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If the model moved faster, the illusion would be broken

Design - September 10th, 2014

Humans have always been fascinated by light and being able control light in creative ways opens up endless possibilities.

Nobumichi Asai and a team of designers recently created Omote, which projects a virtual face onto a real person’s face and follows the person’s head and body movements within a limited range of the tracking and projection systems. In a darkened space, the illusion can be compelling.

The ideas behind such systems originated in the 1960s Disneyland. Disney’s Haunted Mansion experience used film projections to make disembodied heads animated and appearing to float around in thin air.

Some of Disney’s work was inspired by Paul Robert-Houdin’s work on Son et Lumière in 1952, creating animated light projections on Château de Chambord in France.

In the 1980s, Michael Naimark developed a number of systems at MIT Media Lab, allowing users to interact with projected virtual characters in room sized displays, for example a talking head illusion and throwing a virtual ball to a virtual dog.

What is different today is that computational power has continued to follow Moore’s Law (the number of transistors on a chip approximately doubling every two years), making yesterday’s supercomputing today’s home computing and entertainment, which is affordable to a wider public.

The advanced 3D tracking offered by Microsoft’s Kinect system (2009) has enabled yet another wave of developments in this domain and it is now a regular topic of artist and student projects, all around the world.

What makes Omote interesting is first and foremost its aesthetic.

Asai is aware of the important factor that for a projection mapping to be successful, the underlying structure of the surfaces used should be exploited by the visual content.

In his demo videos, the graceful and calm movements of the human model remains within the speed constraints of the tracking and computer graphics system. If the model moved faster, the illusion would be broken, as the projection would not register properly in relation to the model.

As tracking and projection systems get more powerful and affordable, we are likely to see a lot more work emerging in this area, but it is unlikely you will ever see it in “real-life” situations as it requires darkened rooms and a substantial amount of electricity to work.

Nobumichi Asai studied at Tohoku University in Japan and he is currently Technical Director at P.I.C.S. Co. Ltd in Tokyo.