The Baumann Marionettes Go 3D! - 2/27/13

Today's blog post comes to you from our Chief Registrar, Michelle Gallagher Roberts:

The New Mexico Museum of Art owns almost 1800 works (including woodblock prints, paintings, drawings, gouaches, marionettes, sculpture and furniture) by Gustave Baumann (1881 – 1971) – the largest representation by a single artist in the collection. The NM Museum of Art owns around 75 marionettes by Baumann. They are a much loved feature in the Santa Fe community. There has been book, The Hand-Carved Marionettes of Gustave Baumann: Share Their World, and an exhibit, Pulling Strings: the Marionettes and Art of Gustave Baumann (1/30/2009 – 5/10/2009), focused just on this one aspect of Baumann’s prolific career. Every year hundreds of people pack themselves into St. Francis Auditorium for two Christmas shows featuring replicas of the Baumann marionettes. The originals are just too fragile to withstand handling or performances.

The New Mexico Museum of Art was recently contacted by Miriam Langer, Associate Professor of Media Arts, about creating a partnership with the Department of Media & Technology at Highlands University. They proposed creating a three-dimensional model of the Gustave Baumann marionettes. Highland University programming students would then use Kinect (think Wii or Xbox) to allow visitors to virtually manipulate the marionettes with hand gestures in an interactive museum experience. For the first time in decades visitors would be allowed to operate the puppets and to see them in the round (albeit digitally).

Over a hundred photographs will be taken of each marionette. In the first round, about six puppets will undergo this process. The programmers will then use those images to create the three-dimensional model. Elaborate lighting and hanging set ups are required in order to ensure an even and consistent look to each image. If the lighting or marionette moves, the computer won’t be able to understand those images in relation to the others.

In addition to the interactive experience which can be offered to the museum visitor, we’ll also be offering the three-dimensional models online as a part of the Museum’s Searchable Art Museum. Researchers (and the curious!) will be able to twirl the marionettes around and view them from all sides. They will no longer be restricted to viewing just one angle.

We just completed the dress rehearsal of the photo shoot using the replicas. We wanted to make sure we had all the bugs worked out before starting the process with the fragile originals. Stay tuned for more information on the progress of this exciting new development in the life of the marionettes.

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