How to ReCode

The ReCode Project popped up in 2012, with the neat goal of taking old computer art, and writing new programs (in processing) that regenerate the art, or close approximations. This is made tricky enough by the lack of source code, and little to no description of the algorithm(s) used.

To make it slightly more challenging, the original material looks like it was run through a cheap photocopier a couple of times. Weee.

I came across a link to the project... hm, who knows. Probably some awful site with lots of comments. I hadn't done any work with processing at that point. Obviously the thing to do was participate.

I think the art on there can be placed along a sort of "pain in the ass" gradient, from most to least:

That's just an excerpt, the original doesn't have the nice square aspect ratio. If you decide to snarf the PDF so you can see the original, head's up: it is 20.2MiB.

I looked at it for awhile, screwed around some, probably did a little bit of whatever I was supposed to be doing. Stuff 'n things.

the process

When I look at that I see a circle, with 270° arcs on either side of it. Hm, nope, I see three arcs. 270°, 360°, 270°. That's easier to deal with.

Then a half-circle has been extruded along the lengths of the arcs, producing a 3D volume. We could stop there, and feed that into a ray tracer, and have a nice "realistic" looking image.

Yeah, about like that! Who doesn't like some nice perfectly smooth jade floating above an infinite checkboard? If you'd like to enjoy some 90's POV-Ray flashbacks, you can play with the source for that image, too.

We've got some nice geometry now, but the general appearance isn't even close. Ray tracing clearly wasn't used. In fact, if you look at the inside of circle, near the bottom, I think it is clear that no hidden surface removal was performed. My assumption, and what I went with in my version, is that it is just made up of some lines being drawn in 3D space. The renderer doesn't have any idea that it is depicting solid surfaces.

At this point, you might want to reference my code. I started with the RaisedArc class, which represents the arc segments, and computes their height. Just some trig going on there. Take a point, figure out how high that arc is at that point.

The draw function can then just drag a "pen" across the X-Y plane, stopping along the way and asking each arc how high it is. Take the max, and you reconstruct the surface of the object we rendered:

When I hit that, I felt that my decisions up to this point were justified. This felt like the same image, and maybe it is even what the original artist would've wanted to make if they'd had anything close to EGA resolution available. But they didn't. So this image is too "nice", and certainly too smooth. Of particular concern, the truncated ends of the left and right arcs don't even look right anymore. In the original, they actually hint at a bit of perspective, even though I believe the image was rendered orthographically.

"Fixing" the smoothness is taken care of in two steps. First, we up the step size (fx_step) until the lines are made of distinct segments. Then noSmooth() turns off processing's attempts to help us out and make the lines look nicer. Conveniently, increasing the step sizes makes the truncation of the arcs much rougher, and gives us the pseudo-perspective appearance. That's handy because 1) now I don't have to do anything else and 2) it acts (in my mind) as further evidence that the original was drawn orthographically instead of in perspective.

I counted the number of horizontal lines in the original, and sort of eyeballed the other proportions. The fy-0.5 in the call to computeHeight is to scoot the geometry around until the lines appear to be falling across it as they do in the original.

The stroke width, and tilt of the X-Y plane were both determined by just fiddling around with things. ...I just noticed that the angle I concocted, of 28.12° is 0.4907 radians. I'm guessing that means the original used a round 0.5 radians. Maybe I'll change that some time. Ehh.


The same "rendering engine" used for this piece could actually be applied to the map of the United States referenced above. Clip off stuff outside the borders, and replaced RaisedArc with something that reads a data file, and bam. That could be fun.

I'm also tempted to do Roger Coqart's From the Square Series. It isn't clear to me that there is a pattern in how the lines are placed, but I think we could get fairly close with some rules about the distribution of line segments. Perhaps adding them at random until they get close to satisfying some rules.