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Cyber-divorce!

Well this: Second Life affair leads to couple's real-life divorce gives me food for thought on the subject of online identity. Who is being cheated here? Who is cheating? Are these people playing roles? Or has it become real for them? Would an actor's wife divorce him for "falling in love" on set? Interesting to note, I think, that private eyes are springing up online. Relationships and "identity" are complex enough issues in the real world - its hard to see how another level of complexity in cyberspace will aid that...

2.5D

Looks like this is the way we're referring to 2d animation composited in 3d space. Look at: Men in Black I really like the comic book style of this but more than anything the camera work is superb. Restrained use of pull focus and depth of field really emphasises the pseudo 3D composition. I'd love to see the full work.

Identify yourself

As part of my studies I will present a critique of a passage from an academic text with reference to my discipline. My interest is in identity and how new technology is being used (and abused) to present and define our identities in the 21st century and beyond. We are all constantly making choices about who we are and how we are seen by others and the web has given us yet another means to do this with more opportunities for deception than before and another arena in which to become anxious about our status. As a digital practitioner I know I will be judged not only on what I present in a portfolio but also on my online presence on networking sites such as Facebook. Identity in the modern (or post modern, even late modern) world is more and more about creating and maintaining a narrative about ourselves that makes sense (at least to ourselves) even if that means rationalising aspects of who we are and being creative with the truth. I've mentioned the new online game Football Superstars before in this blog and the client has finally been released after some time in beta. I was disappointed to learn that it does not support my preferred platform so I won't be able to play at home although I know that not all windows users are included due to the high graphics and processing demands of the client. This will probably exclude all but the most intense gamers for the time being until the level of processing power required to run the game becomes standard and therefore available to the ordinary pc user. From the videos I have seen the interface looks remarkably slick and it remains only to see how intuitively the gameplay works. My interest in the game, of course, is to see how users will choose to present themselves (they are encouraged to create an avatar that apes the real world personalities of famous footballers) and whether it will cross over to the mainstream. I'm tempted to hypothesise that, as with Second Life, male users will be more attracted to creating female avatars in order to have more leeway to explore different looks. I may be proved wrong as the football personality seems to be the one male role model that can indulge experimentation with looks without the stigma normally attached to such behaviour.

Break over

Well after a long time off its time to put a few words on here. To bring you up to date with what I'm looking at here are a few things I've been thinking about over the last few days. After reading through a passage from At The Edge Of Art (Blaise, Ippolito) I've started to think about some digital art collectives and what they're doing. The self styled "corporations" of swiss based etoy and ®TMark have given me food for thought about the art world and how my practice fits in with that. These collectives are looking to subvert technology and the corporate world in an artistic way to examine how technology is affecting our day to day lives. They do this by sponsoring projects and promoting them on the web for others to finance. The kind of works we are talking about are: "Make large vinyl stickers and place them on GAP KIDs store windows. 'Made by children, for children.'" "Deliver cease-and-desist letters to retail outlets which sell clothing made from the American flag, claiming you represent estate of Abbie Hoffman and hold the copyright." "Between march 31 and july 31 1996, etoy.SOFTWARE-AGENTS automatically infiltrated the world wide web's global search engines (lycos, infoseek, altavista, etc.) by placing over a thousand designated keywords (porsche, startrek, bondage, selbstmord, censorship, fassbinder, etc.) within the top 10 rankings, thereby setting up a trap for net travelers and technology tourists. with this action, etoy demonstrated the «space» behind the popular interfaces of the world wide web. they took control of the systematic illusion of net-quests for information." Makes interesting reading and potentially has an impact on how technology will be used in the future. As a digital designer or artist I will probably be solving the sort of problems questioned by these art projects.

Too late...

With two days to go I have finally realised that my idea to present an interactive mock up of a website is far too ambitious for my level of knowledge about scripting. Aaarrggghh!! The frame map I am looking at is going to take days and days of scripting, even for somebody who has done it before (which, of course, I havent!) I will have to scale down my idea to simply show the path I want the user to take with an alternative timeline accompanied by commentary. This is instead of a fully interactive site that allows the user to explore and try out different options. It will be more of an animated story now. It's worth knowing that I sold myself a dummy here as I will be better prepared for a project like this in future now. Every cloud has a silver lining!

