Total Production

Projection Studio Presents ‘World Machine’ at 2015 Durham Lumiere

November 2015

Projection artist Ross Ashton and The Projection Studio produced another spectacular work, The World Machine, onto Durham Cathedral in the UK for the 2015 Durham Lumiere light festival.

The festival attracted upwards of 200,000 people to the city over four nights of amazing light installations. It was the fourth time that Projection Studio has created an art installation onto the Cathedral, but the first time it’s been done using video projectors. In the past, PIGI film projectors were used.

The projection system involved 14 Christie 20K machines, which were positioned on a series of custom towers and hides strategically located around the perimeter of the Cathedral. This was carefully calculated to ensure that all of the front facing walls and their various return surfaces were evenly lit.

There was a depth differential of 25 metres from the front to the back projection surfaces which included all three spires, and the cathedral was also made of dark stone, presenting many technical challenges. The images filling the space measured an impressive 160 metres wide by 60 metres tall.

d3 was chosen for control, for its flexibility and superior blending and mapping qualities. The show was 3D modelled in the d3 system enabling a detailed and complete wrap of the building to be produced. A designated UNESCO heritage site completed in 1096, it is one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in the world.

Ross Ashton of The Projection Studio said: “It was a complete privilege to be invited back to Durham Lumiere by the festival’s curators, Artichoke, and fantastic to work with everyone at the Cathedral together with eminent astronomers and historians from Durham University.” He continues: “The research required to create this work was exciting and fascinating; it was absolutely my ‘Dream Project’.”

Ashton also produced all the digital art working in close collaboration with the Cosmology and History departments of Durham University and the staff of Durham Cathedral library. All contributed ideas to the concept, which was initially inspired by the scientific work of English thinker, scientist and philosopher Robert Grosseteste (c1170-1253).

His specific writings included “De Luce, seu de incohatione formarum” (On Light and the Beginning of Forms) which described a medieval ‘big-bang’ theory, and this was a starting point for “The World Machine”.

Light is prominent throughout all Grosseteste's works, which suggests that the simplest form of the universe was composed from first matter (dark matter) and first form. To him, the ‘first form’ was light.

Ashton was granted access to the vast facilities, interdisciplinary resources and archives at the University and the Cathedral. Around six months of meticulous research preceded the compilation of all the ideas and findings into a storyboard that would be a meaningful, entertaining and accessible 13 minute large format projection and son et lumière spectacle show to be shared with and enjoyed by the public.

Ashton noted: “It was an incredible process and I had the chance to work with some truly amazing, highly talented and inspiring people.”
These included cosmologist Carlos Frenk, the Ogden Professor of Fundamental Physics and a world-renowned authority, Giles Gasper, Senior Lecturer in Medieval History, both from Durham University and Doctor Jane Gunning, Imaging Services Officer at Durham Cathedral.

Original materials used by Ashton in the show included renders generated by Durham University’s super-computer related to the research of dark matter, planets and galaxies and investigations into supernovas. There were also visualisations of the universe ‘created’ by the mathematical calculations of Grosseteste, which were fed into the computer and proved an extremely accurate replication of what he would have understood to be ‘the universe’ during his lifetime.

“It was all absolutely fascinating” reiterated Ashton, “I am really grateful for all the time and effort people gave up to help me produce a truly unique and special show.”

Ashton added that the greatest pleasure of all was to be able to bring it to life and share all of this with so many people who came to watch the show, which ran to a special soundtrack written by award winning film, TV and theatre composer Isobel Waller-Bridge. He also worked closely with Projection Studio’s Sang Gun Kim, who led the team compiling all the 3D motion graphics and imaging making up the show content.

The projectors, control and hardware were supplied by QED and co-ordinated by Dan Gray who also programmed and operated the d3. John del Nero, working with Sebastian Frost, created the sound design.
Press reviews buzzed with positivity and social media channel chatter spiked with one tweet to Ross from a mother who reported that after seeing the show her eight year old son stated that he wanted to become an astronomer. It was one of many emotional moments throughout the weekend.

On the final Saturday and Sunday nights, for a period the projection team created new artwork that lit the Cathedral in blue, white and red to stand in solidarity with Paris in the wake of the terror attacks.


Photos by Ross Ashton
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