• 09.15.11

Gorgeous Dioramas You Can Control With Your Mind

Alex McLeod makes candy-colored digital landscapes fit for a Princess Peach. Now he’s experimenting with thought-controlled computing to make clouds bounce on the screen by blinking your eye.

Over the past year, we’ve seen paintings that look like photographs and photographs that look like paintings. Now, Canadian artist Alex McLeod is making 3-D dioramas that look like landscape photography–if the landscapes were a candy fantasy land where architecture doesn’t bend to natural laws of physics, earth-like substances sprout in unconventional ways, and inflatable sculptures that look like croissants hover in the sky.


This year, though, McLeod took his dreamscape imagery literally when he collaborated with the Canadian thought-controlled computing company Interaxon to create 3-D environments that he could manipulate with his mind. He supplied the animations, and then Interaxon built a real-time compositing engine so that certain parts of the image could be manipulated based on the user’s brain states and muscle movement. Clenching your jaw, for instance, would make a boat rock, blinking would make clouds bounce, certain types of focusing would control smoke from the houses or make birds fly. Just relaxing would make it snow. McLeod tells Co.Design that there was also an audio component that responded to focus states, and a feature that would change colors that would respond the same way. The results of the experiments were shown at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year.

And though certain parts of the images look handmade, McLeod says they are created entirely digitally using basic software like Cinema 4D and Sculptmaster with a little bit of Photoshop. McLeod, a self-taught artist who works from Toronto, says that the larger prints, some of which are eight feet long, can take a couple of weeks to render using seven different computers. And by including glares, imperfect black levels, and visible lights, McLeod doesn’t really use the word “real” to describe what he’s after, instead using the word “legitimate.” And that, in the end, was what was so interesting to him with his thought-controlled experiments. “It felt like you were actually engaging with something real,” he tells Co.Design.

His regular, non-mind-controlled work is currently on view in “Distant Secrets,” at Angell Gallery in Toronto. See more of his work here.