People have come to expect “making-of” documentaries to be included when they watch a movie on DVD or Blu-ray. Thanks to research being conducted in the UK, similar expectations may soon be coming to the viewing of paintings. The experimental Repentir app is currently allowing users to digitally remove layers of British artist Nathan Walsh’s “Transamerica” painting, to see how he put it together.

The researchers started by locking off a digital camera on Walsh’s canvas, while he worked on the painting – every day for four months, the camera snapped an image of the work-in-progress.

Now, a user running Repentir on their iPhone starts by taking a shot of the finished painting, while it’s on display. By matching prominent features in the painting to those in the user’s snapshot, the app is able to ascertain what angle the painting is being viewed from, so it can orient itself accordingly. This also means that the user can shoot and analyze close-up sections of the painting, instead of doing the whole thing at once.

Nathan Walsh’s “Transamerica” on display

When the user then runs their finger across a scroll bar along the bottom of the screen, their shot of the finished painting is sequentially replaced by shots of the painting being created, as seen from the same angle and/or cropping. The user can go right back to the stage where the painting was just pencil sketches on the canvas.

Should they wish, the user can also simply rub at one part of the iPhone image with their finger or thumb, gradually wiping away layers in that spot only.

The word “repentir” refers to the changes that an artist makes to their work. The app was developed by Dr. Jonathan Hook from Newcastle University, and Dr. Jo Briggs of Northumbria University – it’s available from the App Store, and can be seen in use in the video below.

Transamerica is currently on display at the 2013 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing in Paris, after which it will be heading for the Bernarducci Meisel Gallery in New York.

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