Royal Ontario Museum to be digitally SKRTCH

The Canadian Film Centre (CFC) Media Lab is set to unveil a digital graffiti projection system that will let users digitally “tag” a wall with 3D animated images.

The SKRTCH digital graffiti tool will be demoed at the Manifesto 2008 urban arts festival held this week in Toronto. Festival goers will be able to scratch and sketch laser art onto the exterior of the Royal Ontario Museum (R.O.M.).

The system uses a projector to display the digital images and a camera to track the laser’s movement along the wall. As the green laser is projected onto a particular canvas, the data is subsequently converted into a string of coordinates on a nearby computer.

“We use a simple trailing algorithm to keep track of the different movements the laser is making, and then develop a graphic based on that data,” Rob King, applied research and production manager at CFC Media Lab, said.

Making sure the camera keeps track of SKRTCH’s laser movements as opposed to other downtown Toronto distractions, King added, provided a significant challenge for the system designers.

“Most camera tracking environments are done in a very controlled environment, whereas this is out on the street,” he said. “You could have something like a car headlight shine on the image, so making it robust enough to handle all of these extraneous inputs was a challenge.”

CFC Media Lab, which acts as a training ground for up-and-coming new media artists, said it began work on SKRTCH after coming across open source code from a digital graffiti tool by New York-based Graffiti Research Lab.

“I was at a new media conference called Zero One in San Jose and I saw Graffiti Research Lab using their L.A.S.E.R. Tag system,” Christina Santiago, manager of production programs at CFC Media Lab, said. “I knew it was a new media project that could be interesting for the Manifesto festival and something that would take graffiti art to a whole different level.”

According to King, one of the biggest differences with his project compared with the Graffiti Research Lab tool is with the system’s control mechanism – a vinyl turntable. “Individuals who are playing with the laser will be able to rotate their ‘tags’ in real-time 3D using the turntables, so it brings a lot of innovation to the experience,” he said. For future iterations, King said multiple control mechanisms and colours might be integrated into the system.

King added that the CFC used the vvvv video programming language, as opposed to the Max/MSP language used by the Graffiti Research Lab. And while the CFC was adamant the tool was not aimed at being an advertising tool, King doesn’t doubt the technology will eventually be taken up by ad firms.

“We developed this tool to get people sharing ideas and having fun with new media,” he said. “We were able to get it developed very rapidly, so it wouldn’t be unlikely that an advertising company could do the same thing.”

SKRTCH is set to make its debut at Thursday night’s Manifesto Film Festival party.

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