“Art for the Eye, Ear and Mind”

In the January 2, 2015, edition of Newsday, Steve Parks interviewed John Adamczyk, known as J-Walt, before his performance of Spontaneous Fantasia in the Vanderbilt Reichert Planetarium:

J-Walt brings his art for the eye, ear and mind to Vanderbilt’s planetarium

BY STEVE PARKS | steve.parks@newsday.com

Are you ready for a little post-holiday magic? Check out the New York premiere Saturday, Jan. 3, of “Spontaneous Fantasia” at the Vanderbilt Museum planetarium. J-Walt, aka John Adamczyk, creates a virtual-reality universe before your eyes on the dome of the Reichert Planetarium in a live performance of a new, improvisational art form combining animation, music, dance, theater and architecture.

J-Walt draws on planetarium dome
J-Walt draws on planetarium dome

“Every show is unique,” J-Walt said in a phone interview from his Los Angeles studio. “Since it’s a one-man show, I can change the program to whatever strikes as I walk into the space an hour or so before it starts. Or even as I look around at the audience.”

INSTANT ANIMATION

“Spontaneous Fantasia” is basically a live performance of an artist drawing. Only it’s so much more. The etchings come to life in an instantaneous video animation — in this case, projected on an overhead dome — as spectators recline in theater seats. In the course of the one-hour show, dancing figures, whimsical creatures and other gestural shapes move rhythmically across a trippy landscape.

“The drawings are augmented by two computer interfaces,” J-Walt explains, “as a virtual world materializes.” One interface is the Razer Hydra, a two-handed wand for drawing figures that navigate a three-dimensional space. The second is the Anitar, an animation guitar that J-Walt invented for drawing in space.

“It’s an organic process coming out of my virtual-reality background,” he says. “I take what I’ve done in the studio and bring it to an audience.”

J-Walt started his live performance-art project in 2003 and has performed various permutations of “Spontaneous Fantasia” more than 200 times since — from Macao to Malibu, but never before in New York. J-Walt’s show is adaptable to any space where video can be displayed, but domes are particularly challenging for a “high-level immersive experience,” he says. Each show is accompanied by a recorded mix of classical music arranged to his orchestration plus original compositions.

OSCAR WINNER

His new art form emerged almost inevitably from his life’s work in interactive video design, graphic art and filmmaking. J-Walt and two colleagues won a 2006 Oscar for technical achievement with the J-Viz Previsualization system that allows cinematographers to project a background instantaneously as an actor or actors are being filmed against a blue screen. A founding member of Disney’s VR studio, J-Walt created many of the virtual-reality experiences at Disney World’s Epcot Center. He’s also won awards for digital puppetry and produced location-based video games for Sony.

“I use my drawing skills to give direction to the computer programs I write,” says the tech Renaissance man. “My goal is to create a wholly integrated experience for the eye, ear and mind.”

Call it mind-blowing.

WHAT “Spontaneous Fantasia”

WHEN | WHERE 5:30 and 8 p.m. Jan. 3, Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium at Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Rd., Centerport

TICKETS $15, $12 for seniors and children younger than 12; 631-854-5579, vanderbiltmuseum.org

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