Boxed Ego



BoxedEGO: a peep-show box that absorbs the observer

by Alvaro Cassinelli, 2008

made with openFrameworks =


BoxedEgo is a double trap for the Self. A peep-show box waiting in a corner of the exhibition space first captures the curiosity of the observer – and then the observer himself.

The box appears empty; however, if the observer talks or breathes, the box readily detects this human prey and traps it in its interior, effectively transforming the observer into its own object of observation. Indeed, a dwarfed, trully three-dimensional version of the observer (peering inside an even smaller box!) will slowly materialize inside the box (a short delay is introduced in the otherwise live video stream, so that for a very brief moment the observer may think he/she is seeing someone else). If the observer stays still, the illusion will come to an end and the box will gradually empty itself, expelling its human prey from a suggested infinite nested chain of boxed spaces.

BoxedEgo seeks to combine several pre-cinematographic techniques in order to create a magical out-of-body experience (stereoscope, diorama, peep-show box and synthetic pepper ghost effect). From the research perspective, this work can be seen as a preliminary experiment on the cognitive (and possible practical) aspects of time-delayed artificial autoscopy/heautoscopy with micropsia (see paper at DAP2008).

In response to light changes in the environment – and if the observer is patient enough – the space inside the box may gradually metamorphose showing traces of people and objects absorbed in the past. For instance, the observer may be inserted on the 3d space of a vintage stereo card, or objects that does not exist in real space may be placed around him (see images below).
(you can try to perceive depth on the stereo-pairs above without any optics by cross-viewing)

Technical statement

Two stereo cameras are aimed towards a small platform on a corner of the exhibition space over which sits the cubic peep-show box; the live video from the cameras is fed into two small displays inside the box (the holes of the peep-box are in fact the eyepieces of a live-stereoscope).

The separation of the video cameras in real space is set to about ten times the real inter-ocular distance, so the viewer will see a ten times scaled-down version of himself, inside an equally miniaturized exhibition space (hyperstereo effect). False three-dimensional corners (from pre-recorded footage or synthetized by the computer) that exactly match the real corner of the box are generated through an LCD based stereo-pair and a special lens/prism is used to produce the right eye vergence.

The code has been written with openFrameworks (a C++ library for creative coding, initiated by Zach Lieberman), and the sensors are controlled through an ArduinoMini microcontroller board.


The direct inspiration for this work comes from an after-lunch cofee discussion (about pinhole cameras and other photographic curiosities) with Arnaud de Grave and Stephane Perrin. Without their contribution (and without the coffee?), this work would have probably never seen the light of the day (or rather would never have found a dark corner on an dark exhibition space…). As always, I am indebted to Professor Ishikawa Masatoshi, for the great atmosphere and freedom he knows how to promote in our laboratory.

This work was finished at Interactivos?08 workshop at Medialab-Prado in Madrid. I would like to thank all the people from the workshop, and in particular the Carlos Panero (finishing of the box) and Valeria Marraco (footage to come).

Exhibition history


  • Cassinelli, A., and Ishikawa, M., Boxed Ego. Devices that Alter Perception Workshop (DAP 2008) in conjunction with UbiComp 2008, September 21st, 2008, Seoul, South Korea (2008) [PDF-283KB][PPT-7MB].

Alvaro Cassinelli. Assistant Professor (Research Associate).
Ishikawa-Komuro LabThe University of Tokyo
Tel: +81-3-5841-6937 / Fax: +81-3-5841-6952
Email: alvaro (at) / cassinelli.alvaro (at)