart.

After some camera tests with the original images I decided the scale had to be greatly reduced. This opens up working with the images in photoshop and printing the smaller size as I need, increasing detail while reducing size. I can also print on card stock for a bit more rigidity. I decided to use these wooden skewers to hold each piece of the diorama in place. Because the mock up is made of foam core it this has made it easy to move the different pieces around and yet keep them stable and in place each time.  Granted this is leave a few extra holes in the bottom of the platform, but that’s fine for this prototype.  It’s about the placement and the interpretation now, the details of the visuals will be refines as I go.









The scenes started coming together where we learn about the relationship between Gerilarmo and Veronica.  This is a particularly difficult scene because it encompasses so much time.

I don’t want to “explain” what exactly is happening and what every detail means. As in real life, what you see is not always what you believe and stories are always up for interpretation.  I goal is to  create a mood and enough signs and symbols for the curious to interpret the circumstances of each character.  Their mind will begin to fill in the blanks, building the narrative like a rumor.









I’m treating the college pieces a bit theatrically.  I need them to hold a ton of quickly readable info and this piece is a small theater, so i worked in strong exaggerated expressions on the secondary characters.

The Charlie Brown Heart was a pleasant accident.  I was trying out different ways to show a broken heart and this one really appealed to me.  Charlie Brown is such a classically downtrodden and pathetic character, but he never gives up and we love him for it.  I liked the thought of Julius Farkus as Charlie Brown all grown up, and finally giving up.


Zini in Osirix and Maya

So I finally got a good working render from OsiriX and opened it in Maya.  Just as I had thought, it was a mesh mess to an extreme.

Maya can’t seem to automatically fix the Nonmanifold Geometry.  Nonmanifold Geometry is, simply put, a mesh that could not exist in the real world. Maya refuses to convert to subdivisions, booleans won’t work and smooth operations can lead to strange results.

There are three different types of nonmanifold Geometry (actually four since lamina faces are technically also nonmanifold):

• Three or more faces share the same edge on an object • Two or more faces share the same vertex, yet they share no edge • Two or more adjacent faces have opposite normal directions

I can’t clean they geometry up myself in the state it’s in. Opposite normal directions can’t be seen because I can’t even seen all the faces. I’m not sure at this point if it can be any other way.  I need to fix the geometry completely if I ever want to print these.  As of right now however, I need to just concentrate on the reconstructions, even if that means creating a 2 dimensionally likeness first for each of the eight subjects in the narrative.  I just have to get the ball rolling.

I’m not sure at this point if it can be any other way.  I need to reduce the geometry significantly if I ever want to print these.  As of right now however, I need to just concentrate on the reconstructions, even if that means creating a 2 dimensionally likeness first for each of the eight subjects in the narrative.  I just have to get the ball rolling.

Click on the image below to take you to a link that will then take you to a video of a fly through I put together in OsiriX. There has got to be work around for posting videos to wordpress without having to click, click, click to actually see it.

Here are a few screen captures of the OsiriX interface.  It’s pretty intuitive if you’ve ever used a 3D program before.






The visuals of the build are interesting as well.  Click on the image below to take you to a link that will then take you to a video to watch OsiriX in action stitching the layer back together.



Wood Shop and Space to Build



Into the 3D

This is my first attempt at reconstructing The Rope Walker’s Skull. click to see.




I received the first four CT scan sets from the University of Philadelphia’s Anthropology Department today.  Tom Schoenemann, the gentleman working on getting me those scans, recommended OsiriX as a good program for viewing and processing DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine) data created from the CT scans.  DICOM is a comprehensive set of standards for handling, storing and transmitting information in medical imaging.  These images can come from not only CT scans but other medical imaging modalities such as MRI, PET scans, etc.

OsiriX is a freeware program available to the public on the Apple Inc. Website. It is seamlessly tied into the Mac OS X platform.  Biomedical Visualizers can use this software to visualize anatomical data sets and extract visual information for reference.

OsiriX software has a “C-STORE SCP” capability, and is therefore capable of storing incoming DICOM images into a local database.  I’ll use the DICOM data from the CT scans of the Hyrtl skulls to create 3D volume renderings using the Osirix program to emulate a PACS system (Picture Archival and Communication System) on my local drive.

The 3D renderings will then be imported into image editing programs such as Maya, Mudbox and Photoshop.  From these renderings forensic facial reconstructions will be made for the different Hyrtl subjects.  The first subject of the narrative will have their skull printed 3 dimensionally as well to create a traditional 3D forensic facial reconstruction.  Printouts will be made of one of the subject’s skulls so a 2D forensic reconstruction can be made.  But all of the characters will have digital facial reconstructions made and printed.


These reconstructions will be the basis for the figures in the dioramas.  They will beminiature versions of how the Hyrtl subjects looked in real life.  Facial expressions will be changed in Maya and Mudbox to reflect the different emotions experienced by the characters.  These different face will be printed on one of Parsons’ 3D printers and used throughout the scenes.

On “NewTek” discussion forums a user going by “mrxd” was having similar issues and offered some of the images that I’ve share here with you.  All of the images on this post are from his attemps to use the DICOM data in CT scans imported it into Lightwave to make a model.


Collage the Narrative

Interviews from Tate

Matt Collishaw

TateShots, the channle for the Tate on YouTube, met Mat Collishaw to talk about his exhibition at the Freud Museum in London.  Inspiring work.  I understand his zing at the end too, but I’d like to think of it as inspiration and not so much “cheating”.

Rosa Barba

Italian artist Rosa Barba has brought her beguiling mix of film and sculpture to Tate Modern’s Level 2 gallery. In this interview Barba talks about her works ‘A Private Tableaux‘ (filmed in Liverpool’s ventilation towers) and ‘The Long Road’ (documenting a race track in the Californian desert) among other things.


Stereoscope Forms

This is the approach to the housing of the dioramas.  Each “lazy-susan” diorama of scenes will be housed in it’s own case.


Amazing Presedent

Matt Collishaw 


Shooting Stars


Mapping Out the Form and Scale


Member Ship Renewed


Prototyping the “The Rope Walker”



Form Planning and Prototyping


The Narrative Map and Key

Here is how all of the characters are knit together.  The key to each connection is written below.  The solid lines means the characters attached had a more direct connection; the dashed line means it was only a passing acquaintance. All of the characters have at least two connections to their fellows in the Hyrtl collection.  One connection must be strong and direct, one that effected their life.  The other connection can be merely a passing contact with another person.

The story starts with the tightrope walker and ends with our reformist herdsmen with everyone intertwined in-between.  And it turns out, the one character that ties them all together is the cop, but he’s not the first, last or the only one to live.  The narrative starts as a sweet innocent childhood romance. It builds to a tragic mystery with famous prostitutes and bandits. And ends happily, with every character dead.

1. Girolamo Zini, age 20, Rope-walker. Died of a broken neck.
     a. Veronica Huber. (2.)
     b. Geza. (8.)
     c. Julius Farkas (4.)
     d. Gianbattista (3.)

2. Veronica Huber, age 18. Executed for the murder of her child.
     a. Girolamo Zini. (1.)
     b. Julius Farkas. (4.)
     c. Gianbattista. (3.)

3. Gianbattista Tozzi, age 24. Policeman, Died of stab wound in Florence.
     a. Veronica Huber. (2.)
     b. Girolamo Zini. (1.)
     c. Julius Farkas. (4.)
     d. Geza Uirmeny. (8.)
     e. Francisca Seycora. (5.)
     f. Andrejew Sokoloff. (7.)
     g. Rai Tao Si. (6.)

4. Julius Farkas, age 28. Suicide by gunshot wound of the heart.
     a. Veronica Huber. (2.)
     b. Girolamo Zini. (1.)
     c. Gianbattista. (3.)

5. Francisca Seycora, age 19. Famous Viennese prostitute dies in hospital.
     a. Gianbattista (3.)
     b. Rai Tao Si. (6.)
     c. Andrejew Sokoloff. (7.)
     d. Geza Uirmeny. (8.)

6. Rai Tao Si, a famous Thai bandit, caught and executed.
     a. Francisca. (2.)
     b. Gianbattista. (3.) 

7. Andrejew Sokoloff. Joined the Scopzi sect and died from self castration.
     a. Francisca Seycora. (5.)
     b. Gianbattista. (3.)

8. Geza Uirmeny, age 80. Reformist herdsman. At age 70 attempted suicide by cutting his throat. Wound not fatal. Lived happily until 80.
     a. Girolamo. (1.)
     b. Gianbattista. (3.)
     c. Francisca. (5.)

Geza ends our story by living another 10 years and enjoying every minute.


The Move To Muti Media Dioramas


working with sculpy

Submedia Physical Animation  = Zoetrope Systems!!

Students will develop short animations for the Submedia “physical animation” zoetrope system for potential exhibition with the MTA Arts for Transit program. The Submedia system is a patented method of showing animations when the viewer moves through space (e.g., subway through tunnel, animation through windows; pedestrian moving across walkway, animation through in installation). The course has three components:

To learn basic physical animation theory and practice, including building classical and 21st century zoetropes, understanding basic principles of animation, and how to create animations for use in such devices

To create animations to be shown in public art locations (Bryant Park, Penn Station, and, if possible, Parsons), understanding constraints of the medium, public art, working with public art institutions

To learn modern theory and practice of creativity and creativity templates, based on the theory and practice of Jacob Goldenberg, and others.

Photos of the 3-D Zoetrope with 30 3-D sculptures of a live-action actor’s face. When the wheel spins, a strobe light flashes in sync with the rotation, illuminating the faces in fixed positions, and creating the illusion that the faces are speaking. The faces were captured from a live-action performance with Mova Contour Reality Capture, and printed using a 3-D stereolithography printer by Gentle Giant Studios.

3-D Zoetrope of Mova Contour Live Action Performance3-D Zoetrope of Mova Contour Live Action Performance3-D Zoetrope of Mova Contour Live Action Performance3-D Zoetrope of Mova Contour Live Action Performance

After the 3-D sculpture is removed from the 3-D stereolithography printer, it is sanded to remove rough edges.  Each 3-D sculpture is a precise reconstruction of a 3-D capture of the surface of the actor’s face in motion, accurate to a fraction of a millimeter. The face was captured by Mova Contour Reality Capture, and printed using a 3-D stereolithography printer by Gentle Giant Studios. One of the 3-D Scultpures is coming out of a 3-D stereolithography printer in this photo.  When the 3-D Zoetrope spins, a strobe light stops each 3-D model into a fixed position, so it appears to be moving while steadily in place. When the strobe light is turned off, the faces appear as a blur, as shown in these photos.


Looking at Precedents and Instillation

Rirkrit Tiravanija

Ilya Kabakov

J E N N I F E R   AND   K E V I N   M C C O Y




Timeline Prototyping


Presentation #2

Simulacrum, there is no better word for this project.

  • Simulacrum (plural: -cra), from the Latinsimulacrum which means “likeness, similarity”,[1] is first recorded in the English language in the late 16th century, used to describe a representation of another thing, such as a statue or a painting, especially of a god; by the late 19th century, it had gathered a secondary association of inferiority: an image without the substance or qualities of the original.[2]PhilosopherFredric Jameson offers photorealism as an example of artistic simulacrum, where a painting is sometimes created by copying a photograph that is itself a copy of the real.[3] Other art forms that play with simulacra include Trompe l’oeil,[4]Pop Art, Italian neorealism and the French New Wave.[3]

I thought the use of latin was appropriate for this project as well.

The Mütter Museum is a medical museum located in the Center City area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It contains a collection ofmedical oddities, anatomical and pathologicalspecimens, wax models, and antique medical equipment.

The museum is part of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The original purpose of the collection, donated by Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter in 1858, was medical research and education.

In the mid-19th century, Austrian anatomist Joseph Hyrtl began to collect skulls: skulls from every ethnic group in Eastern Europe, skulls of robbers and of prostitutes, skulls of men killed by violence and men killed by grief. These skulls were more than an impressive demonstration of ethnic variation.

All the questions these artifact bring up.

One of the ways to answer those questions in with a reconstruction of their physical likeness.  I have been trained in forensic facial reconstruction.  Dr. Janet Monge at the University of Philadelphia is currently scanning the skulls.  I will uses these scans and other methods for the reconstructions.

There is also the information written directly on the skulls by Dr. Hyrtl himself.

These will be the characters of the narrative.  I have these as facts.

But what about everything I don’t know?  All the questions left unanswered.

Museums have more to offer.

They have been the inspiration for Many artist.

These are just a few examples of precedence.

This is a fun video I showed as an inspiration called Collage from Fortià.

A small clip from Peter Greenaway’s Death in the Seine – Historical drownings in the Seine are catalogued,
dissected and elaborated, with multilayered visuals and ‘documentary’ asides.


Narrative in Museum Informatics




Humans are narrative creatures.  Before we are even born we are being told stories. As soon as we can speak we begin to announce our own stories to the world. And even after death, our stories are told for us.

Many of the great thinkers in narrative discourse recognize stories as being part of our cognitive repertoire for thinking, understanding, remembering, and explaining. (Jonassen 2002, 69) Our lives are immersed in stories, narratives, the fundamental organizing principal of human existence. (Bruner, 1990)

The best presentation on the universal nature of narrative can be found in Roland Barthes’s An Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative. The opening epigraph deserves a full quotation:

THERE ARE COUNTLESS FORMS of narrative in the world. First of all, there is a prodigious variety of genres, each of which branches out into a variety of media, as if all substances could be relied upon to accommodate man’s stories. Among the vehicles of narrative are articulated language, whether oral or written, pictures, still or moving, gestures, and an ordered mixture of all those substances; narrative is present in myth, legend, fables, tales, short stories, epics, history, tragedy, drame [suspense drama], comedy, pantomime, paintings (in Santa Ursula by Carpaccio, for instance), stained-glass windows, movies, local news, conversation. Moreover, in this infinite variety of forms, it is present at all times, in all places, in all societies; indeed narrative starts with the very history of mankind; there is not, there has never been anywhere, any people without narrative; all classes, all human groups, have their stories, and very often those stories are enjoyed by men of different and even opposite cultural backgrounds: 1 narrative remains largely unconcerned with good or bad literature. Like life itself, it is there, international, transhistorical, transcultural.

For my thesis I am creating a narrative.  The imputes for this narrative was a visit to The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia.  When I first began to explore the Mütter museum I was instantly attracted to the Hyrtl collection, a wall of skulls in the main gallery. There, among the medical devices and wax models, one hundred and thirty nine human skulls are encased in glass and displayed as a collection.  I began to study these artifacts closer.  Each had it’s own small note, giving different hints to a personal history: a name, a date, where they had one lived.  On many cards their occupation in life or the cause of their death was listed.

These small tidbits of information only helped to ignite my curiosity and imagination.  I once practiced forensic facial reconstruction (a method of recreating a person’s likeness from their skull), and as I studied the skulls in front of me, I imagined what they had once looked like.  I wanted to know their stories; to see them as more then just the object and information presented within a glass case.  Who where these people?  How had they come together?  And where could I find their stories?

The first answers to these questions came from the facts, the history of each artifact.  Meager as they are, those small notes are the rich beginnings of narrative.  As Anna Dhody, the museum’s curator demonstrates:

“And it says here he died at 80. He’s from Hungary or Romania. A reformist herdsman, and at the age of 70 he attempted suicide by cutting his own throat. However the wound was not fatal because he had an ossified larynx. And he had a laryngeal fistula that remained, and he lived until 80 without melancholy. Which I just like the way it ends, kind of on a happy note in a sense. In this one card, we have this entire story, this chunk. And I think it’s just amazing.”

There’s a famous Viennese prostitute and a tightrope walker who broke his neck. A child murderer, and a lovesick teenager, a cabin boy, a soldier, a shoemaker. They are from Italy and Austria, Hungary or Romania, all over central and eastern europe.  They are all from the later part of the 19th-century.  And their remains were unclaimed or rejected by the church for burial.  They all came to be part of the Hyrtl collection.  These historical facts start to tell us a story, they give us a foundation of details to build a plot upon, but they do not complete the narrative. History and fact will only partially answer all of the questions I have.

My imagination quickly began to work on answering the rest.  I had already begun to build elaborate stories of romance and tragedy based on the scripted notes attached to each of the skull. (Given the setting and the nature of the artifacts, these fictional devices seem only fitting.)  Without all of the facts, my mind naturally began to fill in the blanks with a fiction of my own making.  Each skull became connected to the other beyond the fact that they are artifacts belonging to the same collection.  Now, in a world of my creation, they had once know each other life.  I built plots in my mind of how they had lived and what turns in fate had brought their final remains to the Mütter.  By giving these artifacts a narrative I had give them back a life.  I was building an imaginative fiction based on a given history that began to transform these objects back into the people they once where.  But how could I make these stories more then just broad fictions based on few facts?  How could I ground these more to the historical reality they came from?  In other words, how could I get more facts for my fictions?

One way that immediately comes to mind, is to forensically reconstructing their likeness.  I could then see what they had may have look like in life.  This will give a true face to the characters of this historical fiction, the skulls from the Hyrtl collection.  But this still falls short of expanding on the facts of the stories, the details of the history, science, art, culture and nature of these skulls.  This is where the secondary domain of my thesis becomes crucial.

Museum Informatics


Here are a few visuals and critique from the first run through for thesis midterm presentation.


These where the basic stand-ins for the draft run-through.  After some feedback I think I’m going to draw the charts in my own way.  Pencil, Ink and Paper.  Pre-made pie charts and grafts are rarely a good idea in a final presentation, and when I draw it I know it.

Everyone agreed that it was too long.  When I did a run through with a friend it was well within the 10 minute limit and that was even with a with few interruptions.  When I went through it in class I was told it was at 15 minutes.  I knew I was nervous, but whoa!  So much trimming needs to happen to get this presentation under control.

It was suggested to add one thing however, and it’s a great idea, a diagram showing the relation of what you see in the museum to the amount of information you don’t see.  So that’s getting done tomorrow.

So a lot needs to be cut and I need to rely less on notes.  This will show that I know the material better and it was brought to my attention that perhaps I speak better from the heart.  In other words “I was kind of stiff” to quote one critique.  I need to just tighten up what I’m saying and tell it instead of read it. That doesn’t mean in some was I can’t be well rehearsed.  I should know the answer to most questions and at least be able to think my way to the answer for the rest.

Some other advice that will  definitely be heeded:



What was once slide #36 (!) in my presentation is now slide one. Goodness, I present much like I write. I’m lucky to have good editors.

I’m losing the “Why Museums?” and the  “Why Narrative?” slides.  That’s a good 2 or 3 minutes right there.  I hit me like a brick when I got to the “Why Museums?” slide that – I had just gone over that in depth and now I was going to do it again plus go over narrative the same way.  I did dicuss narrative in other ways as well and it was advised that I just go straight into one specific form.

Which brings me to another part of the critique that I have to agree with and I actually feel a bit relieved about right now; I had to make up my mind.  That is, right now I need to focus on one way to present this narrative. Yes, it’s great to think of all the possibilities, but what can I realistically get done by the end of March?  It all started because I presented 3 ways to offer this narrative and then gave several specific examples in those technologies:

Museum Exhibit


Mobile Application

I’m focusing my initial efforts on the Museum Exhibit. I am especially excited about the possibilities in this form.  For the next presentation I’ll have mock ups of how I all this might look, just a few simple and intriguing renderings.

I was twice as nervous because none of my own equipment was working with the schools setup.  I had rehearsed with my phone as a working “second monitor” = a remote with presenters notes.  It made it seamless and I didn’t even have to look at the phone to go to the next slide.  Ah well, equipment is crazy, I shoudl probably stop relying on it so much. ;)

Here are all slides from the presentation. (without presenters notes)


Some thoughts on the Order of Importance

By reconstructing the personal narratives of anonymous individuals, combining them to create a lager collective narrative and by creating a fun and interesting way for people to engage and interact with these narratives, the concept of the skull as object will be transformed to that of a human life.

The narrative of the Everyman/Everywoman.

Personal Narrative is the boat that navigates the waters of detachment to join the disparate shores of the “it” (the object, the skull) and the he or she that once was. The he or she that we connect to, as sister brother husband wife niece nephew friend or foe.

Mortality is something we all have in common. In modern life we do not often “deal” with mortality and the reality of death has been sanitized and detached from our experience. This leaves little outlet for understanding the importance of the individual story of life and it’s impact on the collective narrative of time, place, and humanity.

Forensic reconstruction is only a part of the interface [the data – the history, age, sex, race, environmental conditions, etc.] between the skull and who this person was in life.

“from a skeleton you do not determine identity. You determine characteristics that lead to identity.”

The collective narrative, the combined personal stories of these people, speaks to the human condition of nostalgia, memory and an emotional connection to the past that communicates to us a shared experience.


Starting the Domains Map


Questions so far …

  • How can the reconstructed history of a specific anonymous individual from our collective past inform the human condition and thereby become a part of a larger collective narrative?
  • What is the importance of this collective narrative?
  • How can these personal narratives effect the collective narrative?
  • Can the reconstructed face of persons long dead help others to reconnect the past to precent,  to the Mutter Museum’s audience?
  • Who is the Mutter Museum’s audience?
  • Can a engaging narrative on the human condition be created by combining forensic scientific data1, medical records and other archeological, sociological and historical data ?
  • What is the importance of this narrative?
  • Can this narrative be useful in contributing to the development of the facial likeness of human specimens in the Mutter Museum’s skull collections?
  • Can a meaningful experience be created by using interactive applications to digitally reconstruct a forensic likeness of a human specimen in the Mutter’s collection?
  • How can this interaction improve their visit to the Mutter Museum?
  • What value can facial reconstructions add to museum collections?
  • What can be gained from directly interacting with technology in a museum setting?
  • Is forensic art and facial reconstruction interesting to the Mutter Museum’s audience?


Concept Brief #01

My goal is to create an interactive, educational experience for the Mütter Museum.

[In 1858 the Mütter Museum was founded to educate future doctors about anatomy and human medical anomalies. Today, it serves as a valuable resource for educating and enlightening the public about our medical past and telling important stories about what it means to be human.  The College of Physicians of Philadelphia 19 South 22nd St, Philidelphia, PA 19103 (more here)]


I want visitors to recreate a digital forensic reconstruction through a touch screen interaction either within the museum, online, or though the use of a mobile application. From a digital image gallery, a user will be able to chose an exciting skull from the Mütter’s collection. Through a collage of text, audio and visuals the user will be given all the information available about the individual; including the history of the area and the time in which they lived. This mimics the use of the coroner or medical examiner’s report used in modern forensic reconstructions. It also contextualizes the individual and gives a personal narrative to that time and place in which they lived. It is thought this unique history that user will find the information needed to chose the correct measurements for the tissue depth markers; needed to complete an accurate reconstruction.

Before the history begins the user will be instructed to look or listen for the sex, age, race and approximate weight or build for the individual. The user be told that they will need to enter this information later.  At the conclusion of this history  the user will be promoted to enter the information into the system. An error will be shown if they enter anything incorrectly and they will given the opportunity to replay the history or reenter the data.

Once the user has entered the correct information they are rewarded. A “pile” of numbered markers will appear to the right or left of a three dimensional rendering of the Mütter skull. On the skull will be faint numbers in the correct anatomical positions for the corresponding markers. The user will be instructed to match the numbers. A number one will appear faintly between the eyes, the user will drag marker number one to that position and it will “lock” into place. When all the markers are in place the user will be asked to make decisions about skin tone, eye color, hair cut and color, and clothing. These will be presented as visual choices and can be changed later. When all the choices have been made, the eyes, underlying tissue, and details will slowly fade into place through a steady build up of layers, again mimicking the steps of an actual postmortem facial reconstruction.

The Mütter reconstructions will exist in 3 spaces. First, in a gallery as an interactive exhibit. This exhibit would include the entirety of the project; a cast of an completed reconstruction next to the original skull, the history of the individual, the tools used in the reconstruction and other information on forensic art and the Mütter Museum.

Secondly, it will exist in the Mütter Museum as an educational interaction supporting the permanent exhibit. This would manifest in the form of iPads or other touch screen interfaces encased in podiums. These would be incrementally placed throughout the length of the original display so visitors could reconstruct the living likeness of the skull they are currently examining. These touch screen reconstructions could also use a reduced version of the full program to aid in the flow of visitors and ease the need for hardware and technical maintenance.

Lastly, my thesis can exist as a publicly available mobile application. This can be used much like the Mütter’s existing app, to support and inform the exhibits. Not only can people who are unable to visit the museum participate, visitors using the application on site will reduce some congestion around the permanently installed podiums.