Enter Sandman: Intel creates evolving 3D artworks with RealSense

While Intel used CES to talk up practical uses for its RealSense facial-recognition technology, the company is getting creative, using RealSense to turn faces into artistic grains of sand.

Claire Reilly Former Principal Video Producer
Claire Reilly was a video host, journalist and producer covering all things space, futurism, science and culture. Whether she's covering breaking news, explaining complex science topics or exploring the weirder sides of tech culture, Claire gets to the heart of why technology matters to everyone. She's been a regular commentator on broadcast news, and in her spare time, she's a cabaret enthusiast, Simpsons aficionado and closet country music lover. She originally hails from Sydney but now calls San Francisco home.
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Claire Reilly
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Intel is using its RealSense technology to animate faces into 3D grains of sand. Dave Cheng/CNET

After offering glimpses of the new technology in 2014, Intel made plenty of buzz at CES this January with the launch of RealSense -- a face and gesture detection software that uses cameras to map 3D spaces in real time.

While hardware manufacturers are building the technology into their 2015 laptops and PCs and developers are starting to think about potential future applications, Intel is hoping to take the message to the general public in an easy to understand way, joining forces with artists and coders to bring RealSense to the people as part of a massive light show in Sydney, Australia.

Australia's biggest light festival, Vivid Sydney, sees the harbour city lit up with massive light installations every winter, bringing crowds out on to the streets to play with glowing interactive artworks and to watch as the city's skyline is illuminated on a massive scale.

This year, Intel has set up shop at the festival hub, rubbing shoulders with food trucks and local pop-up bars and wowing crowds with a massive caged arena that lets visitors fly their own light-up drone in a game of aerial bumper cars known as "A Game of Drones."

Watch this: Intel puts you in the artwork in real-time with RealSense

But the centrepiece of the precinct is "Transcendence" -- a massive art installation that uses Intel's RealSense 3D mapping technology to create real-time animations of the faces of festival-goers. Visitors can walk up to one of the laptops set up in the RealSense booths and use the built-in cameras to capture their face and gestures. Their every movement is mapped into hundreds of colourful grains of 'sand,' creating an artwork which is projected onto massive screens overlooking the whole festival hub.

The interactive art doesn't end there. Visitors could also find themselves taking part in a real-time light installation, driven by some serious computer coding.

New media artist Joe Crossley has worked with a number of artists and "creative coders" to use RealSense to create a live display for the festival which renders the 3D scans of visitors' faces (and the odd piece of code) into projections mapped around the Transcendence space.

"We have created a 3D face scanner using the RealSense software developer kit, which will scan the faces of some of participating visitors from the RealSense demo booths located at the entrance of Transcendence," he said.

"This 3D scan will then be drawn through our main media server, and then coders are using [programming language] C++ and [game engine] Unity to generate some awesome visual elements that will continue to self-generate and will then be directly projection mapped throughout the activation."

So while you enjoy a cold craft beer and some artisanal kim chi-spiced hotdogs, you could also find yourself projected into an artwork created by leading coders and visual artists. But in a world where art meets technology, that's half the fun. As Crossley says, it's really just one "big experiment in creativity."