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Blog posts from April 2011

Welcome Timo Arnall

The studio’s experiencing some turbulent times at the moment – all good – as we get busier, reach further and grow.

On that last note, I have an awesome announcement to make. Our long time friend and collaborator Timo Arnall is joining us full-time as a Creative Director here at BERG. He needs little introduction – he is a accomplished researcher, designer, photographer, film maker and conference speaker.

04 September 2010 - 18.28.41

We’ve been working with Timo in various ways since Matthew and I formed Schulze & Webb back in 2006. Our collaborations increased in scale as we began working on the Touch project investigating Near Field Computing at AHO. For instance, we went from this RFID Hacking Workshop in 2006 through to the “Immaterials” and “Nearness” film work in 2009.

Timo’s thinking, film-making and interaction design knowledge was also a huge contributor to our work on Mag+, and subsequently, he collaborated with us on the design of Popular Science+. This is to name just a few of the projects he has contributed to.

Timo is among that rare category of people with a broad, inventive literacy across the design, technology and product spectra as well as having awesome deep trenches of skill across graphic design, product design, design research, writing, photography, video production, post-production, drawing, lighting, and architecture.

He also has a long standing dedication to Nike Footscape.

In addition to leading product and service design projects with our clients (alongside Denise) as Creative Director, his responsibilities will also include managing and directing BERG’s communications output.

Timo is a capable designer in many traditional forms – but in many ways his preferred design medium for exploring interactions is video. His responsibilities will begin on a brief for Chaco, but we also have the pleasure of including him in some client workshops on Uinta.

On a personal note, I’ve known Timo since childhood – I look forward to his continuing influence on me personally, also to watch both how he affects the room, and it affects his work.

Many cheers for the acquisition of the blonde-posthuman-photon-railgun Timo Arnall!

Happy days…

Week 304

In another file on my laptop I’ve got the notes I was intending to write here. They’re all about how to structure risk in projects in order to leave the maximum room for unintended invention.

Whatever. I’m in no state to finish them. I’ve been eight timezones away for the past week with Matt J, Jack and Timo (who has joined us as a creative director!), I just flew back in, and my head feels like it’s full of bees.

I don’t know if you’ve ever played the game Canabalt. You should, it’s fun. That’s what the week has been like. Wake up early, read new resumes for the project manager position and decide whether to interview or not. Up, shower, downstairs. Drink coffee, respond to latest changes in a contract being negotiated, write a response to a media request, arrange meetings for next week, finalise another contract. Finish coffee, off to workshops, back, catch up on emails from the day, out for dinner, bed.

While we were on the road, Timo and Jack launched Suwappu with Dentsu London, our first gig as official “consultant inventors.” And toys too! Sweet.

So with so many people away it was quiet in the studio. Nick tells me it was industrious, and that’s the truth. I spent my first hour back in today being shown what’s been going on. Ads for the comic, testing the online shop and fulfilment, continuing mini breakthroughs and prototyping in our own new product development, etc. Lots!

It’s very sunny here too. A good Spring day in London.

I’ll see more at 4pm at Friday demos. Between that and Tuesday All Hands, there’s a nice rhythm to the week.

I’m not sure when we’ll all be back in the studio at the same time again. I think Jack may be off to New York next week, to kick off an engagement that will see us through the next six months or so. But we also have someone new starting on Monday, and then these two positions we’re just starting interviews for, and then, gosh, we’re out of desks. I don’t really want to move, but it does mean, on top of everything else going on, I’m now also looking around for new premises. Somewhere in Shoreditch with a bit of character, a bit of room to grow, a quiet room, a meeting room, and a space to run workshops and make films. I’m getting on the estate agent train. Do let me know if you have any ideas or serendipitous opportunities.

I’m looking forward to travel pausing for a bit, and having everyone back in the same room. There have been lots of changes recently, and the Room – which in my head I’ve started capitalising, Room not room – is nothing if not a culture – a particular stance to design and the world, and shared values – a way to work which is beautiful, popular and inventive – and a network of people in which ideas transmit, roll round and mutate, and come back in new forms and hit you in the back of the head. The Room is what it’s all about. It’s a broth that requires more investment than we’ve been giving it recently. So, yeah, that.

It’s the end of week 304 folks.

Go on a nerdy day trip!

The last couple of days of hot, sunny weather in London have got me thinking about holidays and doing so put me in mind of Ben Goldacre’s crowd-sourced collection of Nerdy Day Trips. As Ben says,

I am a very big fan of nerdy day trips, from Sea Forts to abandoned nuclear bunkers,dead victorian racecourses, roads that are falling into the groundnarrow gauge railwaysthat take you to a power station, wherever. I like decaying infrastructureterrifying modernity, and enthusiast-run museums with 6 pages of small-font text explaining every exhibit (looking at you, Bletchley Park).

So he started collecting them on a map and asking anyone with a suggestion not yet on the map to add it. There are a few obvious ones here like Down House, former home of Charles Darwin, and the Greenwich Royal Observatory. But I reckon most of these are places that only locals would have heard of – and some of them may well only be known to locals who live within half a mile or less. (Case in point: I reeled off a list of about a dozen spots from around the country to a group of my colleagues – all of whom grew up in the UK – and only one person had heard of one of them.)

Here’s a sampling of places you will find on the map, places which will almost certainly appeal to any person with nerdy proclivities and quite possibly to non-nerds as well.

Cresswell Crags in Nottinghamshire – the earliest British cave art, some of it dating back nearly 13,000 years ago.

