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The Future of Online Shopping Is Holographic

Artist Kim Asendorf is investigating the visual possibilities of Phong shading to create a virtual product experience.

Before I upload my brain into the matrix and abandon my body in favor of a graceful, chiseled 3D character á la Second Life or LaTurbo Avedon, I'm going to want to know that my avatar will be decked out in only the finest in netgear. Thankfully, Kim Asendorf is on the case. Phong Technology is a research project from Asendorf's design, concept, and strategy agency with Ole Fach and Jana Lange, NETRO, that "investigates the visual possibilities of Phong shading in relation to the virtual product experience."

If that sounds like foreign tech jargon, you're half-right; every time your online shopping experience allows you to rotate a pair of shoes in 3D, or zoom into the fabric of a sweater, you're interacting with a virtual product experience (VPE). Phong shading is where it gets a little trickier, but bear with me: according to the internet, it's an "interpolation method in 3D computer graphics" that allows virtual objects to look more real by giving designers control over diffuse, specular and ambient lighting. What this means is that Phong Technology is a site that lets you explore generic fashion designs, like sneakers and sweatshirts, as well as celebrity photos and satellite images of Earth, made uncanny by their ability to bend, reflect, and refract light like holograms when you rotate and move them. 

"Sweater: Adidas"

The project was created using WebGL, as well as open-sourced softwares three.js and Blender. "Phong Technology's research is focused on virtual materials and especially hologram-like surfaces," says Asendorf. "Now with WebGL finally implemented in every common browser and libraries like three.js or babylon.js, we are facing a bunch of new possibilities to present products on websites."

"Sneaker: Chrome." Screencap by the author

So, what's the payoff? Teases Asendorf, "We have already a concept for a bigger project, but can't talk about details yet. We can say that the initial release is co-funded by the NRW Forum in Düsseldorf and its premiere will be part of Alain Bieber's first show there in September." At press time, NETRO has not yet told me whether they'll custom design any high fashion couture for the virtual superman I aspire to one day transcend into, but the future is bright, and thanks to Phong Technology, totally holographic.

Phong Technology's landing page

Head over to Phong Technology to explore the reflective possibilities of Phong shading. 

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