Saul Woolf and Kyria Nelson – Still Life – Final Project

For our final project, Saul and I created “Still Life” – a game which captures an often forgotten truth about the world we live in: Sometimes, you need to stay still for a moment and relax to gain clarity.

Here’s our documentation video, which contains everything about the project, how it was made, and how to run it:

Here’s the script written out, in case you can’t listen out loud:

“Still Life” is an art piece based on the idea that the world sometimes moves too fast. In order to reveal the image featured by this project, the viewer has to stay perfectly still for a period of time. As the viewer stays still, they will notice that the loud, distracting background chatter will quiet down. Instead, soft jazz and rain can be heard. Still Life is a metaphor for the turbulence of real life – sometimes, you need to take a break and relax to gain clarity.

But how was it made?

The logic behind Still Life’s visual and audio components is based on Conway’s famous life simulation, aptly titled “Game of Life”. In this game, the cells of a grid represent living organisms. A cell can be marked either alive or dead. A living cell will die if it has one or no other living cells nearby – this is called a death by loneliness. Similarly, a cell can die if it has too many neighbors, four or more, as if by overpopulation. Two or three neighbors allows a cell to remain alive. If a dead cell has exactly three neighbors, it will come back to life.

In “Still Life”, we’ve added a few other methods to either bring cells to life or kill them. A video of rain falling is a catalyst which creates life; every place the water moves, new cells are born. Meanwhile, a camera records the movements of the viewer. Everywhere the viewer moves, cells are killed. This means if a viewer stays still, the screen will become populated with life.

Through these living cells, the rest of the project comes together. Using an “and” operation on the matrix which holds the Game of Life, an image is applied to all the living cells. The effect of this makes it seem as though the viewer is looking through the living cells to see an image behind them. This image is a watercolor painting of a flower and a butterfly; something peaceful and beautiful, something made healthy by rain, relaxation, and stillness. The image is barely visible at all when the viewer is moving, since movement kills the cells through which the image is seen. The viewer has to remain patiently still to be able to make out the full image.

The audio is similarly based on the living cells. The percentage of living cells on the board determines the volume of the jazz music. The more life there is, the more clear the jazz and rain sounds. The less life there is, the louder the sound of people chattering is.

To give the image a more artistic look and allow for clearer viewing of the background image, we applied jit.slide to the matrix. As you can see, this makes a huge difference in the quality of the viewing experience.

Behind the scenes, Still Life is beautifully organized and documented, and very easy to start. As long as you have the 4 files loaded in – the rain input video, background flower image, rainy jazz music and chattering noise – the program only requires you to press two buttons to start.

To allow for fuller and more even life dispersion, a third button allows the operator of the project to toggle into mirror mode.

I hope you enjoyed learning about Still Life!

Here’s the Max Patch, in case you wanted to see it:

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