Out of Bounds interview with Chris O’ Shea

by Andy Polaine on September 27, 2007

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Chris O’ Shea recently completed Out of Bounds during his residency at the Design Museum. Chris also writes the very good Pixelsumo from which I frequently steal links draw inspiration and I’ve been a little remiss about blogging this earlier, but Chris promised to also put some video documentation up online (which helps explain the project) and also agreed to do a short interview.

Out of Bounds makes real the childhood fantasy of having superhero X-Ray vision to explore parts of the Design Museum that are normally not accessible to the public. It’s also an extremely playful piece that, as Chris puts it, encourages adults to “relinquish the learnt behaviour of adulthood and reconnect with the wonderment of youth.”

Click the read link for the interview….

AP: Congratulations on the Designers in Residence. What was the inspiration behind the idea for Out of Bounds and can you tell us a bit more about it?

COS: When I was first commissioned they wanted me to create a piece of work that responded to a certain space. My idea was to have a projection on the outside of the building, with an interface that would enable people to look into the museum when it was closed to see what was happening after hours. In the end this didn’t work out, as the projection would only work in the evening of course.

I wanted to create an interface that people would be familiar with every day, not some futuristic xray machine. A torch was an obvious choice.

AP: What has been the reaction to it so far? Is it what you imagined or different (interactive works often seem to take on a life of their own).

COS: I’ve watched people using it for a day. They give someone the torch and they don’t know where to point it. Because its infrared they can’t see the light. As soon as the light hits the wall they are very surprised. 80% of people think its some kind of magic and can’t figure it out. Big groups of school children are especially funny, as they try to block the light or make shapes. Some people have mentioned that its very soothing to use. I found that images taken from the same view point of the wall, rather than close ups or odd angles, work better in giving it a realistic feel. Many people think thats it looking through the actual wall to whats on the other side, until they see the room change when the pull the torch away and put it back again.

AP: Do you have any other projects planned for the Design Museum?

COS: No, the residency was just this one commission. Who knows in the future.

AP: I noticed you coded it in C++ and using OpenCV and also openFrameworks -which is still fairly new and in beta – rather than Processing or Director. How has that process been?

COS: Coming from a background in Director and Processing, I was getting frustrated with my options for computer vision, and knew that I would need to learn C++ to do this properly. openFrameworks (OFW) is a set of libraries and a framework wrapped in one package. Like Processing for Java, OFW provides an easier entry point into programming with C++ for these kinds of projects.

I used version 0.01 at a workshop at Ars Electronica. For Out of Bounds I was using 0.02 and a lot had changed. The process has been enjoyable, as its not too hard to get started. The biggest hurdle is changing the mindset from Lingo to C++. The code is completely open source, and I’ve made lots of changes to the core libraries to suit my project, something I’ll tidy up and release later. Although the community is small, Zach & Theo (the founders) are doing a good job of supporting users on the forum and are working hard on the 0.03 release. I’m using OFW on all of my projects at the moment.

AP: How does Out Of Bounds work technically?

COS: The infrared light is invisible to us, but not to a camera that works in low light. So the camera looks at the wall, using a lens filter to block out the projection. Where there is light, it pushes through a depth map to reveal the room. The virtual space is 1024×768 in size with a depth of 255. As you show pixels at different depths, you get the wall, two layers of brick and then the room itself.

AP: Finally, what did you learn from the project?

Infrared torches are very difficult to find because the US has banned import & exports of illuminator products under counter terrorism. Most torches aren’t robust enough if people drop them and they aren’t designed to be running for 9 hours a day. I’d like to get my own infrared torches built one day.

AP: Thank you.

You can view more images of Out of Bounds on Chris’s website as well as a video of it in action (and, yes, it does look like magic).

[tags]pixelsumo, chris o’shea, design museum, interactivity, installation[/tags]

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 johno September 27, 2007 at 8:49 pm

That’s a great interview. I would have liked to have seen that projection. Chris is a truly inspiring artist/designer. So, I wonder when he’s coming to Japan (hint, hint).

2 Andy Polaine September 28, 2007 at 9:50 am

Probably when someone gets him a residency there! Yes, his work is great, maybe you can do a type-based one together?

3 Andrew Knott September 28, 2007 at 6:10 pm

Chris is doing a pres at ThisHappened in East London next month…

http://www.thishappened.org

Should be sweet… Lots of other presenters on all things physical computing. I think this talk is full but it’s worth checking it out in the future … I was lucky to get registered early, so I’ll report back Andy…

4 Chris September 28, 2007 at 7:20 pm

Thanks for your kind words!

Johno, yes hopefully soon would be nice :)

Andrew, I’m not doing a presentation at This happened but am one of the organisers along with Joel and Andreas. Yeah its full unfortunately. We had to increase the capacity to 150 people and there still isn’t enough seats. See you on Tues.

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