Rocky Mountain College * Department of Computer Science * 406 208 3193 * turn on javascript to see my email

Fractal Eye (an homage to Lichtenstein)

This piece is one that combines many things that fascinate me. I still remember the first time my dad showed me a newspaper photograph under a lupe: I was amazed at how a regular grid of differently sized dots could make something that people would mistake for a photograph, and I've been fascinated by half-toning ever since. Then I saw a Chuck Close portrait that only used fingerprints, and I became obsessed with trying to figure out what else could be used for halftoning. Finally, at their core, fractals (at least mathematically regular fractals) are just images that are constructed of identical (smaller) copies of the whole.

As these ideas stewed in my head, I came up with the idea that maybe they could all be combined into a single piece: a fractal that was halftoned with copies of itself. Lichtenstein's eye painting provided a wonderful start, since it's a readily recognizable image, and it is made up of very large Ben-Day dots, so the fractal nature of the final product would be most noticeable.

To build a fractal, all you have to do is map out where all the subcopies of the image are. The thing that I never realized about Lichtenstein's art until I started studying it closely is that his "Ben-Day" dots are not actually circles, and they're not actually on a grid. They are individually hand-painted circles, and as such all have different sizes and are never quite on a grid (sometimes through human error, many times intentionally).

I started out with the red dots because they were the largest. I built a grid of dots on an angle that was similar to the original piece. However, since the fractal is the same shape as its pieces, I did have to make sure that my final piece was itself a circle -- ray ban rectangles really don't look good.

Once the big red dots were set, I moved onto the solid black lines. There I used some photo manipulation to build a bounding polygon for each black region, then I programmatically laid out a very dense grid of small copies, essentially Ben-Day dots that just touch each other.

The blue dots proved to be the hardest by far. In the original, almost none of the blue dots are actual circles, and in particular, the "tear" is made by dots that are split. This does not map well onto the concept of a pure fractal, and so there was some magic sauce that had to be applied to keep things fractal while keeping the tear.

Finally, the fractal itself when rendered is in black and white, so to get the original color-scheme, I had to do some photoshopping to map the final image into red, blue and black regions, and then programmatically changed the "black" pixels in each of those regions to the correct color

This is one of my favorite creations, but it was a tremendous amount of work and it helped me understand at a much deeper level how amazing and deeply technical the original piece was.

You know we're constantly taking. We don't make most of the food we eat, we don't grow it, anyway. We wear clothes other people make, we speak a language other people developed, we use a mathematics other people evolved and spent their lives building. I mean we're constantly taking things. It's a wonderful ecstatic feeling to create something and put it into the pool of human experience and knowledge. -- Steve Jobs, Rolling Stone, November 1983.