Author Archives: Rachel Williams

New Genres: Open Studio – The Infinite Box of Things

For my last project in Interactive Art, I ended up creating a house of nostalgia. The installation consisted of a cardboard box house, spray painted with a multitude of colors, filled with miscellanious toys and items from my childhood.


Behind the house was a framed monitor and Mac Mini, and to it connected a Leap motion sensor and projector. The Mac ran a program I created that began with a static blue background with moving white spheres. (This was intended to look cloud-like.)

Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 7.32.32 PM

When the viewer put their hand over the Leap, a new shape would be created over the background based on their hand position. Upon this shape I mapped a series of images I took of the objects within the house. This mapping would end up looking like the viewer is “uncovering” something under the background:


One of the images I took that was mapped to the hand shape.

One of the images I took that was mapped to the hand shape.

I purposefully attempted to match the color of the background to the blue sheet in the above picture so the distinction between “hand” and background became blurred, creating the “uncovering” illusion. I decided to project the screen as well because of the size of the box: when the user is interacting with it, the interaction stays confined to the box. To create the “magic circle” of viewers watching the interaction, I needed to make sure the screen could be easily seen outside of the box.


This project came to be through my Leap experimentation. While messing around with Angela’s code to create hand shapes, I found the concept of mapping and tried just mapping a basic 2D pattern I had created. When I saw how it instantly transformed the shape from something 3D resembling my hand to something 2D I was uncovering with my hand, my mind immediately went to Where’s Waldo. I knew I couldn’t actually use a Waldo image (as they are copyrighted), so I had to create something of my own. I wanted an image where the user was “discovering” something, not just looking at a pattern, so I thought about how to create this. I could draw something, but that would take more time. I decided to grab (also known as “have mom send”) some random objects from my childhood and take a photo of them. I chose childhood objects because I felt they were the most various, stand-out objects I had, and I was also determined to use Fischer-Price Little People in my next project. (I suppose I was feeling nostalgia at the beginning of this project, hence why it turned out to be a nostalgic theme.)


My program came together rather quickly; it was not a complex one. What I came to struggle more with was the cardboard box. Angela offered the suggestion of putting my program within a box to create a mystical feeling, but to transform the box so it didn’t feel like cardboard. The way I could visualize that mentally was to make a house shape. My first house was fine until I had to frame the monitor behind it. I didn’t think through where I was cutting and ended up cutting the entire back flaps out, where all the structure of the house was resting. It lasted through one crit, but alas did not make it through the following night. This forced me to completely remake the house from scratch. Upon the second attempt, I was more careful with where I cut and thus had a more secure house.

I decided to put the objects I pictured physically in the house after a suggestion from a classmate. I thought it might help clear up what the user is doing/what they are searching for. I don’t know if it quite achieved this effect, but added more to the showmanship/aesthetic of my presentation and helped draw people in.


Because the cord was short, my Leap ended up being quite far inside the house. I thought this would be a problem, as people would not know what to do. However, I think it was one of the best aspects of my installation: as people reached in to look or touch objects (which I encouraged by a sign), they would suddenly activate the Leap and realize they control the picture on the screen.

On installation day, I realized my program did not work as well in the space as it had on my computer. The Leap sensor would stop sensing objects only about halfway up the screen, reducing the amount of objects the user could actually see and access with their hand shape. This was a bug I could not fix before Open Studio, and I wish I had but I don’t think it affected the interaction for the user. I learned setting up in the space beforehand is extremely important and, as with the Art Party, there are always new issues that arise within the actual space.

One aspect that I wished would have worked better was the clues I had prepared for the user. I still wasn’t sure if the user would know what to do with the exhibit, so I created I Spy-esque clues for the image. Angela suggested they be presented in a kid-type fashion to fit in with the atmosphere of the installation, so I chose to create a paper fortune teller as that was something I remember being prevalent in my childhood (pictured above, bottom center). I attempted to put it in the front, but I feel it blended in with the other objects. I am not sure if anyone read them, as I was unable to attend the first hour of Open Studio, but the people I showed the installation to did not notice it. I think if I had made the clues more visible, it would have drawn people in more as they would feel like they had a task to complete. Instead of a goal-oriented “game” type installation, it became an interactive art piece about presentation and atmosphere.


Overall, I think the installation was a success in terms of user interaction and how the user felt about it, but I think I was not as successful in specifying the action I wanted the user to take.

New Genres: Supernova Installation

Speak to me!

Claim 1: If I communicate to other people through a sound visualizer and text-to-speech library, then it will feel equivalent to or easier than talking to people face-to-face. (Hint: this is false.) Claim 2: If an installation setup meets the correct criteria, then it is quite simple to deceive an audience regarding the legibility of artificial intelligence. (Hint: this is surprisingly true.)

