generative jigsaw puzzles by nervous system
generative jigsaw puzzles by nervous system generative jigsaw puzzles by nervous system
may 28, 2012
generative jigsaw puzzles by nervous system


each of the ‘generative jigsaw puzzles’– designed by nervous system with artwork by jonathan mccabe– is unique, its pattern determined by computational generative algorithms

massachussetts-based design studio nervous system (jessica rosenkrantz and jesse louis-rosenberg) has developed two series
of ‘generative jigsaw puzzles’. each board is entirely unique: the pattern of its pieces is designed via computational algorithms,
and the artwork is created by australian artist jonathan mccabe via generative computations.

resembling a petri dish, the circular shape of the ‘radial puzzles’ led the designers to include whimsies (the small recognizable
figures scattered in a jigsaw puzzle) in the shapes of microscopic life; the team has also produced the ‘mccabism’ series of larger,
rectangular works.

nervous system has just exhibited at the new york designboom mart 2012, designboom’s showcase of international emerging
design talent at the ICFF (international contemporary furniture fair).


introduction video to the puzzles

the generative process behind the puzzle piece design is a multi-step process based on the simulation of crystal growth
by dendritic solidification. the artists first define a number of ‘seed shapes’ in the simulation space. in this way the algorithm
lets these shapes ‘diffuse out’ with dendritic growth until they meet neighboring shapes. by varying the parameters
on the initial pieces and their growth development, nervous system creates unique patterns with each run. any incongruities
are alleviated with mathematical cleaning operations.

the uniqueness of each puzzle required the designers to work in-house, laser-cutting the pieces from 1/4-inch birch plywood
and printing, mounting, and finishing the artwork onto each. the finished puzzles are available in limited editions at the
nervous system shop.

more detailed information about the design process here


the lasercut puzzle pieces


some of the ‘radial puzzle’ artwork by jonathan mccabe


full view of a ‘radial puzzle’, without artwork


the ‘mccabism series’ utilizes the same generative algorithm but in a larger, rectangular shape


closer view


example of the 3-part generative imagery algorithms designed by jonathan mccabe to create his artwork

jonathan mccabe discusses the process behind the creation of the images used as the puzzle’s surface:

these images are generated by three processes acting in concert. one process is derived from alan turing’s proposal
of a mechanism that would spontaneously produce patterns of spots or stripes in living creatures, due to the diffusion
and reaction of various substances which activate or inhibit each other and move at different rates through the tissue.
the process used here has been modified so that it acts at multiple scales as a kind of ‘fractal’ reaction diffusion process.

‘another process is a simplified simulation of a 2D compressible fluid flow, which mixes the coloured dots and stripes together
and forms sharp edges which are a little like shock waves. the reaction diffusion process produces patterns of movement
as well as colours in the ‘fluid’.

‘the third process is the explicit imposition of the cyclic symmetry which is achieved by tying together (via averaging) the values
of colour and movement around the circle at each time step. an image of the slowly changing field of colour is recorded at each
time step, and the ones judged most attractive (about one in a thousand) are selected.


close view of a puzzle


the pine boxes for the puzzles are produced in vermont


additional view of a ‘radial puzzle’


the 110 million year old fossil of cleoniceras ammonite that influenced the design of the ‘generative jigsaw puzzles’


sample iterations of the algorithm using this piece shape


the ‘whimsies’ of the puzzles include: 1 – algae micrasterias apiculata (single cell); 2 – algae micrasterias thomasiana (during cell division); 3 – algae euastrum pecten;
4 – algae pediastrum darwinii; 5 – foram lenticulina anaglypta; 6 – diatom campyloneis grevillei (top view); 7 – radiolarian tetracranastrum bifurcatum;
8 – radiolarian collosphaeridae, species unknown; 9 – amoeba proteus; 10 – copepod clytemnestra scutellata; 11 – a myovirus bacteriophage; 12 – a mitochondrion;
13 – the optical microscope


sample puzzle diagrams; each puzzle is unique



INFINITI digital art competition – CURVED VISIONS

designboom in collaboration with INFINITI is offering an international competition
asking participants to design spectacular or interactive digital artworks or performances,
to be exhibited throughout europe. participation is open to applicants from every country in the world:
to professionals, design-enthusiasts, and students.

registration is free and now open, through july 10th, 2012.
view the call-to-entry for more details!

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nervous system (13 articles)