Thursday, August 28, 2014

Unexpected Collaborations: Robocrop process

This week's post is about the Robocrop video and the process behind making it. It was quite a different approach to Sweetfighter with the entire video this time shot in camera. We used lighting techniques and wired props to tell the story of an agricultural / robotics collaboration. Our concept was to present a futuristic vision of nature through the symbiotic relationship between science research and nature. The idea was to use plants but have them glow, Avatar like and also be wired electronically to sway as if swaying in the wind.

Having proposed all this in our storyboards we then had to figure out how to build it so began nightly tests using fluorescent fluid to make the flowers and plants glow. After finding some helpful tutorials online we settled on using two recipes. One based on highlighter fluid and the second on tonic water. The difference between the two was the colour of the glow they created. Highlighter fluid created a more toxic looking yellow glow while tonic water produces a more softer blue glow.
Even the clean up produced some interesting specimens. The close up of the tissue looks almost cosmic.

We also tried different methods for getting the plants to soak up the fluid, A – through the cut stems which took a bit longer to take affect and is less effective, B – soaking the flower blooms directly in the fluid. Much more vibrant and the effect can be seen within hours. Just watch out that the blooms don't start to disintegrate! The variegated devil's ivy was soaked through the stem in highlighter fluid for about a week and you can see the glow start to spread through the veins in the leaves. It was really interesting doing these experiments. We'd love to do another project using similar techniques. Not that plants aren't already naturally beautiful but it's amazing how they can be transformed through a relatively lo-fi technique. Down below you can see some of our glow tests on kale, fox glove and the garlic flowers.

Although for glowing purposes white and pale pink flowers worked the best we had to make sure the plants we used were edible. Luckily were able to source some pretty interesting plants at the Eveleigh growers market as well as the Chinatown markets where we scored garlic flowers which we'd never heard of and the enoki which looked amazing under the blacklight.

Meanwhile my partner luckily has started to tinker in electronic gadgetry so offered to build the contraption needed to wire the plants. He used an arduino board with a manual trigger, some of the early tests show a bit of experimentation with how to get the wires hooked up to the plants elegantly. We initially used metal collars which gave a nice motion but looked a little too steampunk. In the end we wrapped the wires directly onto the stems and crossed our fingers the force wouldn't snap them. 

Some shots below on set of the plant set ups in 'daylight' and under the blacklight. The same plants were used for both sets. One of the advantages of using the tonic water to make the plants glow is that it's clear in daylight (unlike the highlighter fluid that gives off a faint yellow tinge).

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