For the Supernova Art Party 2018, I created an installation revolving around a pseudo-artifical intelligence program. I set up a large monitor with a microphone and speaker in front to encourage the audience to “speak” to the monitor. I connected my laptop to the monitor via HDMI cable and hid in a curtained area behind the monitor. The program I created and ran was a simple audio visualizer, where the central circle changed diameter depending on the volume of the surrounding area. There were also some extra visual effects (such as the circle gradually changing color, a fade-out effect on the circles of different diameter, and a grid background), as well as a text-to-speech feature. This is where the magic happened: I had a small text input box hidden at the bottom of the screen (which, due to resolution differences, coincidentally didn’t show up on the monitor), where I could enter text and upon pressing the “return” key, have a text-to-speech library read the text I typed. Thus, I could listen to the user’s questions to my program and type a response from my computer, giving the user the illusion that my program listens and can respond without any outside help.

I must admit, as a moderately shy person with absolutely no showmanship experience, I found my idea of hiding behind a curtain for the party as part of my project pretty genius. I knew, however, I still had to tackle the issue of being hidden, but still aware of the interaction with my piece. This was, overall, still the hardest part of my installation. I found it difficult to balance between interacting with people curious in my installation versus people trying to get from point A to point B and not interested in it, especially when I couldn’t see the people behind my Mylar curtain. The curtain seemed semi-transparent during daylight, but once it got darker it became much harder to see through and I found I couldn’t rely on it to see people. All I could rely on was their voices. This worked out somewhat, as people felt the need to treat it like any other talking device such as Google Home or Alexa and initiate the conversation. It still caused some anxiety, however, as I felt pressure to type and respond quickly, respond with wit, and do all this without seeing the other person (or sometimes, without hearing them quickly as some people’s speech into the mic was muffled). Thus, it was most definitely NOT easier to communicate with people via technology (in this case). In the future, I think placing the installation in a space where people go specifically to interact with it, versus a walking space, and making sure I could truly see the audience would create some ease on my part.

Speaking of space, I believe I was able to use the parochial nature of the space that is Heimbold (and Sarah Lawrence) to my advantage. As everyone at the party was united by being members of Sarah Lawrence, I could make college-specific references that made my “AI”, Sam, feel surprisingly knowledgeable and surreal. I was worried this would break the Turing Test quality, but even with specific references, many people appeared to think this was a program built with true artificial intelligence. On top of all this, I think the knowledge of local culture made it easier to befriend (and even fall in love with) Sam.

A screenshot of an acquaintance’s Snapchat story. I don’t think they had any idea it was me behind the curtain. I’m Internet famous!

This idea that I could make an AI interface built upon local knowledge is a unique and tempting one. What if, instead of having a mass production of general knowledge machines, we had specific localized AI that was built upon data within a small radius or specific community? But I digress. The specificity of this bot worked well at the Art Party, a culmination of the parochial localized culture we are a part of. While I wrestled with some aspects of my text-to-speech library, like Sam’s difficult-to-understand accent, I don’t think a general, clear-spoken Alexa would have been as fun or interesting.

But actually, you’re speaking to ME.

Conference Project Post-Mortem: Music and Motion

For my conference project, I intended to compose songs in GarageBand and create an animation to go along with them in After Effects. I had genres in mind for songs and I somewhat stuck to them, but varied slightly. I did make an electronic song, but the other song that I intended to be a classic band setup turned into more of a keyboard-oriented 70s disco piece. This is a result of where I happened to be at the time I made the songs: I was listening to other songs from the 70s which influenced my style. I planned on using markers, but I found another system that worked even better: in GarageBand the soundwaves of each instrument are visible in coordination with the time of the piece, which also includes time in the same way as After Effects (24 frames per second). So, I looked for the beats in the soundwaves in GarageBand, found the corresponding time, and animated to the beat. However, I had issues with memory which made playback difficult, especially for the first piece, which made it double-check my work. The first piece, which had more chaotic rhythmic elements, resulted in more abrasive animation at times so I aimed to make my second piece more organic and relaxed.

A screencap from my second video. I used the Kaleidescope and HexTiles effects often as I feel they have a 70s characteristic.

A screencap from my second video. I used the Kaleidescope and HexTiles effects often as I feel they have a 70s characteristic.

I think I succeeded at this. Going from the first project to the second project changed my overall conference because I learned from my first mistakes and tried to refine them for the second piece.

A screencap from my first video. The background shapes and their color schemes were my favorite part of this video.

A screencap from my first video. The background shapes and their color schemes were my favorite part of this video.

While my time management could have been better, I am surprised how well my projects turned out for being done at late hours. I believe my second piece does look good because the effects range from simple to complex but all still enjoyable to watch, while my first piece could use more refinement because some animations felt too rushed and some parts too static. In the end, my inspiration for the first video was late 1980s aesthetics and the second video was early 1970s aesthetics. I am satisfied with the work I have created and feel it reflects my artistic development over the semester accurately.

Projector Night

Projector night, even for all its preparation, was something I didn’t expect.
My prop.

My prop.

