Making Space – Universe Invented

12:24 AM in General by Kevin

Making Space – Interactive Space Installation from kychan on Vimeo.

Journey into the Cosmos

Cosmic imagery has been created many times on TV, movies or games, either in 2D imagery or passive 3D renderings, but never interactively experienced by motion detection.  Looking at the night sky as children, the distant stars appear only as flat because we’re not able to move around them.  In the installation, we wanted to create the most immersive experience of space to date using the large screen.  This was the beginning of Making Space – a desire to use beauty to inspire.


Collective Human Pursuit

The Making Space universe is concerned with the cosmos as a reflection of our society and collective human pursuits.  Gravity of individual atoms each exerts influence on the solar system, as a part of something bigger.  In human society, strangers come together in pursuit of something, collective actions ultimately manifests into advances in the society we live in now.  As stars on a starry night, daily actions of single human beings are important pieces to a functional society as a whole.  Each singularity is in relation to others as a part of something bigger.

Using motion detection, the viewer is able to engage the universe in navigating the cosmos, and collectively create the universe.  The installation aims to build relationship and connect members of the space through collection actions.  The individual viewer is able to immerse themselves in the space experience, while leaving a permanent mark in the universe.  Ultimately, each individual influence creates a powerful scene for others in the space to appreciate.


Making + Chaos (The Chaos Theory)

Figuring out how to make the complex aesthetics generative was the biggest challenge in the project.  The gradient of cosmic colours of galaxies, layers of clouds, stars in different depth and contrast of light and dark colours needs to be created as input.  We cannot afford to have over-complex rendering processes having thousands of objects in the scene.  The Carina Nebula image was our aesthetic reference and trying to reproduce the same aesthetic quality with all the limitations seemed overwhelming.  In “You Must First Invent The Universe“, we conducted small experiments to make the construction manageable, and find ways to achieve the result without having to hand-craft every million atom in space.

In our research we were fascinated by the discovery the Mandelbrot Set (probably common knowledge to people with Science/IT background), an image with endless complexity (chaos) created by a simple loop.  Learning that chaos is deeply intertwined in the universe and its beauty really influenced both the development of the concept and code.  Using fractals was a lucrative idea because it involves simply creation of a single star object and a replication process that progressively alters the original, adding variation and complexity into the whole scene.  Unfortunately, the fractal experiments did not produce any results to our liking mainly due to limited coding knowledge, but it provided the thinking we needed for the rest of the project.  If a form of self-replication can be achieved, it can go to create the complex gradients of cosmic colours and generate objects in space in complete randomness, creating complexity and unpredictable beauty.


Nine Experiments Later“, we had figured out most of what was needed to make the universe.  By now we had a good candidate .  Time was starting to run out and progress was slow, often we would run into code blocks that we cannot solve for days.  To make sure things run on schedule, we broke the project into components and tested small and often.  This avoided laying much work to waste by building something that wouldn’t go into the final cut in the end.

(from top, left to right)

Aesthetics Ver.3 (22/05/2011) Revealed limitation on displaying gradient and textures.  The cloud texture turned out an unrecognisable blur, this prompt us to create images in higher contrast.

MillionCubes Ver.3 (26/05/2011): The universe in its most basic existence.  Tested with little expectation and turned out better than expected, with a decent glow and recognisable rotation.  Needed to improve glow, form, and sense of depth, but the contrast is good.

Billboards Ver.4 (04/06/2011): Improved the form of stars.  Needed to keep colours more consistent and within similar class/hue.

Billboards Ver.4 (04/06/2011): Variation of the above.  Need more weight in the center of stage, or the vocal point.

Prototype B (29/05/2011): Rotation and variation of colours was good.  Fluid effects not suitable type of interaction but provided good revelation on what colours are possible in the final product.  The interaction

Billboards Ver.7 (08/06/2011): The gamble with 2 layer colour texture didn’t pay off, so gradient is really the way to go.  After this we switched back to using gradients for the stars.  This testing was perhaps the most valuable, as it provided some final answers to the projects.  After this, we improved the contrast, smoothness of colours to make it more spacey, created an improved overlap effect of colours.  The interaction worked only okay, and it needed a delay or extension of detection to keep the zoom in effect smooth.  The zoom in effect worked nicely, and it showed that the platform is mostly working as we want it.  The final version came at version.11, and by then we had a smoothly running zoom effect, a time extender for detection and beautiful aesthetics that was just right :)

A more detailed record of prototype evaluations can be found in our Evaluation post.



At launch night, one of the viewers told us he felt that each star was like time in one’s life, that ones shinning brightly and closely together are the glorious years, and the lonely and distant are like bad times.  It seemed like the installation managed to create emotional resonance to viewers.  Personally, seeing the installation in action sends chills to my spine, perhaps because it didn’t come easy and took so much work :P.

The project was met much resistance in its making and it has been a long journey here, but in the end, I think the project is a success.  It’s amazing that different people we talk to see different things in the project.  I think that’s also the nature of the cosmos – eternally mysterious and filled with human imagination.