Northampton Community College
An Artist's Newest Tool Resuscitates Symbol of American Industry
Jason Zulli remembers his grandfather working at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation's booming, active SteelStacks. But in 1995, after 140 years of metal production, the once leader and symbol of American industry was closed, trod down by years of struggle against cheaper, foreign competition. Yet, in October 2013, the blast furnaces came back to life with renewed vigor as Jason transformed the vestiges into a giant digital art canvas for an audience of 1,000 to 2,000 Oktoberfest spectators.
The show was designed by Jason, an assistant professor at Northampton Community College (NCC), as part of the Lipkin Chair grant he received to explore the "relation between time, space and motion by developing and implementing a set of digital art exhibits that transform, expand, amplify, connect, compose and capture NCC spaces." As part of his mission to explore new technology in the art world, Jason was eager to bring projection mapping technology — which allows projectors to create moving images on two- or three-dimensional surfaces using computer software — to the Lehigh Valley.
The project coincided with an upgrade of the school's theater projector, and Jason wanted a high-end product that could also handle projection mapping onto a 230-foot-tall furnace. Panasonic projectors had been the standard on campus for years because of their low maintenance and reliability, but classroom projectors are much different from theater projectors, and he needed something powerful as projecting onto buildings requires a high number of lumens. Jason worked closely with his IT department to identify all the features he would need, including lumens and lamp life, and settled on the Panasonic PT-DZ13KU and an ET-D75LE10 lens because of their power, clarity and durability. The PT-DZ13KU boasts 12,000 lumens, a 1920 x 1200 WUXGA resolution, Geometry Manager Pro and 3D features, ideal for projecting onto uneven surfaces. Furthermore, the ET-D75LE10 lens enabled Jason to alter the projection distance by changing the focal distance, giving him greater flexibility.
After two months of meticulous trials to ensure the projector's image wasn't a hair out of place, Jason revealed the projector to a stunned audience. "These factories were some of the biggest providers of steel during the wars of the 20th century and a major employer for this region. Until recently, no one was doing anything with them. I wanted to bring them back to life," explained Jason.
"At one point in the show the video illustrates the stacks collapsing, but then they are rebuilt to symbolize that they have new life and are even greater than they were before."
Jason added, "I was able to look around at the faces during the show and was so moved by the awe. Many people in the audience had tears in their eyes as they had spent their life working at Bethlehem Steel. It was a very personal, emotional show."
Following the Oktoberfest show, there was tremendous interest from students who wanted to learn how to do projection mapping. Now, Jason is training students on how to use the software and set up the kinetic images using smaller projectors that allow them to play around on 1' x 1' spaces. His next major undertaking is projection mapping onto a car and, this fall, he plans to engineer a show onto a building as part of a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new campus in Monroe County. He notes, "This will be another project that shows the history of a building and tell its story in an unconventional, dramatic way."