Sunday, November 29, 2009

From the 'Uncanny Valley' to the Mountain of Manifest

In my term paper I discussed digitial visual effects in film compared with video games, giving an overview of the history of CGI. Furthermore because CGI is so prevalent in video games I looked at gameplay vs. narration and gave an overview of the trend and the difficulties in creating photorealism in video games. The problem with photorealism is what I'd like to discuss here. On October 13, 2009 an article was published by Science Daily, showing that not only do humans react to the Uncanny Valley effect, but so do monkeys. Okay, now I'm sure some of you will know what the 'uncanny valley' is, but I had no idea until I began this paper. The 'uncanny valley' effect was theorized by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori. The 'valley' refers to a dip in a graph that charts a human's positive reaction in response to an image on one axis and a robot's human-likeness on the other. Based on scientific findings by Princeton University’s assistant psychology professor Asif Ghazanfar and research specialist Shawn Steckenfinger, the ability to distinguish nuances in facial expressions as theorized in the uncanny valley effect are evolutionary adaptations. The research showed that macaque monkeys, when shown an image of a CGI monkey instead of a video of a real monkey, quickly averted their glances and were frightened. So, people and even monkeys, can tell the difference between CGI and real. What does this exactly mean for video games? Well, we're going to continue pursuing photorealism until we achieve realism beyond the point where we can distinguish the two or we can rely on non-photorealistic techniques and develop a more stylized approach to CGI characters. Because, interestingly enough people react more positively to non-photorealistic characters such as the disproportionate ones in "The Incredibles" than they do to more photorealistic ones like those in "Polar Express." Either way we will continue down this track until we reach the point where a new technology is needed to express ourselves and when we get there and have crossed the 'valley,' we will begin a new adventure, climbing the mountain of manifest.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Hip-hop - a musical style, a grassroots movement, a cultural community?

I was writing my paper on urban tribes and searching the virtual world on hip-hop, finding this interesting artist named Bomani D'Mite Armah and his work. I have always been attracted by art that is powerful enough to create a cultural movement and somehow change the world, bring joy, awareness and beauty to the world. Especially in music, the truth is that the strongest and most powerful contemporary musical styles have their roots in the streets, slungs, in the dispossessed, powerless and "forgotten" social groups in urban centers. What also strikes me is the unpredictability of these styles, in terms of endurance, possible mixing and development of new styles and real strength as a social movement. There is also the not so beautiful side of it, such as commoditization of artists and art, vulgarity and, above all, low quality productions that always find audiences to keep them going. This is the case with Hip-Hop. While it has a noble and beautiful character of speaking about the social injustices of our world, it has its vulgar side too. The interactive quality of hip-hop, as well as the stories under the improvised, said-as-sung rhythm are so contagious that the style is performed, re-created and reaffirmed elsewhere in both real and virtual worlds: thank you hip-hop poets, rappers, dancers, and social movement crafters!


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Audacity


Our Interactive Storytelling project is finally coming together. A big part of this project was audio production and I couldn't have done it without Audacity. Audacity is a free downloadable program that allows you to manipulate sounds such as wav, mpg, and recorded clips.

Upon opening Audacity, to those who aren't accustomed to audio editing, it can be a little overwhelming. There isn't a start up help menu or sample audio to help you learn the program. I recommend just recording yourself to get some practice and a feel for how it looks. Ensuring the recording has come to a complete stop, highlight the clip with the default I shaped tool. This will allow you to analyze and use the effects, and generators. Once you get a good grip on some options, you're ready to start importing really audio clips from either you're itunes or any other sounds on your computer. There is no limit to how many clips you can have on one project and you move and manipulate all of the individually.

The one down fall to audacity is doesn't really export clips as mpg files, only wav. It uses a special tool from your library that converts it to a faux mpg. It you don't have it the special tool in your library it won't work.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

HOME the ultimate interactive story

This is a story where interactivity does really change the outcome...are we listening, participating, storytelling?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Interactive Storytelling Experiment Using Twitter

Here's a link to an article about a little experiment in which Twitter will be used to create a story. People will post sections to the story via Twitter and the best parts will be compiled into one story and then available for free download on BBC audiobooks.

