Playing with particles using a webcam

Demo of installation

This installation is an AIR application that was built using Flash. It is intended to be placed in the reception area of my workplace, Skive. It was actually completed a few months ago but I just recently managed to put some video documentation together.

The piece uses a webcam to track any form of movement to displace particles. The letters of the Skive logo are broken up and forced to the edges of the participant’s silhouette. This creates a chaotic outline as the pieces attempt to rush back into their original places to reform the letters. The springiness of the particles brings a fluidic motion which encourages play.

Click here to see the video on Vimeo

I’ve worked with webcams several times before and found that differences in light and surroundings can cause the application to behave in different ways. This can be very frustrating as it means recompiling using different values. This time, I decided to do something about it and created a control panel which would allow me to alter and save values such as springiness, threshold and pixelation on the fly. This saved a lot of time, effort and stress.

Demo of installation


14 Responses to “Playing with particles using a webcam”

  1. 1 Disco Disco October 8, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    This is awesome, shame Paul can’t dance.

    Also, I hope the muzak was taken from the cupboard and not your personal collection Jim?

    Is there possiblity to take this further, say, to porjector level, with a lot more nodes to interact with?

  2. 2 jamesalliban October 8, 2008 at 6:20 pm

    Bless him, the guy had a go.

    It was starting to chug a bit at 800 particles so I stopped there. I’m sure it could handle twice that if I tidied the code up a bit. Chopping the letters up into 75 then 150 pieces each was a complete ballache so I might leave it where it is. If I look at this again it will probably be in Processing.

  3. 3 Jamison Hiner October 17, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    Anyway the little folk out here can get a copy of this to play with, im working with some DJs on a fashion show and could see this coming in handy when the model walks in as it projected behind them or something


  4. 4 Jop Wielens November 1, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    Very cool! Don’t you just love creating stuff you can play with forever 🙂

  5. 5 jamesalliban November 5, 2008 at 10:22 pm

    Thanks Jop. It is fun but I tend to rarely play with them once the footage is online. I really should revisit some of them but I would probably shudder in disgust at the code 🙂

    I like your blog by the way. Some really interesting experiments.

  6. 6 Andreas January 11, 2010 at 2:11 pm


    Nice application! I have hard time to get the webcam that accurate, is it possible to get the sourcecode for you project?


  7. 7 jamesalliban January 11, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Thanks Andreas. I should be going completely open source in the coming weeks. Check back soon.

  8. 8 Cindy January 19, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    wow, nice application James! Super cool!

    Hope to play around with the source code soon!

  9. 9 jamesalliban January 19, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    Thanks Cindy. I’m on the cusp of going completely open source with all my projects.

  10. 10 DigiAttack October 1, 2010 at 4:00 am

    Very nice VERY NICE james, Hope to play around with the source code too but i can’t find it in your site, it id open source rigth?

    Keep the nice work James

  11. 11 Aidan boyle April 15, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Hi James,
    This is really nice work! Well done!

    I have done some work with ultrasonic sensors and dance, but the’re pretty restricted. Your experiments are much more impressive James!

    I am currently preparing a dance performance at Jacobs University in Germany and am hoping to use a webcam in front of the stage to have some interactivity, such as in in your Skive. Would it be possible to get the code directly from you and save some time? I would change the image that you used and have the dancers affect something else, maybe a flock of birds… Your thoughts are always appreciated!

    Also, will it run on MAC?

    Keep pushing the frontiers!
    Much appreciation,

  12. 12 Misbah April 11, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    wow, can You please help us with the source code?

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