Interactive portrait claimed as world-first

Invercargill artist Greg McDonald with his painting Descendant X, the subject of which will come...
Invercargill artist Greg McDonald with his painting Descendant X, the subject of which will come to life at his upcoming exhibition. PHOTO: SHARON REECE
When  portrait paintings collide with digital technology, the result is emotive, engaging and ``a little bit freaky''.

Southland artist Greg McDonald's collaboration with tech company Vaka Interactiv will be a ``world-first'' when it is unveiled later this month.

The subject of Mr McDonald's painting Descendant X, his niece, Claudia Ramsay-Aupouri, will come to life - the first painting to interact with its viewer.

``Using a high definition image of my painting on a screen, inside a frame, the portrait can actually speak and tell the viewer who they are and all about their whakapapa, their genealogy, which is really cool,'' Mr McDonald said.

``Often people will glance at a painting once and not really have any empathetic response to it, but if something moves and talks to you, then automatically you're drawn to it ... it's actually a little bit freaky.''

The picture frame was equipped with a motion sensor and facial recognition software, to activate when it detected someone was looking at the picture, which Vaka Interactiv chief executive Jesse Armstrong said was crucial to the ``magic'' of the technology.

``That triggering effect where it goes from a still portrait to a moving portrait, is one of the most crucial aspects of what we've developed. It creates this compelling point of surprise,'' Mr Armstrong said.

After spending time watching museum-goers, the company found many people weren't engaging with traditional art pieces long enough to gauge the art's story, he said.

``We needed to focus on bringing the storyteller to life, but we needed to do that in a magical way so it was compelling enough for people to spend time with the piece.''

The digital art received a huge response from around the world, with museums, the private sector, and even government organisations looking to utilise the technology, he said.

Mr McDonald's exhibition opening on Don St, Invercargill, on August 31 will be the first official unveiling of the digital art, in what Mr Armstrong said was a world first.


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