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Dancing on the Ceiling at Adobe MAX

By Charles Purdy

Each autumn, Create Magazine participates in Adobe MAX with a booth in the conference’s Community Pavilion. Our mission for the conference? It’s kind of the same as our magazine’s mission: to inspire and entertain our audience of very creative people. But we’re also there to have fun and play a little bit (or a lot). In recent years, we’ve invited MAX attendees to create animations with Character Animator and let them contribute to a crowd-sourced 3D mural. This year, we wanted to turn things on their head—with a fool-the-eye photo booth.

All the world loves a selfie. When we started our MAX planning last summer, we quickly landed on the idea of creating a wacky photo booth. A primary inspiration came from the golden age of Hollywood musicals—specifically, Fred Astaire’s “You’re All the World to Me” dance sequence in the classic 1951 film Royal Wedding.

In the 1951 film Royal Wedding, Fred Astaire danced on the ceiling and walls in the musical number “You’re All the World to Me”thanks to a fixed camera and a rotating room (left). This still image inspired our photo-booth experience at Adobe MAX. (You can watch this musical number on YouTube.)

We decided to build an upside-down room, photograph people in it, and give them a printed souvenir photo (as well as the digital file).  

DESIGNING AN ALTERNATIVE REALITY

Of course, Fred Astaire makes dancing on the ceiling look a lot easier than it actually is! Our first challenge was designing the upside-down room. And that challenge fell largely to Adobe senior art director Eric Van Huystee and creative director Kashka Pregowska-Czerw.

Eric has an extensive background in theatrical set design, so from the outset, he was designing with an eye toward camera placement and how people would interact with the space.

Eric Van Huystee’s final mockup (shown here) was replicated almost exactly in the final photo-booth experience. He also explored many other versions of the room: “versions with two walls, a version with a raked floors, and rooms turned 90 degrees,” he says.

“This was a unique project,” says Eric. “I’ve built a lot of scenery, but I’ve never built a room like that. There was a lot to consider—what the camera angle would be and how people would interact with the space and the furniture, as well as the room’s physical construction.”

He adds, “A big challenge was making sure the walls and all the other materials in the room were a consistent white—I liked the team’s idea of using white so the focus would be on the people in the photographs, even though I knew that it would make keeping the surfaces clean another challenge.”

Another big challenge was that Eric and the Create team were designing this room in the San Francisco Bay Area (creating specification documents in Adobe Illustrator CC and mockups in Adobe Photoshop CC), while the room was being fabricated onsite in San Diego by builders from Freeman, an events company. They did a fantastic job.

“I was a little bit nervous,” says Eric, “but when I got there it looked almost identical to my design—it looked great.”

This is how our upside-down photo booth looked on the MAX Community Pavilion floor. (Photos by Eric Van Huystee.)

ROTATING 180 DEGREES

Because we wanted to give attendees both a printed souvenir photo and a digital file to keep, we also had to design a semi-automated photographic workflow that would allow us to process photos quickly.

Our DSLR camera was tethered directly to a Mac laptop. Once the photographer shot the picture, we used Adobe Bridge to trigger a short series of Photoshop actions that rotated the image 180 degrees, added a black border, and sent the adjusted image to a shared Creative Cloud folder.  From there, the digital image could be printed at the booth and, later, collected by the attendee.

A Photoshop action rotated the raw photo (top left) 180 degrees and added a black border (top right) before sending it to a CC Library from which it could be printed.

After the event, artist Andreas Preis had a bit more fun with his image—using Adobe Illustrator Draw to turn his upside-down photo into an upside-down underwater scene.  

We had four people staffing the booth at all times—Create’s content director, Terri Stone; its managing editor, Charles Purdy; Eric Van Huystee, and Adobe senior designer Hajdeja Ehline. One person greeted attendees, one shot photos, one oversaw photo processing, and one ran the printer (we frequently changed roles to keep things interesting).

With everything in place, the magic happened when each attendee (or group of attendees) came into our space! They created poses and jumps that turned a simple white box into an experiment in defying the laws of physics.

Click on the image above to watch a brief video composition of many of the booth images.

Create’s Terri Stone says, “To me, the best thing about this year’s Create booth was its simplicity: build a room with elements rotated 180 degrees from the norm, add people, and flip the photograph for a result that tickles our sense of the absurd. It was a perfect platform for attendees to exercise their creativity.”

How will we top it at next year’s Adobe MAX in Las Vegas? Stay tuned to find out!