maxwell planck

undergraduate researcher
aesthetics + computation group
mit media laboratory
mplanck (at)


[ my research ] [ treehouse studio demo ] [ how to extend ths ] [ the future of ths ]
[ the source of ths ] [ personal site ] [ resume ] [ misc ]

Treehouse Studio

Being in a world inundated with an overwhelming number of software packages each having cryptic creation tools for the inexperienced computer graphics designer, learning the basics of digital design is being lost. My generation of computer graphics artist learned the basics at its pixel by pixel beginning and therefore have a more firm grasp of what the machine is doing. Even then, however, there is a clean distinction between the artist and the engineer in today's academic community. The misconception that the art of digital design programming is a different form of creativity then that which artist's rely upon needs to be mended. This

My undergraduate research project in the MIT Media Lab, Treehouse Studio, is a simple attempt at creating an online suite of tools that allow up and coming aesthetic engineers (coined by John Maeda) to explore the fundamentals of digital design, including using and developing digital design tools. The vision motivating the project is to reground digital design in a learning environment geared to help foster students’ creativity and understanding without the complications of gaussian algorithms and complex masking. The project is largely java based so that it can be launched from a browser. I am going to make the code available to all so that the suite of tools that will make up the Studio suite will be added to by others (part of the educational process).

The project is still in it's infancy, but you can a view a sample of the demo applet that will be at the center of the system.

More Detail...

Right now, we're planning to target younger students and hoping that the fascination with drawing on a computer will entice them to explore their own creativity in the digital age. Since this is kind of a place for kids to explore their imagination, much like a tree house, the project's name reflects the fun we are trying to imbue into this project. Furthermore, we're hoping that the online site will be a community center where students and teachers alike can share their ideas.

My role in the project will be to design and develop the online software for the tools. The first part of the project will be developing a simple paint applet that will behave much like the old Mac Paint application. The simple beginnings of Treehouse Studio, the java applet will provide a canvas on which students can paint and draw much like they do with a pen, brush and paper. Students will then be able to save their work and return to it later, or share their creations with friends.

My objective in this UROP is to help mold the design and creation of something special. It’s difficult to see exactly where this project will take me but I’m anxious to contribute to something that could have a lasting impression on the design world.

Future Vision

Right now, we are planning to create a variety of graphics tools including a vector based illustrator, a 3D rendering tool and video editing software, keeping in mind that the simpler the tools, the easier they are to understand.

Keeping in mind the popular online chat tools (like AIM and ICQ), I hope to develop a similar interface that will give young students a chance to communicate visually- kind of a like a Picture Messenger.

Objectives of My Research and the Bigger Picture

Prof. Maeda attracted me to this project with the understanding that I would be working on a project with very important educational implications. John has a vision to create a virtual university structure, entitled “OpenAtelier.” The purpose of the virtual university is to establish an online center of higher learning for computational aesthetics, by providing a library of tools to create and a forum to share and teach.

The undertaking is going to be a challenge, but the possibilities of such an online university could have meaningful ramifications on the digital design world. I am excited to be part of a project that has far reaching implications.

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