Raleigh Rampage

Raleigh Rampage at SPARKcon

One of my favorite parts of SPARKcon this year was Raleigh Rampage. The interactive show set-up in the Wells Fargo plaza was a scale version of downtown Raleigh made out of cardboard blocks, complete with monster and robot costumes. The point: destroy the city and listen to the screams and destruction during your wrath.

The brains behind this operation is a duo from geekSPARK: Shaw Terwilliger, a Software Architect at Bandwidth and Jesse Kolbert a System Engineer at a startup called OrgSpan. Terwilliger moved to Durham in 2010 from Champaign, Illinois. Kolbert has been doing DevOps/SysAdmin work for 15 years. I caught up with Terwilliger and Kolbert after the dust settled on Raleigh Rampage to find out more about this SPARKcon project.

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SWRAL: How was the idea for Raleigh Rampage born?

Kolbert: The idea for Raleigh Rampage came during SPARKcon 2012, actually.  Shaw, his wife Sarah, and I created an alternate reality game called ‘Who is the Mighty Oak’ which was a lot of fun but had us checking in on things everywhere throughout SPARKcon. On Sunday afternoon I was exhausted and came out of The Fish Market to see an artistic installation of a stack of cardboard boxes.  I immediately wanted nothing more than to run through it and knock them all down (I didn’t).  That’s when I started to think about the fun of toppling buildings made out of boxes.

SWRAL: What was the most difficult part in creating the Raleigh Rampage experience?

Terwilliger: Painting the boxes was a lot more work (and mosquito swatting) than I thought it would be. Several gallons of household latex paint and about 20 cans of spray paint went on those boxes. Oh, and we used at least 15 rolls of packing tape by the end of the show.

The camera software had to be redesigned two weeks before the show to work with different hardware and lighting conditions. Originally I planned to use two Kinect cameras mounted overhead to sense (vertical) distance and motion, but testing showed the depth information wasn’t reliable even in outdoor shade.

When I couldn’t get good results from the Kinect cameras, I switched to three visible light cameras ($30 USB models available from any electronics store). Since visible light cameras don’t give me distance information, I changed the software to recognize the motion of building features like straight lines and rectangular windows. Humans shapes don’t usually contain small rectangles or long straight lines, so the software can mostly ignore them.

You didn’t ask, but the easiest part this year was the weather! It couldn’t have been better considering the rainy days we had the last two years.

Kolbert: There were a lot of difficult parts to the creation because I did not anticipate how much work it would be, but for me keeping an inventory of which buildings still needed to be painted, glued, organized, stenciled, and more was the hardest part.  I created a spreadsheet to track everything but couldn’t use a computer while my hands were covered in paint.

SWRAL: What was the best monster and robot destruction moment during SPARKCon weekend?

Kolbert: The best monsters were definitely our geekSPARK companions Truett Thompson and Phil Smith at the end of Saturday.  They really embraced the role of monsters and added some excellent theatrics.

Terwilliger: One of our Kaiju monsters climbed the Red Hat building very slowly before destroying it and the crowd loved it.

SWRAL: How did you get involved with SPARKcon and geekSPARK?

Terwilliger: In 2011 at a Splat Space meeting, Justis Peters asked me if I was interested in building something for geekSPARK. I thought it sounded like a good opportunity to learn something new, so I started working on motion tracking software for “SPARK Critters.” In this exhibit, a watery scene full of hungry floating critters was projected down onto a floor where people were free to walk. As people moved through the scene, food pellets “dropped from their feet” into the projected scene to feed the creatures.

In 2012 my wife Sarah Stack, Jesse, and I wrote and presented an alternate reality mystery game, “Who is the Mighty Oak?” The game was based at The Fish Market but required our detective participants to gather clues from all around SPARKcon. This exhibit required lots of leg work, which was good practice for this year’s show.

Kolbert: I got involved through Sarah and Shaw who told me about the festival after I’d stumbled onto a circusSPARK fire show the previous night.

SWRAL: Will Raleigh Rampage be back for SPARKcon 2014?

Kolbert: I won’t completely rule out doing Raleigh Rampage again but our boxes are mostly ready to be retired. I’ll definitely be back with something next year.  If it is a single year event, I’d say that it’s a reason for everyone in the Triangle to make SparkCon a priority on their schedule.

Terwilliger: We’ve been asked this a lot! The cardboard boxes took a heavy beating this weekend, so I’m not sure they could be re-used for another event. Maybe we could rebuild the city in foam rubber blocks?

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