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Ember

For as long as there has been fire, humans have been fascinated by it.

A bonfire isnā€™t simply a pit of flames, but an immersive and interactive community experience.

Ember is an audio-visual experiment which seeks to simulate the feeling of a bonfire in a non-destructive way.

Objects that are thrown into the pit are tracked via depth camera, and a projector mounted overhead matches their movement, making them appear as though they are on fire.  Ember employs programmatically generated audio to react to items that are thrown into it's field of view by swelling the audio as more items are thrown into the pit.

The Story of Ember

Let's start from the beginning...

Ember came out of a discussion we had about donations. Donations drop-off points are often lifeless boxes. We wondered if there was a way to make the process of donating a more engaging and interactive experience.

Concept Generation

We started out by setting parameters for our design. We wanted it to be an immersive audio visual experience. After long discussion we realized there was a naturally occurring phenomenon which achieved the same thing: fire.

As our brainstorm continued, we decided we would create a non-destructive bonfire for people to throw their donations into - a process far more engaging than a metal donation box.

Prototyping

We created our prototype by dividing our piece into chunks. One half would be the tracking of objects in the fire and projecting light onto them to make them look and feel like flames were consuming the objects. The other half would be to create a generative audio program which would recreate the sounds of a bonfire and get louder and more robust as more fuel was added.

Fabrication

Once our software was ready, I set about creating a quick enclosure for Ember to live inside of. This enclosure would need to be ventilated for the projector, as well as holding our depth camera and speaker system securely in place. The aesthetic of the piece was meant to be raw - we wanted the tech powering the system to be apparent at a glance.

Installation

Everything was ready, and we set about installing Ember in the gallery we had lined up. We had to be sure the 50 pound box was secured very well, while also taking into consideration the architectural impact of the space on the feeling of a bonfire.

Gallery Exhibition

The final gallery exhibition was a great success.

People played with objects we provided to throw into the bonfire as planned. One nice surprise we had is that people also wanted to stand in the fire themselves and be set aflame by Ember. People, especially children, loved to play with the simulated combustion and were constantly attempting to find new ways of interacting with the piece.
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