Tuesday, April 24, 2018

BPN 1738: Escher interactive again

The Dutch public broadcasting company NTR is building a series of interactive gems. In 2016 it launched Jheronimus Bosch's interactive documentary The Garden of Earthly Delights on the occasion of the major Bosch exhibition in 's Hertogenbosch. Now the broadcaster has launched a new documentary entitled The Metamorphosis of Escher. Never before has Escher's work been viewed in such detail online; however, Escher's work has been interactively available on CD-ROM since 1996.

Web documentary 
The interactive documentary The metamorphosis of Escher, in which Metamorphosis II is central, enables website visitors to discover and experience Escher's work and follow his life from closely. The online visitor can make an art-historical tour through the documentary, listen to personal stories, and study the technique of Escher. Not only Metamorphosis II, but also ten other works such as Relativity, Reptiles and Verbum can be experienced in this way.

The interactive documentary was made in collaboration with the M.C. Escher Foundation, and has been launched in the same period as the start of the Escher exhibition in the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden as part of Leeuwarden Cultural Capital festival. Visitors to the exhibition can also experience the interactive documentary via a digital table. The specially composed music of Paul M. van Brugge gives the interactive documentary an extra compelling atmosphere.

Visitors can also work on the site with their own piece of metamorphosis. Techniques that Escher has developed over the years have now been incorporated into the so-called 'Metamorphosis Machine'. You can rotate, mirror, shift, and then morphe to a second image. You then add your created work to the digital 'Gesamtkunstwerk' with other web visitors into an infinite online metamorphosis. You can also download, print and share your own work with others. 

CD-ROM documentary 
It is not the first time that an interactive documentary about Escher has been launched. In 1996 the silver disc Escher Interactive was released, discovering the art of the infinite presented in Dutch and English. The producer of the disc was Michael M. Chanowski , a TV producer turned creative ICT.

The CD-ROM program was available on a Multimedia MPC 2 with a minimum specification of Windows 3.1, 25MHz 4865X, 8MB RAM, 640 x 480 monitor x 256 colours (64K colours recommended) and 16bit audio. 

The CD-ROM received nice international reviews, although Harold Goldberg from the New York Times Book Review wondered: “Ultimately, this is a disk that doesn't quite know if it wants to be a game or a reference tool”. 

I myself wrote a column on the disc for the Dutch trade journal De Ingenieur (no. 15 - 25 September 1996): 
The CD-ROM Escher Interactive, discover the art of the infinite is an interesting interactive exploration through the legacy of Escher. The disk also provides much more information than any other book about Escher. The module about his life alone consists of photos, images, sound and video fragments. This module has become a document humaine, in which a person starts to get alive and in which it becomes clear what interests a person. The same applies to the module with the Gallery. The graphical works are presented here one by one, with or without biographical information or expert comments. Although these parts are interesting and have been done with a touch of style, a kind of tradition has developed in art CD-ROMs. The other modules make the disc outstanding: Plane distribution, Concave and Sphere, Animations, Concaves mirrors, Morphing, Magical images and Impossible puzzles. These modules make use of the computer's computing power. For example, you can create your own Escher-like drawings with an advanced drawing program in the plane distribution module. Interesting is the game Concave and Sphere, in which optical illusion is exploited as an element of play. The computer's computing power is also used for the animations. In this way one can see the Moebius strip, over which ants continue to run into infinity. In the concave mirrors module, you can view images as if you had a large drop of water on the screen and could move it with your mouse. The effect is alienating between the detail and the two-dimensional image. The Morphing module shows how figures of griffons gradually change into frogs. In addition, a user can enter his own design, made in the Plane distribution module, and have it changed into a real Escher figure. The Magic Images module is for lovers of three-dimensional images; it is not given to everyone to explore these depths. The Impossible Puzzles module is a real brain breaker. The note in the accompanying booklet, that all puzzles are soluble, indicates that one must have the necessary perseverance. 
The disc has style, is not a translation from print to electronic, but a truly interactive product. In short, superlatives for the product. That does not mean, however, that there are no minor beauty flaws and missed opportunities. At a maximum setting - translated as an acceptable speed - the CD-ROM requires 9Mb of disk space of external memory. The sound on the commentary disc is screeching. There is a missed opportunity in the Gallery module, where a loop could have been built in; if you do not touch the keyboard for some minutes, all images will be played back in historical order, with or without comments. Nevertheless, the disc remains a rare beautiful CD-ROM product. 

Online: https://escher.ntr.nl/en 
CD-ROM: Escher Interactive: Exploring the Art of the Infinite (Windows Edition) Multimedia CD, published by Simon & Schuster Interactive (1999); ISBN 978-1572600096 (Dutch version is part of the Collection Jak Boumans)