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This is an excursion in computational methods for manipulation and illusionism of light in interplay with performers.

produced by: Annie Tådne



Light is to black as sound is to silence. Darkness is the absence of visible light. How would black light look like? Is it possible to create a simulation of something that would never exist? In this project, I want to explore these questions in a performance where the aim is to investigate the projected medium as a playful source of light.

Concept and background research

When we confront light in unusual forms, we bring consciousness to our perception and to how our visual system operates to make sense of the world and our surroundings. "Light glows and radiates, it transcends the cognitive and moves into the non-representational, the realm of the affective and sensual" (Edensor, 2015). The effect of light in various forms can give sensations and I strive to explore new ways to govern and manipulating luminous sources. Inspired by artists such as James Turell, Iannis Xenakis, Roy Ascott, Olafur Eliasson and NONOTAK, where space, light and time play a crucial role in their work, the aim of this project is to investigate these elements and how they interact can with each other.


The fundamental idea is to create sources of light that are interacting and following the performer. By using rear projection on a screen, a digital canvas is created. The shadow of the performer in front of the canvas is eliminated, which is adding the possibility to work more freely with illusion and manipulation. The person in front of the canvas is illuminated by an additional projector. The performer is tracked by use of a Kinect, whereas the projection can follow the contours of the performer and mask everything else. By using ofxKinect and ofxCV, the contours and a centre point of the person can be extracted. This is used for tracking the person, and also for animations on the backdrop that can follow the person.

Future development

During experiments with this setup, I revealed what content is powerful and not. This has led me to two different paths; one where I in the future want to be even more strict about only simulate sources of light. I believe this setup would be interesting in a theatre setting, where the lights can follow an actor or dancer in real time. The other path is to create only patterns and graphics that interact with the performer in creative ways. This would be more suitable as an interactive installation. As today I have a working setup and a program, although a natural extension would be to develop the GUI further and add more hands-on control. For example play/pause, timing control for the graphics, test grid on/off, and incorporation of the settings for ofxPiMapper.

Self evaluation

When I go on to develop this system further, I know what kind of projections I want. Because of difficulties testing the whole setup with the screen, performers, the projectors and Kinect, I wasn’t able to develop the graphics as good as I hoped I would. A lot of times the visual ideas you have in your mind (and on your laptop screen), seem to turn out considerable differently in the final setting.


Edensor, T. (2015). Light Art, Perception, and Sensation. The Senses and Society, 138-157.

Endless of thanks to the openFrameworks forum and to the add-on creators like ofxCv, ofxPiMapper, ofxProjectorKinectToolkit* and ofxKinect that are supplying very useful examples.

*In the end, I decided to not use the ProjectorKinectToolkit (by Gene Kogan), due to different projector positioning. I felt I got the same result without it. Although, it is powerful, so I will definitely want to work with it in forthcoming projects.