Back to school

So here I am at the end of February with a paper to write and no clear idea about what I’m going to write about- or rather a few ideas but nothing concrete enough to go with. Yikes.

So how have I ended up here?   Well I’ve been focusing nearly all of my time trying to develop sufficient technical skills to be able to create my final piece and that has been my excuse for not doing research beyond last term. The big problem is that I’ve still got a mass of technical skill development still to do but I’ve also got to catch up on the research side too so I can start this paper!

I’ve really got to get back up to speed with the research side of things especially as that was the side of the course that initially appealed to me the most!  The technical stuff is easier in a way,  you find problems and obstacles then work out solutions to them and move on. There’s always an obvious next step. Contextual research is more tricky as it’s more about sifting through the massive selection of material that’s out there and trying to form some kind of concept or theory from it.

I need to first reacquaint myself with the research I’ve already done, then look for the most important theme and pursue it with further research. It’s a bit scary being at this stage of uncertainty so late in the day but I guess this is part of the process, challenging yourself and your ideas with thorough research and analysis so you can come out of it with a much stronger basis of knowledge to build your work on. It’s time to go back to school!

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3D sprites

I’ve done a bit of programming in Blender 3D to allow 3D sprites to be used in the game engine. This is one that’s easier to explain once you’ve seen it, so here’s a demo video….

The sprite is connected to an invisible cube that relays it’s current position and orientation to the sprite which then updates the image to show the right angle. The potential for it is that you can have a lot of complex looking objects moving around in 3D without the computer having to do so much work. You don’t have thousands of polygons to deal with per object, you just have 7  (6 for the invisible 3D cube and one for the sprite).  I’m not sure yet whether I’ll use this technique in my final piece.

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Making a game

At the beginning of  January, I had a meeting with Kevin from the Multimedia arts course and we decided to work together to make a game. His focus has been on the psychology  of colour and he has an interest in making an interactive piece.

We deciced that we needed to make a test project that combined our interests, so it needed to involve the use of colour for emotional effect and have a potentially relaxing effect. The game would need to be aimed at an initial target audience that we could get easy access to so we chose creative people (there are one or two at the college :).

We started by developing a simple game concept that could be produced fairly quickly called ‘Paintzilla’.  The premise is:

The people of the city are depressed. Their surroundings are grey and lifeless. they need….

The game is viewed from above but you can see a little of the fronts of the buildings. You control PaintZilla and must paint the city while trying not to crush too many buildings by walking into them. You can use the big roads and river to move around the map easier. You use you Paint Breath to colour things, but your paint breath only has a limited range, so you need to move to different areas of the map to paint them.
When you finish, the city people give you their reaction to your work. Factors that affect the outcome are:
How much damage you’ve done to the city
How much of the city you have painted
How many colours you have used
If you have done well, the crowd will cheer and PaintZilla will be very happy
If you have done badly, PaintZilla becomes upset.
Here’s a link to the first prototype for the game…
It was produced in Blender 3D but since then, we’ve decided to move it onto Processing and program it from the ground up. This’ll be a lot more work and a lot more learning for both of us, but  the final results will be much better and there’s a slight possibility that we could make it an online game which would be fantastic!
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Making interfaces more accessable

I have been very aware for a long time that traditional games controllers are very intimidating to people not used to games and even those who are can be caught out sometimes.  The main reason I could see for this was that there are so many different buttons and controls on them that people often feel like they have to know what everything does before they would be able to use them. This is a similar to when people think they need to learn a full program instead of just learning the parts of the program necessary to achieve their goals.

My focus was mainly on making controllers that were simple and accessable, but also allowed depth and subtlety to how the player could interact. However after seeing Hazel White’s recent talk on her work which combined modern technology with personal possessions to enhance their spiritual value, I’ve realised that there is a lot of potential into looking more closely at the actual aesthetic form and feel of the controller. For example, a controller that feels soft and warm to hold with a style that harks back to more traditional hand crafted forms. One of the most interesting ideas that was on Hazel’s site was a ring that could be used to draw on-screen. This felt like a very naturalistic and intuitive way to present a new way of creating. This links in very strongly with my first objective of creating a drawing program that is fun and intuitive. The ideas that I could add to the work that she has already done would be to extend the functionality of the drawing program to allow the drawings to have depth and also to allow people to share and combine the drawings with each other at the same time. I have also talked to John Anderson recently who has helped me to decide the best way to develop my idea in a technical sense, this involves generating a polygonal object that will be created as the line is drawn by tracking the movement of the drawing object and creating a chunky line at that point. This would be instead of trying to use vectors and bezier curves to make lines or multiple instances of a circle similar to the technique used in programs like Photoshop.

Here’s a link to Hazel’s site:

This reminds me that I was going to send Hazel an e-mail to talk about this further 🙂

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The Tagtool

I’ve mentioned the tagtool in a couple of posts now, but I thought it’d be good to talk about it properly as it has a very strong link with my area of study (especially with my current direction looking at relaxation using creative digital software.

