Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Hues and Cries

VCU team aims to solve color debates.

Posted By on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 at 1:00 AM

click to enlarge This image shows the RGB gamut space represented as 3D points in the latest software version of Color Gamut. The video analysis load window is also visible.
  • This image shows the RGB gamut space represented as 3D points in the latest software version of Color Gamut. The video analysis load window is also visible.

Who can forget the online furor over the blue or gold dress?

If some researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University have their way, subjective arguments about color may be a thing of the past.

A collaboration of art and science has resulted in the Color Gamut, software that creates a 3-D, interactive model of color space. It could not only change how color theory is taught but also offer valuable applications outside the art world.

Illustrator Robert Meganck, who’s taught color theory at VCU for 37 years, realized around four years ago that he needed another tool to teach contemporary color.

“When someone uses a term like red, they are referencing a broad range of colors,” he writes in an email: “rose, blood red, scarlet, crimson, etc. What we are trying to do is to provide a tool that can be used by industry experts when very specific color identification is necessary.”

Meganck, who is chair of the department of communication arts, joined with visual effects specialist and communication arts professor Matt Wallin and physics professor Peter Martin to tackle the challenge.

They came up with software that analyzes images, plotting pixels of colors using three measurements: hue, chroma and value.

After a recent Wired magazine article didn’t quite describe the work to his liking, Meganck writes: “I describe it as a color visualization, analysis and manipulation software tool based on existing scientific and mathematical formulation [used] to quantify and display composition and compositional changes in color images.”

It’s complicated. But yes, you could use it to describe a dress.

The use of color across industries is extensive, and Meganck says the VCU team is exploring applications within the medical, defense and manufacturing industries -- as wide-ranging as checking soil samples for deterioration and identifying the size and extent of a tumor. A biology research team at VCU that uses color imagery to detect leaked chemicals from undetonated explosives already is using the software.

In the past year, Meganck’s added three computer science students to the team to assist with model development. The researchers received a $40,000 grant from the Department of Commerce last year, and Meganck hopes to have a beta version of its model available by the end of the year.

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