Tabula Rasa

3 November, 2010

For a recent assignment in my Materials and Building Strategies class, we were supposed to make a mold and cast of some object. I chose a matchbox car:

Car and cast

I was thinking about a scene from the Augment storyboards where Engelbart parks by the side of the road and has a vision of the personal computer and imagining the cast car could be a prop.

However, once I had the small, perfectly smooth, white plastic car in my hand, it started to take on a life of its own. I started imagining it at full-scale on the city streets, at night, immobile, the multi-colored lights of the city reflecting in its glossy surface. There was something about the image I found both haunting and calming.

The feeling reminded me of the first movement of
Tabula Rasa by Arvo Part. The piece has a combination of spiritual calm, large expanses of negative space, and a delicate sense of longing or melancholy.

I shot some night footage of the streets around ITP and did a few very basic experiments in After Effects with placing the car into the scene.

White car experiments from Greg Borenstein on Vimeo.

White car test footage from Greg Borenstein on Vimeo.

In both of these shots the car is moving, which feels wrong to me, a violation of the eloquent stasis of Part's music and the effect I'm going for.

Also, compositing the car into these night shots results in lighting on the car which is totally different than that in the scene around it. In theory this was a desirable effect, emphasizing the car's otherness, but in practice it just made the car not quite read as part of the scene. This problem was further exacerbated by the difficulty of matching the angle of the car to the perspective of the footage so that it would truly appear to sit on the street.

While discussing the project in class a fellow student, Chris Langer, suggested achieving the effect via forced perspective. In other words, simply placing the miniature car in front of the camera so that it will appear to be at full scale and sitting correctly on the street. This would allow the car to actually be in the correct lighting environment and make the whole process much simpler. I intend to do some experiments with this technique in the next few days.

A few final thoughts on the combination of the music and the image of the white car. While I was presenting the idea in class I realized that, of course, "Tabula Rasa" means 'blank slate', which presents an interesting resonance with the white form of the car. Further, the title of the first movement of the piece is "Con moto" which means "with movement", while my car will be surrounded by movement while remaining absolutely still itself.