Most of my past Stuff to Watch columns involve embedded video, free films you can download and the odd audio piece but this week it’s time for something a little different. The Electric Sheep project is a collaborative art experiment that you can take part in by downloading and installing a program on your PC, Mac, Android device or iPad.
Once installed, in place of a traditional screen saver you’ll see abstract morphing animations known as “sheep”, generated with donated CPU time and reproducing according to an algorithm which favours the most popular. You can even vote and affect the resulting animations as the flock evolves.
Thanks to the Internet Archive many of these “flocks” of sheep have been recorded, and make for some of the most popular videos on the whole of Archive.org. Intrigued?
Together In Electric Dreams
If the idea of a psychedelic, always evolving, part human-influenced, cluster-computer-generated screensaver project has you dribbling with anticipation all over your tie-dye t-shirt, head over to Electric Sheep Download to grab the client for OS X, Windows, Linux, Android ($1.99) and iOS (iPad only, $1.99).
Once Electric Sheep has been installed and the program has been launched for the first time, the first sheep will be downloaded. As the project is constantly evolving, new (popular) sheep will be downloaded first. These will be mutations based on past patterns, created by crossing patterns from the most popular existing sheep.
You can download older “sheep packs” from the Internet Archive to back-fill your catalogue of visualisations, or simply wait for more to be downloaded. It took about five minutes for the first sheep to download on my Mac.
While watching the visualisations you can vote positively by pressing the up arrow, negatively (which will also delete the sheep) using the down arrow and progress forwards and backwards with left and right. You can also press F1 at any time for a complete list of commands.
It’s important to note that this is high-quality video, and will consume bandwidth (Internet traffic), processing power and disk space. You can limit some of these variables from the software’s preferences, with disk space capped at 2GB by default. If you would like to install a pack that is greater than this, remember to increase the disk space limits. New packs should be installed to the “content/mpeg” folder in following directories:
- Windows: C:\ProgramData\ElectricSheep or C:\Document and Settings\All Users\Application Data\ElectricSheep
- Mac: ~/Library/Application Support/Electric Sheep
- Linux: ~/.electricsheep
The mobile versions of Electric Sheep for iOS and Android devices are the latest addition to the flock. iOS users need an iPad as the app is not designed for smaller devices, but Android users rocking version 2.1 or later of the OS can play regardless of device. Each version costs $1.99, though the Android version is definitely the most powerful.
Due to the increased freedom over the Android OS, Electric Sheep can be used as an infinite evolving wallpaper and has been specially designed to minimise power consumption on such devices. That’s not to say it won’t suck up a lot of battery, but at least your phone will look good while it’s doing so.
iPad users can browse, download and vote on an endless amount of swirling patterns and gorgeous transitions. Arguably one of the best reasons to grab the iOS version is AirPlay support, which was recently added to allow you to export the videos to your AirPlay-enabled TV or projector. Don’t forget that video like this will eat your device’s available space, so keep an eye on the disk space limits.
It wouldn’t be possible for me to leave this article where it is without sharing a few examples of what makes Electric Sheep so awesome. For the best of the best, in still artwork form, head over to the best still artwork page to peruse some very pretty pictures.
To download previous generations of sheep, head over to sheep.arces.net which archives sheep from the year 2000 to 2009. The Internet Archive is also hosts a huge number of Electric Sheep downloads.
Here’s a two-hour long full HD compilation of sheep from YouTube user Simon Detheridge:
Another video that uses Electric Sheep visualisations set to music, lasting an hour and a quarter:
And finally here are the Archive’s top downloaded sheep in playlist form, remember that many of these will loop a few times between changes rather than being this fleeting and erratic:
Have you tried Electric Sheep? Will you? Let us know what you think of this art project in the comments, below.