9 April 2012

Crowdsourced Poster for May Day

I crowdsourced a crowd scene for a May Day poster using Mechanical Turk, Facebook and Twitter friends inviting them to draw a robot holding up a sign. In just five days, I assembled a protest scene with 250 unique characters. It was great fun. Here are the results in color and black and white.

Click below for high resolution versions.



The Back Story

May Day is coming and Occupy Wall Street and groups around the country are calling for a general strike. The folks at Occuprint put out a call for posters and a mixed group of artists, writers, film makers, students and art historians met at the Interference Archive to kick around ideas. I wanted to contribute something but had a hard time getting my head around a message. In recent years, May Day protests in NYC have centered around the rights of immigrants. In the past, May Day has commemorated the Haymarket affair, demanded an eight-hour work day, celebrated the dignity of workers, protested globalization, and more recently, highlighted the precarious nature of a “flexible” workforce when the social safety net is ever more frayed. (See this interview with the studio bildweschel / image-shift to see some of their fantastic May Day posters on this.) But how to reconcile all this with the many messages of Occupy and a general strike?

Taking a cue from the Occupy movement itself, I decided to focus on form and process instead of a specific message, to depict the expression of power — not to mention getting out together on a bright spring day.

My initial idea was to script a crowd scene of characters generated from a random combination of heads, hats, bodies, etc. The result had a nice color space to it, but felt too simple and homogenous. It needed more variety, more edge, more life.

So what better way to draw a crowd, than invite a crowd to draw it?

I found a bit of javascript that lets the user draw on a web page then figured out how to post the drawing as an image file to the server. I intentionally made the radius of the pen good and thick so the drawings couldn’t be too precious and would have a consistent, low-rez look. I used the same tool to draw some of the type as well.

With the script in place, I commissioned my first few drawings via Mechanical Turk. Originally, I wanted to depict a crowd of protesting people, but nearly everyone turned in the same stick figure.

However, one early image looked a bit like the Android mascot. So I tried running with this. I asked instead for drawings of a robot holding up a placard… and received the most wonderful humanoid figures! This ended up shaping the message of the poster (and makes for a nice layered metaphor.) Response on Mechanical Turk was slow, so I posted the URL to my modest network of friends and family on Facebook and Twitter. I would love to do something with thousands of these some day, but time is short so I cut it off at 250 robots.

As much fun as this was for me, I heard from the contributing artists just how much fun it was for them — another nice surprise.

I’m thrilled with the results. Download a high resolution version color (2.5 Mb) or black and white (1.4 Mb) for poster printing, or just to see all the little robots up close.