Swarm is an interactive, real-time artwork that puts the viewer in an ever-changing autumn forest full of falling leaves. Normally, leaves will simply wobble slightly as they fall and cover the ground. When a viewer comes close to the screen, or passes by quickly, a whirlwind will pick up and swirl the leaves in complex, never-repeated patterns. The dense texture of motion and shape can be calming or torrential. In addition to the constantly-changing wind and turbulence, the piece exhibits a day/night cycle, subtle longer-term changes in the leaf colors, and other details.
The piece is physically composed of a flatscreen monitor for display, and a small desktop computer to run the simulation. To compute the motions of the thousands of leaves, a creative and lesser-known fluid dynamics algorithm is applied to the particles. Both the rendering and this special computation are performed on the GPU. The title, "Swarm," refers to the fact that the essential algorithm used for the wind flow is a relative of the swarming algorithms that were among the first to provide evidence in support of self-organization in complex systems. Viewing Swarm, you could be forgiven for thinking that the leaves had a global plan.