February 22, 2020

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Mission impossible

Local media firm's interactive installations and magical projections make the unbelievable seem real

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/11/2010 (3389 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Following Saturday’s Santa Claus parade, PO-MO will be projecting graphics and animations on the Johnston Terminal building at The Forks.

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Following Saturday’s Santa Claus parade, PO-MO will be projecting graphics and animations on the Johnston Terminal building at The Forks.

The Santa Claus Parade will march down Portage Avenue at 5 p.m. Saturday, keeping alive a century-old tradition.

As soon as it's over, St. Nick's elves will get busy building toys in a cutting-edge spectacle at The Forks.

As part of the post-parade festivities that start at 7 p.m. — including fireworks at 7:30 — a local company will project luminous, 3-D-looking graphics and animations on the exterior of the Johnston Terminal building.

The three-storey "light installation" by PO-MO Inc. — a first for Winnipeg — is called Santa's Workshop. By means of a powerful projector mounted on a scissor-lift, it will appear as if the building is unwrapped from Christmas paper, then bathed in moving images such as snowflakes.

Among other Flash-based optical effects, the bricks will appear to pop out of the building. In each window — all the blinds will be drawn — industrious elves will toil in silhouette.

Meanwhile, DJ RPG from Moses Mayes will supply the music.

PO-MO, short for Post-Modern, is a two-person media firm that formed in January when animator Meghan Athavale, 35, teamed with her computer-savvy friend Curtis Wachs, 33.

PO-MO's Meghan Athavale and Curtis Wachs with their EIKI projector.

PO-MO's Meghan Athavale and Curtis Wachs with their EIKI projector.

The two share a love of science fiction/fantasy, a wealth of web-based knowledge and a dream of using technology to create interactive experiences and breathtaking illusions.

"We're tired of working on the Internet," says Athavale. "We want to do things in the real world with real people. This technology gives us the opportunity to make impossible things happen in the real world."

Athavale, who is from Thompson and studied animation at the National Film Board and Red River College, first started working with club VJs about two years ago on digital projections timed to music.

The Brandon-bred Wachs has a web-design diploma from Assiniboine Community College and the practical skills of a MacGyver. He scrounges parts from building-supply stores and pawn shops to build the hardware for their projects.

In August, PO-MO was hired by Cultural Capital 2010 to create huge, holographic-looking projections, such as flocks of birds, on a "mist screen" above The Forks' pedestrian bridge during the opening concert of the River Barge Festival.

Nobody in Winnipeg had ever attempted anything like it. It was the duo's first time trying its expensive, super-high-powered EIKI projector — one of only two of its kind in the city.

Wachs not only had to rig up 244 metres of extension cords, he used irrigation equipment to build a low-tech system to pump water from the Assiniboine River and spray it into a mist. "I had to go swimming (during the show) to get the pump working properly," he recalls.

PO-MO is starting to turn a profit and Athavale has just resigned from her day job at a web-development company. The duo is ready to move from its decrepit, unheated space in a former garment factory to an office in the heart of the Exchange.

Wachs and Athavale are so busy, they had to turn down the chance to put Ohm, a massive foam dragon they built as a commissioned campground installation for the 2010 Winnipeg Folk Festival, in the Santa Claus Parade. Ohm is sound-reactive: his LED lighting pulses in response to music or noises.

Back in April, the pair had a gallery installation to demonstrate software they have developed, with patents pending. Their Po-Mobile software allowed people to control animated illustrations from Alice in Wonderland by using their cellphones. Software called Po-Motion made the floor motion-reactive, so animated oysters from Lewis Carroll's The Walrus and the Carpenter followed anyone who walked or danced on it.

PO-MO is applying to Telefilm Canada's experimental stream for funding to market Po-Motion. "We want to package it and sell it online by early next year," Athavale says, stressing that she and Wachs want their software to be affordable and easy-to-use so, for instance, a small retailer could create an interactive floor.

The two West End residents keep up with their field by networking worldwide via the Internet. Large-scale "motion arts" projects — for instance, at theme parks or museums — often have credits as long as movies, they say, so there is potential for them to contribute to major projects while staying in Winnipeg.

Meanwhile, they're creating two permanent motion-reactive installations for an environmentally "green" cafeteria at the University of Nevada. "They're our first big client," Athavale says.

One eco-friendly installation is a projection of the university magazine in giant size on a wall. Anyone standing in front of it can flip the pages with a swiping gesture.

In collaboration with Cocoon Branding, PO-MO will be projecting a giant Steampunk-style clock — counting down the days to Christmas — on the exterior of Kildonan Place mall on some evenings during December.

It's an example of how local clients keep showing faith in PO-MO, letting it build prototypes and try first-time projects like Saturday's projection on the Johnston Terminal or the River Barge mist effects, the partners say.

"If we were in a bigger city like Toronto or Montreal, I don't think we would have been contracted to do the mist screen," says Athavale. "We get to experiment a lot more by being here."

alison.mayes@freepress.mb.ca

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