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Blog posts tagged as 'animation'

Friday Links: Hand Puppets, Shadow Monsters, Nine Eyes, and a Radio

We’ve been closely following the progress on reverse-engineering Microsoft’s Kinect in the studio. My favourite example so far is Theo Watson and Emily Gobeille’s prototype of a hand-puppet. A lot of the early demos of the Open Kinect drivers have, understandably, been very technical in their focus, and not always that attractive visually. I love the hand-puppet because it’s both: not only does it demonstrate skeleton-tracking from the camera-data, but it’s also completely charming.

Matt W pointed out the similarity between the Kinect hand puppet demo and Philip Worthington’s Shadow Monsters. Worthington’s project – from his 2005 RCA show – turns the shadows of people standing in front of it into appendages of monsters. It’s delightful to watch, as teeth and eyes emerge from shadows on the wall.


9eyes is a blog capturing striking images from Google’s Street View camera cars. Some are beautiful; some stark. Some are surprising; some are funny. It’s remarkable not to see how much of the world Google has covered – but to see how much of the world is covered in roads, from which it can be photographed.

Via This Isn’t Happiness comes this beautiful piece of product design: the Sony TR-1825 from 1970. Sliding the radio open reveals its speaker.

Links for a Friday afternoon: demon-haunted notebooks, spinning records, cardboard and spaceships

Josh DiMauro sent us this sketch of a “Demon-Haunted Notebook” (inspired by Matt J’s talk from last year’s Webstock conference). He explains:

The notebook would have a unique name and id, and a daemon would watch for “tribute” — online sharing of what you put in it.

The tough bit of implementation would seem to be defining a way to pay tribute, and to make it fun and easy, rather than onerous.

I liked “paying tribute” a lot. There’s more nice thinking and sketching over at Josh’s post.

Via Kitsune Noir comes this pinhole photograph by Tim Franco, taken with a camera perched on a 7″ single. The film is exposed for the duration of the record. Beautiful.

On a similar note, Alex shared the above video. It’s a Red Raven Movie Record. There’s a series of images printed on the inner part of the record, and a mirror device that stands over the spindle. As the record plays, it provides its own soundtrack for the animation around the spindle.


Via Duncan Gough comes this lovely piece of paper product design: Muji’s Cardboard Binoculars.

This is Jonathan M. Guberman and Jim Munroe’s Automatypewriter. It’s a typewriter wired into a computer that you can (currently) play Zork on. The thing I like most – and what sets it apart from just being a typewriter turned into a teletype – is how the keys move when the machine is typing from itself. It turns it from being merely a printer, and into a ghostly writing-device. And, when used to play interactive fiction, makes it clear that the game being told is played out between both the player and the parser – writing the same text on the same device.

This is a part of a game of Artemis playing out. From the official website:

Artemis is a multiplayer game that lets you and your friends play as a starship bridge crew. One computer displays the main screen and runs the simulation server. The rest serve as bridge station consoles, like Helm, Comms, Weapons, Science, and Engineering.

In a nutshell: it simulates combat sequences from the Star Trek franchise. The captain doesn’t get a computer; instead, he has to tell everyone else in the room what to do. And so the captain’s role isn’t really part of the game mechanics at all; it’s a purely social role. The team are reliant on each other to display the appropriate screens on the main screen, execute decisions, and act on orders. And there’s nothing in the game stopping them from disagreeing or taking individual action.

The game is just some computation, network code, and a graphics engine; the real game plays out in the discussion between the crew and the decisions they make. Underneath the geeky exterior is a truly social game.

Media Surfaces: The Journey

Following iPad light painting, we’ve made two films of alternative futures for media. These continue our collaboration with Dentsu London and Timo Arnall. We look at the near future, a universe next door in which media travels freely onto surfaces in everyday life. A world of media that speaks more often, and more quietly.

“The Journey” is the second ‘video sketch’ in the pair with ‘Incidental Media’ – this time looking at the panoply of screens and media surfaces in a train station, and the opportunities that could come from looking at them slightly differently.

The Journey

The other film can be seen here.

There’s no real new technology at play in any of these ideas, just different connections and flows of information being made in the background – quietly, gradually changing how screens, bits of print ephemera such as train tickets, and objects in the world can inter-relate to make someone’s journey that bit less stressful, that bit more delightful.

There’s a lot in there – so I wanted to unpack a few of the moments in the film in this (rather long!) blog post and examine them a bit.

The film can be divided into two halves – our time in the station, and our time on the train.

The train journey itself is of course the thing at the centre of it all – and we’re examining how what we know about the journey – and the train itself, in some cases – can pervade the media surfaces involved in ways that are at once a little less ‘utilitarian’ and a little more, well, ‘useful’…

The first group of interventions could be characterised as the station wrapping around you, helping you get to your seat, on your train, for your journey, with the least stress.

Let’s start at the ticket machine.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: ticket vending

The screen supposes two things – that it knows where it is (it doesn’t move around much) and it knows where your train (in this case, “Arthur” – trains are people too!) is leaving from, and when. So why not do a simple bit of reassurance here? It’s twenty minutes to Arthur’s departure and it’s a 3 minute walk.

