Birds in the Tree

Birds in the Tree is an interactive video, electronic, and wood installation which was created collaboratively with Tank Thunderbird. It was presented as a solo exhibit on 16 & 29 September 2011.

I began work on this installation on my own. However, early in the development, I saw a great opportunity to collaborate with Tank. She has a wonderful way with robots and custom-made electronics. After a brief discussion together, we quickly saw the potential of a collaboration and the fun began.

The installation exists in both the virtual and the physical. I created a real-time virtual world that renders in 3D and has hundreds of birds inhabiting it. The birds behavior both individual and in flocks is derived from research by Craig Reynolds. As participants approach the 8 meter wide video wall, a Microsoft Kinect sensor detects and tracks their movement; representing them with an avatar in the virtual world which could both chase and feed the birds. When chased, the birds would flee the immediate area. When fed, the birds would fly towards and consume the food until gone. More than one person can participate simultaneously.

Tank Thunderbird created a cyborg tree. This tree is a combination of reclaimed wood, LEDs, fiber optics, and custom electronics based on the Arduino platform. The tree would pulsate with life and light. If someone approached the tree, the tree would respond to this new friend by quickening its pulse. This quickening would attract the birds. The birds would fly in their 3D-virtual world towards the real-world shadow of the tree on the wall. While the tree, birds, and new friend are together, all three continue their interaction: the tree continuing its quickened pulse and the birds swarming around the tree. Communication between the tree’s electronics and my software’s virtual world is done with infrared LEDs and a modified webcam.


Birds in the Tree

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Video (live footage, equipment/materials, setup)

Parts 2 through 4 have all content; there is no part 1.