Smile Politely

EKAH and The Magic Lantern: a story of technology, animation, and public arts support

Last night local artist EKAH filled the Urbana Free Library’s Lewis Auditorium with wonder, inspiration, and laughter.  She also filled it to capacity with artists, children, and curious community members.  And the fact that she did so on the Monday night after Spring Break is just another testament to her and the ever-expanding range of mediums she works in. 

You may have heard of EKAH.  You may have seen her work featured on 40 North’s Sky Gallery billboards or on MTD buses. You could say she has a thing for public art.  But last night was a whole ‘nother level.  While she clearly has a signature style, EKAH continues to carry her colorful cast of characters from one medium to another.  And last night we saw them in 3D. 

Because EKAH is herself interested in all types of user experiences, we saw her “dancer” and “drummer” in digital form and in real life. Let me rephrase that.  When a series of technical glitches caused a delay, EKAH spontaneously broke into to a game of show and tell, passing parts of her zoetrope collection around the room and gave us brief history lesson on the pros and cons of various forms of “magic lantern” technology. There was so much joy in this bit of audience participation, especially for the kids, and the minutes that passed did so easily. It was, after all, a natural fit being that The Magic Lantern was conceived as an “ongoing series of interactive animation projects” that “explores the art of animation through various, retro animation toys as well as the use of modern tools.”

The delay was not without irony. EKAH herself spoke about liking to “combine old and new technologies” and that mediums like lenticular animation and zoetropes allow you to “experience animation without a screen.”  So when new technology failed, old technology (some dating back to the 1800s) saved the day. 

Soon enough we were back online and EKAH walked us through her experimentation with lenticular animation. As the video below shows, this basic form of animation is created by the addition of a slatted sheet.  This is what allows the characters to appear to move from one pose to the other, depending on the angle and the light. While the process isn’t always as easy as it appears here (even EKAH admitted this), it is an accessible, non-digital starting point for animation that’s only drawback is the lack of smoothness when between the two positions.  If you like what you see here, check out more on EKAH’s website, or see her series of lentricular art in person at Lodgic’s kidspace. 

No one does an artist talk like EKAH.  She is well-researched, well-spoken, and refreshingly honest. And while this article attempts to share the spirit of the night and transmit the key takeaways, even with embedded video it can only go so far.  Those of us sitting in the Lewis Auditorium last night got to take a look inside EKAH’s creative mind.  We followed her processes, and walked with her from decision point to decision point. She shared her thoughts about what worked, what didn’t, and why. More importantly, we learned that each step in an artist’s journey, even those we or others might consider a mistep, is a step forward because it takes us that much closer to our next discovery.  The animator, particularly one working in digital 3D and 360/VR as EKAH does, has much in common with the scientist. One must learn to find one’s footing into the dance of trial and error. 

After wandering through EKAH’s earlier digital animation (many of which you can see on her website), we got to meet the star of the show — The Magic Lantern iself.  

Here’s another fun fact the artist shared last night.  In her initial conception of the work she saw the character of the “dancer” moving from left to right and back again. However, an early prototype left her feeling that it “might be too motion-sickness inducing,” so she went back to the drawing board and created this simpler, but more gracefully moving work.  

The Magic Lantern is a work-in-progress and that’s good news for those of you who haven’t seen it yet.  Stay tuned to EKAH’s website and social media channels (see below) for updates on her progress.  As a public arts artist, EKAH enjoys opportunities like this one.  This old-technology-made-new-again deserves to be seen in real life.  But she is honest about the hours that go into each project (both tactile and digital).  It’s not easy. It’s not fast. There are learning curves and research and, then more research.  But for bright and curious people like EKAH, this is part of the fun.  

But the harder truth is that creative explorations like this only happen when the artist receives funding to support her work.  The Magic Lantern was funded in part by the Urbana Public Arts program and the City of Urbana.  Kudos to these agencies for making it possible for EKAH’s Magic Lantern to shine for us all. 

See more of EKAH’s work at the Rogard’s Downtown Gallery at this year’s Boneyard Arts Festival. 

The Magic Lantern
Monday, March 25th
6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Urbana Free Library
The Lewis Auditorium
210 W Green St, Urbana, 

To learn more about EKAH, check out her Website // Facebook // Instagram

Top photo from EKAH’s Facebook page. Second photo from Debra Domal. All video from EKAH’s website. 

Arts Editor

Related Articles