[ISEA2020] Paper: Jesse Colin Jackson & Luke Stern — Pixels in the Material World: Making Marching Cubes


Keywords: Art, Design, Architecture, CAD/CAM, Algorithms, Graphics, 3D Printing, Parametric Modeling, Modularity

In 1987, researchers at General Electric pioneered a method for generating computer graphics from medical scan data that featured an underlying language of faceted cubes. Widely adopted, Marching Cubes: A High Resolution 3D Surface Construction Algorithm has become a seminal visual language for virtual environments. We wanted to make this computational procedure tangible, into something people could build with. We translated the algorithm into 3D printed construction units that permit users to act out its logic. We also created a user’s guide: input any object — a 3D scan or model — and a custom computer script outputs assembly instructions. Every one of these Marching Cubes interactive performances and installations are unique; the units can make anything. Assemblies are created in collaboration with the audience: together, we perform the computer’s process. Sometimes, we simply play: with humans doing the work, the procedure’s strict logic is optional. By enacting a ubiquitous algorithm in the real world, this project generates dialogue about how information technologies create the building blocks of contemporary culture.

  • Jesse Colin Jackson (University of California, Irvine, USA) is a Canadian artist based in Southern California, USA. His creative practice focuses on object- and image-making as alternative modes of architectural production. He manipulates the forms and ideas found in virtual and built environments through the expressive opportunities provided by digital visualization and fabrication technologies. His interactive Marching Cubes installations and performances (2016—present) have been featured in Toronto, Vancouver, New York, Los Angeles, Tehran, and Stockholm. Past solo exhibitions include Skip Stop (Pari Nadimi Gallery, 2019), Radiant City (Pari Nadimi Gallery, 2014), Usonia Road (Larry Wayne Richards Gallery, 2009), and Automatic (Larry Wayne Richards Gallery, 2009). Jackson was a 2014-2015 Hellman Fellow at the University of California and a 2008-2010 Howarth-Wright Fellow at the University of Toronto. Jackson is Associate Professor of Electronic Art & Design at the University of California, Irvine. He taught previously at OCAD University and the University of Toronto, Canada.
  • Luke Stern was a Senior Design Researcher at Patkau Architects in Vancouver, Canada, where he was the project architect for the Temple of Light, a project of ambitious structural complexity. He is now retired from professional practice.