Two Recent Projects

When Fairy Tales Collide, 2009 © TODD SCHORR

When Fairy Tales Collide, 2009 © TODD SCHORR

I’m excited about two recent projects that I’ve produced at the San Jose Museum of Art. Both are video projects around exhibitions and in both cases we are using the typical platforms of YouTube, iTunes, mobile tour for delivery. Additionally SJMA is now a partner of ArtBabble and the videos are available there.

The first project is a series of videos that were created to help promote and inform around the exhibition Todd Schorr: American Surreal. A colleague of mine and I flew down to Beverly Hills for the day to interview Schorr about his influences, technique and many of his works of art. Todd Schorr was welcoming to us and offered a bounty of information which we filmed in high definition video to later be edited down to the videos for the exhibit.Todd Schorr’s work has a lot of depth to it and contains a lot of nostalgia from his childhood. This includes classic cartoons, monster movies, comic books, pulp magazines, and toy models. Additionally, Shorr incorporates a lot of commercial iconography, knowledge acquired from his years as a commercial designer.

Back at the museum we broke down the video we had into four different informational segments and one preview/promo video. The promo video consists of pan and zooms over several key Schorr painting while interspersingsmall snippets of the day in Beverly Hills to whet people’s appetites for more of the interview. All of this was layered over an old song that I found online by the Raymond Scott Quintette called Powerhouse. Scotts music was purchased by Warners Brothers and musical director Carl Stalling incorporated it into many of the classic Looney Toons cartoons. The music fits perfectly with the subject matter.

We were fortunate enough to be featured on several heavy traffic blogs such as Drawn, Boing Boing and Laughing Squid which bumped up the views considerably. The preview video is closing in on 20,000 views as of the writing of this post.

Enjoy the videos!

The second project centered around the exhibition Ansel Adams: Early Works. After a lot of brainstorming around the idea of social media we decided to ask outsiders to participate in the exhibition by submitting their own photos.

The idea was to make a video asking people the question, “Is it you?” throughout. Each time the question popped up an arrow would point to a person who was taking a photo in Yosemite National Park. Interspersed between all the people would be shots of some famous landmarks within Yosemite itself. At the end a final question is asked — “Are you the next great photographer?” Instructions are then shown stating “Submit your photos to be part of the exhibtion.”. Once there the user finds out more guidelines for submitting their Ansel Adams inspired photo.

We had thrown around the idea of having the general public vote for their favorites in the Flickr group. The winner would then be represented in a separate spot in the exhibition. Instead of being exclusive it was decided to be more inclusive. There will be a monitor set up in the gallery which will deliver a looping slideshow of all the photos.

I’m pretty excited by the concept and the video production (it might be my best video to date). I was fortunate enough to travel to Yosemite to shoot the video which was shot entirely in black and white HD. One of the challenges was to film people with their faces obscured to avoid any clearance issues. The last shot of the video took a stroke of luck to obtain.

Here’s how it looked in the gallery with the kiosk set up:

SJMA Ansel Adams Flickr Project from Chris Alexander on Vimeo.

Dipity Do It!

Warhol Digital Timeline in Gallery

A few months back during a team meeting at the San Jose Museum of Art we had a discussion about including a timeline in our exhibition Prints of Andy Warhol. The idea was quickly tossed out because it can cost a few thousand dollars to do a timeline right. However, around May of last year I had heard about a great new online service on my favorite podcast Net at Night called Dipity that made it simple to create dynamic interactive timelines online. Users can drag the timeline from left to right to scan through different years or days. Clicking on an event will open up a window to display more information including text, video or images.

Additionally, in November a timeline created on Dipity was referenced on one of my favorite blogs After finding out more about the service I started looking for an opportunity to utilize Dipity in an exhibition setting and didn’t realize the opportunity would come so quickly.

I ran back to my office space, grabbed my laptop and brought it back to the meeting to show everyone the timeline that was referenced on Kottke. The timeline was a history of different types of cereals and when they were introduced over the past century. My suggestion to the group was to create a timeline in Dipity for Andy Warhol and project it on a wall in the gallery using Dipity’s built in full screen mode. Everybody was intrigued and I promised to investigate the possibility further.

Our new director at the San Jose Museum of Art had recently worked at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) where they had just mounted a different Andy Warhol exhibit. The staff at SMoCA were kind enough to let us use the timeline events that they had assembled for their show. To experiment a little, I entered in a few of these events into a Dipity timeline that I created and found the service to be extremely easy to use. You can enter in individual events separately or you can import information from a “source.” Sources include – Flickr, YouTube, RSS, and other social media platforms.

One of the keys to make this work in a gallery is to utilize kiosk software to lock out the visitors from surfing the internet or doing a variety of other tasks you don’t want them to do in public sight. I started looking around and found wKiosk for the Mac. It’s pretty straight forward to use and after some tweaking finally had a working model to show everybody back at the exhibition team meeting.

The reception of the timeline was positive and it was determined that we would proceed with it being in the exhibition so I set out to enter all 135 events on the timeline. Each event is assigned one of four icons which references a legend to guide users to the four different topics presented – Warhol’s personal life, news events during his life, info about his subjects, and concurrent art world events.

