Tuesday, January 24, 2012

My Last Post

So this is it. We had our art fair today to show off our final projects. I must say, the class did a pretty awesome job. Everyone had a unique idea that resulted in some very interesting art. Today also marked the last day of our computational art class. In three weeks, I was able to learn about NetLogo and use it to create a range of cool computational art pieces, not just admire them.

My two favorite things learned in class were most likely particle systems and recursions. I found particle systems cool because I liked that a large number of seemingly unrelated objects could move and come together to make something. Recursions were interesting because I saw the resemblance to nature through leaves and branches.

Below is my final project, a video titled Sky Garden. It utilizes recursions, among other things and depicts a garden of flowers and vines growing in the sky. As the flowers grow, a butterfly comes along and slowly kills off each flower it lands on, but the flowers grow back too quickly to be eliminated. I thought this was a cool twist on what actually happens in nature.

The flowers and vines were both created by making single entities (called turtles in NetLogo) that moved in a certain direction (dependent on what was being created) while hatching another turtle to form a continuous vine or stem. The petals of the flowers were created similarly except that a recursion was used to form the shape. Finally, the butterfly was rendered by changing the car shape in NetLogo to a butterfly using code found online.

Overall, I was happy with it, though I couldn't have done it without the help of Dr. Stonedahl. It achieves the goal of evoking the serenity of nature while adding the twist provided by the butterfly.

I plan on coming back to generating art computationally - perhaps after I have more programming experience. For now, though, thanks for reading.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Reading Response #10 - Stereoscopy and Autostereograms

It's typically a lot of fun to look at optical illusions. The interesting aspect comes from the fact that we see something different from what we expect. Often, illusions are created on some sort of 2D plane, some ink (or pixels) and are easy to make out. However, this wasn't the case at first with the Magic Eye (TM) books that Dr. Stonedahl brought in. The books were filled with images that were supposed to play with one's depth perception. The problem was that I wasn't able to view the images in the right way to see this.

We soon found through the reading that these books were an example of stereoscopy. Stereoscopy is the name of the technique used for creating and changing the illusion of depth. This is done by placing two offset images so that each is viewed in the left and right eyes of a person, respectively. Both images are then combined in the brain and depth is perceived.

The Magic Eye (TM) books are more specific in that they are examples of autostereograms, which utilizes stereoscopy but does not require special lenses or devices to see the illusion. But because these aids are missing, it is often more difficult to see the 'depth' without practice. Usually, one must try and look 'past' the image so that the brain can combine both images as stated above.

Overall, I enjoyed learning about these techniques. Anything that makes a 2D image look like 3D is pretty cool in my book. Yet I also found some of the applications of these interesting as well. For instance, some head-mounted displays utilize stereoscopy to create a virtual display for the wearer. Besides obvious uses like gaming or movies, head-mounted displays are increasingly being used to create see-through "augmented realities" for certain tasks. For technicians, this can mean a sort of 'x-ray vision' for seeing objects normally hidden from view. Another important use is in surgery. With augmented stereoscopic vision, data from CAT and MRI scans can be combined with the surgeon's vision. It's all very cool and it will be amazing what will happen with these techniques in a few years time.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Reading Response #9 - Liberal Arts Education for Designers

Simply put, our computational art class would have been perfect for blog author Lisa Brown. Not only did she double major in visual art and computer science but also attended Centre College. Additionally, it's interesting that we had another Centre alumna, Pang Hartman, talk to us about her online gaming company FrogDice (Dr. Stonedahl writes about it here).

More to the point, I enjoyed reading about how well a liberal arts education served Lisa in her path to become a game developer. Although I've realized the importance of the varied education offered at Centre, it's still interesting to see the specific ways it influences individuals. For instance, Lisa learned about iteration, which is the act finishing a piece layer by layer, from her painting class. This helped in game development as she was already familiar with the process.

In another example, Lisa used her skills solving problems in computer science courses to aid in game development as well. As anyone with programming experience can attest, there are often bugs to fix that have effects ranging from not rendering a pixel properly to preventing the code from running at all. Because similar bugs occur when implementing a video game, Lisa was able to transfer much of her experience to her work with gaming.

Overall, I learned a few cool bits from Lisa about how she is fusing knowledge from many different areas to become successful at designing video games. However, I also gained a deeper appreciation of what is done here at Centre and undoubtedly many other liberal arts colleges. Lisa seems to confirm that knowledge in a variety of fields is useful in whatever career path one chooses.

Reading Response #8 - Who Owns What?

Often, what is offered on the internet, be it text, pictures, or video, seems free for the taking. After all, it is just a collection of bytes and/or pixels thrown onto the interweb by 'someone out there'. For instance, I've been in the habit of taking pictures off of a Google image search for a project or presentation whenever the need arose. Because of the simplicity and ease of access to these materials, I seldom thought about how they came to be or if I was even allowed to use them.

Fortunately, one of our readings was about the Creative Commons. This is a website where people who create 'creative work' can grant permissions to their work in a standardized way. Creators still have whatever ownership and copyright of their work, but they can specify use of them through Creative Commons. Therefore, going back to my careless self from earlier, I could ask Creative Commons to only display material in a search that it had licenses for. Then, I could simply take material, credit the creators, and not worry about infringing on copyrights or any other legalities. It's all pretty cool and obviously a very useful tool for students.

