Air Painting! A Revolutionary New Way to Paint
Painting in the Air…Literally
Imagine painting in the air, literally… That is now a reality. Since 2012 I have been experimenting with, and helped shape, cutting-edge prototype air painting technologies, working closely with different hardware and software developers. One of the technologies I have explored is the amazingly powerful combination of the revolutionary new Leap Motion Controller, the world’s most accurate 3-D motion-control technology that accurately maps the movement of your hands and fingers in three dimensional space, and Corel Painter Freestyle, a simplified Leap Motion-enabled version of the phenomenal paint program Corel Painter that I have been using for over twenty years.
See the Epson video of me air painting at the SIGGRAPH conference, Anaheim, CA; the Vimeo video featured on the Leap Motion blog; my air painting presentation at the ideaCity conference, Toronto; plus the BBC article.
More recently I have been exploring air painting with other software such as Leap Motion-enabled Ethereal on the Mac platform; with a custom prototype using Kinect technology; and with the Leap Motion combined with the Oculus Rift for VR 3D air painting.
In January 2007 I was a speaker at Macworld and had the pleasure of sitting in the hall when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone. I see the introduction of the Leap Motion control of computers as an equally significant paradigm-shift in the way we interact with our devices. Just as kids now take touch screens for granted, in a few years they will also take motion gesture control for granted. Painting in the air has a quality of magic… a cross between being a magician, a dancer and a symphony conductor! I am reminded of Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This certainly fits the bill!
What struck me as I painted the portrait of Lisa and also the still life, both shown above and both created 100% using only movement and gesture of my hands in the air, was (1) the level of fine control of the quality of line I was able to achieve using movement in the z axis, equalling or even surpassing the level of pressure control I have using a pressure-sensitive Wacom pen tablet, and (2) how much I liked the quality of marks I made through motion in the air, and how there was a playfulness and looseness to the line quality that was different to the type of marks I would make either using a Wacom pen-tablet or traditional physical media.
On Wednesday, July 24, I gave a presentation on air painting at the world’s largest conference devoted to computer graphics, SIGGRAPH. I also presented air painting in the SIGGRAPH Studio
The Background to Air Painting with
Leap Motion and Corel Painter
I became aware of Leap Motion in May 2012 and immediately saw the potential for a new way to paint. That same day I contacted both the Corel Painter team and Leap Motion, introduced them to each other and subsequently worked closely with both companies to help shape the resulting Painter product powered by motion gesture input from the Leap Motion device. I am a named inventor on Corel’s pending patent application for controlling color selection using gestures in a vision system. In March I demonstrated painting in the air with Corel Painter Freestyle and Leap Motion in the Leap Motion Experience tent at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Media Conference, Austin, Texas, where Leap Motion officially launched their product.
Demonstrating air painting in the Leap Motion Experience, plus air painting in the air, literally, at 30,000′ on a Southwest airline plane coming back from SXSW (the first ever air painting at that altitude).
While demonstrating at SXSW I was asked if painting in the air is tiring on my arms. I painted for three full days, each day for about five or six hours, and had no problems with arm fatigue. It was my legs that got tired standing for that long! I positioned the Leap Motion controller device low enough that my arms and hands remained most of the time in what I refer to as “dance position”, that is a comfortable position with a slight bend in the elbows. Here are a few links related to the SXSW air painting demonstration:
More About Corel Painter Freestyle
Corel Painter Freestyle allows you to easily select brushes, textures, commands and choose hue, value and saturation, to know where your cursor is in hover mode and to finely control your entry through the painting plane, all through hand movement and gesture. I can even save my files, clear the canvas and finely control the brush stroke quality, size, opacity and movement, and then be able to easily choose from 24 million colours, all with movement in the air and without touching anything. It takes a little practice to get used to, but once you do get the hang of it and sense of where the 3D painting zone is in space, it is absolutely brilliant as well as fun.
The Very First Air Paintings
The self-portrait you see at the top of this page was created on November 29th, 2012, and is, to my knowledge, the first painting from life ever created with 100% air painting. I was using early prototypes of both the Leap Motion controller and a Leap-enabled version of Corel Painter. A few days after this self-portrait I created the first ever air painting portrait of another subject from life:
Portrait of Chris, air paint, 12/1/2012