Installation was easy. We utilized an old PowerMac G4 tower that we set-up with the wKiosk software to display the timeline. I would recommend a faster computer, such as a Mac Mini, for delivery because it adds more fluidity to the nice motion effect the timeline has when you scroll from side to side. Our installation department installed a projector to display it on a large wall. Additionally, they built a nice little pedestal where users interact with the timeline using a mouse.

Timeline Pedestal for Interaction

Timeline Pedestal for Interaction

We had some challenges early on with implementing the timeline. None of the problems that came up were the fault of Dipity. We are using their product in an unconventional way where it is running for up to 8 hours in a day. In a typical situation the user would go to the Dipity website and spend much less time than that.

Early on we had some issues with IP addresses being cached on our in-house DNS which would cause the timeline to not load – a white screen displayed instead. A clearing out of the cache would help until something would cause another bad IP address. Finally our IT person set up the internet connection to scan three different external DNS servers instead of our one internal. This helped immensely. If something was wrong on one DNS it would go to the next one, and so on, providing a back-up plan.

Dipity is a fast growing company that is seeing their product take off. They are constantly adding great new features that I’m sure are on their company roadmap. The addition of some of these features did not play too well with our kiosk software because of the settings I had for it. For example, the wKiosk software can allow and disallow certain urls and keywords. This keeps the visitor where we want them to be. If there are any changes to those urls through the web service it will affect how the timeline works. Seemingly, this scenario played out which caused the timeline to reload itself and not allow the visitor to explore the different events. The problem was easily correctable by changing some kiosk settings.

Additionally, Dipity implemented a subscription model where a monthly payment will remove ads from the timeline (they obviously need to make money!). We were unaware that they were implementing this and some ads showed up one day. I contacted the company to see about options for removing them and they were quick and kind enough to help us out and were very intrigued about our use of their product in a museum setting.

We were fortunate enough to have Zack, one of the founders and CTO, visit us to see it in action. He is very interested in helping make it more museum friendly for uses similar to ours or in an actual kiosk format. You can read about his visit to the San Jose Museum of Art at

The timeline has been a success and we are already trying to think of future uses. Dipity is an outstanding, easy to use service that will only grow more in its capabilities over the years. I can see it being used in schools, museums and libraries. Our use of the Dipity service is obviously unconventional at this point, however, there are some additional benefits. One being that we are able to embed the timeline into our webpage for the Prints of Andy Warhol exhibition allowing for visitors who visit our website the opportunity to prepare for their visit or reflect on it afterwards. Also, it extends the SJMA brand into another area of the burgeoning social media world we are currently in and allows our users to interact with one another.

Dipity do it!

iPod Touch Tour Full Screen Mode

iPhone Top Detail

I recently implemented a feature on our tour at the San Jose Museum of Art which I have been wanting to do for quite a while. We are currently only offering a small tour at the museum so I figured it would be a great time to try it out. If you read this site regularly you are familiar with the WiFi driven iPhone/iPod Touch tour that we have been offering since May of 2008. If not, please read the previous link!

The feature I added was full screen mode which has been sporadically mentioned on the web and is not a well known feature. It’s basic purpose is to make a web based application act more like an installed app. It does this by removing the URL and navigation bars from the top and bottom of the Safari Mobile Web Browser window – virtually locking a user to your site. It does come with some quirks which I wish to document here. First here is a demonstration of how it works:

SJMA iPod Touch Tour Full Screen Mode from Chris Alexander on Vimeo.

Apple has documentation of full screen mode (free developer’s account required) available on their developers website. To implement this feature you need the following bit of code in the header of your tour or app:

<meta name="viewport" content="width=320; initial-scale=1.0; maximum-scale=1.0; user-scalable=0;"/>
<meta name="apple-mobile-web-app-capable" content="yes" />
<meta name="apple-mobile-web-app-status-bar-style" content="black" />

Web Clip Icon

So, here are the quirky things about this. In order for it to work the viewer of the site must add a “web clip” icon to their home screen. If the museum is offering iPod Touches for check out or has them tethered to the wall or shelf this can easily be done in-house. Patrons using their own device might like the full screen feature or might not. It’s up to them to add the icon themselves if they would like full screen mode.

Additionally, if there are any links that lead the visitor away from the root URL the full screen mode will revert back to regular mode. This will bring back the URL bar at the top and the navigation bar at the bottom. I have not found any way to eliminate this problem yet.

SJMA iPod Touch Tour full screen mode

SJMA iPod Touch Tour full screen mode

The obvious benefit of full screen mode is that it basically keeps the visitor on your tour and prevents them from surfing the web using a museum device. While a tech savvy visitor could still figure out a way to get into the apps and settings, it puts us one step closer to a type of Notes-Only mode (pdf download from Apple) for the iPod Touch that is only available for the non-touch screen iPods. Also known as “Museum-mode,” Notes-only helps to lock users out of all the settings of the iPod. We are using full screen mode paired with special cases that we had made by Coutour which help prevent access to the Home Button thus preventing users access to other applications on the device or access to the settings. The set-up works extremely well and we have had few incidents of visitors tinkering with settings.

