Video: The Big Head out for Halloween

While working on eye contact and gaze awareness, I started thinking about how some of the relevant variables–scale, orientation, relative orientation, degree of eye-contact–could impact the qualitative experience of people interacting through video. How does the way that you and I are represented affect the way we feel about the interaction and roles that we play in the interaction? These questions motivated me to see what kind of experiences I could create by manipulating these variables.

Here’s a quick experiment you can try to understand what I’m getting at.

Make a Skype (etc.) call from a laptop to a friend with a laptop. Make the video full-screen.

One of you should lie on your back and hold the laptop over your head (with the camera pointing at your face, of course); the other should put the laptop down with the screen flat against the ground, and kneel over it.

How does it feel? Straight guys tend to be especially disconcerted by this.


Photo —  Adrian Mendoza

Photo — Adrian Mendoza

The Big Head is one of these experiments. It’s a large, head-mounted box with a 24″ LCD on the front, showing a live video view of the wearer’s face. Of course, the face is flat, slightly miscolored, unmistakably a video and much larger than a normal human face.

Big Head Internals

Big Head Internals

The wearer’s face is captured with a video camera looking through a half-silvered mirror. There’s a second camera, which captures a view from the front of the box, near the eyes of the on-screen face. The outside view is shown on an internal LCD, which reflects on the half-silvered mirror; this way the wearer can look directly at the LCD and the camera at the same time. (This is essentially a teleprompter, like Errol Morris’ Interrotron).

The whole assembly is carried via floating frame, mounted to the shoulder and hips.