When is a tree not a tree? When it's a Kinect tree

In less than a year since Microsoft launched Kinect for the Xbox 360, we've seen the motion-control device put to some pretty weird uses. We've heard of other projects in the pipeline. But nothing prepared us for this one. It's a talking tree!

Well, sort of. On show at the 16th annual FutureEverything festival in Manchester, England, is an intriguing project by local digital artist Elliot Woods. Called Lit Tree, it features a tree, two high-definition projectors, and an Xbox 360 Kinect system, which can be used to control where the light from the projectors hits the tree.

Did I say light? Well, sort of. In fact, Woods (no connection) has spent two years developing a program capable of scanning the unpredictable branches of a tree into 3D. Each of the two projectors is actually projecting an image of the tree back on to itself. When you break the light beam that's connected to the Kinect, you direct the parts of the image.

It sounds completely potty. Even the artist agrees. "People really only tend to appreciate this once we describe all the work that's gone into it," he told Pocket-lint.

So what's the big idea?                 

"Well, there are hundreds of projections taking place at any time all over the world, but we thought it would be nice if you could project on to something natural, like a tree. The problem with trees is that they don't make great screens, but if we map them pixel by pixel, and project an image back on to the tree, something magical happens."

He's right. From a distance, it looks like the tree has been chemically treated, as it seems to shimmer when the projector beam hits it. All you are seeing, however, is the 3D image of the tree being projected on to the exact part of the tree of which it is an image. If you see what I mean. They call 3D pixels voxels. Or so I'm told. 

So it looks nice, but so what? Well, Woods is currently receiving a lot of support for his work in Korea, where the idea of blending nature with technology is pretty cutting edge at the moment. The amount of time Woods spends flitting between the two countries is reflected in the name of his website, kimchiandchips.com, where you can see more of this peculiar, fascinating project.

FutureEverything runs in Manchester until May 14. See futureeverything.org for details.



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