Full screen mode has been implemented for a few weeks now and has been successful and trouble free.

iPod Touch Tour Update

iPod Touch Tour Home Screen

iPod Touch Tour Home Screen

It’s been a while since I posted about the iPod Touch/iPhone prototype tour that I was working on at the San Jose Museum of Art. The last time was in October of 2007. A lot has happened since then including the actual launch of the tour itself. We launched it in May of 2008 in conjunction with a tour we created for Robots: Evolution of a Cultural Icon. For the launch of the tour there were some preparations and changes.

One of the main focuses was to upgrade the wifi in the museum. We were operating with 2 networks. One was used by patrons of the cafe (which was pretty unreliable) and the other was used for exhibitions. For the upgrade we combined the two into one network and added two more access points using HP enterprise grade wireless routers.

The new set-up reaches most parts of the museum. There are a few spotty areas that we will need to focus on should we expand the use of handhelds into galleries other than our two main ones. Another issues that we’ve encountered is the lag time that occurs when you move from the gallery downstairs to the gallery upstairs. This causes a switch from one access point to another. The units pick up the new access point fine, but the lag time occurs when it switches to a different channel. It can take up to a minute for this to happen which you can image could frustrate a visitor. My request to Apple about how the iPod Touch handles channels was unfortunately not answered. Thankfully we have not had a lot of exhibitions where visitors move between access points.

Update: iPod Touch/iPhone Museum Tour from Chris Alexander on Vimeo.

When users select the Robots exhibition from the Exhibitions screen they are presented with a list of artists.

When users select the Robots exhibition from the Exhibitions screen they are presented with a list of artists.

One of the major changes that was made was to the user interface. Basically the tour is a web application similar to what you might see if you navigate to Facebook or Twitter on the iPhone. To construct it I spent a lot of time on the iphonewebdev Google Group reading threads about how to create web apps. One thing that I discovered was a javascript framework that a lot of people were using. The framework called iUI (iPhone User Interface) was developed by Joe Hewitt a developer for Facebook who was working on the iPhone version of the site. The framework mimics the page slide from side to side that the iPhone is so famous for. It also adds AJAX to the mix which helps to speed up the tour by loading only what is requested by the user and nothing extraneous. I downloaded the framework and tweaked the CSS file to make the screens that you currently see above in the video.

The artist page for this particular exhibition included a Curator's Video Label and an Artist's Video Label.

The artist page for this particular exhibition included a Curator's Video Label and an Artist's Video Label.

One other feature that I added was a feedback page.  It has not been very popular usage-wise.  There have only been about 30-40 forms collected and a lot of them are duplicate submissions.  The feature was added more as an experiment than anything else to see if it would be used and to learn from it.  I created the survey using a form creation website called Wufoo.  You can sign up on their website for a variety of different plans ranging from free to $199.99 dollars a month.  The service is great!  You sign-up, create a form and then you are given a snippet of code to embed the form on your site.  You can also adjust the appearance of the form through customized CSS.  While the form works effectively on the iPods, there are some issues with customizing the CSS for it.  There was another iPhone optimized solution that I came a month or two ago which I forgot to bookmark and I have been feverishly trying to find it again.  If I do find it I will post it here.

There are many other updates that I have been trying to experiment with. I will try and share my findings once I have implemented or tested.  I hope to make a post soon about WiFi delivery via web browser vs. locally stored data.

Road Trip Postcard/Promo Video

Our challenge for this project was to create a video that would both promote an exhibition that had little marketing budget and at the same time front load an interactive/interpretive component in the exhibition. For the exhibition we were featuring an area where visitors could read postcards from around the world. The postcards came from viewers of the video which instructed them to send a fun, quirky postcard from a road trip they might be taking.

After strategizing, the museum came to the conclusion to again utilize the YouTube platform. After much brainstorming and story boarding we came up with a concept video (shown above) of a person traveling to a bizarre roadside attraction (in this particular case a giant cement artichoke in Castroville). In the video you would never actually see the persons face, but you would see the events that led up to the attraction. One of the noticeable aspects of the video are a pair of high heeled stilettos that emerge from an opening car door. Additionally, the person would purchase a post card at the attraction, fill it our and send it. There would be no actual sound recorded by the camera. Instead there would be sounds that were found via sound effects websites.

Screen shot from California Camp Bug Blog

Screen shot from California Camp Bug Blog

The video was shot on an HD video camera in about a day’s time and then assembled back at the museum with Final Cut Express in about two days. Finding the right sounds for each of the scenes met with some challenges. Once completed, the video was uploaded to YouTube. To drive traffic to the video we contacted many travel blogs and asked them if they would showcase it.

The video is currently the most successful one on YouTube for the San Jose Museum of Art with over 80,000 views. It was posted at one point on the YT homepage as a “Featured Video” where it accumulated most of those views. We received over a hundred postcards from around the globe and the video has been featured on many blogs. There are around 55 comments about the video and we at one point had 8 video responses to it. The response to the video has inspired us to create a video serial around the shoes to promote other upcoming exhibitions.