Abstract App Art with James Alliban

James Alliban is fast becoming a name to conjure with in technology-driven art. The magical allusion is not misplaced, as you’ll agree if you’ve seen some of his colourful augmented reality (AR) projects. Now this interactive designer has been developing a range of applications with the central theme of cubism. They  include Self Portrait? and the WiiMote portrait generator. His first iPhone App is Fracture, which allows the user to paint cubist images using their photos.

Splash Screen All rights reserved by FractureApp

James Alliban: In my previous life as a traditional artist, I tended towards still life, landscapes etc. Although I admired Abstract art, and Cubism in particular, I never quite took the step to actually adopting the style. Once I started to learn how to program using Actionscript and Lingo I quickly started to build abstract generative compositions using images and video. I particularly enjoyed building painting tools that used images as the source or ‘paint’. This work quickly evolved and resulted in the first Cubism based application ‘Self Portrait?’.

FBD: Can you give a brief recap of the design development process behind the previous applications?

[JA]The first step is to acquire an image, this could be from a live camera feed or a randomly chosen image from a collection. The brush (or shape) is then chosen, rotated, adjusted accordingly and then used as a mask to apply to the source image. The resulting segment plus an outline/shadow are then drawn to the ‘canvas’ in the specified position. Repeat the above over and over and you achieve the fractured Cubist aesthetic.

This was fairly straightforward for ‘Self Portrait?’ which is a self container Flash application. The ‘WiiMote Portrait generator’ wasn’t quite so simple. It required me to install the WiiFlash server, connect the WiiMote to the server using a bluetooth dongle and to position an infrared light by the monitor. The images where then retrieved from the webcam. As a result of this complex setup, I didn’t release the application and it remained an experiment.

FBD:What was the inspiration for Fracture app? When did you think of it?

[JA] I’ve been following the openFrameworks community for a few years now and started learning the toolkit about a year ago. It was about this time that I learned that oF could be used to build iPhone apps which got me thinking. I wasn’t interested in learning Objective-C for iOS app development but being given a ‘way in’ via oF seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

One of the main complaints from my previous Cubism applications was that you either couldn’t add your own images, or that it was too difficult to set up (see above). I saw this app as the logical next step in the series and an excellent learning experience.

FBD:How much did your work on the previous applications contribute to Fracture?

[JA] In terms of the concept, a great deal. In terms of the code, very little. Whereas Flash takes care of a great deal of the underlying pixel-level operations, openFrameworks can require you to take care of much of this yourself.

FBD:What were the challenges involved?

[JA] By far the biggest challenge was building the interface which required learning some Objective-C. I found that I couldn’t take advantage of many of the tutorials and standard Apple interface approaches. This was due to the fact that oF projects are set up differently to standard iOS projects.

FBD:Has the reaction to your apps provided any new opportunities or inspiration for new projects?

[JA] I’ve had plenty of great feedback and have been featured in some big blogs and magazines. I’ve also been given the opportunity to talk about iOS development with openFrameworks at a couple of events.

James in the Garden All rights reserved by FractureApp

FBD:Where should people go to find out more about your work and similar artists?

[JA] I’ve collated my research into a Vimeo channel and you can find a bunch of my work here: 

There’s also iPhoneart.org curated by LIA at

See more by James Alliban

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