Final blog post for Liquid Light :)

1:34 PM in General by Mela



Every day, we cross paths with our familiar strangers — the melancholy man who sits on the same seat in the train, the young woman sharing our steps to the office building, the teenager with the same penchant for our favourite restaurant. We are aware of their existence, but we do not communicate with them…

Or do we?

We all consist of energy. Our auras emanate from our beings, mostly unseen… Yet the intimacy of our auras brings forth a sense of propinquity. We are more connected to each other than we think; the distances between us are not empty spaces, but are entities permeated by the energies we produce.

In our installation titled, “Liquid Light,” we attempt to visualize the invisible energies and interactions that exist between us and our familiar strangers.


Design Ideas

We had several ideas we wanted to implement in our installation. The primary ones would be the visualization of human auras and our interconnectedness with one another. When the viewer steps in front of installation, a glow appears around his silhouette, alluding to his aura or energy. When another viewer enters the space, he too generates an aura on the screen, but then there is another thing created: a connection, a line of energy, between the first aura and the second.

Our group liked the concept of familiar strangers and envisioned an installation that would emphasize our connectedness with them. Hopefully, this installation will start a dialogue between two familiar strangers when they get visual affirmation that they are, indeed, connected somehow.

As an individual stays longer in front of the screen, his aura slowly changes colors. This hints at the dynamism of people’s auras. People have constantly changing energies and this was an obvious way to display it visually. The longer a person stays on screen, ripples form around his aura as well.

Besides making use of the SmartSlab (as required by the design brief), we also wanted to create an immersive experience that engaged the senses. Movement around the installation generates different sounds. After a few minutes, the screen fades to white and triggers a mist to gently fall onto the crowd.


Project Development

The project was an amalgamation of ideas from all our presentations. After we formed a group, we had a discussion talking about the best features of our ideas and seeing how they could best be combined. We created a project schedule listing the major milestones we wanted to reach each week to ensure we completed our installation successfully before the due date.


Week 1
  • Aura connections
  • Water/Bubbles [see through-ish]
Week 2
  • Auras
  • Heating up, charging
Week 3
  • Bringing all the aspects together
  • Mist
  • Sound


Here’s a quick visual run-through of how our code progressed:










For a more detailed description on the development of Liquid Light, check out our previous blog entries. Links to our previous presentations, videos, and photos can be found in these posts.


All Posts:

Initial ideation presentation:

First programming attempts and mist experimentation:

Processing sketch testing at the SmartSlab:

More Kinect testing and project refinement:


User Evaluation

Our group was lucky in the sense that our initial Processing sketches converted quite well on the SmartSlab. We did not have to make any major changes to our code after testing pre-generated videos on the screen. The user testing sessions below refer to sessions where we tried hooking the Kinect to the screen.


Session 1: 27 May 2011

  • The Kinect did not work properly from behind thick glass windows. There was a definite lag between the viewers’ movement and the auras displayed onscreen. Blob detection was also quite faulty – it wasn’t detecting the blobs that well and there was a big disconnect from the viewers’ actions and the auras displayed on screen.
    • Action: The SmartSlab was going to be moved from behind the patio glass windows to the doors, which could be opened, and hence not obstruct the view of the Kinect.
  • Users liked the general aesthetics of the work. However, the sketch was way too bright on the SmartSlab. There were times when the screen would be overwhelmed by brightness. This, combined with the low resolution of the screen, made it really hard for people to understand what was taking place.
    • o Action: We reduced the glow that was being generated by the aura connections.
  • The mist worked well, both in terms of spatial placement and height. It caused the desired “wow” effect on the audience. Everyone loved it – it was not as “wet” as we had feared it may be. However, it was only visible from a few angles, depending on how the light got reflected. For example, if the screen at that moment was particularly bright, the mist would be visible; otherwise, you couldn’t see it at all. It was nearly impossible to capture on our smartphone cameras. More than one participant suggested that we use a projector to enhance the effect and make the mist more visible.
    • Action: We decided to create a second Processing sketch that would be triggered by events in the first, main sketch. The second sketch would consist of an image of a mist. It would be projected partially on the physical mist and partially on the floor. This would give users the impression of being surrounded by water.
    • Action: We also decided to include sound in our installation to make the entire experience more immersive.


Session 2: 07 June 2011

[User Test Video #1] [User Test Video #2]

  • We had previously tested the mist on our laptop screens and finally decided on one with white water set against a purple background. However, after testing it on the projector in front of the SmartSlab, the image was barely distinguishable. A suggestion was made by some users to change the purple background, which would help enhance the image overall definition and contrast.
    • Action: The Processing sketch mist was changed to display white mist on black background. This did help visibility.

  • The interaction with the screen was responsive, engaging and intuitive.
  • The sketch appeared monochromatic. While we had programmed in many different colours, it was set to switch to the next colour after 1 minute each. Since the people we tested it would flit in front of the screen and would not stay for extremely long periods of time, we found that most of the time the aura colours would just be golden.
    • Action: We adjusted the colour timings so that the colours would rotate much faster. More colours were also added to the cycle.
  • So far, the audio we found and implemented sounded pleasant and appropriate. However, since we were only testing it in the SmartSlab area we still didn’t know how it would sound like on the big screen.
  • Setting up the sketch on the SmartSlab computer during a group performance proved to require further coordination. Finding the radio cables and settings took way longer than acceptable and caused lack of synchronism between image and sound.
    • Action: We implemented of a “setup phase” at the beginning of the sketch’s
      running time, with extra controls to signal the installation was actually “ready” for public interaction. That allowed the group to properly configure cables and make sure all settings were in place before image and sound started playing and the public could initiated the interactive experience.


Session 3: 08 June 2011 (Group dry run)

  • With the screen moved to the other side of the patio, the interaction zone floor turned into a decked wooden surface, which reflected light even less than the concrete surface tested the night before. Changing the background colour for the projected mist image proved insufficient to make it visible.
    • Action: We decided to remove the projections. It was basically a little more trouble than it was worth. It was taking a little too long to set it up correctly and after we finally did it, it was barely visible.
  • Having lots of people interacting at the same time (a scenario whose test up to then had not been possible) caused the sketch’s performance to degrade a bit.
  • Sound was really good on the big audio speakers, causing a highly enthusiastic interactive reaction from the audience.
  • Mist worked very well, complementing the sketch and the sound.



Technical implementation

We used the following technologies in our installation:



Our project would not have been possible if not for the expertise of our lecturers, friends, and various colleagues from the electronic art community who have made their work freely available online for us to study and build upon! The codes listed below were used for inspiration – some elements of the algorithm were retained but they were modified upon integration in our installation code.

  • Background removal:
    Based on code by Rob Saunders (courtesy to the project)
  • Projected mist (eventually discarded from the final presentation):
    Based on “Sentient Greenhouse” by Robert Francis, licensed under
    Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 and GNU GPL license.