lens

March, 2006-

a maquette for the paper Lens: the practice and poetics of writing in immersive VR, published by the Leonardo Electronic Alamanac. This piece is also used as an illustration for the paper I presented at the 6th DAC (Digital Arts & Culture) conference, held at the IT University in Copenhagen, 1-3 December, 2005. The latter paper - now also online at dictung-digital - is titled Writing on complex surfaces.

c a p t i o n

lens began as a study piece relating to work-in-progress for the four-wall VR Cave at Brown University. It demonstrates how literal materiality - the surfaces of letters composing the texts of lens itself - can, in a simple illusory 3D space, subvert our familiar experiences and assumptions concerning surfaces of inscription. For example, by making a letter large enough within the programmatic structures of lens, the region of colour defining the letter-shape becomes an entirely different type of surface - it becomes a surface of inscription for other texts that had been perceived 'underlying' it. In doing so, literal surfaces subvert our experience of space and relative distance. Surfaces that were 'in front' now form surfaces for other texts. They may even become other 'spaces' within which writing drifts. Letters both delineate and redefine spatial relationships.

No great claims are made for the aesthetic or literary value of lens in its present form. It is technically simple and has technical constraints. In the QuickTime version, there is no attempt to render a genuine illusion of 3D space (no 3D graphics are employed). 'Distance' is rendered by scale alone, and scaling of fonts (via sprites) in QuickTime still leaves much to be desired.

NEW: After 2007, a further 'proof of concept' version of lens was made for the Cave Writing system at Brown University. Very recently, in June 2012, during a protracted period of transition period within which a new Cave is being developed and constructed, interesting video documentation of this maquette was made (by John Cayley, Robert & Amanda Mosley, composited and edited by Luciana Gatass) and this is now made available here.

r e q u i r e m e n t s

lens requires a recent version of QuickTime (6.5.x or better) to be installed on your system. It has been tested on Mac OS X systems and on a Windows XP machine. Despite QuickTime being cross-platform, it looks different on different platforms.

Please Note that, for reasons that are unclear to me (I have submitted this as a possible QuickTime bug) this movie does not behave as expected when using the Universal (default) version of the QuickTime Player on new Macs with Intel processors. You can (if you are willing) make it work properly on such machines: quit the QuickTime player (if it is running); go to the Applications folder; highlight QuickTime Player; press Command-I to 'get information'; check the box labelled 'Open using Rosetta'. (This makes the player run as a PowerPC version and (at the time of writing) it causes 'lens' to function as I expect it to on Intel Macs.)

r e a d i n g     l e n s

Four short texts, two in dark- and two in light-coloured letters drift against the background of lens. Two light and dark versions of the word 'lens' are also present. At any one time, one of these 'lens' words can be scaled by the reader: the Shift-key makes a 'lens' larger; and the Ctrl-key (Alt on XP machines) makes it smaller. The 'lens' words can also be clicked and dragged. Scale and move the 'lens'; make it as large as you can and see what happens.

Main, cross-platform, 'interactive' QuickTime version:

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.  .   .    .     .      .        .

Tiger-only     Q u a r t z     B O N U S

The following link loads a closely related, but non-'interactive' piece, made in Quartz Composer. It is presented as a QuickTime movie, but, as far as I know, will only run on Mac machines with OS X 10.4 (Tiger) installed:

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- do not click the image above on a PC -

Finally, for the Mac-savvy, use the following link to download the actual Quartz Composition which you can run as a screen saver simply by dropping it into either /Library/Screen Savers/ or ~/Library/Screen Savers/ (you can create a 'Screen Savers' folder if one doesn't already exist):
d o w n l o a d     t h r e s h o l d