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Touch the Table is an interactive motion piece first displayed in the Spori Art Gallery on July 5th 2007. The installation uses a table as the projection surface, and a metal A-frame that mounts a projector and a simple security camera that can detect infrared light. The computer software then detects moving objects on the table, which is used as the input channel for the visual effects.

Designed by Glen Moyes and programmed by Bryan Turley, this installation was built with the intension of giving gallery patrons a completely different experience than what they are used to in an typical gallery installation.

The concept for this project was, "what do people want to do but can't." Instead of not being able to touch the art, you are encouraged to touch the projection surface of an interactive motion piece, to walk around it and spend as much time as you want with it. The nature of the system also encourages people to experiment with it, such as tossing objects across the table instead of just placing your hands on it, or create drawings on paper and then seeing the shape they created interact with the visuals.

There were 6 stages used in this showing of the project: paint, bugs, lights, fire, John Conway's Game of Life, and lightning. Other stages where also created as proof of concepts that worked best in the horizontal version of the exhibit where the projection was on a wall, such as rain that would bounce off the viewer's shadow.

Concept and Research

The goal of this projects was to bring interactive technologies into a fine art setting successfully. We asked ourselves, "what would people want to experience in the gallery but can't."

From our experiences visiting galleries in San Francisco and New York, there are a few things that we noticed about people's behavior within these galleries. Comparing the amount of time spent enjoying each piece, most would glance at some paintings and feel that they have experienced the whole thing. Very rarely did they get up close and spend a lot of time with it, and that was usually just to examine the artists technique. With the sculptures, they would walk around and sometimes inside of the modern sculptures to feel that they have experienced the whole thing. With motion pieces they would sit through the entire loop until they moved on to the rest of the gallery. People spent more time with the sculptures and motion pieces than anything else.

One of the things that patrons could never do was touch any of the artwork; not taking any part in the artist's process or having any say in their statements, controversial or not.

From that research, we came up with the concept for this project: a gallery installation that you can walk around, get inside of, touch, and interact with; all of the things that people have wanted to do in a gallery but often can't. We didn't want to make any kinds of political or sociological statements with our design. We wanted to give people a creative experience where they can feel a part of the art. We want them to be able to feel it. We want them to be able to discover more about the piece the longer they spent time with it. And as part of staying true to the original concept, even the 6 stages let people do things that they haven't been able to do before; you can now touch lightning, create digital life, splatter paint on the walls, and summon flame from your hand without feeling a thing.

Hardware

The installation uses a standard black and white security camera and infrared filter to prevent visible light from being picked up by the camera, such visible light as the graphics being displayed by the projector which would interfere with motion detection.

A consumer-level computer system was used to run Bryan's software that provided the motion detection as well as all the graphics simulations.

Below is the design that we used to suspend the projector and the camera above the table. Both the table and the metal A-frame were custom made for the exhibit in the Spori Gallery.

Software

The motion detection software takes statistics of the value of each pixel over time to determine if a foreground object appears on top of the stationary background. In the screenshot to the right, you can see the foreground objects marked in green as detected by the software.

In the case of the Spori Gallery exhibit, the software stores 45 minutes of frame statistics, so that people are not accidentally burned into the background image if they stand there for that amount of time.

That data is used as the input channel for the effects. A built in calibration system is used to get the physical objects and the input channel as shown through the projector to align perfectly. It works by projecting a grid system through the projector, and then matching those points to where they appear on the camera feed. This allows us to compensate for perspective and lens distortion.

Each visual effect or stage cycles through about a dozens background patterns and palettes so viewers never see the same thing twice.

Contact Us

This system can be used for a variety of applications in both fine art, museums, retail, and other business applications. If you'd like additional information please contact Glen Moyes.