Student’s smoking hot idea adds fire to DJ scene

07 Dec 2017 - 09:06:24 in Research

A Computer Graphics student has created a fully interactive tool for DJs and artists where a digital smoke simulation reacts to music in real-time.

Jack Purvis’s Honours project looked at the challenge of simulating smoke using computer graphics techniques, and how the effect can be influenced by a dynamic input like music to create an appealing visualisation.

Jack came up with the project himself, combining his passions for computer graphics and music.

“I had built music visualisers in the past, but I wanted a deeper understanding of how audio processing works,” explains Jack. “I designed a program which reads audio from an input device, allowing a livestream of music to be visualised.”

Jack also wanted to learn more about the computer graphics techniques that enable smoke simulation. Fluid dynamics and its associated mathematics can be used to simulate the physical properties of real-world fluids. As smoke is often used as a practical effect in live performances it served as a good candidate for application in a music visualisation.

Properties of music such as the volume level, beats and frequency information can be used to influence the smoke effect to produce a visualisation. The smoke simulation implementation is based on the Navier-Stokes equations, which describe the motion of fluids—like smoke—over time.

“Implementing the smoke simulation showed that I can use my passions to motivate myself to solving a complex engineering problem,” says Jack. “People really enjoyed watching the visualisation, so I received a lot of positive feedback on the final output.”

The tool is ideal for use on screens in clubs or at gigs, or to create music videos.

Jack’s supervisor, Professor Neil Dodgson, helped him design the project and supported him along the way with tips on mathematics, as well as presentation and technical writing skills.

Jack also credits his university courses with providing him with the skills to complete the project, not least the ability to self-manage and implement a large project independently.

“From the Computer Science and Engineering side, I learnt how to solve complex problems by breaking them down into smaller, logical steps,” he says. “From the Design side, I was able to apply my design thinking to create an appealing visual effect that engages the audience.”

Jack’s dream job would to be to combine his skills in computer science and design to build audio-visual experiences for live performance or exhibitions. For now he loves living in Wellington and being a Victoria student where he is exposed to new fields of research and connections with the industry.

“Victoria has many leading researchers who are exploring exciting new technologies,” Jack says. “If you are passionate about a certain topic you can propose your own project idea. A project that is tailored to your own interests is highly motivating and can lead to a highly successful Honours year.”