When Dreams Become Real
So much has happened since I first wrote about my “side project” to help Dan Ambrosi apply DeepDream to his multi-hundred megapixel HDR landscapes. Here’s a rapid-fire rundown. Be sure to click on the photos below to see a series of (smart!) albums from each event.
The first chance to view our creations at near “life size” came on March 31st from Calit2 at UC San Diego where Dan was invited to present his work on their 66-million pixel wide room-sized VROOM tiled wall display. Calit2 (which my father founded in 2000) has a long history of collaboration between science, technology, and the digital arts, so everyone felt right at home, and it provided us with the first visceral validation that seeing this work displayed with sufficiently high scale and resolution was indeed a transformative experience. Here’s a video I shot of Dan controlling the wall, and here’s Calit2’s news release from the visit. It left us energized and determined to see these works printed at scale in the real world. Turns out we wouldn’t have to wait long…
The great jailbreak
The very next day, Dan installed a series of large format printed Dreamscapes at the massive GPU Technology Conference, which is held annually by NVIDIA in the San Jose Convention Center. We’d shown NVIDIA our work earlier, and they loved how it showcased the power of what you could compute with GPUs and CUDA, so they agreed to purchase three 8 feet high x 16 feet wide (!) Dreamscapes (printed on tension-mounted fabric backlit by LEDs inside a free-standing aluminum frame) for the main conference hallway. Dan, Chris, and I also gave a well-attended talk (video) on the art and tech behind the Dreamscapes, and Dan gave a couple additional interviews. The pieces were a huge hit, and it was so fun to see everyone enjoying them, taking selfies in front of them, standing back to take in the whole picture and then walking right up close to see the surprising details, and grabbing their friends and colleagues with “you gotta see this!” We’re so grateful to NVIDIA for their support, which allowed us to finally unshackle these works from their digital prison and experience them with the full freedom and resolution that only reality provides (for now).
Bringing the tour back home
Ever since I started working on Dreamscapes, I’d been sharing my progress on Google’s internal G+ and asking for feedback. After Dan published his work online and photos started flowing in from Calit2 and GTC, demand grew to present a tech talk and exhibit Dan’s work inside the ‘plex. NVIDIA generously agreed to loan us their Dreamscapes from GTC for a week, so on May 20th we set them up in one of Google’s largest auditoriums, and the following Monday Dan delivered an hour-long tech talk (video) followed by a reception. This was the first time I’d heard Dan go deep on the art history and iteration of technique that drove him to be able to produce these compelling giant landscapes, so I learned a lot and it sparked a lot of discussion among Googlers. The pieces remained up that whole week, and as word spread, there was a constant flow of people sneaking in to check them out and share in the unique experience.
Entering the fine art world
When it rains, it pours. During the time we were showing our work at NVIDIA and Google, Dan was approached by several fine art galleries about exhibiting his work, and he ended up creating installations in contemporary spaces in both Miami, FL and Steamboat Springs, CO (more photos). He gave talks at both places, and the enthusiasm from fellow artists and the community was enormously validating. He’ll also be showcasing his work at the upcoming 9e2 art + science event in Seattle this October.
A parting gift
After all of this excitement, I couldn’t help wishing I could take home a physical memento of our adventure. Obviously 8′ x 16′ is way too large to display inside a normal home, but Dan also produces his works in 4′ x 8′ wall-mounted light boxes printed using Duratrans, which is even crisper than fabric (though it can’t be printed as large). My favorite scene of his is the Point Montara Lighthouse, shot just a few minutes away from my house, which became something of a signature image for us. I celebrated my 35th birthday this year, and my parents decided to commemorate the occasion by purchasing that piece for me. I couldn’t imagine a better present, and not a day goes by that I don’t pass by and stare at it with a big smile on my face. :)
As you can see, it’s been a busy time in Dreamscape land. Yet remarkably, Dan has simultaneously undertaken an end-to-end upgrade of his workflow, from the camera (Sony RX1 → Sony RX1R II, which with its 42.4 megapixel full frame 35mm sensor nearly doubles the effective resolution he can capture, enabling him to shoot scenes that call for a narrower panoramic sweep) to the software (Photomatix → Aurora HDR, which provides better color balance, especially with blue skies; PTGui → Autopano Pro, which stitches more accurately resulting in fewer artifacts; and even upgrading to the latest version of Photoshop CC, which can finally handle images larger than 30,000 pixels on a side). He’s currently in the process of “re-mastering” many of his previously captured images with this new suite of tools, as well as shooting new scenes and exploring new DeepDream settings to run on them.
Oh, and he’s also started collaborating with an additional AI / deep-learning image-oriented software team on what may turn into “Dreamscapes 2nd Edition” soon. I can’t wait to see what dreams may come…
Originally published at josephsmarr.com on July 22, 2016.