Making Art With Apple's iPad


When Apple released the iPad, critics noted that the tablet, which featured lots of apps but no word processor, mouse or keyboard, catered to consumption rather than creation. A year later, Dentsu London, with its iPad light paintings is working to disprove that theory.

Using just an iPad and a Canon Digital SLR, creative ad agency Dentsu London, in collaboration with design consultancy BERG, created a series of photographs depicting fluorescent 3-D images of their slogan "making future magic." They manipulated light emitted by the iPad to create the images, designing a sort of augmented reality, making the bright suspended block letters look photoshopped into real world scenes.

Story continues after the gallery.

Dentsu London is an advertising agency that works with companies like Nintendo, Tetley Tea and Uniqlo to "make future magic." Meaning, they not only showcase their client's offerings, but also hope their campaigns will add some creative value. "There's a belief that we all have here, that most advertising is part of the cultural landfill and doesn't add to the landscape in a way that's valuable -- there's a lot of spam out there" explained Beeker Northam, Dentsu's executive strategy manager. Instead of adding to the junk pile, Dentsu strives for more. "Everything we make should achieve something culturally, and should be a contribution -- something that is unusual and that is magical and inventive in some way."

Rather than explain their mission in words, Dentsu wanted to communicate their ideals through a multimedia project. They entered into a collaborative partnership with the design agency BERG and asked "What might a magical version of the future of media look like?" When these talks began, the iPad had just come out -- it seemed like an appropriate medium for a project dealing with new media. After experimenting a bit with the device, they discovered the tablet generated enough light to make 3-D light paintings. "We were shocked at the first photos we took, at how poignant and eerie they were," explained Jack Schulze, a principal at BERG.

To create the images the Dentsu/BERG crew spent eight hours each night for four weeks dragging iPads through the air. The application takes a virtual CT scan of a 3-D model of an object -- in this case the words -- by slicing it up into tiny parts. Then, the CT scan is played in six-second increments. As it plays, the iPad is swept through the air along a previously demarcated path while a long exposure photograph is taken, "we can rebuild the animation with each pass of the iPad." Schulze explained. "There are no 3-D effects. It's all literally light and photons hitting the back-plate of the camera."

After shooting 12,000 single-frame shots, the group took about half of those and built the animations using a stop-motion technique. The camera captures an image produced by the iPad's light that the naked eye can't register. Alone, each still photograph forms a larger part of the image; lining the stills up in sequence creates the whole photo.

Perhaps iPad's apps don't foster much creativity. But it's undeniable: iPads can make art.

Images: Courtesy of Dentsu London.

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Rebecca Greenfield is a writer based in Brooklyn. She was formerly on staff at The Atlantic Wire.

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