Kinky porn is the thin end...


Just reading this article about a new law making the possession of "violent and extreme pornography" a criminal offence. The definition appears to be unnervingly vague, however. Previous obscenity laws place the onus on the publisher but the new law recognises that much of the material downloaded in the uk is held on overseas servers. From now on the consumer can be prosecuted and that means criminalising those with marginal sexual predilictions (such as necrophilia and S & M). This shift makes owning images containing "an act which threatens or appears to threaten a person's life" illegal and its owner a criminal. You might say that this will affect relatively few people and their rights should not be prioritised over that of the majority to enjoy safety from sexual predators like Graham Coutts. You might also say you agree that images depicting violent sexual acts ought to be banned anyway.
Have they stopped to think, I wonder, about the graphic and gratuitous use of sexual violence in mainstream films? If not, then they have criminalised a much larger section of the population than they planned. A scene like the one at the beginning of Basic Instinct surely comes under the definition above? The ramifications for video games such as Grand Theft Auto (latest version due this week) are difficult to foresee in this climate. The use of Virtual Reality to enact sexual fantasies that would land the perpetrators in jail in real life will soon become a crime in itself. Surely, a line has been crossed between protecting the innocent and preserving the right to think what you like and the Government has ended up on the wrong side.

Charley meets Tufty

I have been researching public information films for inspiration on the look of a Flash arty-fact I am planning. On the theme of the fable, Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, I am planning a kind of updated version to warn kids/parents of the potential dangers of online chat rooms/social networking. I really like the idea of using the look of the Charley ads as a reference for the parents who view it. I guess to do this I would need to create paper cut outs of the scenery and scan/import into Flash but I'm not sure yet. Visualising this project will probably present the hardest challenge I come across (I could be wrong!) as the narrative will inform the interactive side of the project. I've included the Tufty vid cause I like the way they've twisted it to their own purposes with a clever script and editing.

Movable Type

As part of BBC Four's medieval season Stephen Fry presents a heartfelt tribute to the man who invented the printing press, Johannes Gutenberg. Part biog, part historical engineering experiment, he tracks the man himself to his hometown of Mainz and follows (as far as he is able) his personal story while early printmaking experts attempt to recreate the original press Gutenberg used to print his legendary and groundbreaking Bible. Despite protesting that he is cack-handed at every opportunity Fry tries his hand at carving the double helix screw mechanism required for the press as well as casting lead type and creating paper the 15th century way. His investigations about the life of the man reveal an engineer/entrepreneur supremely placed to capitalise on his ingenious creation by revolutionising the medieval church bureaucracy. The impact of printing was massive and formed the basis for the spread of knowledge that led to the Renaissance and modern life itself. The earliest machine of mass production was shrouded in secrecy and, in the end, failed to net its inventor the wealth he deserved thanks to his unscrupulous investor. It's fascinating to consider how immediate the influence of early printed text turned out to be. In a world where we are surrounded by printed material it's hard to imagine what it must have meant to make books commonplace and (relatively) affordable. It could be compared to the internet in terms of its reach but its probably more important and the fact that from 1450 to 1500 literally millions of printed texts were produced demonstrates how popular it became in a short space of time.

The video shoot.

Well thanks to my partner in crime (ha ha!) we had a great day filming today! It's been a steep learning curve as I never shot video before. As I was in front of camera I had to learn to perform as well as help plan, stage and direct the shoot.
First we produced a storyboard using photos to help work out camera angles and narrative. This was much more complex than I anticipated and I'm sure glad we didn't waste any time getting started! The main problems were simply trying to communicate visual ideas to to each other and (of course) understanding what my partner meant. This turned out to be VERY frustrating and required every ounce of professionalism to avoid falling out. I'm glad to say we were both equal to the task and put together what I think is a great conceptual storyboard with enough flexibility to make changes at the shoot or edit stages without putting the project in jeopardy.
Then we rehearsed the shooting schedule as thoroughly as possible to avoid having to waste time making mistakes on the day. This proved to be very useful as we were able to draw conclusions about the validity of certain scenes and raise questions about others. It was also essential as we needed to be well organised to complete shooting in the timescale we set ourselves on location. Again professionalism won through as there was barely a hitch the next day in filming.
Luck was on our side too as we were able to charge the camera I'd forgotten to the night before (not so lucky next time if the location is out of doors!) We decided not to use the tungsten light we'd brought as the white balance in the mixed light shots seemed under control on the day. Fingers crossed the edit proves us right. Bring it on!

