The following blog was guest authored by Kyle Banuelos, co-founder of Stublisher Inc., a startup that engineers interactive experiences for cutting-edge campaigns, events, spaces, and connected devices.
Mini-computers, powerful microcontrollers, and sensors (such as Kinect), are increasingly becoming more affordable and customizable. Frameworks and libraries built for these technologies are typically open source and written in approachable, high-level languages. This fundamental democratization of technology has spawned a generation of “creative technologists,” hybrid artists/coders whose role is largely experimental. As budding members of this creative coding community, we at Stublisher develop software that thrives at the interplay of physical environments and human participation. These projects range from unique brand activations to purely artistic endeavors.
We are fascinated by Kinect’s affordance of participatory experiences, because we believe that interactivity as a medium spawns understanding, significance, and lasting takeaway. We’re particularly exploring how to harness the artistic potential of the Kinect sensor to further our mission of connecting people through shared experience. This objective is the basis for everything we create, including our latest Kinect for Windows projects: Branch and Pinscreen. Both of these Kinect-enabled experiences fostered individual and collaborative exploration, interpretation, and expression.
Stublisher was commissioned to build an interactive art piece for a 2014 Halloween extravaganza in Portland, Oregon. The result was Branch—an evolving, illusionary light sculpture that tracked and outlined viewers’ bodies via a Kinect sensor, using the information to create an interactive, explorative experience. From the outset, we focused our conceptualization around three specific questions:
- How can light physically and emotionally transform a space?
- How can we trick the eye into perceiving a three-dimensional structure as flat?
- How can movement drive an experience?
Through our initial conversations, we arrived at a central theme that drove the key aesthetic attributes and development of our piece: altered perception.
Technically, a single processing sketch that included a rudimentary mapping utility allowed us to position a series of virtual LED strands on a two-dimensional plane. Information from the Kinect data stream was returned in real-time, updating the actual LED strands that were driven by a network of LED-specific microcontrollers. A computer was housed inside a custom-fabricated, matte black enclosure, where the Kinect sensor was discreetly positioned.
In addition to transforming this otherwise static work into an expressive canvas by tracking viewers’ movements, Kinect for Windows empowered people to find meaning in Branch through connection with their peers around a shared interest of dance expression.
Recently, Portland organized its inaugural Startup Week, a five-day celebration of our local community. A series of independently organized and managed events took place across the city, and we hosted the closing party at Stublisher’s headquarters. With world-renowned DJ MICK on the decks, we wanted to further encourage community celebration and concert participation within our space.
This was a great opportunity to exhibit and gather feedback on a smaller, internal experiment that we had hacked together, which was inspired by pinscreen animation—a technique that uses a surface filled with movable pins to create textures and shapes. The system that powered Pinscreen was built in TouchDesigner, using the depth data from a Kinect v2 sensor to drive the motion of hundreds of particles through a 3D scene. Incoming data was smoothed to create fluid, procedural motion that subtly augmented the architecture of our office.
Pinscreen resonated strongly with the audience, fostering choreographed efforts of manipulation. Pinscreen taught us that sometimes the simplest applications can not only delight, but achieve our objective: to connect people through shared experience.
The various experimental and practical applications of the Kinect hardware by the creative coding community serves as continuous inspiration for our own interactive experiments at Stublisher, and we’re eager to further explore Kinect’s potential for cultivating shared experiences.
Kyle Banuelos, Co-founder, Stublisher