Body Type updates

Update 2: Download a semi-standalone binary (Mac OS X 10.6 or better) of the project. This version supports only UPPERCASE A-Z and 0-9. Working on a Latin-1-friendly version.

Update: I have released most of the code for this project so that you can take a look. Send any improvements! ;)

A typeface is an environment for someone’s expression: using typefaces we write documents, create posters and subtitle movies. We follow the type creator’s restrictions and design decisions (kerning, spacing, proportion) when using her fonts. Good typefaces are created by highly-skilled people and can take several years to create. Body Type aims to allow anyone to create a highly expressive and personal typeface using only their body and hand gestures.

Body Type is an excercise on freestyle computing and was built using OpenFrameworks, the Microsoft Kinect sensor, OpenNI, FontForge, Potrace, ImageMagick, PHP, TouchOSC and the Apple iPhone.


This project builds on a previous exercise on generative art that made use of the Kinect OpenNI skeleton system to create letterforms. I decided to take the idea further and create a self-contained application that would allow anyone to create a TrueType font using their body and gestures. The software should allow people to create type using their body in a way evocative of light painting photography:

love more.

Technical information

Body Type was created using the Microsoft Kinect sensor which was controlled by a C++ application created using openFrameworks and its OpenNI extension. This allowed for the 3D input received from the sensor to be converted into variable-width outlines and skeletons. The next issue was creating a TrueType font (.TTF file) from these silhouettes. The font-generation process goes through several stages in order to achieve this:

  1. Using openFrameworks to generate a black and white bitmap representation of each letter.
  2. ImageMagick is used to convert the image to a format compatible with FontForge.
  3. FontForge makes use of Potrace to vectorize the bitmap and then generates the final letterform and font.
  4. Since Body Type was displayed in the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry as part of an exhibition, web functionality was added so that font-creators could send themselves the resulting files. PHP was used to create a compressed ZIP file of all image and TTF files and send it to the specified email address.

The created font has six different possible parameters to determine a letterform’s visual attributes: skeleton lines, skeleton dots, line width, upper body, lower body and hand trails. Since controlling these parameters would be quite complicated to do by using gestures or on-screen menus, a TouchOSC iOS overlay was created to allow remote control via Open Sound Control:

Body Type iPhone console


During the STUDIO exhibition dozens of fonts were created. Below are samples of some of them.

meta 2
By Terry Irwin

shawn sims outline
By Shawn Sims

heather knight flower alphabet
By Heather Knight (dingbats)

chinese whispers
By Cong Ma (chinese characters)

faste bold
By Haakon Faste

Creating the font is just part of the process. A font is made to be used. This project acknowledges the limitations of the fonts created both technically (since they lack proper letter spacing) and alphabetically (since they contain only representations for letters A to Z and numbers 0 to 9). However, these fonts allow for “freestyle” graphic experimentation:

By Paulo Pinto

By Juan Carlos Cammaert

Body Type
By Mauricio Giraldo Arteaga

Further work can be explored creating complete characters sets.

This project was done as part of the requirements to complete the Spring 2011 Interactive Art and Computational Design course with Professor Golan Levin in Carnegie Mellon University.