Betterverse For A Better World

There is a website called Betterverse which publicizes projects utilizing the potential of virtual worlds for the benefit of non-profit causes. One such project is Farmville, a game based on a Facebook platform, that has raised $300K for Haitian charities. By selling virtual "Sweet Seeds for Haiti", gamers can enjoy the game while doing a good deed for one of the most impoverished places in the world. What a good idea!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Stroytron

Storyworlds are a new form of computer entertainment developed by http://www.storytron.com/index.php”>Storytron , Inc. Using our free authoring tool, SWAT, creative individuals with a story to tell can script their own sets of Actors, Stages, Props, and a web of potential interactions known as Verbs. Players seeking a unique new form of computer entertainment can play those storyworlds, engage with the Actors, and explore a wide range of choices and behavior in the dramatically rich environment developed by the author of that world.

You can either play or create a storyworld. One blockbuster storyworld created by Chris Crawford is called The Balance of Powere, which gives you a list of problems beginning with Al Qaeda launching terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center (9/11) and as the world leader for the US you have to solve the problem and deal with contending powers and politics. Based on your rating in the world with the EU and other world powers, you either win or lose. After making decisions in the storyworld a set of outcomes are posed and you have to weave in and out of the questions, in order to create the best outcome possible. My only problem with this storyworld is its lack of anything visual. You're presented with a list of text and you never visually see the results. A big problem in my point of view. Otherwise it's very complex and interesting to try your hand at. Hope you like Storytron.

Here's a video for a Storytron tutorial once you download the program SWAT to generate/ create your own storyworlds:

The Art of Storytelling

I've been reading the Art of Interactive Storytelling by Chris Crawford. His take on interactive storytelling and explanation of what it means is very insightful and has probably been the best explanation I've heard yet. One way he described it was through a Romeo and Juliette analogy:

The difference between an interactive Romeo and Juliet omeo and Juliet is the same difference as that between Chris Crawford and a portrait of Chris Crawford. Yes, the portrait contains a single truth, powerfully made. (Who knows? Perhaps Ms. Mona Lisa was really just a dull Italian housewife, nowhere near as intriguing as her portrait.) But ultimately, it presents a single truth, where interactivity provides many viewing angles to truth. Some of those viewing angles will not be as dramatic or as powerful as others. We should not dismiss interactivity as inferior because it fails to winnow out the less revealing angles. Interactivity shows all of the viewpoints on a truth, strong and weak. Its catholicity of viewpoint is its strength; its undiscriminating nature is its weakness. Let us not condemn it for its weakness without also recognizing its concomitant strength.

He goes on to describe interactivity in storytelling as a complex relationship between storyteller and audience where instead of the outcome being singular, such as X led to Y, the outcome of the story relies on if X, then Y. Where X is largely imagined by the audience. He then writes of his site called Erasmatron. The engine actually executes the interactive storytelling; the Erasmatron is the development environment used by the author to specify and edit the data and rules fed into the engine. The Erasmatron includes editors, navigational aids, and rehearsal tools. The big idea behind the Erasmatron is to make interactive storytelling technology directly accessible to artists. What makes this radical step possible is a transfer of the programming task to the artist in a form that is comfortable and accessible. I have created a special programming/storytelling language that jettisons all the picky trivia that make programming such a tedious process.



Friday, November 20, 2009

Sharing World Myths

This project called Big Myth offers myths from around the world, and includes a way for users to submit myths for future inclusion in the website. The interface is Flash based, and viewers can progress through the myth at their own pace. This one is from West Africa.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

AR to treat fear of Cockroaches!



I was reading in Yahoo - Brazil about a project in which they are using AR to treat fear of cockroaches in people - see below, it is in Portuguese but you can check the technology. Then, I found this project (above) from people in Poland on a game that you use AR to "catch" the cockroaches - found pretty cool the idea of "catching" an object on the screen using AR, thought of how much we could incorporate in our project on Myths in the future, using different tools related to AR technology. But no cockroaches, pleaase...I had enough of them in the jungle (so many we would no bother killing...) I like them only in virtual worlds...

ARGH!