So what is it?   Well it’s a drawing program with a physical mixer box that controls colour, size, opacity etc. it is designed to be used with a tablet and pen and projected live as the drawing takes place. It is possible to also connect a joypad and animate elements of the drawing while it’s still being created. This makes it a great tool for letting people play and create together as the artist and the animator respond to what the other person is doing. It is designed to be accessable to people who don’t normally draw or animate and has a satisfying immediacy to it.   Here’s a link to some time-lapse footage of it in action filmed at an event I helped to organise called the Guerrilla Gallery:

It was also used recently at the Neon party in a car park where there were two tagtools going, one was very popular and got a lot of attention while the other was hardly used. The main reason I can find for this is that the successful one was placed among other interactive elements like Overhead projectors and bike powered generators. It works best as a social tool as opposed to something one or two people would use alone. I think that an important aspect of using a creative tool where the creative process is more important than the final result is that it is something that is best shared with others in a friendly social environment. A question that arises from this is whether it is possible to make a virtual social environment where creating and jamming can be done live, would it have the same or a similar feeling of community and would it be something that would sustain itself once the novelty wore off?

for more info on the tagtool, try this link :

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Retrospective on Neon Party in the Car Park

This is a bit of a retrospective post as it really should precede the last couple,, just didn’t get round to writing it up…    UNTIL NOW. (insert dramatic sound effect here)

For the last few months, I’ve been involved with organising the Neon party in the car park. I collaborated with three others to bring Guerrilla Gallery (our own art related event) into the Neon event. Here’s a link to our site and another to videos from our previous event in the Hannah Mclure Centre at the top of the Abertay Union.

The event seemed to go down well and surprisingly was sold out!  not bad for a night in a car park in the middle of November 🙂     The main aim for our part of it was to build a space that allowed people to participate in and feel part of the whole event, so we set up a number of overhead projectors and a ‘tag tool’ (more on this in my Tag Tool post) that allowed people to create their own drawings and see them projected onto big screens in front of them. They could also see what others were drawing and get ideas and inspiration from them, we deliberately set them up so that it felt like a group activity. Behind the Overheads and Tagtool, there were a number of bikes that were connected to a generator that was used to power a projector and a PA system, the idea being that people had to pedal to keep the equipment going!  This was the ideal setting for such an idea as it was a great way to stay warm!   One of the music acts (Edward Shallow) even attempted to create his chipmusic while providing power for the PA by cycling at the same time (while wearing a dayglo hoody and a gas mask!). The music was a little ‘choppy’ but the atmosphere and spirit of fun was fantastic and he got a big applause from the crowd. The idea to do this was largely a last minute one and as seems to be often the case, sometimes it’s the spur of the moment inspirations borne of adversity that can often hold the strongest appeal. The bikes were positioned so that the riders could see all the different artworks that were being created and they could talk to fellow riders if they wanted. I feel that our biggest success was to create a community feel to our part of the event that helped us keep a decent crowd going throughout the night.

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Animation produced for the Perth Light Night

I have recently been involved with preparations for the Perth Light Night on Friday 26th November. I was working with my friend and VJ partner, Graeme to create some animations to be displayed around St Johns Kirk and across the water from where the main celebrations were being held.

The first part was an animated salmon created in Blender 3D. This was my first attempt at properly rigging and animating a character, so I was glad that it didn’t need to be too complicated!  The animation was eventually rotoscoped into a very bold white on black style and splashes and spray were added. It was then projected onto a screen built entirely of water being sprayed up from a pump situated at water level.  Fireflies were added above the water to add a bit of interest while nothing else was happening. The style was necessarily quite striking because subtlety would be lost on the water screen anyway, but I think the simple bold look may be worth investigating for my interactive work.

The second part was a film recorded of an actor playing John Knox. I was involved with the filming and had to construct the fake beard which had a nasty habit of falling to bits mid-shoot, one of those ‘small window of opportunity’ moments where you try to get the shot before it falls apart again!  I used particles to create the smoke effect and animated it to form into the man’s shape as he appeared.

The third part was create a moving photographic slideshow showing old and new Perth and fading  between the two. This was relatively simple work applying old film style effects to the old photos to further distinguish them from the new ones (both were black and white).   I faded between old and new photos taken from roughly the same location, this was a bit more work as the position and lens type of the cameras were sometimes significantly different. Here’s a link to some excerpts from the animations:  

During the whole event, there were a lot of things going on including a medieval market, a brass band playing on the street, a dance event and a spectacular fireworks display.  The most interesting find though, was an interactive floor projection by Wang Yu Yang which used processing to track people as they moved around and project different animated lights onto them. This was a very successful exhibit with a large mixed crowd getting involved and playing with the different visual interactions such as one where water ripples were generated from people’s movement and another where electricity appeared to be conducted from one person to the other. There was a part of the piece where a single large circle of light was projected onto the floor, all the children instinctively stood underneath it, the adults seemed more reluctant to do so. The other interesting part of it was that the smallest children were not tracked by the computer very well meaning that their light blinked off and on much to their distress! There’s an image of the piece here:    a

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