Creative Code Youth Take Over Dolby Gallery with “Scrolling Landscapes”

If you’re walking by Dolby headquarters in San Francisco, you may notice the digital art installation on our video wall, visible through the glass that wraps around the building at Market and 9th streets. This week, Dolby and nonprofit Gray Area Foundation for the Arts unveiled Scrolling Landscapes, a digital art and soundscape installation created by four high-school students.

The Dolby Gallery video wall is four feet high and 62 feet wide, with a 52-speaker Dolby Atmos® sound system.

Catherine Lee of San Mateo High School, Yingxi (Janet) Lin of Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, William Lui of Balboa High School, and Theodore Winston of Mission High School were chosen from dozens of San Francisco Bay Area applicants for Gray Area’s Creative Code 2015 youth apprenticeship program, where Scrolling Landscapes was first conceived.

In October, the apprentices began working with Creative Code mentors Simon Chaffetz, Matt Ganucheau, and Sarah Wever to learn about coding for the visual arts. Classes and workshops took place at Dolby and at Gray Area’s Mission district building (formerly a movie theatre) each week. At Dolby, John Loose, Director of Audio Visual Production at Dolby, provided audio and visual engineering support.

Using their growing skills in HTML5 and CSS for the Web, the Processing open-source programming language, and Arduino® technology, the apprentices created prototypes with Makey Makey® kits to create what Kevin Byrd, Dolby’s Director and Experiential Curator, Visual Identity, calls “generative visuals with a physical interface” to make a physical object interactive. For example, he says, they might make touching a pencil cause an audiovisual reaction.

The apprentices would use what they learned to control the millions of pixels on the Dolby® Gallery video wall—a screen four feet high and 62 feet wide, with a 52-speaker Dolby Atmos sound system.

“It was wonderful to watch how the four students came up with the concept for the installation and figured out how to break the project into pieces,” said Byrd. One apprentice worked to create changes in the water element in the piece, another to control the sky element, and so on. You’ll see four pedestals placed near the video wall; on each pedestal is an object that controls or affects one element of the piece.

When you touch the faceted crystal sphere displayed on one pedestal, the wire strands around it conduct electrical impulses to the Makey Makey Go™ USB connection and on to the computer, and you change the visuals and sounds related to the landscape on the video wall.

“A lot of what we do is [about] defusing intimidation with technology, and this [Makey Makey technology] is the number-one piece of gear we use,” said Gray Area mentor and director of education Matt Ganucheau. “You just plug it in and don’t have to think about connections, about programming.” Designed by the MIT Media Lab, the kits are small and affordable, and they feel a bit like toys.

Once they started on the Scrolling Landscapes project, the apprentices just wanted to keep building on their ideas. The final product on display in the Dolby Gallery through the end of January is the result of an extended creative process.

But the apprentices’ work won’t stop with creating the installation. Later this month, they will lead two Saturday workshops to help train other students ages 14 to 19 in the skills they have learned.

“We want students to understand that there are companies that value creativity and technology,” said Byrd. “We want to expose kids to the possibilities, to know that there are career paths that really encourage working in music, in sound, and in experience.”