You’ve got 17 minutes to play with! Get a sandwich? A coffee? Or go and find your seat…

Before we do that I just want to point our something about the ticket machine itself…

Media Surfaces: The Journey: ticket machines that calm down the queue

There’s the screen we’ve been interacting with to get our ticket, but there’s also a LED scroller above that.

As you can see in the concept sketch below, we’ve supposed that the scroller could give reassurance to the people in the queue behind you – maybe displaying the average turn-around-time of serving tickets to travellers, so if there is a queue, you’ll know how quickly it might move.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Screens for the queue & you

I think when I was drawing this I had in mind the awesome-but-as-yet-unrealised scheme by Lisa Strausfeld and Pentagram NYC for a videowall in Penn Station.

I think I first saw this presented by Lisa Strausfeld at a conference some 8 or so years ago now, but it’s still wonderful. The large video wall has loads of different layers of information kind of interpolated and displayed all at once, at different ‘resolutions’.

So that if you’re approaching the station from down the street you read some overall information about the running of the station that day, and the time, and as you get closer you see news and stock prices, then closer again and you actually see the train times when you get close enough to crane your neck up at them.

Really clever, and a huge influence on us. The notion of several ‘reads’ of the information being presented on the same surface – if handled well, as in the Pentagram proposal – can be very powerful.

We’ve taken a much less high-tech approach, using the multitude of existing screens in the station, but staging the information they present intelligently in a similar way as you approach the platform and your train itself.

For instance, little messages on concourse screens about how busy the station is overall that morning…

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Stations that talk to you

As we get to our platform we get the message that the train is going to pretty full but the station systems know where the bulk of reserved seats are, and can give us a little timely advice about where to hunt for a free place to sit…

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Platforms that talk to you

We’ve hinted in this image at a little bit of nice speculative quiet new technology that could be placed by the station workers: magnetically-backed e-ink signs – again displaying reassuring information about where the busy portions of the train will be.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Expectation-Setting

These little inventions have hopefully got you to your train (Arthur, remember?) on time, and in a more of a relaxed state of mind. So, as we board the train we might have time to note that this is Arthur’s favourite route…

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Arthur's favourite journey

If not, it doesn’t matter. It’s not a functional improvement to your journey but these touches lead to an appreciation of the service’s scale or reach and, if you are a regular traveller, inject a bit of recognition and delight into the otherwise routine.

Once onboard, we continue to explore opportunities for these incidental, different reads of information to both inform and delight.

In the first film ‘Incidental Media’, we introduce the concept of “Print can be quick” – looking at all the printed ephemera around us and how it can be treated as a media surface for more personalised, contextualised or rapidly-updated information.

After all, most of the printed matter associated with a train journey is truly print-on-demand: your tickets, your receipts and, as in this example, the printed reservation stub placed on the seat by the train attendants.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Can I sit here?

Here we wanted to look to the reassurances and reads that one takes of the reservation stubs as you move down the carriage – either with a reserved seat to find, or perhaps without a reservation on a busy train, opportunistically looking for an unoccupied seat that might be reserved for a latter portion of the train’s total journey.

In one of our concept sketches below we’re exploring that first case – could your ticket be the missing jigsaw piece to the reservation stub?

A bit Willy Wonka magic ticket!

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Reservations sketch

Privacy would be preserved by just using your first initial – printed large with salutations, attracting your eye easily to zero in on your seat as perhaps you struggle down the aisle with your baggage.

The final version used in the film takes this on board, but balances it a little more with the second use-case, that of the opportunistic search for a free seat by someone without a reservation. To answer that case, the portion of the journey that the seat is occupied for is clearly legible, whereas the initials of the traveller are only visible on scrutiny.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Reservations sketch

If it is indeed your reserved seat, on closer scrutiny you’ll also notice the weather forecast for your destination…

Again – worth noting brilliant past work in this area that’s an influence on this idea. Our friend Brian Suda’s redesign of an airline boarding pass that uses typographical hierarchy of the printed object to reassure and delight.

Here you can see that the time of your flight is clearly visible even if your boarding pass is on the floor.

Lovely stuff.

Finally, some pure whimsy!

We wanted again to examine the idea that print can be nimble and quick and delightful – creating new forms of post-digital ephemera for collecting or talking about.

First of all, using the ticket to introduce you again to Arthur, your train, and perhaps extending that to recognising the last time you travelled together.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Train factoids

But let’s go further.

We know that we’re going to be passing certain places at certain times, to some accuracy, during our journey.

The burgeoning amount of geo-located data about our environment means we could look to provide snippets from Wikipedia perhaps, with timings based on how they intersect with your predicted journey time – alerting you to interesting sights just as they pass by your window.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: paper-based AR

These tiny, personalised, collectable paper-spimes provide a kind of papernet augmented-reality – giving a routine journey an extra layer of wonder and interest.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: paper-based AR

As with “Incidental Media”, we’ve tried in “The Journey” to illustrate ‘polite media’ tightly bound to and complimenting one’s context. Media that lives and thrives usefully in the interstices and intervals of everyday routine and technology – indeed ‘making future magic’ instead of the attention arms race that the near-future of urban screens and media could potentially devolve into.

