An Artificial Artist

by Matthew Brand

What would it take to make a robot with an "artist's eye?" One that could see and create artworks that express the beauty and drama of the things it looks at?

Meet the artificial artist.

Detail of a mobile.

The artificial artist is a robot sculptor. It looks at animals and studies the drama in their bodies--centers of power, tension, and expressiveness. It describes what it sees by designing kinetic sculpture, taking artistic license to create artifacts that are both elegant and eloquent on their subjects.

The artist works in the medium (but not the style) made famous by Alexander Calder: kinetic mobiles. Most of Calder's mobiles were abstract; making a representational mobile is in many ways more challenging. To see why, take a detour to read about the history and mechanics of mobiles.

This is a gallery page. To see what the artificial artist is about, visit the why page. To see how the artificial artist works, take a detour to the how page, which has sections on looking at animals and vision-based design.


Here is a sampling of sculptures by the artificial artist. Viewing hints are below.

Representational mobiles

horse-input horse-mobile 2x/3D/animated
(Compare: a hand-designed mobile based on this, and very hi-res images 3996x2831, 3997x2961, and 4080x2489.)

rhino-input rhino-mobile 2x/3D/animated

It can do faces too:

face-input face-mobile 2x/3D/animated

Abstract mobiles

The artificial artist can also design abstract mobiles by "hallucinating" a pattern of paddles and turning that into a mobile:

jogger 2x/3D/animated

wave 2x/3D/animated

tight 2x/3D/animated

Viewing hints

Most of the mobiles are JPEG-format images. Click on 2xto see an enlargement. Click on the 3D button to download a three-dimensional model of the mobile (compressed Inventor 2.0 format). Click on the animated button for a 3D mobile that spins in random gusts of wind. Depending on your monitor, the colors may or may not look appropriately metallic.

In the Public Eye...

We are turning the artificial artist into an interactive sculpture exhibit where you can join in the artistic process, designing a mobile together with the computer. As it creates a mobile, you can push, bend, and mold the wires and masses as if they were clay. The computer makes sure that the resulting curves are attractive and that the mobile is perfectly balanced. The result blends the talents of human and machine. Some installations will have fabrication machines so that visitors can go home with a working mobile cut from steel or plastic.

Meanwhile, the artificial artist has had a gallery show and has been featurered at the ACM97 Expo on the Future of Computing. An interactive installation at the Expo used electric field sensing to monitor visitors' movements in front of the screen, animating, articulating, and spinning the mobiles as if the person were generating puffs air from their body motions. We had several thousand people dance with the mobiles (and several children fall down dizzy from spinning).

If you want to know more, visit these pages:

Last revised 10mar97

Matthew Brand / MIT Media Lab /