Congratulations, you are now paint

Mix infrared light, a camera, and open-source software and you get "Watercolor Walls," a cool interactive art installation that visualizes how light bends to create your silhouette.

Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO--You are the blob. And you are the paint, too, if you let the art collective here known as Anticlockwise Arts have its way with you.

Last night at the Academy of Sciences' weekly NightLife event, the group debuted a new project called "Watercolor Walls" that mixes basic tech tools and audience participation to give new life to your stodgy old silhouette.

As one of the nearby DJs spun remixes of pop hits from the likes of Justin Timberlake, the crowd of more than a thousand walked, strutted, and shimmied between Watercolor Walls' camera and projector and a 15-foot-tall screen on its way from one end of the museum to the other. Using infrared light, the camera and projector would outline the silhouettes of people moving in front of the screen -- but there was more to it.

Every Thursday, NightLife keeps the Academy of Sciences open late for those of drinking age to enjoy the science exhibits there along with live music and alcoholic beverages.

Curious participants in Thursday's event could find one of two small placards explaining that the project was being powered by a computer running a piece of software that performs "blob detection," a type of visual object tracking. (Blob detection is sometimes known as "blob tracking.") Implemented with the open-source software toolkit openFrameworks, and connected to the camera, projector, and infrared filters, it created the light show around your body.

"One of the best things about this is seeing people interact in unexpected ways," said Paul Mans, one of three Anticlockwise co-founders. The group got its start, as many art groups do in San Francisco, from a Burning Man-based group called Syzygryd, said another co-founder, Matt Sonic.

At the top of the Watercolor Walls screen was projected a color palette. When your silhouette came in contact with one of the colors on the palette, it would change color, and bring that new color down into the rest of the screen. That new color would then interact with the differently colored silhouettes of others. That gave participants a unique ability to control both the on-screen colors and flow of the silhouettes. Given that dancing amid 20th century taxidermied gazelles, live turtles, a four-story biodome, and a laser-powered planetarium is par for the course for NightLife attendees, the installation was right at home on the Academy floor.

Speaking of floors, the floor is where Anticlockwise will be taking Watercolor Walls. Cory Barr, the third co-founder of Anticlockwise, said the next step will be to build a reactive floor to accompany the screen, and collaborate with professional dancers who want to use Watercolor Walls as part of their performances.

 

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