The Inner Workings Of The Mesmerizing Virtual Rainstorm At Our Beijing Event

<p>Artist Lou Nanli aka B6 described the creation of his latest art installation <i>Watching The Rain</i>.</p>

Lou Nanli - Watching the rain (The Creators Project 2012 @ UCCA Beijing) from B6 on Vimeo.

Last week at The Creators Project: Beijing 2012, Shanghai-based Creator Lou Nanli aka B6 debuted his latest art installation Watching The Rain, a piece simulating the mesmerizing phenomenon described in its title. Visitors escaped the bustling city to the refuge of 798 Art District on the outskirts of Beijing, where they got the chance to experience this refreshing indoor rain shower, set up in UCCA’s central hall.

Walking onto the patch of fresh green grass that led to Watching The Rain, the organic scent of the installation gave one the distinct sensation of being outdoors in a natural setting and not within a museum or art gallery. Patrons sat on the benches, some laying down and stretching out to watch the rain. Above their heads, in a sky projected onto a large horizontal screen, clouds began to gather and raindrops started falling onto this virtual skylight. As the downpour ensued, the viewers were immersed in the sounds of thunder and rain. Just as the mood reached a climax, the rain slowed. As the sunlight broke through and the clouds dispersed, you could see the serene effect of this work on the faces of the visitors.

Wanting to learn more about one of this crowd favorite, we caught up with Nanli to chat about the creation of Watching The Rain.

The Creators Project: Can you tell us about how you created the images and the sound for Watching The Rain?
Lou Nanli:
The sound for Watching The Rain was collected during August of this year when I was in Zurich. I was invited by Pro Helvatia to do an artist residency there. Summer brought abundant rain to Zurich, especially in the middle of the night when the city was quiet. So we collected a lot of pure sounds of rain and thunder in an actual environment. The background sound was collected in the summertime four years ago at Heng Mountain in China. We mainly captured the sounds of the wind, movements of the trees, and a lot of noise made by insects. We put all these tracks together in Koch 18 Studio in Zurich into a 4.1 surround sound format.

For the visuals, I initially wanted to shoot live footage as well, but the results didn’t satisfy me (we even tried using a bathroom shower). In the end, we collected real-life images as samples, and using a method typically applied to produce music, composited the images into one final scene. It took a long time, especially for the details of the raindrops.

After Effects screenshot of making the raindrop effects.

You used a lot of different software like Steinberg Nuendo, GRM tools, Trapcode Particular, and Realflow for this project. Can you tell us a little about how you used them and which one is your favorite?
I’ve always used Steinberg’s Cubase when I make music. It’s really excellent music software, with its higher level Nuendo tailoring more to make film scores. It helped me the most in making the 360-degree surround sound effect. I want to thank Yamaha, the parent company of Steinberg, for the longtime support. Their CMC controller series has integrated the keyboard and mouse very well with software, which speeds up my work efficiency. GRM is what I like to use for electroacoustic sound effects. GRM can satisfy more strict demands than any traditional music software. Trapcode Particular and Realflow are all plug-ins for After Effects. They helped me make the effects that calculated the rain drop curves and the splash characteristics.

After Effects screenshot of making the raindrop effects.

Were there any challenges during the creation and testing process of Waching the Rain? If yes, how did you overcome them?
The entire process went pretty smoothly. I think the biggest problem was that I overestimated the effectiveness of taking real-life footage for the project. After extensive discussion with the video team, we decided to use software to complete everything. That way, we can not only control every single detail, but also be flexible when adjustments are needed.

After Effects screenshot of making the raindrop effects.

How does it feel to see people’s reaction to your work?
It’s such a thrill to see people’s reactions, especially for such a tame artwork that’s not meant to win people’s curiosity through shocking visuals. The viewers perceived my piece like it was separate from the museum environment, which was really meaningful to me. Seeing them sitting, lying down, whispering into each other’s ears, or even holding up umbrellas, it occurred to me that these actions and behaviors are rarely seen in this space. This is the exact sentiment I wish to inspire within a space—the goal of the piece was to cultivate an environment in an unusual space.

After Effects screenshot of making the raindrop effects.

Learn about Lou Nanli’s career as electronic musician B6 in our behind-the-scenes documentary below.

Images courtesy of Lou Nanli.