Zach Lieberman – Drawing Movement and Magic

Zach Lieberman was the next speaker at Eyeo this morning.  I have encountered Zach’s name before and I’ve either invited him, or planned to invite him, to speak at a LISA salon one of these days.  I’ll have to find him and do that here.

He’s a professor at Parsons and and artist and big into Open Source.    His background is in fine arts, painting and printmaking.  He was deeply frustrated with Photoshop and Illustrator.  So he started to learn how to code and built drawing tools for himself.  Ever since this moment he’s been hooked on building tools for creative exploration and drawing.  (This reminds me a lot of how my husband Scott Draves got started too).

He set up an installation where people could try their hand at “painting” on the screen and then move the elements of their design around, and the pieces would make different noises as they moved.  He likes to create an open mouth, a moment of wonder as someone sees the work.  We wanted to make something as simple as a sketchbook, that would take your drawing and allow you to manipulate it in 3D.  We put the tool out there and it’s amazing to see what people have drawn with it.  They can doodle in 3D.

As a paid project, they designed a font that could be driven by a car, to prove that it could handle tight curves.  They put dots on the four wheels of the car and filmed it from above, and then released the font.  He’s part of a company called Yes Yes No that did a project for Nike.  They created a tool that turned runs into painting.  By looking at people’s route, pacing, mile markers, etc.  They did a workshop with runners and let them make their own paintings, and then they made posters, to take something home completely based on their run.  When they had to test it, they were not appropriately dressed for a jog, but Nike gave them the clothes and they ended up getting lost and ran forever.  They could see looking at their painting the place where they got lost.

He likes to think about the way the human body moves.  He’s worked with Golan Levin, Kyle McDonald… and did a projection project where you could interact using your body, using your hands… they used a lot of cameras.  People danced in front of a screen and showed up large on a building with other colorful elements built in; and people could “fingerpaint” the building different colors by rubbing their hands across a screen.  They created the visuals for a popular pop group in Japan called perfume, coming up with different ways of 3D representing people digitally onscreen. He’s working with a NYC dancer allowing her to paint with her body.  And he’s working on a project now doing face projection, with a Japanese performer named Daito Manabe who electrocutes his face.  “We’re trying to put objects that move on his face and react to his expressions.  As you paint things on the face, your reading of the face changes.  I am trying to use this as a form of mask.”

Magicians are an interesting group because they’re constantly hacking.  What does a magician see? Early cinematographers experimented with concepts of magic trying to create illusion.  I built some tools for a magician to perform with and this has been deeply enjoyable.  There’s the code of the magician which is not to share the work you do.  But I love open source.  So I think about the differences between the two worlds.  With magicians, the tricks are sleight of hand so people would be angry if you knew what they did.  Kyle Macdonald will have a workshop today about the Kinect and I’ll come in a bit and talk about openFrameworks, and open source framework for creative coding in C++.  It’s a set of code that you can use to build projects.  C++ for artists.

Zach then shows some of his student projects, they are pretty great.  At least I think these are his students, maybe they are just people using openFrameworks, I am not sure.

He says: Lots of people ask why is this open source?  Why give it away?  People have a notion of artists as these misunderstood solitary geniuses.  I’m a big advocate of art as a kind of laboratory, the way a company would have a R&D department, artists are the R&D department of humanity.  We need to share what we learn.  I like DIWO – do it with others, as opposed to DIY.  We do an workshop called Interactivos.  The workshop becomes an exhibition.

We created a lab at Ars Electronica, a 3-story high research lab made out of metal scaffolding, with an exhibition area on the ground floor where the audience would tell us what to work on.  They passed the idea up through the ceiling and we could work on it.  Our crazy laboratory was on the second floor.  We spent 5 days making stuff.  I like to create these situations for learning and sharing.  Getting people together.  Making a better project because you’re sharing what you know.  More than code or a project, openFrameworks is a community.  It’s about bringing people together and creating things.

When we think about art and technology sometimes we think about million dollar projects, but a $200 project can really reach people.

What is the thing that makes you who you are? Something you do that you love.  That defines who you are. Imagine what it would be like to lose that thing.  I worked with Chris Agrew and Theo Watson who made LaserTag, and the Graffiti Research Lab collaborating with Tony – Tempt.  A graffiti artist who was diagnosed with ALS.  We were invited to go meet him to show him what we do.  He had a commercial eyetracker which cost $15-20K – there was a time when he just had an interpreter and he would signal with his eyes when they got to the right letter. We made a system, the EyeWriter, where he could draw his own lettering and projected it on buildings so he could essentially be drawing and we’d see it miles away on  a huge wall.  Now he is using the software and pushing it in directions we never would have been able to imagine. His drawings all get saved online.  We’ve taken them all over the world.  Golan took a pen and hooked it up to a robot arm to make these real.

I’ll add in the links later.