Josh Michaels, an organizer of the PDX Creative Coders, lined up an opportunity to fill some vacant storefronts with electronic art. We would have a few weeks to come up with an idea, build it, and install it for public use on Division St. in the Ford District, where it would stay up for a month, enticing passers-by to interact.
When we saw the storefronts, we were most intrigued by the possibility of creating an immersive experience that you step into from the street. We chose a doorway which is visible from the sidewalk but less obvious than a street-facing window. We brought our findings back to the team and had a fun brainstorm, pitching ideas that we could execute within the short time frame and a small budget. The rule was that pitching an idea meant you were also volunteering to create it. We then all voted on the top ideas and picked the winner, which was to create something like a Lite Brite where people could draw on a grid through the window.
The original concept was to build it out of LEDs but time and budget constraints required another approach, and Senior Creative Developer Kevin Lee came up with the idea of using many faceted glass cabochons to create a grid which could distort any image on a monitor underneath. It took many different approaches (and a few handfuls of broken glass) to come up with our final design, which was created by painting a layer of Spar Urethane on the glass and then placing the cabochons by hand as it dried.
We had another curveball when the Second Story team discovered that the glass of the storefronts is coated in such a way that infrared light will not go through it. Surya had already developed the interactive application using a Leap Motion controller, which relies on Infrared light passing through the glass, hitting the user’s hand, and bouncing back. He pivoted to use a simple webcam and a technique known as Optical Flow to get a general direction of motion from the user through the glass. We used a surface-mount speaker to fill the space with a soundscape by Kevin which generates itself with an infinite amount of permutations. We hope the final piece is a fun mixture of low-and-high tech that delights those passing through the neighborhood.
We are not a fabrication shop, nor do we aim to be. This project gave us a chance to dip our toes in the water and gain a deeper understanding of what goes into making the hardware for a window installation, and provided us a deep respect for those who do this well. We delivered on-time by staying nimble and not holding on to too tight when an idea needed to change in order to fit our unique circumstances. The installation stayed up successfully for its deployment thanks to our solid software and provided hours of fun for people walking around the neighborhood.
Created by Kevin Lee Jr., Devin Thompson, Michael Neil, Sami Lee and Surya Buchwald.
Thanks to Josh Michaels for facilitating and Leann Raschke for taking a chance on Interactive Art!