Face Planets

Part of  window display for the street-level Environmental Fluid Dynamics lab at NYU , Face Planets provides a simple, but provocative interaction to draw passers-by to learn more about the lab.

To quickly try to incorporate the user into Dr. Dave Holland’s work understanding global ocean currents, Ziv Schneider and I created a reactive installation generating portraits of visitors based on the heat of their faces.

Concept & Research
Climate science is difficult for the general public to understand . In our conversations with Dr. Holland, we hit upon a component of their work, the Navier-Stokes model of fluid dynamics, that used to simulate air, water, smoke and more to life in Video games, animated movies and televisions. We fell in love with playing with fluid environments created by a Navier-Stokes algorithm written by Jos Stam and decided to create similar visuals for our interaction.

To simplify the execution, we decided to use simpler flocking algorithms to create particle fields that responded quickly and smoothly to users while maintaining the playfulness of the fluid algorithm.

Prototyping & Ideation
After many nights experimenting with different interactions – hand gestures with the Leap Motion, body tracking with Kinect, physical inputs – we decided to focus on the users’ face(s) with a simple ‘photo booth’ type setup with a thermal camera and a button to take a picture. We felt this setup made the best use of the lab’s window space, allowed multiple people to step in front of the camera at a time, and increased our chances that someone would stop, interact, and potentially become interested in the lab.

To lengthen the interaction, we decided to create an online artifact of the interaction by posting users’ Face Planets to Tumblr, here.

The Build
Face Planets is written in  Processing (get code here), uses FLIR thermal camera (but can use any web cam), and can be projected (as in the picture below) or displayed on a screen. We used IFTTT to post the Face Planet portraits to Tumblr. Ziv and I worked collaboratively through prototyping and ideation, while I took the lead on writing the Processing sketch and fine tuning the visuals.


  • ITP 2014 Spring Show – May 19-20th 2014 at 721 Broadway
  • Windows of the Environmental Fluid Dynamics Lab, southeast corner of Washington Place and Mercer Street, October 2014 – …