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.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Louisville Art Expedition

Last Thursday, our computational art class took a trip to Louisville to explore some of the art museums there as well as the Science Center. Part of our trip involved an artwork-scavenger hunt, in which Dr. Stonedahl created a checklist of attributes that each of us found the best match for. We left early at 8 o'clock in the morning and braved a winter weather advisory but I think it was worth it.

Out first stop was the 21c Museum. It's call to fame is that the museum is the first in North America dedicated solely to 21st century art, not to mention that it is part of a hotel to help generate revenue. Although the museum was in between exhibits and thus a bit bare, there still were several works that I enjoyed. The following pieces for the scavenger hunt were found at the 21c Museum.

The piece I felt involved the most computation was titled Text Rain. For this work, a camera is placed in wall so that it "watches" the people/object that are in its view. Then, it sends the letters of a poem down but has them stop when they reach those people/objects. It does this by having the letters stop when they reach a dark patch, such as my silhouette, as shown above. This process likely involves the use of an algorithm that prevents each letter from moving past a point that was a certain contrast level.

The above piece is titled A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing and I felt that it was the piece closest to the style of artist Chuck Close. Close gained fame largely through his photorealistic artworks that were so real and detailed that they appeared to be photographs until closer inspection revealed otherwise. Although the scene depicted in A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing isn't very realistic, the details and appearance of the man and wolf, not to mention details such as the refraction of his legs in the water, rival a photograph in realism.

The most conceptual of the pieces I saw was the waterfall found in the men's bathroom of 21c. With conceptual art, the methods and ideas take precedence over the aesthetic and other concerns. The conceptual artist Sol Lewitt stated in his Sentences on Conceptual Art that the artist could not imagine his art until it was complete and that the artist should not change his mind midway through the execution of an art piece. The water in this piece reminds me a lot of these opinions in that it is difficult to imagine the end result of the piece because the water will always fall differently. Additionally, it's hard to stop the water midway through its course and the artist is forced to let it fall all the way. Perhaps this translation is a bit literal, but that is how I saw it.

When I looked down at my scavenger hunt sheet and saw a blank for the art with the greatest element of "randomness," I immediately thought of Wheel of Fortune, pictured above. The work is a record of the 1974 tornado that leveled much of Louisville. Anne Peabody constructed the items seen in the piece from memories of the tornado and images of the disaster. Although the shape of the piece may not be random, I thought the items were, and understandably so. To me, the variety of items gives the appearance of chaos and I get a sense of just how bad the tornado must have been for Peabody and the residents of Louisville who were affected.

There were some displays at the 21c Museum that were not presented as art but I thought should be. Case in point are the cork cylinders pictured above. To my knowledge, they were not given a name but I thought that they were pretty cool and not merely decorations or some version of a coffee table. I really liked how they were movable and thought they went well with the seating that was adjacent to them. A fitting name might be something simple like Cork Table.

Conversely, I was skeptical of some of the work that was displayed as art. An example is pictured above and was named Cloud Rings (the photo above was taken by Karen Porter for Louisville Images on Flickr). I just felt that the piece was nothing much more than a fancy vapor machine and landscaping tool. There was nothing that really appealed to me as art. Yes, there may be a connection to the artist and one to nature as well, but it was not evident to me as I looked at it. 

After the 21c Museum, we made our way to the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft not too far away. Although the connection to computational art was less evident there, we still were able to find artwork that inspired us and related to our art ideas for class. The ground floor of the museum was part store, part museum while the second and third floors solely housed artwork. The following artworks pictured were all from this museum.

In class, we have been working with recursion and how it can both apply to and be art. Essentially, recursion deals with how objects repeat in a self-similar way. Thus, when I stumbled upon the artwork pictured above, I saw recursion in an art piece. Titled The Nest, if you look closely, you can see a smaller,  hollow wicker ball inside the similar larger one. From my brief time with The Nest, I wasn't able to see another ball inside the smaller one. I didn't want to disturb the piece by shaking it, so I determined that there were only two. Overall, I found this work clever and thought it displayed recursion in a different way.

Of the pieces that I saw, this one, called The Prairie, Coyotes, and Dogs, inspired me with an idea for a computational art piece. First, the way the image consists of rectangular patches is much like the square patches found in NetLogo (the software and language we use in class to make art). Additionally, the image is similar to a photomosaic, which we also studied in class. More important, the colors vary throughout the image. For instance, the grass is not uniformly made up of similarly-colored green patches. Instead, different shades of green, yellow, and brown consist of the grass. Knowing this, I want to apply this to my computational art and experiment by placing related but still different colors together algorithmically to make images and shapes.

Overall, my favorite artwork would have to be the one pictured above, The Raft. I think it's because it reminds me of the Flintstones and their awesome mode of transportation and just my general fascination with cars. Plus, it's just pretty awesome to look at, which is my favorite part of art.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Creepy Crazy Stairs

Our assignment for homework #6 was to create a 3D, raytraced imaged that incorporated fractals. After some experimentation, I came up with the above image, which I named Creepy Crazy Stairs. Although I initially wanted the stairs to be less randomly placed, I ended up liking the haphazard arrangement. To me, it's as if the stairs are challenging any who dare to climb up, as if the darkness wasn't enough to deter people. However, the way the light falls on the stairs is nice, like a candle that only illuminates a small portion of the structure.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Reading Response #6

In class, we've been using the ray tracing method for displaying 3D graphics that show the interaction of light with the objects depicted. Although much of what we've been doing is still very basic, it's cool to see how the objects realistically react to the light source that we've placed in the scene.

The reading assigned also dealt with ray tracing but in more detail and complexity. One article discussed how ray tracing takes the viewing angle, light angle, reflections, refractions, and a host of other variables to render the scene. It was interesting to see how we are able to determine what light "particles" are relevant to the viewer and apply the light to the graphics accordingly.

The POV-Ray Tutorial built on this knowledge by introducing users to the POV-Ray software used to implement ray tracing. The most fascinating part was viewing the POV-Ray Hall of Fame. It consists of a variety of image types but all were pretty awesome in their use of light and the effects caused by it. Additionally, all were attractive pieces with interesting designs. It's definitely worth a look.

Finally, we read an article that pondered the question of whether Leonardo Da Vinci would have coded. It discusses how he went to great lengths to perfect everything he did from artwork to inventions. Leonardo apparently studied everything he was involved in to understand it fully but also to apply it. This could mean replicating reality in the case of his artwork to inventing machines that were way ahead of their time. At the end, the article concludes that Leonardo would have made an excellent programmer because of his abstract method of solving problems. Looking at the work he's done, I'd readily agree.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Reading Response #5

The biography of Chuck Close is inspirational on many levels. First, he survived a rough childhood filled with illness and had a misunderstood personality. Later in life, he suffered a health problem that almost took away a highly cherished activity of creating art. What I also admired was how he found a new way of looking at art - photorealism. It's fascinating how he took an artwork that resembled a photograph in its realistic details but added to the work in a way that no photo could. Thus, his artwork seems to be both normal and surreal at the same time.

Photomosaics have always interested me because whenever I look at the individual pictures/shapes of the mosaic, I feel that if I looked at the picture as a whole again, it would be unrecognizable as an overall image. However, this is not (usually) the case and makes them all the more interesting. I have also always wondered how much the artist has to work with the shades of color, the types of pictures, or even the pixel size to make the ideal photomosaic. Fortunately, I now have NetLogo to use to create my own photomosaic and experiment with these variables.

Fractal art is interesting because it uses a specific mathematical algorithm to make art and examples of it can be found in nature, such as in trees. This is cool because fractal art cannot be drawn by hand. And though trees may not be perfect examples of fractals, nature has been able to implement a form of this algorithm devised by humans.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Reading Response #4 - Differing Artistic Perspectives

After reading three different perspectives on art from Sol Lewitt, Tristan Tzara, and Paul Graham, I identified with Graham the most. Lewitt offered sentences which essentially defined what conceptual art and artists were.  Despite the fact that a few of his sentences resonated with me (e.g. Perception of ideas leads to new ideas), overall he doesn't give the artist enough credit or power in an artwork. Instead, he seems to suggest that artists should simply let ideas flow uninterrupted until they are complete as a finished artwork. Thus, he doesn't give artists the opportunity to improve their work as they go along. I feel that this could result in work with a lot of room for improvement.

I also disliked Tzara's piece for a similar reason: he doesn't give the artist enough control over his/her work. Although the surprise of the work from mixing words together may result in an interesting piece, I feel that this method doesn't allow for the artist to really connect with what is being created.

Graham's essay appealed to me because it was all about people, whether they are engineers, mathematicians, technicians, or artists, actively and consciously producing good work. Applied to artists, good work would not just be the result of a good idea. Instead, it would be taking the right steps, appealing to the right people, and taking control of the artwork and doing what is necessary to make it great - even if that meant redoing certain components or even starting over. This allows for the all the best ideas the artist has, regardless of when they come, to become implemented into the finished piece.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Reading Response #3 - Hackers and Painters

Paul Graham's essay encourages the reader to look at "hacking" (which refers to coding) with a different perspective. Rather than see coding as another scientific field with guidelines, rules, and a general lack of appreciation, it should be viewed as an art form. Graham makes the case that, like painters, hackers perfect their work in time as they see what works and obsess over the details that make their work "beautiful."

I completely agree. Although at first I did see coding as just a way to get a computer to follow directions, some programming experience and this computational art course have helped me to indeed see it as art. As Graham explains, it has all traits of artwork from learning techniques to emphasizing with the audience (people) to the gradual refining process used when creating work.

Overall, I took from Graham that hacking is a field that should be enjoyed and to be creative in. And though coding may at times seem difficult, it is a process we perfect in time - just like artists.

Particle System Videos

While looking for some particle system demos, I came across a website titled Rune's Particle System. There are several videos here that demonstrate particle systems in a variety of ways. The videos do need permission to run a QuickTime plug-in and although they are somewhat basic, they are accompanied by helpful explanations (especially toward the bottom of the page), and are still interesting to watch.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Reading Response #2

Before this class but especially before I had any computer science experience, creating a particle system would be unthinkable. The article mentions some of the many qualities that water has and it would have seemed impossible to render all of these qualities on a computer – even a very powerful one. Yet after today, I am able to see that we can (relatively) easily manipulate a large number of particles so that they move cohesively and in ways found in nature. It would also be interesting to see how the above qualities were researched and how mathematics algorithms, and computations were applied to them.

Additionally, the article mentions that  “3D objects are only visually representational of a real object” instead of being constructed at the atomic level to exactly replicate the original object. It goes on to say that this is because doing so is beyond the capabilities of computers today. This caused me to then wonder how visual effects would look if computers had this capability in the future. Would things look that much more real, or would our eyes not detect a difference? Although this is dependent on many factors to include screen size and quality, I feel that visual effects still have a lot of room to improve and to appear more life-like.

Scattered Bugs

With my basic NetLogo skills, I wanted to capture the movement of bugs as they flew through a field of grass. To do this, I set the patches to green and set the turtle shapes to bugs. Then I created sets of turtles that moved forward different lengths to give the appearance of a whole circle filled with bugs scattering from a single location. Each "layer" of bugs was then set to go in a different direction for a more random, natural look.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Reading Response #1

In his text, author Matt Pearson begins by carefully explaining generative art and how it compares to other, more familiar art forms. I particularly like how Pearson described generative art by what it wasn’t rather than what it is. This way seems to emphasize the many number of things that generative art is/will be rather than limit it with a definition.

Another interesting aspect of the chapter was the generative art is not a new concept. Rather, it is has been a part of art for centuries, right alongside more popular works of art produced by brushes and paint. The advent of the computer has simply served to extend the algorithms used for generative art as well as for convenience.

Lastly, I found interesting Pearson’s assertion that tools should not only open possibilities but also empower those who use them. He likens this to a child using a paintbrush or pencil instead of a program such as Adobe Illustrator. Although the computer program may be more powerful, the brush and pencil are better tools because they do not hinder the creativity of the child.