Tuesday, November 29, 2005


oday's animation exercises used a technique called pixillation. This has nothing to do with jagged edges in jpeg images. Rather, it involves moving people and objects between frames.

Only five of us turned up this morning, one of whom wasn't interested in contributing ideas, so the rest of us had a good opportunity to take different roles - lighting, camera, image capture, directing. I took charge of making Shadow, though credit goes to Nick for suggesting the dramatic lighting.

This afternoon even fewer of us took advantage of the opportunity to experiment. As an initial trial for the swordfight scene in Hamlet, I made Fight and Slide. The final version will combine the two and refine the idea. Then, for a bit of fun, I made a final test shot all on my own, moving a table, some step ladders and a chair as well as the camera. It didn't work as well as I'd hoped, but it's all useful experience.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

More on Hamlet

y thoughts are still very much occupied with the overall approach to my forthcoming ten-second animation of Hamlet. It's all very well to say, "Strip the story down to its bare essentials", but it seems to me that minor alterations in that stripping down process could lead to vastly different results.

For example, you could concentrate on the family angle: Claudius kills his brother then marries Gertrude, his sister in law. He and his new step-son then keep trying to kill each other until they both finally succeed at the same time, managing to kill off Gertrude and at least one other in the fracas.

You could concentrate on the death toll - at least nine in the play (extra points if you can name them all - one step up from naming the seven dwarves or Santa's reindeer) - which, if all of them are included in the ten seconds of the film, would make it a gore-fest like Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Alternatively, you could treat the deaths like slapstick in a Tom and Jerry or Itchy and Scratchy cartoon, and there would be some macabre humour in trying to cram so many into such a short film.

You could concentrate on Freudian psychology: Hamlet thinks he sees his father's ghost, and pretends to be mad to deflect suspicion that he knows of Claudius' guilt. He prevaricates for a long time, then kills a person hiding in his mother's bedroom whom he thinks is his step-father. His strange behaviour and his murder of her father sends his erstwhile lover Ophelia mad, and she drowns. When chancing upon her funeral, Hamlet jumps into her grave to mourn her in an attempt to "out-mourn" her brother.

So, which way to go? I'm tempted to answer by saying, "Well, I wouldn't start from here", but I've invested a lot of effort in this and I'm reluctant to switch to another book at this stage.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Character animation

ere are nine short animations created by students as exercises in facial animation and dialogue. The models lack detail as a result, but that's OK. Some of the files are quite large, so if you're on a slow connection, I suggest you start off with the one about talent.

Not surprisingly, the animations vary in quality and effectiveness. In my opinion, the best are the more understated ones, but I suppose it depends on the effect the animators are trying to create.

I confess that, a while ago, I would have looked down on some of these animations, but now that I've a better idea of how difficult it is and how much effort must have gone into them, I would be delighted to produce something half as good.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Crimson Role

e were given our first stop-motion exercise on Thursday, to encourage us to try out the software and experiment. The task was to create a three second animation of our names.

I cut letters out of a newspaper and moved them around, but to make it slightly more interesting, I decided to start from an anagram. I spent a few minutes experimenting during the lunch break, and surprised myself by how many I managed to create:

- A crimson role
- No molar cries
- Cool arm risen
- Sir cream loon
- More clarions
- Moron is clear
- Roman orc lies
- Manors or lice
- More solar inc
- Romel crams in
- Cram loo rinse

The first one on the list is my favourite, so that's the one I used in the animation, though I quite like the second one as well.

What anagrams can you make from your name? If you're struggling with a short name, try using middle names as well.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

New toys!

ew toys to play with, but infortunately they're not mine - a backdrop gantry with a huge roll of paper to create a smooth background, and studio floodlights complete with barn doors and umbrella reflectors.

I was taking some more photographs of April Young's work, which was great fun as usual, and playing with the new equipment was also a useful rehearsal for my forthcoming ten-second stop-motion animation project.

We were formally briefed yesterday on the animation assignment, and I'm rapidly revising my ideas. The claymation epic of the tragedy of Hamlet (poison! treachery! ghost! murder! revenge!) is now on hold. Instead, I'm thinking about changing to still photography, perhaps in the form of 2D cut outs, possibly combined with lurid 3D effects for the blood. So many possibilities, so many choices to make...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Looking at music

andora is a fantastic free radio station on the web that you can train to play the sorts of music that you like. Simply add a few of your favourite artists, and it will create a playlist of similar musical styles, offering explanation, if you want it, of why particular tracks have been included.

