Developed by a team of collaborators, including Disney Research, Interactive Light Field Painting allows users to a create three-dimensional drawings with a light pen, which is tracked by a near-infrared camera.

Developed by a team of collaborators, including Disney Research, Interactive Light Field Painting allows users to a create three-dimensional drawings with a light pen, which is tracked by a near-infrared camera.

Credit: Disney Research

When it comes to the art of drawing, the question of analog versus digital inevitably arises. Michael Graves, FAIA, bemoaned the profession’s increasing reliance on the latter in his New York Times op-ed, “Architecture and the Lost Art of Drawing”: “What has happened to our profession, and our art, to cause the supposed end of our most powerful means of conceptualizing and representing architecture?”

Though computer-aided design is widespread, the emergence of several manual technologies suggests that hand-drawing is far from dead. Instead, it is evolving as a vital and experimental means of creative production.

The NeoLucida, for one, has breathed new life into a long-standing drawing technology. Media scholars Pablo Garcia and Golan Levin modeled the device after the camera lucida, an early 19th-century tool. This optical instrument projects an artist’s subject onto a drawing surface via a prism, enabling highly accurate hand-drawn representations. According to the developers, the camera lucida was made obsolete by photography; a working original today costs several hundred dollars.

However, Garcia and Levin’s efforts to manufacture an updated version of the technology has quickly generated buzz—and lots of it. Their Kickstarter offering of the NeoLucida sold out twice, with more than $400,000 pledged beyond the $15,000 initial goal.

Users and see and edit freehand and parametric drawings in three-dimensional space with Interactive Light Field Painting.

Users and see and edit freehand and parametric drawings in three-dimensional space with Interactive Light Field Painting.

Credit: Disney Research


Meanwhile, the 3Doodler is a hand stylus that creates three-dimensional wireframe models without turning on a computer. Garnering more than $2.3 million more than its initial funding request of $30,000 through Kickstarter, the 3Doodler uses 3-millimeter-diameter ABS or PLA plastic rods to create skeletal “sketches” on a flat surface or in mid-air.

Its inventors, who hail from the Boston-based toy and robotics company WobbleWorks, have not only united drawing and modeling in a fresh way, but also offer the most inexpensive 3D printing method to date.

Many tablets and touchscreen interfaces seek to make digital drawing more hands on. Interactive Light Field Painting is similar to these approaches but, like the 3Doodler, it allows the user to draw in space. Developed by Disney Research, Adobe Systems, University College London, Technische Universität Berlin, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the experimental project enables one to paint with light using a physical stylus. Sensors detect the location of the 3D light pen, and an auto­stereoscopic display allows users to see and edit freehand and parametric drawings in three-dimensional space.

Although the crude interfaces of early computer technologies distanced the users from their drawings, today’s wealth of tools enable architects to brainstorm ideas by hand freely, and with minimal disruption. Thus the debate between analog and digital drawing should not be reduced to a black-and-white comparison. Rather, we should explore what, in reality, is a rich and varied field of experimentation in hand-based media.