The Journey is brought to you by Dentsu London and BERG. Beeker has written about the films here.

Thank you to Beeker Northam (Dentsu London), and Timo Arnall, Campbell Orme, Matt Brown, and Jack Schulze!

Media Surfaces: Incidental Media

Following iPad light painting, we’ve made two films of alternative futures for media. These continue our collaboration with Dentsu London and Timo Arnall. We look at the near future, a universe next door in which media travels freely onto surfaces in everyday life. A world of media that speaks more often, and more quietly.

Incidental Media is the first of two films.

The other film can be seen here.

Each of the ideas in the film treat the surface as a focus, rather than the channel or the content delivered. Here, media includes messages from friends and social services, like foursquare or Twitter, and also more functional messages from companies or services like banks or airlines alongside large traditional big ‘M’ Media (like broadcast or news publishing).

All surfaces have access to connectivity. All surfaces are displays responsive to people, context, and timing. If any surface could show anything, would the loudest or the most polite win? Surfaces which show the smartest most relevant material in any given context will be the most warmly received.

Unbelievably efficient

I recently encountered this mixing in surfaces. An airline computer spoke to me through SMS. This space is normally reserved for awkwardly typed highly personal messages from friends. Not a conversational interface with a computer. But now, those pixels no longer differentiate between friends, companies and services.

Mixing Media

How would it feel if the news ticker we see as a common theme in broadcast news programmes begun to contain news from services or social media?

Media Surfaces mixed media

I like the look of it. The dominance of linear channel based screens is distorted as it shares unpredictable pixels and a graphic language with other services and systems.

Ambient listening

This screen listens to its environment and runs an image search against some of the words it hears. I’ve long wanted to see what happens if the subtitles feed from BBC television broadcast content was tied to an image search.

Media Surfaces ambient listening

It feels quite strange to have a machine ambiently listening to words uttered even if the result is private and relatively anodyne. Maybe it’s a bit creepy.

Print can be quick

This sequence shows a common receipt from a coffee shop and explores what happens when we treat print as a highly flexible, context-sensitive, connected surface, and super quick by contrast to say video in broadcast.

Media Surfaces print can be quick 01

The receipt includes a mayorship notification from foursquare and three breaking headlines from the Guardian news feed. It turns the world of ticket machines, cash registers and chip-and-pin machines into a massive super-local, personalised system of print-on-demand machines. The receipt remains as insignificant and peripheral as it always has, unless you choose to read it.

Computer vision

The large shop front shows a pair of sprites who lurk at the edges of the window frames. As pedestrians pass by or stand close, the pair steal colours from their clothes. The sketch assumes a camera to read passers-by and feed back their colour and position to the display.

Media Surfaces computer vision 01

Computer vision installations present interesting opportunities. Many installations demand high levels of attention or participation. These can often be witty and poetic, as shown here by Matt Jones in a point of sale around Lego.

We’ve drawn from great work from the likes of Chris O’Shea and his Hand from Above project to sketch something peripheral and ignorable, but still at scale. The installation could be played with by those having their colours stolen, but it doesn’t demand interaction. In fact I suspect it would succeed far more effectively for those viewing from afar with no agency over the system at all.

In contrast to a Minority Report future of aggressive messages competing for a conspicuously finite attention, these sketches show a landscape of ignorable surfaces capitalising on their context, timing and your history to quietly play and present in the corners of our lives.

Incidental Media is brought to you by Dentsu London and BERG. Beeker has written about the films here.

Thank you to Beeker Northam (Dentsu London), and Timo Arnall, Campbell Orme, Matt Brown, and Matt Jones!

Links from around the studio: paper computing, computer vision, simple and small

Matt J was busy running Papercamp last Saturday. One of my favourite things to emerge from the day was Basil Safwat’s Processing.A4. It’s computational cardboard; you follow the instructions on it to replicate the output of the Substrate Processing script.

Troika have launched their new artwork, Shoal, in Toronto.

Spanning across a 50 meter long corridor, 467 fish-like objects wrapped in iridescent colours and suspended from the ceiling rotate rhythmically around their own axis to display the movements and interdependency typical to school of fish.

Beautiful, though.

Niklas Roy’s My Little Piece of Privacy is a delightful computer-vision project:

My workshop is located in an old storefront with a big window facing towards the street. In an attempt to create more privacy inside, I’ve decided to install a small but smart curtain in that window. The curtain is smaller than the window, but an additional surveillance camera and an old laptop provide it with intelligence: The computer sees the pedestrians and locates them. With a motor attached, it positions the curtain exactly where the pedestrians are.

I really enjoyed his video of it – first, the project displayed-as-is, and then a detailed explanation of what the computer’s “seeing”. