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TMRW (The Mixed Reality Workshop)

Where technology meets art, there’s an Autodesk tool to unleash untapped creativity

THE FUTURE OF MAKING

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Reinforced roof structure atop the Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines in the Australian Outback. Courtesy of Advantic.

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Where technology meets art, there’s an Autodesk tool to unleash untapped creativity

The Mixed Reality Workshop (TMRW) is a not-for-profit company born out of collaboration by a few passionate creatives. Working in the William Kentride’s Centre for the Less Good Idea based in Maboneng Johannesburg, TMRW uses a variety of tools to research technologies and for creative exploration. Key among these are AutoCAD Recap, Meshmixer, Fusion 360 and TinkerCad features so favourably among the gallery’s artists and tinkerers. They are not only cost saving technologies but more importantly they allow digital artists to push the boundaries between art and technology and experience the realisation that there is no more boundaries.

About the Company

The Mixed Reality Workshop (TMRW) is a not-for-profit company, born out of a collaboration between contemporary artists and creative technologists at William Kentridge’s Centre for the Less Good Idea, an interdisciplinary incubator space for arts based in Maboneng, Johannesburg.

The aim of TMRW is to create and exhibit works embracing new technologies by emerging and established contemporary visual artists. TMRW collaborates with the creative technologists at The Digital Foundry who use various technologies around industry 4.0, the likes of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR), 3D Printing and soon hopes to introduce the Internet of Things, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the mix.

TMRW researches and utilizes disruptive and emerging technologies and introduces these into the art space as a form of creative exploration. TMRW focuses on the emergence of these technologies and uses art as the vehicle to drive awareness and education on the topic.

Prefabrication on-site at Advantic’s Dayton, Ohio headquarters. Courtesy of Advantic.

About the Project

Technologist Rick Treweek with artist Mary Sibande

According to Rick Treweek, technologist and digital artist at The Digital Foundry, exploring different technologies and pushing the boundaries is an integral part of the research and creative process. “Pushing the tech does not always have an end goal; it’s a process of continual evolution and the journey becomes an equally important component of the art.”

For Ann Roberts, Director at TMRW, it’s also about educating audiences. “Part of the role of the workshop is to find, educate, inform and grow the audience for this kind of artwork. The more people come to the gallery, the more people will become familiar and conformable with the technology.” TMRW also gives artists access to the technology so that they can become comfortable with these new digital tools. “VR drawing tools work almost like the real tools they mimic, but artists still need to wrap their heads around this new medium,” says Roberts.

“The technology should not distract from the content of a work of art exhibited in AR or VR, it should be the vehicle and enhance the content idea”

Ann Roberts, Director, TMRW Gallery

Workflow

Digital scan of a sculpture by artist Mary Sibande

As with most creative processes, creating art in a virtual world requires an array of tools and technologies. This is partly because there are no standards or universal technologies available for this new medium.

According to Treweek there are no mistakes in the journey to creating art, “throughout the process you are continually experimenting”. As 3D printing is a big part of his digital art, Treweek says Autodesk Recap is an invaluable tool to scan large objects while Meshmixer is used for 3D printing.

He has found particular value in Autodesk Fusion 360 to create low polygon objects for print. He also uses it to assist him with creating nuts and bolts for 3D print, something that is not easy to do with other CAD packages. Even the free app, Autodesk TinkerCad, has found a use in the digital art world, by experimenting and testing on virtual Arduino boards.

“There is no more risk in burning the circuitry when tinkering goes wrong,” says Treweek. This not only saves money for cash-strapped artists but also improves the learning curve significantly.

Rick Treweek, Technologist and Digital Artist, The Digital Foundry

A Crescendo of Ecstasy

Mary Sibande, Renowned South African Artist

For TMRW’s most recent artistic showcase, the gallery, worked with renowned South African artist Mary Sibande. This new exhibition epitomizes the goals TMRW sought to achieve by working closely with artists to not only extend their creative practice but also bridge the divide between technology and art.

Over the course of a few months, TMRW and The Digital Foundry created an incubation space for Sibande to play, explore, experiment and create with various technologies, spending time developing new modes of storytelling, image making and installation experiences. Out of this exploratory nature came about a fantastical energy that saw all parties involved utilizing a range of tools to create a VR portrait of Sibande’s latest work. Titled A Crescendo of Ecstasy, the artwork uses 3D modelling, photogrammetry, 3D animation and a mixture of other technologies to transport the viewer into an immersive one on one encounter with tech, art, and fantasy.

Challenges

When an artist creates art in an AR or VR environment, the device used to view the art is almost always a part of the art itself. This means that the hardware and the art are locked together. Should the hardware fail, the art could be lost forever.

The TMRW is invested in solving the problem of hardware and software decay in this ever-evolving technology-driven world. “There is a global conversation around buying digital artwork and the longevity and accessibility thereof,” says Roberts. This is a problem that is not particularly new, but the virtual elements of digital art are making this a lot trickier to manage.

Prefabrication on-site at Advantic’s Dayton, Ohio headquarters. Courtesy of Advantic.

Benefits

By building the technology foundations and making it available to artists, the gallery is in a unique position to continually evolve and adapt to the creative needs of artists. The more people visit the gallery and experience the tech, the more people will become familiar with it and hopefully immerse themselves in the experience.

Treweek also sees this as a great opportunity for 3D printing, giving visitors and art fans the opportunity to buy trinkets and souvenirs based on the digital artwork they viewed.

Prefabrication on-site at Advantic’s Dayton, Ohio headquarters. Courtesy of Advantic.

Education

More than showing off the technology, for TMRW and The Digital Foundry, it’s about showing people another world of art and creativity that can be experienced.

By transforming audiences who experience VR and AR art for the first time, TMRW hopes that the focus will shift away from the technology, and purely be on the art. Once the technology becomes invisible, the art will again become the true focal point. Similarly, giving artists the space to play and experiment, means they don’t have to spend money they often don’t have, on early or untested technologies to adopt.

Rick Treweek holding up a 3D printed miniature sculpture

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