Adding Brian Eno, for instance, will find music that contains "electronica roots, ambient soundscapes, off-beat style, repetitive song structure and intricate rhythms". Laurie Anderson leads to "experimental sounds, mild rhythmic syncopation, repetitive melodic phrasing, extensive vamping, and dynamic female vocalists". Steve Reich leads to.... Steve Reid, who isn't the same at all, but you can't have everything.

You can even create different playlists for different moods, though you can't download the music. If the adverts annoy you, you can pay for an ad-free version, but otherwise, at least for just now, the two versions are identical. No additional features are unlocked through subscription.

There's only one problem, but it's a big one. If you live outside the US, you can't register, because their licence currently doesn't cover them in other countries. And you can only listen to a few tracks before the requirement to register kicks in. Damn. I was looking forward to discovering new music.

There is an alternative, Live Plasma, which suggests links between bands, artists and films using a clever visual system, like the excellent visual thesaurus. It's based on Amazon's recommendation system, however, which doesn't appear to be nearly as sophisticated as Pandora. There is no direct way of testing whether you like the suggested artists, but it does provide links so that you can buy items from Amazon. Isn't that kind?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Moominvalley in November

s befits the time of year, I've been re-reading "Moominvalley in November", the last of nine stories by Tove Jansson. They're aimd at children, but each book is more complex and, in my opinion, better than the last.

Each of the characters has needs, wants, foibles and weaknesses, many of them feeling unfulfilled by the absence of the Moomin family who are away on an adventure related in the previous book, "Moominpappa at Sea".

My favourite character is Toft, a small, shy creature who reads, without understanding, a book with long words about a prehistoric creature, and believes that his imagination has brought it to life in an electrical storm.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Back to RSS

didn't check my RSS feeds yesterday, and when I opened up my aggregator today I was overwhelmed by the number of new feeds.

I currently subscribe to 62 feeds. About half of them had new items, some as many as thirty. In order to avoid using up too much of the morning, I had to skim the first lines, and ended up marking as read quite a few that I hadn't really taken in at all.

There seem to be three options here:

* keep up with the feeds every day, and preferably several times a day
* be prepared to spend a large amount of time catching up, or
* reduce the number of feeds

Another lesson for me: yesterday I put up my first post using a drop cap at the start. When I checked it in my RSS aggregator, the text started on a new line, ruining the effect.

I knew in theory that looking at content out of context could damage design. Now I have first hand experience.

Friday, November 18, 2005


ere, at last, is the debut of my Alphaphot project.

I've taken photographs of most letters of the alphabet, and will use them, for a while at least, as drop caps at the start of blog posts.

The only letters I've yet to find are B, C and Z. I'll keep looking, and in the meantime you can see the rest at the Flickr account I've set up for this project.

Thanks go to Oliver, Lisa's son, who's staying with us for a few days. He's been teaching me how to utilise the bluetooth capabilities of my phone, so I was able to transfer the Alphaphot images from my phone to my laptop, then upload them to Flickr.

Oliver's really matured over the last eighteen months, and it's now a real pleasure to have him here. Thanks, Olly!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Further thoughts on RSS

I must have been living in a very sheltered tower in my pre-RSS aggregator days. Every so often I would find a new website, look at it and, if I liked it, I would add it to my favourites for a return visit sometime in the future.

Now, however, I've unwittingly unleashed the power of portals with RSS feeds. These are sites that provide links to many other sites, usually around a particular theme. Some of them are updated several times each day, alerting me to vast numbers of interesting websites.

Part of the problem is that I want to look through each new site's archives, so when I've eventually worked my way through them, the sheer quantity of "stuff" to be looked at will gradually decline (assuming that the rate at which I add new sites will also decline).

The Guardian and the BBC are famous portals covering far more than just strict news, while Yahoo tries to cover everything but allows you to personalise your choice of content. Ones that I've discovered recently include Micro Persuasion, Web Pro News and Wired. The first two of these are definitely technology-themed, but Wired is much wider. Space and Live Science also contain links to fascinating top stories in their respective fields.

Can you resist the lure of these sites? Do not eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge!

Friday, November 11, 2005

More on RSS

I wrote a few days ago about starting to use an RSS aggregator. I've been adding lots of sites to my list of favourites, and I'm already finding that if a site doesn't provide an RSS feed then I'm much less likely to go back to see if there's anything new. It's only taken a few days for this change in my attitude to occur.

I may or may not be a typical web user, but if I am, then sites which don't annouce updates will be left behind, and possibly those that don't update regularly will also lose out.

That should not be seen as a reason for sites to add updates just for the sake of it, since that would devalue the whole process. Rather, it suggests that there will be a responsibility for content managers to concentrate on up-to-date, meaningful content. This may have to be at the expense of unusual or complex design.

