In Vienna, Making Wood Waltz Down Stone Walls

by Jens Neuschäfer

Imagine wood flowing like water, cascading in a stream down ornate granite walls.

Now imagine being able to catch these pellets of wood with the flick of a fingertip, or sending dusky chunks tumbling end-over-end, altering the course of a stream made of virtual timber. It’s lumber that’s anything but lumbering.

This dramatic display was put together by Italy’s RebelDot and Austria’s Peyote inside Vienna, Austria’s town hall – or rathaus — earlier this summer. The trick behind this digital display of sticks: a suite of NVIDIA technologies that swiftly transformed the neo-Gothic building’s irregular architectural elements into a projection screen for an interactive display of falling wood.

NVIDIA’s PhysX physics engine was used to simulate the behaviour of rigid bodies – in this case, logs – as they rolled down intricately carved stone. Rebeldot then used hundreds of photographs to determine the geometric properties of the soaring space’s ornate surfaces using MeshLab, a widely-used piece of open-source 3D mesh processing software.

By using NVIDIA CUDA technology and a workstation equipped with an NVIDIA Quadro K5000 graphics card, the interactive agency was able to build its interactive exhibit in 25 minutes, rather than two-and-a-half days, allowing the group to set up their exhibit – allow visitors to enjoy it – over a single weekend. Not as easy as falling off a log, but close.

The result was a showstopper that drew crowds of onlookers eager to play with the digital display, which was part of a celebration of the 2013 Schweighofer Prize – a €200,000 sum awarded every two years to celebrate innovation in the European wood industry – by European wood processing company, Holzindutrie Schweighofer.

Call it interactive art that portrays wood as anything but dead.