Physical Computing - Midterm Project - Magical Forest
As these longer term projects tend to do, this one went through many iterations on the way to its final version. The first stretch ideas my partner Wenjing Liu and I had were of a room scale installation focused mostly on an organic interaction which would control spooky, surround-sound effects. Thinking about scaling down, we settled on the idea of literally scaling down to some sort of diorama that a user could look into instead of stand inside of. The first ideas in this vein were of an acrylic box which would have some sort of peep hole that allowed viewers to look into an abstract, changing world inside which would be inspired by cross-cultural images of the afterlife. This would be done using mirrors and a p5.js sketch on a screen which was controlled by some sort of user-held object - likely through the use of an accelerometer. We even discussed having servo controlled elements inside as well to add to the abstract, changing experience.
However as we moved along we found ourselves gravitating towards a slightly more grounded, natural aesthetic, and eventually decided to turn this diorama into more of a whimsically haunted forest. I was particularly inspired by the work of the artist Patrick Jacobs in thinking about this design, and we also got a lot of inspiration from Pinterest, including the idea to use paper cut-outs to imply the forest setting.
We still wanted to maintain the multimedia aspect, and so we imagined this scene would have an interactive background made up a p5 sketch on a computer screen. To create a feeling of spooky ambience I created the sketch to have clouds of mist and fireflies floating around, and the user interaction would clear this mist and reveal the ghosts living in the forest world. I took a lot of inspiration from the movies The Fountain, The Grave of the Fireflies and the beautiful hand drawn video game Samorost 3. While I was working on this, Wenjing laser-cut the tree outlines and we soon after began assembling the box itself.
One of the ongoing challenges for us was deciding how exactly the user would interact with this piece, but it was a combination of ideas from myself and Wenjing which lead us to decide on having the user blow into a Chinese lantern.Doing this would light up the lanterns one by one and then cause the mist in the background to clear and the ghosts to appear. It was from here that we realized that by putting more of these lanterns within the diorama it would truly unify the whole space.
While I believe that over all it came out wonderfully, there are certainly some lessons I feel that we learned from this project. Firstly, I think we just chose the wrong sensor to recognize user blowing. We used a humidity sensor, which is a sensor that only returns new values every second or two. And on top of that, while the humidity around the sensor undeniably changes when a user blows on it, it then took nearly a minute or two for the humidity level to go back down enough for the interaction to reset. Additionally after seeing other projects and speaking to my classmates, while I undeniably feel like the project ended up looking beautiful, in hindsight I think that we may have focused a bit too little on the actual interaction. We were very intent on it looking nice, and subsequently I think the interaction was maybe not as integral to the idea as it should have been.