On March 11th & 12th, a group from the Department of Media & Technology at Highlands University and the New Mexico Museum of Art, came together to see if we could turn Gustave Baumann’s marionettes into a 3D interactive museum experience. After working through the process with replicas, we were under the impression the originals would be straightforward. We soon came to understand the marionettes have their own personalities which they have no problem expressing!
During the trial run we realized the image capturing software had limitations. It couldn’t handle creatures standing on four legs – only upright walking creatures need apply! Anything shiny also confused the software. The arms and legs needed to be held away from the body in a spread-eagle fashion in order for first the camera to ‘see’ the marionette’s sides and then for software to recreate them. Using those criteria, the Museum staff picked five marionettes we thought would represent Baumann’s wide range of marionettes: Lord Leffinghoop (1994.16.7), Nambe Nell (1994.16.13), Pecos Bill (1994.16.15), Rooster (1994.56.23) and Gus (2001.19.1 - a self-portrait).
Nambe Nell proved to be a darling to shoot. The camera and software just fell in love with her. Rooster also proved easy to work with. Pecos Bill was a little bit more difficult but nothing a little tweaking couldn’t handle. The lighting and camera settings were identical for all the marionettes but Lord Leffinghoop (the bad guy in the original plays) and Gus just didn’t want to cooperate. Nothing the photographer did would make their images come out correctly. It required extensive post-production clean up on the part of Daniela de Angeli, Highlands University graduate student, in order for the files to be fit for participation in the next phase of the project. She was never able to create a usable 3D model which was easily exportable. Gus and Lord Leffinghoop were stubborn and uncooperative to the end! We were never able to identify the variables that threw off the software.
It was amazing to see the general effortlessness it took to changes the poses of the marionettes. Gustave Baumann was a true craftsman when it came to their construction with a well thought-out plan of how that character should move and act. Pull this string and their arm gracefully gestured. However, if you tried to put them into a pose that wasn’t in-character than nothing you could do would make them oblige. They flat out refused!
The 3D models for Nambe Nell, Pecos Bill and Rooster are available to be viewed and twirled on SAM (sam.nmartmuseum.org). Search by their names or the accession numbers listed above.
-Michelle Gallagher-Roberts, Chief Registrar