OpenFrameworks Lab in The Netherlands

I recently returned from a great 5 day workshop at Graphic Design Festival Breda (GDFB), in The Netherlands. The workshop focused on the intersection of graphic design and technology, namely using the openFrameworks C++ library, and was led by Zachary Lieberman and Todd Vanderlin.

The GDFB festival is a 3 week long event that takes place in the small city of Breda. The city is transformed for this period of time into a designer’s dream – hand-painted 5 foot robots in the park, flying shapes in the sky, live music, and design installations set up in various venues throughout the city.

There were 35 of us that took part in the workshop from all backgrounds including sculpture, hardware, light sculpture, illustration, programming, and graphic design. We were churning out experiments and pieces at all hours of the day with the hope of ending up with something to exhibit at the festival’s exhibition.

photo credit:

We set up the OFLab in the Graphic Design Museum and called it home for the better part of a week. If we felt like working at night we’d either set up in the hotel lobby or at this great little bar that we had access to. 15 people on couches with laptops until 5am drew a few odd stares, with the desk clerk mentioning to one person “I think they are having a LAN party.”

Intro to Open Frameworks by Zach Lieberman

photo credit:
Mike Broad

The workshop kicked off with defining terms relating to graphic design and posting them up on the wall using sticky notes. We then split up into small groups and went to work on themes grabbed from 3 stickes. Our group was tasked with chaos, order, and portrait.

Choosing graphic design terms for project

photo credit: 
Mike Broad

One of the main goals of this workshop was to explore the creation of new software tools and systems for designers and artists to use. The final output of our work was print. Having worked with screen-based media for what seems like forever, I’ll be honest and say that when I first heard we were creating print pieces that I was a little disappointed. I quickly realized this was because I was being thrown out of my comfort zone. There’s something about the tangible nature of print that can’t be replicated with screen-based media. Canon was a sponsor of the festival and provided a large format plotter for us to use – seeing your work printed out at a giant size makes the simplest of things spectacular! I’m definitely going to have to find a cost-effective one in here in town. Any leads?

photo credit: 


Here are a few generative portraits that I programmed. The program takes an input image and creates a new image based on a set of simple rules. The pixels of the photos are turned into a 3d mesh with the height of each point based on the brightness of each pixel’s colour. Both printouts are of the same project – one is textured while the other is a printout of the underlying wireframe:

Poster of Mike Broad by James Acres created using open framworks
photo credit: 
Mike Broad

One of my favorite projects from the OFLab workshop is Sound Portraits. Two laptops are set up – one encodes the pixels that it sees through its webcam into sound. The first laptop then plays these tones back through its speakers for the second laptop to receive through its microphone (much like a modem). The tones are decoded by the second laptop and the original pixels are recreated. Background noise and lack of fidelity of the macbook speakers/microphones introduces noise and variation into the recreated image, creating an interesting result:
OFLab Breda: Sound Images

photo credit:
Tiemen Rapati

More info on Tiemen Rapati’s blog:

Partway through the week we had a visit and artist talk by Aram Bartholl. It was an interesting talk and had us thinking about returning to a conceptual level instead of falling into the common programming trap of focusing too much on technical tricks. It’s great to be back home, but I had an absolutely amazing time there, learned tons, made some great friends and will definitely be back in a heartbeat if it happens again next year!

Here’s a quick video documentation of the event, created by GDFB:

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