Ostrich Flash

30Sep09

Ostrich is a set of open source Adobe Flash classes that uses a web cam to create interactive video, allowing the user to manipulate what is onscreen with movement picked up by the camera.  The four provided examples include a cursor that follows your movement, rapidly fading pink spheres that appear wherever there is action, a Pong style animation where two bars on either side of the screen react to two separate movements, and a squiggly fairy that flies towards any movement.

There are existing programs that use a web cam to detect action (instructions on how to do so are here) which will only record when there is movement, but they aren’t capable of interaction with the user. Ostrich is more similar to technology available at the Science Center in Toronto, which has a projection of a pond on the floor where ripples appear when you walk through, and the fish swim away from you, as well as the children’s museum in Waterloo that has a less involved image with simple animation, like fog scattering away from a castle. With Ostrich, of course, you can use your web cam and allow anyone to play with your creations instead of having to travel to where the technology is set up.

Being new to ActionScript, I wasn’t able to get into the more complicated coding.  I experimented with the Blob example, with it’s fading pink circles. I thought the multitudes of shapes could resemble a school of fish, but the blurring and fading was very unfishlike, so I switched gears and built a haunted castle. As you wave your hand a cloud of ghosts appears and fades slightly to green as they disappear.

With more experience one would be able to use rollovers and buttons to have far more interaction, even build games. However, the controls for tracking aren’t perfect, if two objects on the screen are moving (or if someone walks behind you), it can get easily distracted. Even with only one finger beckoning you will sometimes find it doesn’t go where you hoped it would. A complicated game requiring precise movements would be outside the scope of its capabilities.

The download and instructions are available at ostrichflash.wordpress.com.

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