Rubaiat Habib Kazi1, Kien-Chuan Chua1, Shengdong Zhao1, Richard C. Davis2, Kok-Lim Low1


1Computer Science, National University of Singapore 13 Computing Drive, Singapore 117417

{rubaiat, chkch, zhaosd, lowkl}

2SIS, Singapore Management University 80 Stamford Road, Singapore 178902


Figure 1: A user interacting with SandCanvas (left), and images created with SandCanvas (right).

SandCanvas: A Multi-touch Art Medium Inspired by Sand Animation-


Sand animation is a performance art technique in which an artist tells stories by creating animated images with sand. Inspired by this medium, we have developed a new multi- touch digital artistic medium named SandCanvas that simplifies the creation of sand animations. SandCanvas also goes beyond traditional sand animation with tools for mixing sand animation with video and replicating recorded free-form hand gestures. In this paper, we analyze common sand animation hand gestures, present SandCanvas’s intuitive UI, and describe implementation challenges we encountered. We also present an evaluation with professional and novice artists that shows the importance and unique affordances of this new medium.

Author Keywords

Sand animation, multi-touch, tabletop computing, creativity

ACM Classification Keywords

H5.m. Information interfaces and presentation (e.g., HCI): Miscellaneous.

General Terms

Design, Experimentation, Human Factors


Sand animation, also known as sand art, is a form of visual storytelling in which an artist dexterously manipulates fine granules of sand to produce images and animations. The process begins by applying sand to a lighted surface, after which images are rendered on the surface by drawing lines and figures with bare hands. It is an increasingly popular


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CHI 2011, May 7–12, 2011, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Copyright 2011 ACM 978-1-4503-0267-8/11/05. $10.00.

medium for performances and stop-motion animation [14].

Two characteristics combine to make sand animation a unique art form. First, because it is a performance medium, its attraction and aesthetics are closely tied to the creation process as well as the finished artwork [16, 18]. The creation process in performance media is improvisational, fast, continuous, and often accompanied by other forms of performance art, like music, choreography, drama, and dance. The sand animator’s task is to unfold a narrative through a progression of visual images produced with a seamless stream of physical gestures.

Second, sand animations are formed through a powerful  and expressive vocabulary of physical interactions between artist’s hands and small granules of sand. In contrast with sketches or paintings, which are produced with discrete pen or brush strokes, sand animation leverages the delicate structure of the artist’s whole hand (often both hands). These hand gestures are easy to learn, quick to perform, and economical to correct, which makes this medium suitable for exploration and brainstorming in addition to storytelling through live performance.

Sand animation has increasingly attracted audiences and artists because of its innovative and expressive graphic style [14, 24]. However, sand-animation performance spaces are difficult to set up and maintain [1], which prevents many novices from getting started. This led us to create SandCanvas, a new digital artistic medium inspired by sand animation. SandCanvas adds undo and recording features that make sand animation easier to produce, it allows easy experimentation with colors and textured backgrounds, and it adds new capabilities that go beyond traditional sand animation, such as recorded gestures and video mixing.

The increased availability of multi-touch display surfaces has removed some of the technical obstacles to creating a digital sand animation medium, but we still faced