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'Body brush' paints on virtual canvas

High-art goes high-tech

Images using the "body brush" represent a digital reproduction of an artist's movements.  

From Kristie Lu Stout

HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- In the brief history of modern art, the paintbrush has been replaced by mixed-media collage, the silk screen, even naked models covered in blue paint. Now, the tools of the trade are due for a digital upgrade.

Researchers in Asia have developed a new tool that enables artists to paint on a three-dimensional canvas. So instead of holding a wooden handle with bristles at the end, the artists themselves are acting as the brush.

Enter the "body brush" -- an interface that maps the movements of an artist in a 3-D space, translating action into art.

Hong Kong artist Young Hay developed the body brush with professor of computer science Horace Yip of Hong Kong's City University.

Together, they learned how to capture movement with infrared illumination sensors, which interact with advanced motion-analysis software.

"This interface treats the body as a brush," says Hay. "Traditionally, we rely on the hands to use the tools to apply the paint on the canvas, but with this interface we can treat the body as a whole as a dynamic brush."

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout reports on the fusion of technology and art to create a whole-body painting. (March 28)

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So how does it work?

"On the floor there is a color palette," says Yip, gesturing to the corners of the room. "This corner's red, that corner's yellow and so on.

"So you pick the color you want to draw ... the brush is dependent on where [an artist] enters this three-dimensional canvas space. He can control what color he ... wants to pick. So you enter from that corner, pick up the red. Pick up the red and come in and do the body movements, and then out comes the color stroke in red."

Too inhuman?

The effect? Vibrant splashes of color inspired by the abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock and his "action painting," a technique used to reflect the physical energy of the painter as he splashed color onto his canvas.

Artist Young Hay believes the "body brush" may be embraced by the art community because it creates a unique type of relationship with the machine.  

"Anyone without any training can come into this room, run around and jump around and out comes a beautiful painting," says Yip.

"But at the same time, if you really want to control the color and the width of the brushstroke and to control the geometric form of the three-dimensional painting, you need some practice. So it has all the interesting attributes of a game -- easy to learn, difficult to master."

But it may not be that hard to sell the body brush to the art community.

A lot of artists are initially reluctant to use machines, says Hay, since they often think technology is cold or inhuman.

"But with the body, by using the body to interact with the machine, [they] could create a new relationship with the machine."

Indeed, a device that may inspire new strokes of genius.


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