Jewish World Review July 30, 2001/ 10 Menachem-Av 5761

Talking Heads

By Mara Dresner

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- WHEN it comes to sharing his L.I.P.S., Richard Gans is as excited as a kid in a candy store.

He's showing off Jennifer, who he sometimes calls Miss Givenchy, and Gil, who wears a jaunty hat. These L.I.P.S. are no ordinary ones, however. They're also known as Gans' Life Imaging Projection System.

"I make a cast of the face from a model and combine it with a talking animation effect that is a 3-D humanoid," explains Gans, settling into his favorite butterfly-style chair in his office at the Yale University Digital Media Center for the Arts, where he is artist in residence. Gans owns a patent for the technology, which has been used to sell makeup (thus, Miss Givenchy) and to welcome visitors to museums. He also sees applications for Web sites.

A long-time video producer, Gans stumbled upon the idea for L.I.P.S. by chance.

"I was looking for new ways to bring subjects to life. I had a faceless mannequin. I projected a little Chasidic boy's face on it. I had the mannequin and I had a slide projector. It was just a cool, fun thing to do," remembers Gans of the moment eight years ago. "I thought I had something here; I hadn't seen it anywhere. I ran to the patent office." Gans got his patent, although he wasn't the first to try such a projection. Another inventor had used a film projector in front of a mannequin back in 1927.

"The technology wasn't there. Film projectors broke; video was non-existent. The art went into obscurity," said Gans, who was awarded his patent in 1996.

"It supposedly gives you a competitive edge for 13 years, I believe, to explore your invention. It gives you time to bring it to the market without competition," he notes.

Despite the patent, Gans doesn't consider himself a technophile. "This was more about bringing subjects to life than it was about technology," he confides.

While the startling real L.I.P.S. heads have been used commercially, he sees a higher purpose to his work. He is working with Haskins Laboratory in New Haven, which does research into speech perception.

"So much information comes from visual information. Children in the deaf community can use this technology to learn lip reading. There's a potential these heads will be used to teach the deaf. That's something I never thought of before I came here," he says with wonder. Gans is also hoping to find ways to combine the technology with his strong Jewish spirit.

"I wanted a means of Jewish artistic expression and found myself kind of usurped into commercial potential for the last five years," says Gans.. "I look at myself more as an emerging artist at this point in my life. For me, it's bringing together the creative tools toward a meaningful spiritual goal." A documentary producer, he is a keyboardist, who just got a new grand piano, and often composes music for his works.

Gans has a number of ideas for how to blend technology, art, and his spiritual aspirations.

"I'd like to see if there's some way for these talking heads to be messengers, whether they're biblical characters or taking Jewish texts to visual interpretation, translating Jewish texts into visual imagery, blessings, prayers, the Shema, a portion of the Torah, prophets, Moses," he muses.

"I've heard articles against 'theme park Judaism.' I'm for anything that creatively reinvents and infuses Judaism with meaning, whether that is a new musical service or the use of the arts. Harnessing technology to bring this experiential virtual reality world to bring people into Jewish spiritual reality is a wonderful goal. I feel that I have a mission to help bring that about.

"I want to enter art in the service of G-d. The gift of expression is a gift from G-d. To be able to praise G-d through that gift is one," he reflects.

Gans also has a project that is his dream-his ultimate blend of technology, art and religion. "There's going to be a planetarium show called 'How I Wonder.' It will use multimedia immersion to illustrate the creation story, Genesis," he enthuses. "I'm forming The Wonder Foundation, which explores spirituality in children. Children love to talk about G-d, they have in their minds a picture of G-d."

He knows there is the danger of his talking heads becoming "pop culture."

But Gans has made a firm commitment to ensure that his L.I.P.S. will make a difference. "The challenge is to elevate the art to a meaningful expression."

For information about Richard Gans' "The Wonder Foundation," contact him at (203) 676-8234.

Mara Dresner writes for the Connecticut Jewish Ledger. Comment by clicking here.


© 2001Connecticut Jewish Ledger