Flag Fen Archaeology Park in Peterborough – see a 3,500 year old perfectly preserved Celtic wooden monument and explore a reconstructed Bronze Age village.

The Seaford Museum in Martello Tower no. 74, East Sussex – the museum contains, among other things, “collections of domestic appliances covering the first half of the 20th century, office machinery from early typewriters and copiers to computers and a particularly large collection of radios and television sets.”

Cragside in Northumberland – country home of Victorian inventor Lord Armstrong and the first house in the world to be powered by hydro-electricity. The house is full of gadgets, and there’s a huge adventure playground for the kids.

The Electric Brae in Ayrshire, Scotland – a mysterious place where cars roll uphill!

The Ossuary at St Leonard’s Church in Hythe, Kent – 2,000 skulls and 8,000 long bones, all nicely piled in the crypt.

The Williamson Tunnels Heritage Centre in Liverpool – an labyrinth of tunnels built by eccentric philanthropist Joseph Williamson during the first half of the 19th century.

The Needles Battery on the Isle of Wight – built in the last half of the 19th century as a defence against an invasion by France.

The Birr Castle Telescope in Co Offaly, Ireland – the largest telescope in the world when it was built by the Third Earl of Rosse in the 1840s, where the spiral nature of galaxies was first discovered.

Have a look at the map on Ben’s site to find places closer to you (at least if you’re in the UK or Ireland) and if you know of any other “nerdy day trip” destinations that aren’t included yet, add them yourself!


Suwappu: Toys in media

Dentsu London are developing an original product called Suwappu. Suwappu are woodland creatures that swap pants, toys that come to life in augmented reality. BERG have been brought in as consultant inventors, and we’ve made this film. Have a look!

Suwappu is a range of toys, animal characters that live in little digital worlds. The physical toys are canvasses upon which we can paint worlds, through a phone (or tablet) lens we can see into the narratives, games and media in which they live.

Dentsu London says:

We think Suwappu represents a new kind of media platform, and all sorts of social, content and commercial possibilities.

Each character lives in different environments: Badger lives in a harsh and troubled world, Deer lives in a forest utopia, Fox in an urban garden, Tuna in a paddling pool of nicely rendered water. The worlds also contain other things, such as animated facial expression, dialogue pulled from traditional media and Twitter, and animated sidekick characters.

Suwappu Deer and Tuna

The first part of this film imagines and explores the Suwappu world. Here we are using film to explore how animation and behaviours can draw out character and narrative in physical toy settings. The second part is an explanation of how Suwappu products might work, from using animal patterns as markers for augmented reality, to testing out actual Augmented Reality (AR) worlds on a mobile phone.

Suwappu real-time AR tests

We wanted to picture a toy world that was part-physical, part-digital and that acts as a platform for media. We imagine toys developing as connected products, pulling from and leaking into familiar media like Twitter and Youtube. Toys already have a long and tenuous relationship with media, as film or television tie-ins and merchandise. It hasn’t been an easy relationship. AR seems like a very apt way of giving cheap, small, non-interactive plastic objects an identity and set of behaviours in new and existing media worlds.

Schulze says:

We see the media and animation content around the toys as almost episodic, like comic books. Their changing characters, behaviours and motivations played out across different media.

Toys are often related as merchandise to their screen based counterparts. Although as products toys have fantastic charm and an awesome legacy. They feel muted in comparison to their animated mirror selves on the big screens. As we worked with Dentsu on the product and brand space around the toys we speculated on animated narratives to accompany the thinking and characters developed.

In the film, one of the characters makes a reference to dreams. I love the idea that the toys in their physical form, dream their animated televised adventures in video. When they awake, into their plastic prisons, they half remember the super rendered full motion freedoms and adventures from the world of TV.

Each Suwappu character can be split into two parts, each half can be swapped with any other resulting in a new hybrid character. Each character has its own personality (governed by its top half) and ‘environment’ (dictated by its bottom half). This allows the creatures to visit each other’s worlds, and opens up for experimentation with the permutations of characters personality and the worlds that they inhabit. It’s possible to set up games and narratives based on the ways that the characters and their pants are manipulated.

Suwappu 3D registration

This is not primarily a technology demo, it’s a video exploration of how toys and media might converge through computer vision and augmented video. We’ve used video both as a communication tool and as a material exploration of toys, animation, augmented reality and 3D worlds. We had to invent ways of turning inanimate models into believable living worlds through facial animation, environmental effects, sound design and written dialogue. There are other interesting findings in the exploration, such as the way in which the physical toys ‘cut out’ or ‘occlude’ their digital environments. This is done by masking out an invisible virtual version of the toy in 3D, which makes for a much more believable and satisfying experience, and something we haven’t seen much of in previous AR implementations.

We all remember making up stories with our toys when we were young, or our favourite childhood TV cartoon series where our toys seemed to have impossible, brilliant lives of their own. Now that we have the technology to have toys soak in media, what tales will they tell?

Friday links

It’s my turn on the blog rota this week, and so it’s my turn to let everyone know of interesting things that have been floating around the office mailing list.

I really liked this old video explaining how differential gearing works.

Nick found this – the result of someone taking Deutsche Telecom to court to gain access to 6 months worth of mobile phone usage data.

Andy sent us this video of juggling Quadrocopters:

And we also liked this Quadrocopter combined with a Kinect sensor.

Jones sent around this series of photos from BBC4 documentary ‘Around the World in 60 minutes’. As the Space Shuttle Atlantis nears the ISS, hexagonal lens flares appears on the screen. Superb.

Finally, Matt Brown sent this video of the original animation references from Prince of Persia.

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