Isolated Moments – Oscillating Inkblots

The next in our Isolated Moments series, aiming to keep spirits buoyed and creativity alive during COVID-19 global social isolating and quarantining measures, comes from artist and Fermynwoods Education Coordinator, Stuart Moore.

This is a kind of lo-fi way to have some high-tech fun and is inspired by James Steventon’s Adversarial Intelligence Isolated Moment – though where that uses cutting edge concepts, this has its roots in the early days of the Daleks.

You’ll need a computer and either a USB webcam or a smartphone to use as a webcam. If it’s a phone, you’ll need to grab and install an app that’ll allow it to work as a webcam.

This should (in theory) be easy and free. Even on my ancient Android phone it worked just fine! I used IP Webcam because it was the first thing I came across on the Playstore. A camera that’s fixed into the lid of your laptop is no good because you have to be able to move the camera independently of the screen.

The idea is extremely simple, but the results are nicely unpredictable. Start up your webcam, however that works for your setup, so that your screen is showing what the camera sees (full screen is a good idea!). Follow these steps if you need a hand:

  • Open the app and configure the settings first, or dive straight in by scrolling down to the bottom of the screen and tapping “Start server”.
  • Now try entering the URL at the bottom of the phone screen in your web browser (it will look something like
  • Pick a video renderer (Flash, Browser, Java, Javascript). Can you see what your camera is pointing at on your computer?

Then point the camera at the screen.

You’ve now got a situation roughly equivalent to the ‘infinity mirror’ effect where two mirrors face each other. An image of an image of an image. But its actually far more complex than two real mirrors.

Rotate the camera so its still pointing at the screen but on its side (roughly). Now the reflected images get a twist in a way that cant happen in ‘real life’. Time to experiment! It can be very sensitive but if you move the camera around you should find lots of opportunities where the images take on a surprising life of their own. Inexplicable rippling patterns or fractal like twisting forms.

You can interact with these shapes by putting something in the camera’s field of view – try poking the shapes with a finger. Everything makes a difference – angle, distance, surrounding lighting. Just try things out! There’s no way to know in advance exactly what will happen, though there is a certain characteristic that will show through over and over …

You can develop your experiments into something more concrete by setting your webcam to record. You can then take the file, edit together the best bits and add sound or music. Personally, I think the sound really brings the experience together, but that’s my bias!

Windows usually comes with a handy, easy to use video editor. You may find it’s called Movie Maker or try searching video editor on Windows 10. On Linux I suggest Open Shot for a good free option.

It’s not a huge innovation but it is fun. The intro to early Dr Who was created in a very similar way:

But now you can own it, step it up a gear and all in colour too 🙂 The effect is visual feedback. It’s the same thing as when you point a microphone at a speaker. The system oscillates and creates new sound. With the camera pointed at the screen, the system oscillates and creates a new image. Bonus question: In how many dimensions?

Stuart Moore

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