BACKGROUND & CONCEPT
For my final project, the concept development process has evolved a couple of times since I first presented my idea proposal. In the beginning, it all started with the notion of “Selfie”. I remember I was so mesmerized by these particular photos that my friend posted on Facebook, where they take a group selfie on a beach with a bamboo rod acting as a selfie stick. It amazes me in terms of how people would go extra miles — dragging bamboo rod all the way from the shore line, strapping their camera on top of the shaft, and using remote timer to trigger the shutter — in a place where technology is almost non-existent, only to take a group selfie.
Starting from that point I began asking myself these questions:
- Most selfies are boring, how do we make them more interesting? Think about the notion of Extreme Selfie, is there anything interesting that we can do with it?
- When is a selfie more than a selfie? When does it seem to have more meaning than other time? When does it tells something about a person, more about a person or even a visual landscape?
- Selfie in its realm as an extension of our body/self, how can it constitute the medium for a meaningful artistic interplay? Can selfie be considered art? …and so on.
I did a thorough research to help me answer those design questions, but then I realized that it was almost a dead-end for me. I kept stumbling on how I would frame the concept other than the fact that selfie itself is already a massive phenomenon that is utterly blown-up by the internet and has just become so mainstream. The selfie culture and the rampant social growth of social networks have become the classic sign of an urban trend that screams self-awareness, narcissism, and a need to publicly express personal opinions and views for social validation. But as a matter of fact there is not much that we can do with it. There are tons of mobile application that could help you enhance your selfie experience, but it all seemed too gimmicky. In the end, knowing how booming this culture is, the whole notion of selfie kind of loses its appeal to me. Then I decided to look from another vantage point. I needed a fresh start, so I took a break from the daunting world of the term selfie and started thinking from the other way around. I stared at myself in front of the mirror for a long time and I started thinking, when we see ourselves in the mirror all we get is pure reflection, a visual representation of who we are. But how exactly does an object sees you? For example, what if we look at the mirror and the mirror can actually ‘see’ and recognize you? What if we don’t see the same reflection of ours, but instead we’re seeing someone or something that looks like us? Eventually, how we look at ourselves from the eye of an object, is what drives me deeper into the idea of exploring the relationship between humans and their own reflection.
In Your Face is a physical installation that explores the relationship between human — our body, mind, and soul — and reflective surfaces such as glass, screens and mirrors. At this point, there are two design questions that I would like to challenge: “Can you imagine a world where multiple version of you exist?” and “How does seeing yourself as random virtual avatar in real-time impact you, psychologically?”. From here I got very inspired by the work of artist Karolina Sobecka titled “All of The Universe is Full of the Lives of Perfect Creatures”, in which she uses the mirror as a screen that would project the inner beast of each person that is represented by an animal.
In terms of technological iteration, this project has undergo several iterations including feasibility exploration using Raspberry Pi, CamCv library, mini thermal printer and openFrameworks. On openFrameworks itself I have made at least nine different attempts to create an immersive, interactive face tracking, both using regular laptop webcam and Microsoft Kinect. But in the end, In Your Face implements the underlying face recognition technology built using openFrameworks and also live face tracking via FaceShift, a powerful tool to craft and personalize 3D avatar model based on depth camera tracking.
As a final result, In Your Face is a two-way mirror projection in form of a 12’’ x 12’’ transparent box that enables people to see themselves in different kinds of 3D virtual avatars. The box itself is made of six pieces of see-through mirror (also known as two-way mirror), layered with a thin sheet of tracing paper so that the strong lights from the projector wouldn’t get reflected directly into it. The basic idea of this installation is when people are looking into the mirror box, they will see something that they’re obviously not, but still mimics their action and facial movements such as eyebrows and jaws movement, lip contour, both smile and frown curves, etc. It even does eye-tracking that follows whether the eyes of the user are blinking, looking up, down, right and left, and so on.
During several attempts of user testing, I found some interesting items to be highlighted. First of all, people are generally fascinated by the idea of seeing themselves in the mirror, yet what they’re seeing is another ‘form’ of instead, represented by 3D virtual avatars. Based on a quick sampling, the most favorite avatar is The Pug, and the least favorite is The Wireframe Baby. Also on average, people spend around 3-5 minutes in front of the mirror and play around with facial expressions to see if the avatar mimics them. The most common reactions involve pure excitements by saying things such as “Oh, this is so cute.. (cool/awesome/fun/creepy)!” and also requests to change into a different kind of avatar model. The fact that most of the time the users tend to giggle and laugh while being in front of the installation clearly states the playful side of this project. In the end I am happy with the result but I am still planning to continue this project on my spare time. For future iterations, I am planning to add more 3D avatar models and also add a physical button to the mirror box so that users can capture their ‘other self’ and make an animated .GIF file that maybe they can view and download.