Unamed Soundsculpture

What with all the talk of service design, I’ve been ignoring my interactive roots, but for a research project about buildings as hybrid communication hubs (more on that another time) I’ve had a reason to take a look at Processing and a couple of interactive tools again. A few things have caught my eye recently.

The first is a piece currently on the Processing exhibition page. It’s a video work called Unnamed Soundsculpture by Daniel Franke and Cedric Kiefer. I’m not such a big fan of the music, but the way they created the piece is interesting:

[A dancer] was recorded by three depth cameras (Kinect), in which the intersection of the images was later put together to a three-dimensional volume (3d point cloud), so we were able to use the collected data throughout the further process. The three-dimensional image allowed us a completely free handling of the digital camera, without limitations of the perspective. The camera also reacts to the sound and supports the physical imitation of the musical piece by the performer.

I’m especially impressed by the use of the Kinect cameras – previously that kind of equipment was in the domain of specialised motion-capture studios for large budget visual effects. These guys are just in their studio with the Kinect cameras taped to some podiums.


(Image: ChopChop)

I’ll blog about the others presently.

Troika is on Cloud, er, Five

If you haven’t already explored the background behind Troika’s cloud for BA’s Terminal 5 – “a five meter long digital sculpture whose surface is covered with 4638 flip-dots that can be individually addressed by a computer to animate the entire skin of the sculpture” – Pixelsumo has got the goods and also images of the Processing pattern mock-up tool.

More development images and info here.

Or just watch the video above and wish you had done it.

[tags]troika, artwork, installation, cloud, processing[/tags]

20,000 Processing Particles

I’ve played with Processing a fair bit over the years, but never really got stuck into anything solid – most of my time has been spent fixing up my students’ projects!

Over the break I’ve been playing with some other ideas, working through the very good book by Casey Reas and Ben Fry, Processing: A Programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists. It’s probably one of the best books I’ve ever read in terms of introducing and explaining how to code for people without a computer science background.

Inspired by Robert Hodgin’s wonderful Processing work I thought I’d have another crack at particles as they seem to be all the rage at the moment. The particle creation part is easy, but getting them to interact with decent physics was getting too much for my mathematically challenged brain. Thankfully I came across the Traer Physics Engine by Jeffrey Traer Bernstein, which handles a lot of that maths for you.

My “Hello World!” code for any platform tends to be a bouncing ball (or an array of them) because it covers most of the structures – if…then, variables, arrays, etc.

So I started building and engine that has a bunch of particles that are all attracted to each other, but more attracted to a single one which is following a target invisible bouncing ball around the screen. (It would make more sense to collapse the particles into the ball code, but at the moment I’m just plugging stuff together.)

It’s very simple at the moment – just an ellipse as the graphic with some trails going on. The above is a version that rendered out in non-realtime with 20,000 particles. I like the way they seem to rope together and struggle to break free. Sometimes there’s a kind of breakaway flare.

There’s also a bit of gravity going on, which drags everything down. Any particles that go off the bottom of the screen are simply recycled up the top (you’ll see this in the initial explosion). A interesting upshot of this is that sometimes the tail of the flare/rope falls off the bottom and those particles make a break for it from the top.

You can play with a 2,000 particle version of it here (and view the source code)..

There are also a couple of other versions on Vimeo.

[tags]processing, particles, generative, video, vimeo[/tags]

Flash On the Beach Coda


I just returned from a fantastic time speaking at Flash on the Beach ’07. I’ve been to quite a few conferences over the years and this was by far the best I’ve ever been part of. John Davey really looked after everyone well and got together a brilliant line-up of speakers. My thanks to him and all the speakers for a great time.

I’m going to be writing a round-up piece for Creative Review, but briefly some of the highlights for me were Robert Hodgin’s incredible work using Processing, Brendan Dawes on how to break things and also Hillman Curtis and Neville Brody who both spoke much more about creative approaches than the tools.

For my part I gave a talk called Playful Revolutions, which took a look back over a whole load of work – a lot of it from the Antirom days (which was fun) – and looking at the importance of play in the creative and interactive process. It seemed to be a running theme in a lot of the talks actually. Flash has become a powerful and complex tool, but the danger with it is that it puts off people wanting to noodle about with it. I think it’s essential to break down those barriers so that more experimental work gets made because interactivity is still very young and there’s a lot left to discover.

The revolution in the title was also about how I’m seeing a lot of experiments and ideas that we played around with 14 years or ago or so coming round again. I think since flash has been able to manipulate bitmaps so much better coders and designers have broken free of the vector finally. In some respects its re-inventing the wheel, but it was clear that there is a whole younger generation of Flash people that don’t even remember tellTarget let alone Director and bitmaps – so it’s good to see this exploration. Either way, it just goes to show how much the tools influence the output.

I recorded almost all of the talks with my nice new Zoom H4 so the quality is pretty good. I also did a fireside chat with Brendan Dawes for a podcast.

I’ll put all those up as podcasts/downloads over the coming few days/weeks. UPDATE: I’ve been a bit slack on this because I’ve been so busy, but egotistically I’ve uploaded my presentation if you would like to hear it. You can download the MP3 of Playful Revolutions here or listen to it in the player below.

[tags]FOTB07, presentation, speaking, conference, flash, processing[/tags]

Master of the Universe

I’ve written a few times about the work of Jonathan Harris and We Feel Fine remains one of my favourite combinations of data visualisation combined with a brilliant interface that gives an insight into that data’s meaning.

Universe Shapes    Universal Stories

His new project is called Universe, a piece he has created for the interconnected news service, Daylife, where he is Design Director. Once again it explores the interconnected nature of all our lives:

In Universe, as in reality, everything is connected. No event happens in isolation. No company exists in a vacuum. No person lives alone. Whereas news is often presented as a series of unrelated static events, Universe strives to show the broader narrative that contains those events. The only way to begin to see the mythic nature of today’s world is to surface its connections, patterns, and themes. When this happens, we begin to see common threads — myths, really — twisting through the stream of information.

It is also another work of Processing art and he combines a wonderful interface with an insights into the morass of data that we usually become overwhelmed with. He seems to be going from strength to strength and recently showed Universe at the prestigious 2007 TED conference.

I’ve only just noticed that he has a computer science background – so it just goes to show that not all computer scientists are awful designers. Whatever he learned needs at Princeton to be spread around the other CompSci courses in the world.