Simone Seagle

Simone Seagle

Independent Web and Educational Software Developer

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Medium & Message

Medium & Message

January 24, 2022 Simone Seagle

When I make moveable versions of pieces of art, like I have on the Play section of this website and on the Edward Lear Alphabet, I'm not limited by anything other than imagination and trigonometry. Lothar Meggendorfer, who originated moveable piece books in the late 1800s, created motion with intricate paper tabs and armatures within the pages, that were adored by children the world over. Colette Fu is a modern expert practitioner and creator of pop-up books that explore cultural heritage. The Rosenbach museum in Philadelphia is showcasing these two artists in the Medium & Message: The Book Art of Collette Fu and Lothar Meggendorfer exhibit.

Because the works of these two artists are so intricate and delicate (and in the case of Meggendorfer's, incredibly old), it is sadly not possible to allow visitors to explore them for themselves. I was honored to be asked by the staff of The Rosenbach to make a few pieces interactive so that visitors could explore the range of motion for themselves.

Meggendorfer's Musician

Meggendorfer's musician playing his cello, from Always jolly!: a movable toybook. London: H. Grevel & Co., [ca. 1891]. Bequest of Maurice Sendak. S 2570. From the collection of The Rosenbach.

Meggendorfer's work is uniquely suited to my style of interactive animation because, unlike most pieces that I work with, it was designed from the beginning to move. With only a few scans of the pages, I was able to use Photoshop to cut out the components without damaging the original work, recreating the motion in JavaScript for the web afterward. I'm sure it's less satisfying than pulling the real tabs on the pages, but certainly much safer for the more than 100-year-old artifacts (that incidentally used to belong to Maurice Sendak!).

Colette Fu's Uyghur Musicians

Colette Fu (b. 1969), Uyghur music. Philadelphia: Colette Fu, 2020. On loan from the Artist in the collection of The Rosenbach.

I have a particular affinity for female artists with a background in STEM fields. Colette Fu's work is beautiful, delightful, and wonderfully enginereed- all of my favorite things! It's amazing to see how they move as they open and close, but this is an impossibility in a public exhibit setting without running the risk of damaging her pieces. In order to show this motion, I opted to use videos of their opening and closing and allow for very fine scrubbing of this process. This turned out to be trickier than I had anticipated, because HTML5 video does not scrub smoothly at all. My solution was to write a script to turn the videos into sprite sheets, which animate beautifully with no lag time at all! The end result is very effective and ridiculously smooth. The downside of this approach is that the frame size is limited by the recommended size of the spritesheet (less than 10x pixels in each dimension) and no audio is included, so it is not ideal for all situations but is perfect for this one.

The touchscreen program I wrote to house these interactives also includes videos showcasing Colette Fu's travels, an interview with her, and a link to podcast episode produced by The Rosenbach. The menu screen doubles as an attract screen so that each animation or page can be featured and highlighted.

The touchscreen program in place

The touchscreen program in place at The Rosenbach.