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Toolglass and Magic Lenses: The See-Through Interface (10 minute version)

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Published on Mar 30, 2011

Filmed in 1993 at Xerox PARC, this video shows a style of graphical user interface that became known as Toolglass and Magic Lenses, or the See-Through Interface.

This video was created to be shown at the ACM SIGGRAPH '93 computer graphics conference in Anaheim, California. It accompanies a paper that was published at that conference:

Bier, E. A., Stone, M., Pier, K., Buxton, W. & DeRose. T. (1993). Toolglass and magic lenses: the see-through interface. Proceedings of SIGGRAPH '93, 73-80.

The Toolglass work introduced the idea of a transparent control panel that could be positioned over a variety of applications including text editors and drawing programs. These control panels include "click through" tools that are use by positioning a tool over an object and then clicking on the object through the tool. The effect is liking pushing an action down onto the object. The Toolglass technique was usually used in systems that had two pointing devices instead of one, e.g., a mouse and a trackball; the trackball was used to move the Toolglass sheet and the mouse was used to select shapes and commands to apply to them.

Magic Lenses are like magnifying lenses, except that they do more than magnify. In particular, they change colors, reorder shapes, provide an x-ray view, change graphical properties, add context and other operations.

This video is organized into several scenes:

Introduction. Shows the Cedar programming environment, with a trackball moving a Toolglass sheet over several application windows.

Many Tools. Shows the user flipping through different tool sets on the Toolglass sheet. Tools shown include tools for setting the color and thickness of lines and the typeface of text, for copying and pasting, and for producing patterns with rotational symmetry.

Magic Lenses. Shows the use of magnifying lenses and filtering lenses being composed and used to find and move a small object in a large picture.

Find and Select. Shows tools and lenses the help the user find and point to shapes that are obscured or touching other shapes.

Grids. Shows a tool that helps the user position shapes on a grid.

Composition. Shows multiple tools that compose when you overlapping, allowing you to magnify and set line color, or set both line color and fill color, in a single click.

Customization. Shows the ability to edit the tools themselves and then use them. This scene creates a new "rubbing" (color copying tool) and then uses it to pick up a color from a picture.

Artistic Lenses, Part I. The Toolglass tools shown here allow the user to preview color changes, seeing how they look on a portion of the scene before applying them more broadly.

Artistic Lenses, Part II. The lenses shown here add drop shadows, and turn straight lines into fractal "snowflake" style lines. The final lens is a magnification lens that can take on elaborate shapes.

Lenses in X Windows. The lens shown here allows the user to enhance maps by making roads darker, or highlighting waterways. A final lens uses false coloring to help the user understand the curvature of an underlying three dimensional shape.

This video is narrated by Ken Pier with action by Eric Bier, Matt Conway, Ken Fishkin, and Maureen Stone. The software was written by Thomas Baudel, Eric Bier, Matt Conway, Ken Fishkin, and Ken Pier. The artwork shown was created by Eric Bier, Maureen Stone, Steve Wallgren, and Doug Wyatt. Bill Buxton and Tony DeRose were consultants to the project, providing substantial ideas, guidance, and inspiration.

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