Obsessions: openFrameworks

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South by Southwest

Continuing slow trickle of ideas from the SxSW convention. Before this, I’ve talked about the web affecting our perception of reality and new ideas for healthcare. Today, let’s look at art making.

Art was one of the first things to jump onto interaction in many different forms, and it continues to be a communicative pioneer in that space. While at SxSW, I sat in on a panel demoing a really wonderful set of tools for digital artists called openFrameworks. The toolset is essentially the same sort of thing you’d find in a programmer’s toolbox. It’s a sort of “glue” that holds together many different types of tools, like audio and video. It’s designed for easy experimentation for artists who don’t code terribly well. (Translation: a lot of us.)

The code is cross-platform and can be compiled across platforms as well, between Windows, Mac, Linux, and the iPhone. This means you can write your applications to work on all of those platforms, and you can create applications to work on one platform from another platform. So, for example, you can create an application to be run on a Windows system from a Mac, and be assured it’ll work.

The genius in this system is in its simplicity and robustness. It’s geared to be used by audio-visual professionals who really need only to get at the bare-bones functions of the media. There are a lot of toolkits out there for artists, but several of them address game developers (and as such, have a lot of things this audience might not need) or otherwise specific audiences who may not be thinking in the broadly general terms an artist would be. Each class within the system has minimal functions, and is easily ripped apart to implement functions across classes.

So, this is all very abstract in description, which I know is a little confusing—I had a hard time grasping it myself upon first explanation. So let’s look at some of the lovely things that have been made with openFrameworks.

Arcs21 is gorgeous, created by one of my favorite multimedia artists, an Austrian named Lia. We’ve never met, but I’ve been following Lia’s work for easily a decade; it surprises and delights in the motive realm as easily and broadly as Marian Bantjes’ does in the still realm. It is a lovely little meditative piece of code for the iPhone; you can read more about it and download it freely here. It simply creates arcs, densely layered, on your screen. That’s all. It’s not task-oriented or useful, but it is essentially and crucially beautiful.

Chris O’Shea’s Beacon is a frightening piece of work, one which transforms a grid of dome lamps into a sleeping animal combined with an environment. The viewer walks through this minefield of red lights, and suddenly, the lights “look at” them. It’s reminiscent of some of the imagery used in Battlestar Galactica—a Cylon’s red eye, scanning for nothing and everything, then targeting a human.

This is some lovely footage created for the opening of the Olympic Oval at the recent Vancouver Winter Olympics. This was projected on the building itself during the opening speech and ribboncutting.

So as you see, openFrameworks is fairly vast in capability. Download it and begin making your own code. Or art. Or both. How lovely to see logical and emotional creation processes converging in such a rich way.