Portfolio: What Would You Do?
In 2013, the National Museum of the American Indian, part of the Smithsonian Institution, was interested in putting on an exhibit showcasing the history of the interactions of the government of the United States with the tribes of Native Americans, both as documented in the treaties between the two nations and, later, how the United States refused to abide by the terms it itself dictated.
Interface Media Group is well-known in DC for its expertise on storytelling, both in the political arena and in the realm of museums. Having offered several multimedia exhibits for NMAI previously, including a long-lived video wall in the museum's entrance when it opened a decade previous, NMAI counted on Interface Media to deliver an immersive, high-quality experience. Interface Media, in turn, contracted to me.
As the United States expanded westward, its government began ordering Native Americans to sequester themselves on reservations, far away from their homelands. What Would You Do? explores six reactions by different tribes to the United States' demand, presented as tapestries guests can move through, with elements moving and revealing themselves as guests move. Ultimately, all six tribes were forced to move to their reservations, and five were devastated.
Interface Media initially assigned the interactive to another developer while I was working on Many Languages and Protocol Matters. The developer was working with exported, textured images from the design team, and the creative director was concerned about the textures not lining up while the developer was concerned about memory usage, and both were unhappy with the interactive's performance, and they were considering radically de-scoping the interactive to compensate. I noted that, if the ink-on-burlap texture was discounted, the majority of the art was large areas of flat color and proposed converting the artwork to WPF vector graphics and using a shader for the graphics card to apply the ink-and-burlap texture dynamically. This would streamline and eliminate much of the workload in the graphics pipeline, as well as offer more consistent results.
Using the two stories that was completed by that time, and with the other developer shadowing me, I implemented my proposed changes, also setting up the dynamic effects to use the WPF manipulation, scrolling, and animation system with a custom-clocked timeline instead of handling everything manually using variables in code, using text elements for displaying text, and partitioning the tapestries so only one was loaded and animating at a time. The other developer followed my pattern for the remaining four stories. The creative lead was impressed with the smoothness and consistency of the result, and it remains one of the favorite interactives she's worked on.
What Would You Do? is in the penultimate room of the exhibit, next to other panels discussing the United States' failure to abide by its treaties. It was praised by the Washington Post and won a gold Excellence in Exhibition award from the American Association of Museums. It is scheduled to be decommissioned sometime in late 2021.