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How to Make a Bonsai Tree out of Math

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Event
MinneBar 10 (11 April 2015)
Panel
This is not a panel.
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Schedule
2015-04-11 10:15


Room: Brand


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The Como Conservatory asked Bust Out Solutions to build an interactive iPad kiosk for visitors to [make a virtual bonsai](http://bustoutsolutions.com/portfolio/the-ordway-gardens). The trees are algorithmically generated, so every one is unique. You might have seen us demo [the finished app](https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/make-a-bonsai/id696977286) at MinneDemo a few years back, but this time, for MinneBar, I’ll share the secret recipe and show how we actually built it!

<img src="https://innig.net/offsite-embed/tree-is-math.jpg" alt="They’re made out of math" style="width:100%">

The goal was to engage and educate visitors (and keep the kids busy for 10 minutes). This posed an interesting kind of problem very different from traditional mathematical modeling: we needed a software model of a tree which was not necessarily _predictively accurate_, but _perceptually and emotionally engaging_. What makes a tree seem like a tree? What makes a shrub different from a mature tree? What makes a tree exciting enough that a kid doesn’t walk away from it?

This type of programming & mathematical modeling — the kind where the goal is not scientific, but aesthetic — is of widespread and rapidly growing importance. It’s the work video game designers have done for decades, but it’s increasingly pervasive throughout the world of human-computer interaction. It’s what shot the iPhone from “they’ll never take a bite out of Nokia” to … well, now.

This talk will walk through the story of how we created the virtual bonsai by bringing together graphic design, programming, and mathematics. Along the way, we will get a taste of graphics techniques from the game industry, and encounter tidbits from a surprisingly diverse array of mathematical disciplines.

P.S. **Note to the math-averse:** This talk will be accessible to a broad audience, and **will not require knowledge of mathematics or programming**. The ideas are intuitive, there will be lots of pretty pictures, and the results are fun!

P.P.S. There will be a few juicy technical details for mathematicians too.

P.P.P.S. Fractals! Fractals! Fractals!

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