In out class, we sometimes have the opportunity to change works such as images to create our own, often different-looking work. Yet at what point does changing a work make it ours and not the original owner's? This question was addressed through two readings found a Wikipedia article and The Sloan Consortium. The Wikipedia article focused mostly on instances of art appropriation. One such example was of the artist Andy Warhol. In one case, he used photographs taken by someone else to silk-screen. He was eventually forced to pay royalties to the photographer. Yet the famous Campbell's soup cans he depicted were not considered to be infringing. Although he clearly used the company's cans as inspiration,   it was determined that the public was not going to see the work as depicting a competing product or being sponsored by Campbell's.

The Sloan Consortium tackles the issue by defining what derivative and transformative works are. Because derivative works don't really add anything new to the original work, they are still considered to be the original and have all of the copyrights and other legal ties intact. However, transformative works are different in that they build upon the original work and thus create something new. Thus, it is now not the original work and instead belongs to the 'transformer' of the piece.

Finally, we read a blog post titled "What Colour Are Your Bits?" The author essentially goes to say that in the world of creative work, ownership is dictated by where and who the work came from. This is likened to a certain adventure game in which characters have colors and are granted access to certain things based on their color. So for instance, you couldn't copy a copyrighted file, mix it with a non-copyrighted file and call it non-copyrighted. That's because this approach is 'color-blind' to where the file came from and in the legal world, people are not color-blind. Overall, the post is a fascinating read about the identity of works and how they can be seen differently.

Although I mostly agree with the above sources, I can't help but wonder how fair the whole process is. There seems to be a lot of guesswork involved and objectivity could easily be lost. Yet this seems to be the nature of artwork in general. We are bound to have similar ideas and/or methods to our artworks and deciphering what belongs to who looks to always be contested in the future.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Reading Response #7 - History of the Discovery of Cinematography

"The History of the Discovery of Cinematography" was an interesting read on how people throughout history developed "moving pictures"that built the foundations of cinematography as known today. Although countless individuals made contributions, there were several that I found particularly fascinating.

It's almost not surprising that Leonardo da Vinci contributed much to motion pictures. On top of everything else he did, he dissected what went on in the camera obscura, which was a device that displayed its surroundings on a screen. Although very rudimentary by today's standards, the overall effect is not entirely different from modern cameras. Leonardo moved the concept forward by providing detailed explanations and diagrams of the device.

Another cool step forward was the Phasmatrope, created by Henry Heyl in 1870. It combined the persistence of vision (which is the afterimage the eye sees in fast-motion situations - thanks, Ian and Rachael!) and posed photographs to give the illusion of a moving picture - just like a movie.

Finally, as a sort of extension of the Phasmatrope, Hermann Casler's Mutoscope was also pretty cool. It allowed for the flipping of pictures in succession by a crank. Finally, footage could be viewed by a large audience and movies as we know them now were made possible (with help from other devices, of course).

All of this history and rapid gain in technology makes me wonder where cinematography will be in a hundred years. Perhaps then "movies" will be so immersive that the video-rendering of today will seem as archaic as that of the camera obscura from our point in time. Nevertheless, I'm definitely grateful for all those who helped advance video creation to where it is now.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Final Project Progress

We're heading down the home stretch as we work on our final projects. These (along with a printed 2D piece we create) will be displayed at our art fair on Tuesday, January 24 in the Ewen Room in Centre's Campus Center. If you're free, come on over! The work displayed will be the best we've made, so it will be pretty awesome.

The idea I have for my project is a 3D video of a growing (and dying) garden complete with flowers, vines, flying insects and lighting effects. All of this would be rendered on NetLogo and I'd use the POV-Ray tool to render the 3D graphics. If there is time, I'd also like to add algorithmically derived music using the Midi extension on NetLogo.

So far, I've made adequate progress. First, I produced a flower with a natural-looking, bending stem. The stem was produced using circle-shaped turtles and the flower petals are fractals which are spaced evenly around the stem. I then added a middle piece of the flower that the petals "sprout" from. A more difficult aspect was adding leaves. I originally wanted to make these from fractals but Dr. Stonedahl and I decided that there were better and more natural shapes attainable. We ultimately settled on leaves that began as five turtles and followed differing curves, hatching other turtles along the way and meeting at the end to produce a convincing leaf shape. Overall, I like the appearance of the whole flower. It doesn't look completely natural, but I think this will be part of the aesthetic appeal. I'm going to reserve further judgment until more of my project is complete.

Another part I've worked on are the flying insects. Because most of the turtle shapes offered by NetLogo do not render on the POV-Ray tool, Dr. Stonedahl and I have had to modify the few shapes that do. We found a POV-Ray butterfly object and used its code to replace the code for the car object, which does render in POV-Ray. After some resizing, the butterfly looks the part. However, I think the realistic wings supplied with the object are actually too real for my more abstract garden. Therefore, I plan on modifying the wings to more simple colors.

Below is a picture of my progress so far. Not a lot, but it represents much of the work that will consist of the final product.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Morad Fareed - Our Clay Animation Video

This past week, Dr. Stonedahl was illustrating one of the ways 3D videos would work in NetLogo, the software and language we use in class to create our art. Essentially, we create many frames that are only slightly different from each other. Then, we stitch these frames together to create a video - much like how clay animation movies, such as Chicken Run are made.

As further demonstration, Dr. Stonedahl split us into groups and we worked on our own clay animation videos. Our final video is shown above. It depicts Ian (in clay form, of course) sneaking up to and jumping on the back of a feeding dinosaur. When the dinosaur realizes he is there, Ian is bucked off and does a backflip onto the ground. To make the video appear smooth, we had to make gradual changes to Ian and the dinosaur and take a pictures every time. The pictures were then put together into a video at 3 frames per second.

Overall, we were happy with the result, but we wished that we had cleaned up the extra pieces of clay that can be seen between a few frames.