Vague Terrain

Hey everyone please check this new Digital Arts Related blog.

http://vagueterrain.net/

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Digital Visual Effects


Plato’s philosophical musings in the allegory of the Cave, Republic, imparts a teaching that from an understanding of form arises a better understanding of sense perceptions. In our modern age images bombard: televisions flicker, flash and fade into our periphery and ads proliferate across billboards and in magazines. Imagine now the prisoners of Plato’s Cave, where humans sat, their torsos fettered and fixed, able to see only what’s in front of them as puppeteers project shadows of objects made of every material onto the cave wall. The prisoners scope of the world narrowed to monochromatic, two dimensional shadows. Digital Visual Effects (DVFx) are similar to Plato’s Cave, since they enhance our perception of a given story.

Digital Storytelling: McClean
Computer graphics emerged from scientific studies in the 1940s and 1950s, when computers were used to drive mechanical means of producing graphic images. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, several short films using computer-assisted-art techniques were gained recognition. However, it was not until Tron (1982, Lisberger) that computer graphics were a main component of a movie. Frank Foster's documentary The Sotry of Computer Graphics (1999), Richard Taylor, one of the CG team members involved with Tron, observes that " if (a film) doesn't grab you by the heart, it doesn't matter technically how it looks. In the end, a film is a sotyr and... the density of visuals in films or the look of the film doesn't guarantee success at all.

For instance, in the film Fight Club (1999, Fincher) the viewer is taken through a forest of neurons, as dendrites fire electrical currents, traveling through the amygdala, the fear center of the brain, and passing through various outer layers, the surface of the brain, layers of skull, then skin and a hair follicle and out to the barrel of a gun. These DVFx give the viewer a perspective of the story that would normally be left out and not until the film is over do we understand the meaning behind this 95-second shot: that the scenes and story we are about to see takes place mainly inside the nameless narrator's, Edward Norton's, mind. Such perspectives, similar to the invention of the microscope or telescope give allots us insight into the subatomic or cosmic worlds, allowing us to better understand a story, film, our sense perceptions and ultimately our daily interactions.

I will explore the use of digital effects in film and how they accentuate storytelling, starting with an overview of photography: On Photography by Susan Sontag, looking at the development of timelapse images through Edward Muybridge and photographs by Dianne Arbus, which highlight the odd and unusual, 'the freaks' during a time of cookie cutter homes and families, illustrating that another world exists. Then I will explore films like Citizen Kane, Tron, Star Wars, Fight Club, etc. and how the use of digital effects enhance and progress the storyline.

Interest Curves, Indirect Control, Transmedia

I enjoyed reading every page of the book 'The Art of Game Design' by Jesse Schell. Some of the highlights that was of interest to me in Chapters 14 through 17 were:

-It is fascinating to know about Interest Curves and how same performance but altering sequence according to Bang, Backoff, build bigger and bigger and the grand finale changes the perspective audience.
-It is also fascinating to know almost all so called historic heroic tales have the same 'Vogler's Synopsis of the Hero's Journey
- Art of Controlled Freedom with Constraints and how Jesse made up his own flavor list was funny and a great marketing tool - "We have just about every flavor you can imagine, but our most popular flavors are Cherry, Blueberry, Lemon, Root Beer, Wintergreen and Licorice" - A list just made up by Jesse often and how well it worked!
-The concept of Transmedia Worlds and how companies use the fantasy world to market their product and to build more fantasy and sell more as a repeated cycle!

Sample Code (Not Final Version) for 'Myhts from Amazon' Project

In the previous blogs, details about the Software installation, marker creation, 3D Model and links to resources were posted.

The following is the Code (Not final version - Needs tuning for performance and some changes to include the overall scope of the project ) for the Interactive Story Telling Project - Myths from Amazon.

(Thanks to the developers that support open source and posted sample code at various sites.
The sample code from: http://gotoandlearn.com/ was used as the basis for this project)

------------

-Suresh

Software as practice

Just as, for example, literature is not only what is written, but all cultural practices it involves—such as oral narration and tradition, poetic performance, cultural politics—software is both material and practice. As the verb “to google” for using the Google search engine shows, or in their computational sense, “to browse,” “to chat” and “to download,” human practices are born out of the use of software.

