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Google doodle: An interactive Alexander Calder mobile

July 22, 2011 |  9:02 am

Google Leave it to the folks at Google to use the latest technology to update the artwork of Alexander Calder. Today's Google homepage celebrates the American artist's 113th birthday by using a Calder mobile in place of the company logo. The mobile swings on your computer -- and even tilts if you have the right kind of laptop.

Before we get technical, a little bit about the artist:

"Even people who don't know art know Alexander Calder's art," Times art critic Christopher Knight wrote of Calder earlier this year. "Forever identified with the mobile, Calder gave sculptural form to currents of air."

Of Calder's talent, Knight wrote:

"He of course did much more in a long art-life that was encouraged from childhood by a sculptor-father and a painter-mother. But, formally schooled as a mechanical engineer, Calder had the tools, after he decided to become an artist, to bring seemingly effortless elements of balance and poise to bits of broken glass and plastic, chunks of wood and, most often, curved and painted metal plates suspended from a hanging system of interconnected rods."

Southern Californians can check out Calder's work at the show "Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy" at the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach through Sept. 4.

And now about how Google created the doodle:

Jered Wierzbicki, a Google software engineer, explains on the company's blog:

Last year I wandered into a white room at Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago full of Alexander Calder’s delicate “objects,” all beautifully balanced and proportioned, moving gently in the air currents like a whimsical metal forest. Calder took ordinary materials at hand—wire, scraps of sheet metal—and made them into brilliant forms, letting space and motion do the rest. As an engineer, I work with abstractions, too, so this really struck me.

But you kind of want to play with the things. They do not let you do that at museums.

So I coded up a very basic demo of a mobile and showed it to a friend, who showed it to one of our doodlers—and then this amazing thing happened: talented artists and engineers who liked the idea just started to help! What we ended up with is way cooler than anything I could have built on my own. I’m proud to work for a company where an idea like this can actually happen.

This is Google’s first doodle made entirely using HTML5 canvas, so you need to use a modern browser to interact with it. It runs a physics simulation on the mobile’s geometry, and then does realtime 3D rendering with vector graphics. Only recently have browsers advanced to the point where this is possible.

I like to think Calder would have appreciated today’s doodle, since we’re setting up shapes and abstractions and letting them act on their own. Hint: try it out on a laptop with an accelerometer!

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-- Sherry Stern

twitter.com/sherrystern

Google doodle image from Calder Foundation, ARS, New York.

'Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy' at Orange County Museum of Art

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