Saturday, October 20, 2018

Cyberthon blueprints - a 24-hour Virtual Reality expo in 1990

In 1990 the Whole Earth Institute developed the “Cyberthon” one-day-only 24-hour exposition of virtual reality technologies. I was at that time a licensed general contractor in California and volunteered to design and manage the setup of the physical space where the expo was to be held.

 Cyberthon was held in the sound stage and other facilities of Colossal Pictures in San Francisco.

My plan was to use the hundreds of decorated theatre flats at the studio to create maze (not a labyrinth! a maze!) where attendees would keep discovering and rediscovering installations throughout the 24-hour period of Cyberthon.

Artists and technologists wishing to participate in Cyberthon had sent in descriptions of their space and technical requirements (light, dark, electrical, etc.) and I designed the “Maze” using an iterative process by creating rough scale paper shapes for every installation and arranging, re-shaping, and re-arranging them on a blueprint of the sound stage until I arrived at a satisfactory layout.

The actual maze was constructed by a team of mainly volunteers in around a day using over a hundred theatre flats, all of which retained whatever decoration they had most recently received for whatever film project they were last used in. Notably, one of the spaces we built (it might have been the space for The WELL, but I am not sure) used flats that had represented Jim Morrison’s Paris apartment in the then-recent Doors movie. The only space that used newly-bought materials was the central “Mom’s Kitchen” which had a floor covered in brand new black-and-white 12” vinyl floor tiles.

A high resolution scan of the final version of the Maze blueprint is archived at Stanford University:

There was extensive video documentation of Cyberthon, including an overhead camera slow-motion camera that produced a few-minute movie of the entire 24-hour event. See:  Cyberthon Video Documentation portions of which were used in the video  Whole Earth Flashbacks which covers the history of the Whole Earth Catalog from 1968 to 2018