Pixels in the Material World: Making Marching Cubes


Session Title:

  • Matters Mattering: Visualization and Materialization

Presentation Title:

  • Pixels in the Material World: Making Marching Cubes



  • In 1987, researchers at General Electric pioneered a method for generating computer graphics from medical scan data that featured an underlying language of faceted cubes. Widely adopted, Marching Cubes: A High Resolution 3D Surface Construction Algorithm has become a seminal visual language for virtual environments. We wanted to make this computational procedure tangible, into something people could build with. We translated the algorithm into 3D printed construction units that permit users to act out its logic. We also created a user’s guide: input any object — a 3D scan or model — and a custom computer script outputs assembly instructions. Every one of these Marching Cubes interactive performances and installations are unique; the units can make anything. Assemblies are created in collaboration with the audience: together, we perform the computer’s process. Sometimes, we simply play: with humans doing the work, the procedure’s strict logic is optional. By enacting a ubiquitous algorithm in the real world, this project generates dialogue about how information technologies create the building blocks of contemporary culture.