Googling is nothing but the shorthand for using the web-based clientserver software written by Google corporation’s programmers. In this sense, software is no longer just machine algorithms, but something that includes the interaction, or, cultural appropriation through users. This appropriation is more than just a cybernetic human-machine interaction and what computer science and media theory often reduce to pointing, clicking and other Pavlovian responses within the restraints of a programmed system.—The same reductive understanding of interaction has turned “interactive art” in its common phenomenon of behavioral video installations into an artistic dead-end.—True interaction with technical systems involves creative use and abuse outside the box, metaphorization, writing and rewriting, configuring, disconfiguring, erasing. All these practices also make up software. It wasn’t just artistic appropriations that inscribed metaphors into software. High-level, machine-independent programming languages and operating systems such as C and Unix gave birth, around the same time, to a culture that gradually detached software from the concept of code running on a machine. Through program code listings in books and computer magazines, source code snippets and patches exchanged in electronic networks or even oral conversations, software took up a life of its own. The results were political-philosophical movements like Free Software, programming puns such as recursive acronyms, hacker slang that mixed English and computer language constructs and poetry in computer languages such as Larry Wall’s first Perl poem from 1990. Free software—in the GNU understanding of an embedded value that is not only engineering freedom, but ontological freedom—is perhaps the strongest example of a cultural and philosophical notion of software. An artistic understanding of software also abounds in computer science from Donald Knuth’s Art of Computer Programming to Paul Graham’s recent Hackers and Painters, 3 although it might be based on a narrow understanding of art as high craftsmanship. To no longer define software as just algorithms running on hardware helps to avoid common misunderstandings of software art as some kind of of genius programmer art. If software is a broad cultural practice, then software art can be made by almost any artist.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Communities of Practice

I was reading CH 22 in Schell's book of lenses, about virtual (and real) communities. In that case, he talks about communities in game design. In my case, I want to explore how communities of learning and social networks thrive or collapse. I think that researching on-line and real communities is the topic of some of our papers for the class. It would be nice to have everybody share their ideas for the paper. I miss interacting more with other people in our class, as we did in the beginning of the semester.

Anyhow, I went to Etienne Wenger's talk at UF last semester, which I totally enjoyed. He is one of the forerunners in the theories of social learning and communities of practice. One of the ideas is that we learn much more by doing and by socializing knowledge (he said: learning is a social phenomenon). The more networks and opportunities to share knowledge, the more we learn and are able to share, like a cycle working in feedback.

Keeping a virtual community alive is a real challenge nowadays, and Wenger mentioned that people need to feel that there has to be meaning and value associated with their membership. That value might be an ethnic/religious value, or a perceived power, or a sense of belonging, or a rope you feel you're attached to, otherwise you might fall in the limbo. I believe everybody needs to feel part of some community, and the nice thing about on-line communities is that you can expand your horizon so much in terms of what is there and what you want from what is there...the limit is almost the infinite...almost overwhelming but good to know it is there...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Visual Storytelling


The name of another favorite artist of mine is George Tooker, and he is known as a Magic Realist. His tempera paintings also give us a view into a private world, whether disturbing or incredibly beautiful. The two examples below show these directions in his oeuvre. One is "Government Bureau" from 1956, and the second is "Window VII" from 1963. In both these pieces he suggests a storyline, but retains the mystery and sense discovery as our eyes travel around the picture while taking in the details. Surely this gives the painting an element of power as we try to make sense of the implied psychological situations.



Painting Virtual Story Worlds





Arturo introduced me to the work of a painter named Remedios Varo. Her paintings create a very personal vision which melds fantasy and psychology. Over the last few days I have enjoyed learning more about her work, and though she died in Mexico in 1963, it remains vibrant. They caused me to think about one of the oldest forms of interactive storytelling, that which takes place in worlds visualized by painters. As in Varo's work, the narrative may not be clarified by the painter, inviting the viewer to fill in the story themselves. Who is this figure in Varo's painting, "The Vagabond", with his mysterious air and gadgetry? Her work is clearly influenced by that of Hieronymus Bosch, but also reminds me of another artist I admire. (see next post)


Icons and Avatars: Religious and Esoteric Elements Mirrored by Digital Culture in Interactive Storytelling

For the final paper, I will discuss various ways in which digital culture incorporates elements of religion and esoteric beliefs into new story environments. Included will be examples such as avatars which are taken from Hinduism as well as Reincarnation as a tenet of video games, the animism beliefs of religions like Shinto, and parallels with Lucid Dreaming.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Amazon Queen's outline paper on Urban Cultural Groups

URBAN TRIBES, ART AND POWER

This paper will discuss the appearance, endurance and fading of different cultural and ethnic groups, or “tribes” in the urban scenario. I’m interested in exploring the relationship between some urban groups and art expression such as music, fashion, dance, design and graphic arts to name a few. Also, it will be interesting to know what motivates people to ingress into these groups and what kind of value is perceived as being part of such communities. What types of stories underlie the formation and disappearance of diverse groups such as punks, emos, gothics, tattooed and pierced peoples? How these groups have used different media to communicate their stories, feelings and ideologies? I will also comment on the historical roots of some musical styles which have created a cultural and political movement, such as Hip-Hop, Reggae and the Mangue Beat movement from Brazil.