There is a long way to go, however, before the process of RSS feeds is widely understood and incorporated into browsers. One way might be for the browser to ask the user, when a site is added to a favourites list, whether he/she wishes to add it to an inbuilt RSS aggregator. Google (surprise, surprise) is working on just such a reader. I've not tried Google's offering, but I've read some disgruntled comments from people who have.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


I've been using the Flock browser for the past week or so, and quite intensively, and can justify the time as part of my research for a College assignment.

So far, I really like it. At first I couldn't see much that sets it apart from Firefox, my normal browser, but I persevered. When I returned to the obvious starting point 13 things to do with Flock, I found that most of it now made more sense. I've used the Flickr and Blogging topbars which are both great.

The former shows thumbnails of photos in your Flickr account, and a forthcoming feature will allow the upload of photos by dragging them to this toolbar.

The latter shows recent post titles in your blog (though not all, for some reason) and a place to drag text or links to create a post with already-formatted block quotes. There is also a window called the Shelf, where you can drag text or links to store them for later blogging.

One improvement that I would like to see, however, is being able to tag favourites once for both Flock and del.icio.us.

The developers of Flock say that it is not yet ready for use as a main browser, as it is still only a developer version, but a more polished version is on its way.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A South Pole Adventure

I've stumbled across a blog that started only recently. Normally, I wouldn't pay much attention to something that may not last very long. In this case, however, I'm fascinated by the subject: it will record a journey to the South Pole by an astrophysicist who will measure

"properties of the cosmic microwave background radiation, a relic glow left over from the big bang"

Now that's exciting. I'll be following this journey with interest.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The benefits of an RSS feeder

Recently I've fallen into the habit of repeatedly visiting the same websites. That's OK because they're interesting and they change often enough to be 'sticky'.

I've started to keep track of them through an RSS aggregator called Bottom Feeder, so that I'm notified of new postings without having to visit them. The ability to view content outside the pages it was originally written for has implications for the aesthetics and navigation of websites. However, it also means that the time I previously spent in visiting sites that haven't been updated can now be used to explore new areas.

For example, there's a simple but hypnotic animation of Heath Robinson-like machinery processing enigmatic blue balls.

There's also the Camera Toss blog, which has some beautiful abstract photographs, created by people throwing their cameras into the air. A group on Flickr is dedicated to this unlikely pursuit. Although I like this idea a lot, I value my camera too much to join in.

I've also found a number of sites devoted to puppets and stop-motion animation while researching for a forthcoming college assignment (more on this over the next few weeks, I'm sure). Perhaps the oddest is the Insanely Twisted Shadow Puppets site, with animation created for Halloween on Nickolodeon TV.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Explaining coal to people who've never seen it

I gave a talk today about the regeneration of Chatterley Whitfield to a class of 15 year old pupils at Sandon High School. It was part of the work that Groundwork is doing with local schools about the former colliery, using funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

I'd prepared a presentation based around a list of questions I was going to use to encourage their involvement, but they beat me to it by giving me a list of their questions when I arrived.

It wasn't as long as the list of 34 questions they gave Jim, Geoff and Roy when they went to talk about what it was like to be a coal miner, but then urban regeneration, without physical progress on site to make it real and relevant, isn't nearly as interesting as stories of danger and camaraderie.

All in all, I'm impressed that they listened for as long as they did. The pupils will give a presentation of their own on 9th December about Chatterley Whitfield, and I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Doing My Bit for Web 2.0

I had a tutorial today at College with Tony, who's leading the research module. Following my recent exploration, I suggested that I choose Web 2.0 as my topic, which Tony accepted. We agreed that I could spend the rest of the year following progress and charting developments as they occur, which I find quite exciting.

It only struck me afterwards that since blogging is part of Web 2.0, I could use this blog as part of my research. This means that you could be part of it too, by commenting on my posts. I'm not promising instant world-wide recognition for any or all of you, but participating in the growing democracy is surely a worthwhile activity?

I'm still evaluating Flock, by the way, and del.icio.us. I think I need to utilise their features far more before it would be fair for me to comment on either.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Another sinister advert

After writing recently about an apparent trend of sinister adverts, I watched the Persil advert in a different way - the one with a little girl covered in paint because she supposedly painted 'Welcome Home Mummy' on a banner.

The girl holds out her arms to her newly-returned mother but turns her head towards her father. The shot is cut before her head stops turning, leaving you with the disturbing impression that it will keep going all the way round, like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

I don't remember seeing this in the same advert break as the AA zombies or the others I wrote about. Maybe they should have had a special Halloween advert break with all of them together.

Has anyone else got any more examples of the bizarre or macabre in advertising, either deliberate or accidental?