If Walls could speak...

(working title)

The Idea:


Imagine if you could talk to a building, or a tree, or your local wheelie bin. That’s not that hard, right? 

But imagine if they actually answered back and engaged you in a conversation about the things they’ve seen and heard and think about…

For Leeds 2023 we want to give our audiences exactly that experience. We want to bring Holbeck to life with large office buildings that bemoan their daily diet of in- and outgoing pen pushers, with postboxes that dream of love letters flowing through their tummies, with trees that ponder the quality of the air they breathe and gravestones that have a laugh at scaring midnight visitors. 

More than that however, we want audiences to have a chat with these urban objects and thereby experience Holbeck in a completely surprising, engaging, thought provoking and enchanting way.

The Experience:


In order to produce this experience we want to project and map interactive facial features onto as many urban objects and environments as our budget will allow and thereby create a widely accessible after-dark walk through Holbeck.

Each location will be manned by an actor who is invisible to the audience but can see and hear them. Through live facial capture technologies, the actors’ facial features will be mapped onto e.g. the facade of a building or the crown of a tree in real-time. These features will blend with the buildings/trees to make it appear as though these urban objects are characters with a life of their own. The actors’ speech will also be broadcast live.

Example of 3D facial capture

The goal is for audiences to talk to a building like Temple Works and for the building to talk back to them whilst the audience can also see live facial features mapped and projected onto its facade. Aside from buildings we can and would like to use any urban objects that lend themselves to being turned into characters into this way: trees, pavements, water features, bins, cars, postboxes, outdoors and also indoors.

In order to maximise the visitor numbers for this experience we would like to host the event in late autumn or winter 2023 and make use of the early sunsets

The R&D:


In 2018 we created an interactive projection mapped shop window mannequin whose face we animated with the life feed of an actor who could see and hear the audience in front of the window. Every night large crowds gathered in front of the window in order to talk to the mannequin and see and hear him respond. The effect and audience engagement were incredibly successful.

Behind the scenes footage of a previous project that used a live video feed of an actor to create a facial projection.

During this R&D period we want to build on this experience by researching and developing technologies that will allow us to capture an actor’s facial features and transpose them in real time onto a non-human looking character. This will allow us to animate non-human characters such as buildings and trees and grave stones…

Example of 3D facial capture effecting a mesh that can be mapped to eg. a building

We also want to scout a large list of potential sites that lend themselves to this idea both logistically (are they accessible? is there space for projectors? are the neighbours happy to have this happening? etc.) and also creatively (does the object lend itself to a facial projection? does the object have a history or a social relevance that’s meaty enough to inspire a character development? etc.).

This list will help us to draft an example after hours walk through Holbeck which can then be adapted once budgets and times for the 2023 production are confirmed.

During the R&D we would also like to work closely with the Leeds 2023 team in order to draft a modular budget. 

We therefore aim to develop a budget for each type/scale of location for a 3 day event period and from there we can collectively make a decision on how many locations and event days are desirable, feasible and achievable in regards to funding. 

(Ideally we could create a minimum of a 1h to 2h walk with around 10 locations running over a 2 week period around Halloween or Christmas. The scope of the project will however become clearer once we work out costings.)

By the end of the R&D we will also propose a creative team, a preliminary production timeline, an engagement plan and a way of working with the British Library’s archives.

In the project proposal we will aim to give an example of how the personal oral stories of Holbeck’s people and the local histories found in the archives of the British Library will inform our process of creating three-dimensional characters for these talking urban objects that have depth, personality and social relevance. We will describe in detail how we intend to collect personal stories from local people (e.g. through working with Slung Low) and which parts of the British Library archive we will mine for script material.

A previous project in which we used archival material to create a character


We believe that this idea would encompass three of the festivals' ambitions: Playful Adventures, Untold/Unheard/Hidden Stories and Surprising and Original Works.

The project would animate Holbeck with interactive projections that give a voice to the area and its (non-)human inhabitants (e.g. buildings, trees, wheelie bins etc.) in order to create a magical and mysterious atmosphere that is at once beautiful, humorous, thought provoking and socially relevant to Holbeck.