night lights from thesystemis on Vimeo.

Who says “art” can’t also involve the words “fun” and “play”? We’ve been watching a lot of outdoor projection, projection mapping, and visuals on architecture. The twist in “Night Lights” is that onlookers are active participants, making the side of a building into an interactive visual playground.

The best part? People start dancing. (Hmmm… perhaps we’ve stumbled upon the solution to the problems that plague visualists and electronic musicians alike in 2010. We just need outdoor, all-ages music events with interactive projections that make the kids – little kids – dance.)

The team that did this is a who’s who of some of our favorite interactive developers; I heard about the project from OpenFrameworks initiator Zach Lieberman. Sadly, Daito Manabe’s sound didn’t come out in this documentation, but if they work that out, I’ll do an update. The details:

In this installation YesYesNo teamed up with The Church, Inside Out Productions and Electric Canvas to turn the Auckland Ferry Building into an interactive playground. Our job was to create an installation that would go beyond merely projection on buildings and allow viewers to become performers, by taking their body movements and amplifying them 5 stories tall.

We used 3 different types of interaction – body interaction on the two stages, hand interaction above a light table, and phone interaction with the tracking of waving phones. There were 6 scenes, cycled every hour for the public.

We had a great deal of fun making this, hope you enjoy it too.


Interaction Design and Software: YesYesNo — Joel Gethin Lewis, Zach Lieberman, Pete Hellicar, Kyle McDonald, Todd Vanderlin w/ Daito Manabe sound design (

Projection / Staging: Electric Canvas, Inside Out Productions ( Production: The Church (, Simon Velvin. Production & Art Direction: Hellicar and Lewis (

Video features footage and edits by Simon Velvin, and music: 9th Wonder – Beautiful Morning (instrumental), Gin Wigmore – Under My Skin

Thanks to NZ Telecom and the Auckland City Council for supporting this, Peter Milne and all the Team, Simon Velvin and all at the Church, Mike Mizrahi, Marie Adams and all at Inside Out Productions, and Takayuki Ito.

The work was evidently done on a “mega-short deadline,” which meant wrangling hardware in New Zealand and matching bleeding-edge interactive designers with oldskool projectionists. But fire twelve, 20,000-lumen projectors at a 100-meter building, and you can make it work.

It does make me wonder, though: not to suck the fun out of it, but what would the optimal conditions be for outdoor projection, in terms of deadlines, equipment, and support?

  • Kyle McDonald

    Daito recorded some video with sound but it doesn't quite capture the quality of his awesome sound design.

    All the code is available on Google Code. Due to the short deadline, it can get pretty hairy… so we're not emphasizing this aspect of the project :) But it might be interesting to dig through, especially some of the unused demos.

    From a development standpoint OpenFrameworks deserves another mention, as it allowed us to switch from developing for OSX to Windows two days before going live!

    Regarding the interactivity "twist" to building projection, there are a bunch of other really amazing projects that served as inspiration. One example is "Big Shadow", which provided a reference for the "foredrop"-based silhouetting.

    "what would the optimal conditions be for outdoor projection, in terms of deadlines, equipment, and support?" One thing that was really helpful is that the city of Auckland wanted to help out. As I understand it, the street we were on is never closed down; but for "Night Lights" they closed it for five nights. Being responsible only for the basic dimensions of things like lightboxes or camera placement, and not being concerned about the construction or materials involved, was hugely helpful. I'm sure everyone involved on this project could give at least a few paragraphs in response to this question, so I'll stop here :)

  • Tim Reha

    Super inspiring work!  Great job. Tim – Seattle, WA

  • CNek

    Great job ! I'd like to see it real … Maybe in France sometimes ?

    Why did you have to switch to windows ? :)

    In term of pure computing and / or graphic performance which platform is the best ?



  • zach

    @cnek, the switch to windows was based on getting the wrong graphics card (a card we thought would work on a mac pro, but that had the power connections for windows machine).    The kind of mistakes happen last minute – when you are grabbing equipment and running to catch a flight.    Our client cancelled then uncanceled, which meant a very hectic deadline and not alot of breathing room for equipment decisions.

    We had initially planed on running off of macs, but in a pinch, getting a souped up PC that could take the card proved alot easier to do in NZ then getting a souped up mac.   Fortunately, since it was written in OF we could easily recompile it for PC, and it wasn't too much of a setback.

  • Kyle McDonald

    @cnek + @zach, we did finally get two equivalent graphics cards working on both platforms (Nvidia GTX 285, one Mac and one PC versions), and there was one anomaly we never fully resolved: the Nvidia demos ran faster on the Mac than the PC, but the OF app itself, running across six screens, ran at about 1/3rd the fps on the Mac compared to the PC. It made me think that multi-screen applications generally run slower on Macs, but this might just be an isolated incident.

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  • zach

    @kyle,   oh snaps — I forgot that we got it up on the mac.  I personally wouldn't read too much into the performance difference. there just wasn't much time to debug it (ie, to figure out what was slower,  using the FBO, the CV stuff, etc)…

  • TommeeT

    I was fortunate to be there and want to thank all those involved in creating this choice work. Awesome stuff!


  • nickihug

    I love this piece and would like to see more of it. I envision it on the Main Library, downtown Los Angeles, 2010. Any other info on optimal conditions or just specifics which helped or deterred from realizing this work?

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  • ash

    I'm curious, do these teams work full-time on interactive art installations? Or does everyone have a day job in a related field (ie. programming, 3d art), occasionally coming together to pull off a project for personal interest.

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