At each rehearsal, I tried out a different spot in my area — the corner, in between the railings, the two walls created from the division of the archway — and on the last rehearsal finally settled on the spot above the doorway. I felt it created the best illusion out of all the projection spots: it became a colorful pyramid or architectural decor instead of just lights on a wall. Mapping for an audience felt much more stressful (I wanted everything to go smoothly initially, but felt even more pressure to do so with people), but also enjoyable. I was excited to show off my work to my friends and peers.
Experimentation with shapes.

Experimentation with shapes.

IMG_20170420_201628026 My work blended in the surroundings but the movement still catches your eye, so I wanted to do just that: take a familiar spot and have the viewer look at it more closely and with a different perspective. I was familiar with the software before projector night, but actually projecting it gave me a different perspective on how to frame my art and place it in reality. What worked was my mesh — I was able to place it in the exact same shape and location from rehearsal to the real thing. What did not work as well was my projector. I happened to grab a brand new projector on rehearsal night compared to the semi-new brand I had used for rehearsal. It was not bright enough, unfortunately, and I had to perform a swap which ate into some of my presentation time. Though the area was required to always be lit and my projection was slightly washed out most of the time, the new projector made it even worse. What surprised me was how my projector was not in the way too much. People walking on the stairwell and in front of the door managed to mostly not block the projection. Though I had many animations I liked, some of my least favorites were actually the ones that projected the best because of the bright colors. I also decided to use my patterns I had made and mix my videos with it because I included the patterns on my posters and felt it was false advertising if i didn’t include my patterns. I also brought my Kermit doll as a prop to put on top of my projector to distract viewers from looking straight into the light. Also frogs were heavily featured on my posters and I felt that a frog needed to be included in some step of my presentation. In the future I would like to include more work with live cameras and graphics combined.
Yes, this is the same audience member.

Yes, this is the same audience member.

Conference Project Proposal: Music and Motion

Since the time in class we watched Motomichi Makamura’s video for the song “We Share Our Mother’s Health” by The Knife, I’ve been interested in creating motion graphics to go along with music.
A still from "We Share Our Mother's Health".

A still from “We Share Our Mother’s Health”.

  I have watched other animations to songs since and found inspiration in Faye Orlove’s video for the song “Townie” by Mitski. For my project, I have decided to create two 4-minute animations to go along with two tracks I will create in GarageBand. At the moment I do not plan on incorporating lyrics/vocals in the songs because I would have to find a vocalist. I plan on creating one track with the “classic” band setup (lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass, drums) and one track that is more electronic and experimental. The animations will be made in After Effects. Though both of these videos focus more on creating familiar objects (medical tools in “Our Mother’s Health” and markers in “Townie”), I aim to make my animations more abstract and focused on motion graphics. I am interested in doing this because I’ve always had a passion for music and find animation that goes along with music to be extremely pleasing. Since these are just videos, the viewer should simply be able to play them and enjoy the audio and visuals simultaneously. I plan on aligning the animation with the beat of the music using markers at specific points. The lack of lyrics may cause problems as in these examples the lyrics heavily helped to distinguish the tone/focus of the animations, but I believe an abstract animation can be just as pleasing to watch. I plan on making the tracks first and then gaining inspiration from what I hear to make my animations. Obviously rhythm will play an important part in these animations, influenced by the music. Repetition will also most likely be important as I plan to repeat certain animations during parts of the music that also repeat, such as the chorus. The pace of the animation will probably be in line with the pace of the music. The other factors, such as color, scale, and pattern, will vary but are not as important at the moment. Side by side, music and motion appeal to the senses in a unique way that I hope to achieve through my project.  

Digital Tools: The Art of the GIF

For this project, I was inspired by a variety of sources. For the first gif, Windows, I was inspired by the shadows of my windows in my dorm room at night. The shadows were more diagonal and haphazardly placed, but the silhouettes overlapped each other which inspired this. Each color is actually a paintbrush of a window frame. I wanted to use red and blue because one evening an emergency vehicle was outside and the shadows were these flashing colors, and then I added green and brown to go with the colors. The light yellow background is based on the color of my walls when the sun is rising or setting.  This gif was inspired by a 1960s pattern I liked by an unknown artist. The original pattern was just circles on lines, but I decided to recreate the pattern with various other shapes. Then I put all the images in one file on different layers. I made sure to make the gaps transparent so almost all the layers are visible in every frame. The animation is made by cycling through the layers. I wanted to do a gif that was a little less uniform than the previous two, so I hand drew this gif. I was inspired by a colored scarf I had, but I ended up liking the image without colors instead because it flows continuously. Though it is not visible here, the background of this gif is also transparent because I like the idea of partly transparent gifs. My plan going into this project was simply to experiment with motion. I enjoyed planning out each gif and imagining how the frames would follow each other, but I think some move faster than I wanted. I can change this in the future by adding more frames. I think my ideas worked well, but my mental image of the result needs work.