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Dancing Light Theater

Math in Motion

Exhibit incorporates visitors' actions with moving lights to create an interactive dance

As visitors to the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum of Science and Technology walk into the traveling exhibit hall, they see a new exhibit called Dancing Light Theater. It comprises three large screens displaying ever-changing colorful graphics, and each screen is different. But it's when someone approaches it that the exhibit really comes alive.

As a child approaches one screen, her outline appears in white dots that stretch and move with her. Suddenly, the image becomes distorted and repeats with a kaleidoscopic effect, like a hall of fun house mirrors. In a second screen, another child appears as a series of white triangles that, when a friend stands next to him, shoots white lighting bolts to his friend's rendering.

What's going on here? It's pretty complicated math, combined with "depth" cameras much like the Xbox Kinect to track people's movements in a completely immersive environment, says creator Lorne Covington, of Mottville, who creates his works under the name NoirFlux.

"I call the concept The Electric Heliotrope Theater," Covington said. "Heliotrope is a flower and a color, purple. It literally means sun or light follower, which is quite appropriate, given that the exhibit changes with the interplay of the museum patron and the moving light."

The exhibit has been well received by visitors, said MOST President Larry Leatherman. "People can't help but be amazed when they walk by the screens and see that their actions are mimicked by the display," he said. "Children especially love interacting with it."

The exhibit uses high-end 3 GHz quad-core Windows-based computers with top-of-the-line gaming graphics cards running Covington's custom software, which use depth cameras to incorporate the motion of the participant's body and gestures into various mathematical algorithms that produce the visuals. While using similar technology as video games, it differs in that the graphics are not pre-loaded images or models, but generated completely in real-time by the user's actions.

Covington used the German graphics software vvvv to develop these works, which is designed for high-performance interactive installations. "Installations like this are popular in Europe for outdoor displays," Covington said. "They are just starting to get popular in the United States."

"There's a lot of math involved in how the cameras work," Covington said. "For each pixel, the computer generates a point in 3D space. It's all trigonometry; you solve for the points of a triangle. The camera sees you as a 'cloud' of these points, figures out where your head and hands are, then you can interact with it."

Dancing Light Theater opened in February and will remain up indefinitely. Covington updates the installation regularly to make it more responsive, colorful and interactive, and he plans to add a fourth piece for the center of the exhibit. He also used his code to create a realistic, interactive image of the sun incorporating real-time data from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory for the exhibit Out There: Exploring Space through Augmented Reality.

"There are many applications for this technology," he said. "Now that the setup is at the MOST, we can do thousands of things with it."

Want to see more of Lorne Covington's work? Link to his website at http://noirflux.com

 

* This is just one of the many new additions to the museum as a result of our "Making More of the MOST!" campaign.  To learn more about the campaign, what's planned next, what's happened up till now, how we're doing and, most importantly, how you can get involved in the fun and support the museum, follow the link to the left titled "Making More of the MOST!" or use the navigation set below.

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