Cover up.

I caught this article in Computer Arts today. It's about graphic designers helping album cover art to make a comeback in the digital age. He casts a look back at the way that selling music has changed and how that relates to its presentation. Made me feel a bit nostalgic for the days of riffling through twelves in record shops. Good to know that vinyl is still being played, even if it is just into a usb port on a pc.

"Drawing is an attitude..."

Starting from Raquel Welch in One Million Years BC I've explored the process of illustration in different media. Along the way I've discovered the masterpiece that is Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, whole new subgenres of feature films, artists that inspire and new ways of approaching the creative process. I didn't expect to learn any of this and I'm left with the desire to teach myself the skills I wanted without worrying whether I attain a certain expertise but knowing that I will learn something useful whatever happens. I now know that I can give myself permission to do things my way or even no particular way and the result will always be positive. It's difficult to be certain where the new world of technology is leading us as designers and as a culture, but finding my own path seems less daunting now. Having unlimited choices can be scary but by learning to trust my instincts I am confident that I will be able to take full advantage of the many opportunities that digital media present.

Veer for the money...

Browsing the web turned up this page. The site is a resource for designers which supplies stock images, footage and typefaces for graphics work. I could not believe how much money changes hands over these illustrations! Obviously we're all wasting our time doing any other job - if illustration is this lucrative!

Editing Photos Continued

Just had a great idea to make the subject of my main photo stand out from the background a little better! Pro photographers will often use a short depth of field to blur the background and focus attention on what they are shooting. With a little trickery in GIMP, my photo editing software, I can blur the background of my photo to give a similar effect. And it works! Handy to know this for future too, I reckon.

Editing photos

BEFORE

AFTER
This is the result of slaving over a hot GIMP for an hour. I took some shots of Blanche when I interviewed her and the result was less than brilliant because I failed to factor in the light from the window. Even though it was getting dark at the time the camera metered for the scene outside and my subject ended up underexposed with the white balance set for daylight. The tungsten lights in the bar gave B a reddish cast. I tried to sort this out in GIMP giving me the BEFORE image above. Still a bit of a funny colour I tried some test printing and the faults glared out at me!
However, a bit more work in GIMP and the cast appears to have gone, with a bit of dodge to bring out B's eyes and face. Still think the shot looks a bit grainy but I doubt I can solve this as the original shot must have been noisy. As they say, "garbage in, garbage out".
I chose to use this shot because the expression looks smiley without being scary and there's relatively little motion blur compared to the alternatives.

half started

I really wanted to put a lot more feeling and expression into my sequence after seeing the animatic I produced (see below). I started out with a few ideas for close ups and editing some of the narrative out for effect and ended up practically redoing the storyboard altogether! Some valuable lessons about project management to be learnt...expect the unexpected kinda sums it up! This is not how I anticipated making progress but it has been a thorough process which gives me much more confidence that the finished article will live up to the terms of the brief. I've given a cartoony feel to the imagery and employed a few comic strip devices (as they did in early 20th century animation) like movement lines to emphasise action. Zooming in has proved an effective way of highlighting important themes. I hope it comes across well cause it's almost impossible to evaluate something you're standing so close to.

For All You Cat Lovers...

This charming little clip illustrates a common experience for cat owners everywhere! The creator has done a terrific job, I think, of expressing the cat's motives and character without slipping into the Disney trap.

Scaling the dizzy heights of CSS

Really pleased with the tutorial on CSS in Dreamweaver that Simon gave us yesterday. Crystallized a lot of stuff about designing for the web in a very digestible way. Props! Just found a handy article in a mag called .NET that explains how to scale your page to suit the myriad browser and screen resolution options that are now out there. It uses the idea of setting type in em values and applies it to the other page elements so that when users employ the zoom tool it maintains the columns and box sizes that you have set for the design. Brilliant! This could turn out to be incredibly useful for my brief for Communication Design, From Paper to Screen.