Below, a video-clip of musician Chico Science (deceased) , one of the forerunners of the "Mangue Beat" musical, cultural and political and movement of northeast Brazil.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

If You Love Something, Give it Away

ROBORTO (one of my micro sculptures)

As I grew up in my grandmother's shack, I was exposed to many new things on a daily basis, things that I would have never learned at school, at least a conventional school. Very early on I developed an interest in puppetry because I found that this miniature storytelling world enabled me to do practically everything that I was already enjoying, such as painting, constructing things with my hands, telling or creating stories etc. As I was the only one that did these things among my friends I became sort of popular and started to put up shows for the kids in the "neighborhood", although we lived in a pretty isolated place that could not yet be called such.

Some kids became interested in learning how I did some things, some "effects" that I had discovered... but I guess in a natural reaction I became secretive, not wanting to reveal what I consider was mine, my secret power.

My grandma, who was an old and wise native woman noticed that and called my attention. She made me see, in her very clear way something that I have never forgotten, and what has become a rule throughout my life. She said, if you ever learn or discover something new, share it and give it away. Otherwise you will become a slave to it and while you keep it to yourself others will simply go ahead and leave you behind.

There is a lot more to this idea, and I know it can be interpreted in a number of ways. Later on in my life for example, as I worked in the special effects business, my associates were very distraught by me explaining how I created my effects, which they though were our "assets", that gave us an advantage over the competition.

It soon became clear that the strategy worked, because, like kids with a new toy, competitors would spend a lot of time learning and "selling" the new effect to clients, while I was free to pursue new ideas without worrying about being ripped off.

There is of course a big controversy about this approach, dealing with copyrights, patents and such. To me, it became just a simple thought, If You Love Something, Give it Away.

Tools and links for Virtual Reality Project and Interactive Story Telling for "Myths from Amazon"

I created a new blog called My Fun Projects to include the details of the VR aspects of our class Project - VR with Interactive Story Telling for "Myths from Amazon".
The link to the Blog is:

http://myfunprojects-sam.blogspot.com/

I have given a brief intro to the Project, SW, Resources and Tools used for VR.
In my next posts I will include details of the Marker, the setup and code used in the Project so far.

- Suresh

Monday, November 2, 2009

No words needed: Communicating through Interactive Drumming

I found this interesting project on telematic drum circle, in which you can play drum from your computer sharing a drums orchestra with people from around the world. I find interesting the idea of remote communication through art, where words or language are not needed, art itself is the language, in this case music.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Alex Grey: Art as Language

Alex Grey is coming to UF. Grey will be speaking at the Health Professions and Nursing and Pharmacy Auditorium on Tuesday, November 10 at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Alex Grey is a visionary artist, and mystic and co-founder of the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors in NYC. His paintings take on an "x-ray" multidimensional reality, illustrating human anatomy through the lens of a much more subtle world. He often paints chakras and draws electronic glowing grids which depict an ethereal plain of consciousness. His images have steadily progressed throughout the years as well as his performances and speeches. Grey's performances have gone from egocentric to worldcentric as he involves larger and larger communities into the spiritual, artistic and medicinal realms.

One of his largest installations, the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors is a series of 21 framed images, consisting of 19 paintings and two etched mirrors, examines the anatomy of body, mind and spirit in rich detail. Each painting presents a life-sized figure facing viewers and inviting them to mirror the images, creating a sense of seeing into oneself. The images portray the human body physically and energetically, each increasing in evolutionary complexity. This installation is unique in the way visistors participate: by mirroring the images depicted, the visitor can connect to the world of ancient wisdom, which Grey recreates. Some view the images of the Sacred Mirror to be the visible ascension of man into the spirit world/ into life.