Art: An artists’ guide to the Rundle Lantern

The Rundle Lantern in action
The Rundle Lantern in action

Dazzling pedestrians with its light display and critics with it’s extraordinary cost, the Rundle Lantern is the latest contentious fixture in the heart of Adelaide’s CBD. Designed as a ‘cultural canvas’, and no doubt inspired by Melbourne’s Federation Square and similar light/sculpture/screen combinations overseas, the lantern is essentially an enormous display screen, designed to titillate spectators with its infinite colour combinations and conceal the unsightly multi-storey carpark that provides its scaffold.

While the screen itself can display video content, don’t get to thinking Time Square, New York, or downtown Tokyo. Despite its gargantuan scale, the screen is actually incredibly low resolution, and is made up of a grid of metal panels, each illuminated by white LEDs. Capable of tinting the metal panels across the full spectrum of hues, the LEDs can apply two pixels of colour (left and right sides) per panel. The grid is 34 illuminated panels wide, and twenty one high, with the screen extending along the building’s two most prominent sides. As the picture demonstrates, It wraps around the carpark’s corner, to create a unique and memorable facade. When the sun goes down each night, the fun begins.

Rundle Lantern pixels
Rundle Lantern 'pixels'

Designed and managed by contractor Fusion for the Adelaide City Council, Emma Sterling and I are lucky to be among the first wave of artists outside of Fusion’s studio to design content for the lantern. Despite a spectacular launch event back in October, complete with fireworks exploding off the carpark roof, to date the content has fallen well short of meeting the cultural objectives for the site, or displaying any significant artistic content.

Enter ‘Lantern La Lumiere’, a project commissioned by the Adelaide Fringe Festival,  supported by the South Australian Film Corporation and the Media Resource Centre. Armed with the basic technical requirements of preparing content for the lantern and some anecdotal advice from Fusion, eighteen Adelaide artists are currently producing up to one minute of content each, in preparation for the launch of Adelaide Fringe Festival on February 27th. The Lantern works will screen each night of the Fringe, with the loop synced to restart every hour on the hour until March 21.

Lantern La Lumiere workshop (Feb 1, 2009)
'Lantern La Lumiere' workshop (Feb 1)

Em and I first found out about the Rundle Lantern late last year, and attended a ‘secrets revealed’ session where we learned everything we needed to know about the screens capabilities… and some shocking figures related to the cost of its implementation and annual operations. Unfortunately, the workshop didn’t expand on this, so it seems like we’re as well equipped as anyone to share the knowledge. Here’s all the info you really need to get started designing and making content for the Rundle Lantern:

  • For cleanest results (ie, no colour bleeding) treat each panel as a single pixel. That means a canvas of 34 x 21 pixels in Photoshop or similar.
  • The software and hardware engine driving the lantern is called Hippotizer Media Server or ‘Hippo’ for short. Hippo sends the video as an MPEG2 file, at 680 x 420 pixels. Presently only Fusion staff are authorized to load content onto the system, after it has been approved by council.
  • Hippo can handle standard PAL video (720 x 576, 25 frames per second), but will resize it down to 680 x 420, so it’s better to output at this resolution yourself.
  • Colour separation in shadow and highlight areas is limited, so high-contrast designs will appear more accurately (and effectively) on the lantern than subtle low-contrast designs.
  • You can upload your files to the Rundle Lantern Simulator, and also look at previews of clips in progress and in the queue awaiting moderation/launching.
  • The simulator is really to guide you in the placement of the structure’s corner in the projected design- it does not represent the contrast shift which occurs at the site in reality.
  • To date, live video feeds have not been tested but have not been ruled out for the future.
  • There is currently no permanent means for outputting sound at the Lantern site.

Em and I are currently working on our pieces in preparation for the launch, and will post them, along with notes on our specific workflows. Using free and readily available software is absolutely encouraged. Use whatever tools you favour and have on hand… be it a consumer video camera and Windows Movie Maker or free icon editing software to draw with, like IcoFX. If you’re a child of Gen X and grew up with 8-bit computers like the C64 and Atari, join us and embrace this opportunity to celebrate a very public pixel renaissance!

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9 Replies to “Art: An artists’ guide to the Rundle Lantern”

  1. Dan, nice practical overview of the Rundle Lantern. Looking forward to see what you and Em can create for the Rundle Lantern. In terms of backstory, the Lantern’s resolution constraints were designed intentionally for several reasons…one of them being to force abstraction, and by default ensure that creativity is used to deliver something meaningful or simply beautiful. If the Lantern was hi-resolution, we wouldn’t have been able to get it through all the traffic regulations considering the site has an average of 15,000 cars travel through it per day. But more importantly, if it was a hi-res solution, the temptation would be very high for it to become an advertising venue. Something that is inverse to Fusion’s original vision for the project. We are really looking forward to seeing how the artistic community can push the platform. And from what I can see, some of the ideas already added to the Rundle Lantern simulator, means that some great work is on the way. Hope to meet you at the Lantern La Lumiere launch.

  2. Thanks for the extra info Damien, I had heard about the design decisions regarding the arrival at the final resolution.. I wasn’t being critical of the low-res aspect of the screen in any way, don’t get me wrong! The traffic argument is a good one, as is the screen’s resistance to advertising/commercial broadcast content. Em and I are very happy to have such a distinctive canvas in our backyard to work upon. Thank the team for us please, and yes, hope to meet you at the launch too!

  3. How good are you for sharing this info?! Unable as I was to attend the Media Resource Centre’s workshop, i can’t thank you enough for this post. Looking forward to seeing your work at the launch! Glad to av’ found yer great blog n’ all.


  4. Was yours the piece with the wiggly-limbed green monster attacking the city? If so, nicely done! We got ours done (mine was a cartoon drawn pixel by pixel, Em’s was a morphing abstract series), but were asked to remove our name credits from our work. I’m wondering, were you asked to do the same?

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