Who framed Richard Williams?

I caught the classic movie "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" over the christmas break. It's difficult to appreciate sometimes what a ground breaking project it was for the time. There was a choice at the time between Disney cartoons (which seemed to have run out of ideas) and Japanese anime (which was still very new to western viewers) on the big screen and not much else. It was a revolutionary idea to combine cartoons and live action in a feature film and for these reasons (among others) the film was a massive success. On a personal level it's so much fun to watch as they got everything right. The story is fast moving and tense, the characters and dialogue are sparky, the photography is atmospheric and, above all, the marriage of film and animation is magical and brilliantly executed. The movie barely looks dated even 20 years on! The director of animation, Richard Williams, has written a book called "The Animator's Survival Kit..." which I've found invaluable for researching the techniques that help to give character and emotion my own animation attempts. He explains concepts like timing, spacing and weight succinctly and illustrates his arguments with detailed drawings. Personally, I found his break down of keyframing and spacing really useful as he makes it clear that organising your work saves a lot of time and effort in the end. I"m now discovering some superb analysis of emotion and drama and how to introduce it to my own work. The book is an essential practical reference to the techniques used in the industry everyday.

Top ten for research.

This article in Computer Arts got my attention back in April. It breaks down the process of researching a design project really well and gives plenty of links to useful websites. It's all presented in digestible chunks and I've found it invaluable for initiating inspiration and developing my own ideas.

Jellyfishing

This is the advert for Zune as it's been trailed in the design rag: Digital Arts. I am sure these are the same men o' war that appear in an advert for Mazda that's on tv now and the pop vid I commented on below. The article says it's stock footage so presumably it's inspired more than one creative recently!

Half Finished...

I've been working on an animatic for my animation brief, Relationships. The result, above, is a flash movie that should help me figure out timing and spacing on my final product. Flash is completely new to me and I find the control and interface incredibly intuitive. It's easy to pick up and get started although I can see that the trade off here is that it is more limited than say, Maya, as an animation tool. For the purposes of the Relationships brief I think that it is appropriate as I don't want to struggle with the modelling in Maya or stop motion at the expense of the real focus of the task. I will find it easier to concentrate on the movement, weight, spacing and timing if i am not being distracted by considerations like texture, lighting and rendering. Maya looks like a challenging and enjoyable journey, but one which will need a commitment of years to get fully to grips with!

Pending like Beckham...

I've been reading a lot about a new game that's in development at the moment. It's being trailed as (potentially) the first massively multi-player online game (MMOG) to cross over to the mainstream. We've all heard about World of Warcraft (especially since they started advertising on telly!) where you take the role of a character in a Dungeons and Dragons style game in a persistent online world. Virtual worlds like Second Life have advanced the genre but still appeal to a limited audience of creatives and computer enthusiasts (geeks!). The latest offering will give the user the role of a player or manager in a football oriented universe. Gamers will be organised into amateur tournaments through to professional leagues with a degree of autonomy yet to be seen in any other football simulation. There will even be an element of the football lifestyle included (flashy cars and hot chicks) to keep even the most jaded player happy! The prediction is that this game will attract a much wider audience than any previous virtual world and could therefore become a truly massive global phenomena. This will be dependent, of course, on how well the gameplay is implemented. The risk is that because the players will be accessing the game through all sorts of internet connections and on computers with different processing speeds that it will be difficult to keep the game moving in real time. Second Life is well known for it's temporary glitches and rendering lag which would be disastrous in a fast moving game of football. Imagine the game crashing just as you are squaring to shoot on goal! Cybersports, the developers, are confident they can overcome these problems with a release date set some time this summer. You can read more and register for updates and as a beta tester at footballsuperstars.co.uk. You can even have your goal celebration immortalised in the game!

Jellyfish!

I really like the effect achieved at the end of this video in the underwater sequence. The whole thing was done on a very limited budget (under £1000 apparently) but it has a very professional slick look to it. Is it just me or is the footage of the jellyfish being used in a lot of creative projects atm? There's a Mazda advert that appears to be using it and an ad for Microsoft's Zune seems to have used the same stock images. Are they all using the same footage or have they arrived at this idea independently? Hmmmm....

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