Path Tracer, Digital Photography
What makes us human? The genomicist points to DNA. This presents an interesting phenomenological question: a conscious mind is probing the coded structure which houses it. Genomena is about this duality. We can walk the individual nucleotides of DNA - piece them together, part by part. But, in the end, we are whole beings, one picture.
The colored squares in Genomena enocde the human genome. The size of each square reflects the length of the subsequence it represents, and each square is 1/4 of the DNA of its next largest parent (the genome can be divided into four, and each of these subsequences can be divided into four, etc). This ordering forms a tree hierarchy, with each node in the tree containing four child nodes, as shown below.
The inspiration for this representation of DNA comes from our understanding of how DNA folds to pack into the cell nucleus: DNA winds around proteins called histones, eight histones packed together form a nucleosome, and multiple nucleosomes wound together constitute chromatin fiber. Incidentally, the decision to pack squares into groups of four is the most natural solution to the same packing problem in two-dimensions. In other words, if our display were three-dimensional, using 8 cubes to divide each parent cube would match the eight histone packing problem, but a two-dimensional packing agrees better with a two-dimensional interface.
Color plays a central role in Genomena. Each block is colored with a 32-bit RGBA color value that represents the composition of the entire DNA subsequence the block spans. The tree diagram above mirrors this composition. At the lowest level of the tree (the leaf nodes), are 16 nucleotide (32 bit) sequences. Adjacent leaf nodes are adjacent nucleotide sequences. An RGBA (red, green, blue, alpha) color value also happens to be 32 bits in length (8 bits per channel). Each 16 nucleotide sequence, written in binary, therefore maps directly to a display color and transparency value. Color is just another codon, albeit an overly large one that serves pixel values instead of amino acids.
Groups of four 16 nucleotide sequences can be composed into a new 32 bit sequence (parent node) with the XOR bit-wise operator. Applied from left to right, the four sequences will compose a new 32 bit sequence, with its own color value, which gets assigned to a block that is drawn four times as big as the blocks it absorbs. The top-most color (the 32 bit composition of all 16 nucleotide sequences) is the color assigned to the first block in the video.
I've selected the XOR operator to compose parent colors because it is a bijective mapping from the space of 32 bit strings to 32 bit strings. This also guarantees that no two colors will be identical at any level of the hierarchy. If we assume that the genome nucleotide sequence is pseudorandom, then the mapped color values are also pseudorandom, such that we can preserve the full distribution of RGBA values at each level of the tree hierarchy.
An imaginary hierarchical z-pattern (similar to Morton codes) linearly connects the squares, revealing that the 2D representation in fact encodes a 1D DNA sequence (shown above). This diagram hints at how it should unfold in time: it is mechanistic, and one can imagine springs and gears pulling the squares apart horizontally. Consequently, I've designed the upper half of the stage to be similarly utilitarian, with clearly defined edges. The lower half of the stage (the dual of the upper half) is in contrast, impressionistic. Light emitted from the luminous squares is reflected off the marred floor, and the result is pleasingly analogous to the imprecise bands one sees in gel electrophoresis, a process genomicists use to separate DNA sequences of different lengths.
Finally, my hope is to have achieved something like a diorama projected inside your computer screen. The front of the screen is the curtain line, and the squares are aligned along the back wall of the diorama. There is an interplay here between two and three dimensions, and the character moves between these dual worlds to experience human composition. An earlier concept, shown above, illustrates a purely two-dimensional realization of some of the concepts discussed.