Interactive 3D Environments from 2D Images

My first impulse was to give depth and interest to a two-dimensional image of the Helix nebula. I began by splitting the image of the nebula into several images, each containing one colored ring surrounded by transparency. The net effect when layering each of these images on each other was the original image. Then, using a video editor, I flew a camera through a 3D environment containing each of the layers set off from each other by a small distance. This created a parallax effect that gave depth to the image. Then I ran a particle simulator to create the effect of an additional star field in the foreground.

Having proved the viability of such a technique, I then begin to recreate the scene in an interactive video environment. Meanwhile, I encountered a problem when trying to develop a conceptual link between the cosmos and microbiology. My ideal connection would be an architectural connection between some microscopic forms inside the human body that resemble the nebula. One obvious connection is a cell. Another less obvious connection is the shared elements between the nebula and the body. Carbon, in particular, piqued my interest. The triple-alpha process (a reaction inside of stars like our sun that create carbon) and the apparent improbability of life on this planet seem like potent conceptual material.

Another visual element at work is a series of strange attractors pioneered by Clifford Pickover. These 3D iterative functions take as argument six variables. Once chosen, these variables can produce anything between elegant three-dimensional forms and meaningless splashes of noise. At present, I am attempting to devise a way to feed carbon-related data into the variable component of this strange attractors to create procedurally-drawn forms that might live in the same 3D space as the nebula imagery described above.

In this process, I’ve encountered my own insecurities in reconciling hard science with the aesthetic object. My tendency as a musician when using a subject is to glean it for inspiration and incorporate as much or as little of the actual subject as I see appropriate. In many cases, works of music are praised for their tangential and often obscure references to external subjects while making the primary source of the composition music itself.


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