3D scans and the Uncanny Valley: Exploring Digital Art with Mike Pelletier

Mike Pelletier is a digital artist who works in interactive installation, digital fabrication, and 3D animation.

The key focus of Pelletier’s work has been to connect the viewer with the art; to bridge the gap. Interactivity is found both in the experience of his installations and in their creation.

Most recently, Pelletier has been experimenting with 3D technology, including 3D printing, MRI scanners, and the XBOX Kinect, to figure out how to translate the real world into digital art. His latest work, Parametric Expression, is an experiment about what happens when the expressions on the faces around us – the smile, the smirk, and the grimace – are converted from muscle memory into parameters an algorithm can understand.

“I was trying to explore what it means when you reduce emotion to measurable, repeatable processes,” says Pelletier. “It’s a very powerful idea, but it’s also a very strange way of looking at people.”

The results take us into what is known in animation as the Uncanny Valley.

Parametric Expression

The uncanny valley refers to the phenomenon whereby a computer-generated figure bearing a near-identical resemblance to a human being causes a sense of unease or revulsion in the person viewing it. “With time, finesse, and skill, some of the effects of the uncanny valley can be avoided,” explains Pelletier. “But I wanted to see what was possible when you embrace rather than avoid the uncanny valley. I wanted to see if there’s any beauty to be found inside that valley.”

Parametric Expression is one of several projects where Pelletier has explored the disquieting combination of reality and digitization. Pelletier has been researching methods of creating multidimensional portraits using the XBOX Kinect. “One of the more exciting possibilities was trying to use the Kinect as a 3d scanner,” says Pelletier. “By moving the Kinect camera around the subject the software constantly updates to create a detailed 3d model. Within a couple minutes you can get a fairly detailed model from a sitting subject, as long as they sit still.”

Pelletier used this data to create metallic portraits that while looking stiff and cold, also carry an eerie sensation of being alive.

Kinetic Portraits

”A lot of people still don’t consider digital work to be as artistic or authentic as other mediums of art,” adds Pelletier. “But it’s only because the possibilities of it are so vast and they continue to expand as technology advances. We have to keep experimenting and trying new things to really see how far digital art can take us and what we can say and learn about ourselves through it.”

Time of Flight – Video, 3D Portraits are scanned, transformed and distorted.

Mike’s work has been featured in festivals and exhibitions around the world. He has also previously worked at the Banff Centre, Fablab Amsterdam and currently at Random Studio Amsterdam. Some of his experience includes creating interactive installations for bands such as Nike, Viktor & Rolf and Diesel.

Mike is originally from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada. He lives and works in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

For more information on his work, please visit his website.

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