FIRE UNDERGROUND

2018-2019
video installation / realtime software animation
dimensions variable, about 1 hour


Fire Underground is a feature length fantasy animation presenting an alternative history of coal. It pitches myths of forgotten forests, crawling proto-reptiles, and chthonic infernos against labor history, natural history, and Appalachian folk culture.

Although it is exhibited as video, the project was made with a game engine, and several scenes were built with game-like logic, featuring semi-autonomous non-player characters, ragdoll physics, and deterministic, clock-like simulation. Drawing from craft traditions like model railroading and miniature wargaming, most characters and props were made out of physical materials like clay, cardboard, aluminum foil, and insulation foam, and captured with photogrammetry.

The project features an original soundtrack by Sarah Louise Henson, as well as:
    “Rime,” performed by Sarah Louise, courtesy Thrill Jockey Records,
    “Thirty Inch Coal,” recorded by Men of the Deeps, with permission.

This project was made possible with support from the Carnegie Mellon School of Art, the Frank-Ratchye Fund for Art at the Frontier, and a Carnegie Mellon Graduate Education GuSH Research Grant.

This project also would not have been possible without kind support and advice from Matteo Bittanti, Peter Burr, Erin Cosgrove, Jim Duesing, Jamison Edgar, Steve Gurysh, Sarah Louise Henson, Shohei Katayama, Golan Levin, Erin Mallea, Michael Neumann, Tom Hughes, Rich Pell, Joy Poulard-Cruz, Eddo Stern, Shaun Slifer, Angela Washko, and the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum.



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GOLDLICH

2017
realtime software animation / virtual creature
dimensions variable, endless (approx 15 minute lifecycle)


A virtual creature / haunted skeletal jewelry. The Lich extends itself, perpetually extracts more lengths of chain from the terrain. It's body is animated by a real-time physics simulation. As the hand at the bottom feels it's way around, momentum imparted increases as it climbs up the chain. Eventually, the chain falls apart, segments of the Lich fall to the ground, and the cycle begins again.

"A Lich exists because of its own desires and the use of powerful and arcane magic. The Lich passes from a state of humanity to a non-human, non-living existence through force of will.

A Lich appears very much as does a wight or mummy, being of skeletal form, eye sockets mere black holes with glowing points of light, and garments most often rotting (but most rich)."

- Gary Gygax, in Advanced D&D Monster Manual (1978)




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THE WHOLE WORLD

2017
digital game
dimensions variable

The Whole World is a surreal walking simulator game, where players wander the surface of a naked man as that same naked man. Delve into the depths of the inner regions, or go for a joyride on a lunar rover. Ride a giant phone into the exciting world of online dating.


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SNEAKY CACTUS

2015
digital game, custom controllers
controllers 9” diameter, 7”tall
game dimensions variable

Live cacti serve as game controllers in a succulent racing game for two players. Each cactus corresponds with a direction in-game. When a player touches a real-life cactus, a virtual hand enters the screen and prods its virtual counterpart. If the on-screen character gets spun around, a motor activates and the physical cacti suddenly rotate to match. Painful pricks from barbed needles disrupt the normally desirable 'flow' of game play, and the controller itself gradually wilts as players poke and prod its fleshy buttons.

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TAP OUT SAGA

2014
game for mobile and tablet, custom housing (wood, grip tape)
dimensions variable

TAP OUT SAGA is a two player game built for tablets and phones which transforms on-screen cartoon violence into an intimate, playful, and fully embodied encounter with another player. A simple and ambiguous set of rules (tap to punch, don’t get punched) encourages improvisational play, where players must negotiate social, strategic, and physical interaction with one another.

The game features a variety of characters with unique abilities.  For most characters, tapping and holding activates a special attack which leverages different affordances of the tablet, changing the game dramatically. For instance, one fighter dressed as a giant boulder tucks his arms into  his suit and rolls based on the orientation of the device. This maneuver can deal massive damage, but also presents the risk of a quick defeat: if the Boulder’s opponent is able to win control of the device, they can roll the him backwards off the stage, defeating him in an instant. Another fighter, a vampire bat, can latch on to her opponent and tap rapidly to drink blood and heal. The victim of this attack must shake the tablet vigorously to free themselves from the bat’s grasp. This attack consumes stamina, which the bat can only replenish by roosting on a cave ceiling without getting punched, causing the player controlling the bat to constantly switch between an offensive and defensive stance.