Transformation Mask

Shawn Hunt

The Raven, the ultimate trickster, has become a cyborg. In this Creative Collab, Shawn Hunt moves away from engaging with the handmade; exploring authenticity and our expectations of what it means to be indigenous through the removal of the hand-carved surface. The work Transformation Mask, features Microsoft HoloLens, creating an experiential sculpture piece that engages with mixed reality.

In this work, the mask appropriates the traditional aspects of metamorphosis with the transformation from bird mask to human, yet in this adaptation the human mask has been altered, upgraded, and merged with the machine. Incorporating aspects of technology, sound and space, each part of the work reflects Hunt's interest in how we understand and identify with the term indigenous.

This work presents a new trajectory for engagement and exploration of First Nations practice; one that points towards technology and innovation as aspects that expand traditional practices and open new avenues for interpretation.

Picture of the artist Shawn Hunt with the mask opened

Creative Collab

Microsoft Vancouver and our in-house maker space, The Garage, unveiled a creative collaboration with Heiltsuk artist, Shawn Hunt, June 30th at the Vancouver Art Gallery as part of FUSE. The project brings art and technology together. Titled Transformation Mask, it is a shared work created by Hunt and a team of artists, designers and engineers at Microsoft.

Transformation Mask is an interactive installation that features HoloLens. It utilizes electronics and mechanical engineering in a physical transformation, before beginning a holographic experience for the viewer.

Mask Fabrication

The fabrication process started with building a digital replica of the paper prototype mask provided by Hunt. The team leveraged the metaphor of a computer for guidance throughout the process: sleek on the outside juxtaposed by organized chaos on the inside. Additional smaller details like usb ports and venting carried the theme. The prototype mask was mounted on an aluminum skeleton for hinge measurements and then these same structures were digitally recreated and animated to ensure clearance during articulation. This process of simulating the physical model in the digital realm helped avoid complications in the hardware build. Complex compound curves were lofted to generate the primary beak and head surfaces while procedurally generated hex patterns fill the voids for the raven’s eyes and nostrils.

The assembled mask is a meter long and comprised of over 20 individually 3D printed PLA and acrylic resin components. True to traditional form, there are no straight lines on the raven, a concept in direct competition with polygonal hard surface 3D modelling. From the ovoid shaped eyes to the gently sloping beak, each surface exhibits a sort of infinite tension.

Rendering of the mask with a black background

Finished 3D printed item
Finished 3D printed item
Finished 3D printed item
Nearly 300 hours of 3D printing time

The Holographic Experience

The holographic experience evolved organically, with the team taking a similar approach to their hardware development processes – the aim was to expose Shawn to the latest technologies available for artistic expression in emerging digital mediums. 3D sketching in virtual reality seemed like the obvious companion to the 3D printing processes used on the mask. After several calibration and exploration sessions, Hunt had generated a selection of traditional forms expressed gesturally as polygonal lines.

Drawing created with tilt brush using the fire brush by Shawn Hunt
Shawn Hunt using the tilt brush
Item shown in mixed view
Previewing 3D drawings in mixed reality

Spatial previsualization using the Windows 10 application View 3D enabled the team to anchor and inspect the digital content in the real world, using their 2D tablet screens as a magic window for fast iteration on scale and placement. Although immersion in the static 3D drawings was powerful, the desire to enhance those emotions through movement was irresistible. Bringing the drawings to life using smooth skinned animation and effects sequencing was a natural conclusion.

tilt brush used to create drawings in a virtual space
Digital Drawing

A variety of tools were used to create content in both 2D and 3D. Drawings started as volumetric digital sculptures in Tilt Brush. Hunt refined these 3D drawings using 2D digital inking to perfect the traditional lines and forms he intended to express. Soft-select lattice deformation in Maya enabled the team to repose the 3D drawings; this process maintained Hunt’s gestural line work while smoothing out unwanted spatial artifacts. The 3D drawings were further enhanced with purpose built skeletal systems in order to create organic animation. These digital workflows each played a unique part in breathing life into the static sculptures created in virtual reality.

Tiltbrush drawings were imported into Unity

The holographic experience was sequenced and rendered in real time using Unity3D, where the animated volumetric drawings appear in concert with particle simulations and spatial sounds. Bursts of holographic sparks, smoke, and fire invoke a series of 3D drawings which light up and interact with the real world as they come and go. The visual effects sequencing was authored in an unusual manner; custom sound design was implemented first, inspiring the timing and intensities for visuals rather than adding sound last. The synchronized result is a truly powerful audio-visual-mechanical experience.

"Art comes in many forms, can easily transcend cultures and utilize technology to become something new. Life is all about these infinite possibilities and combinations." - Andy Klein

Part of the team wearing Hololens

The Hardware

The mask’s behavior is achieved through an array of electronics, sensors, processors and mechanical elements. Three linear actuators attached to an aluminum skeleton drive the primary phases of motion. Several microcontrollers work in unison to control individual addressable LEDs and behavior states for the raven’s eyes projected through Windows phones. Onboard ambient light sensors on the phones are used to control state based animations. An ultrasonic range finder is aware of the presence of an attendee, and will trigger the experience. HoloLens orchestrates all these elements, synchronizing the software and hardware over a Bluetooth connection.

  • The mask fully opened
  • Adding in neopixels
  • Rob soldering electronics
  • Shawn drawing over the model


Team photo with everyone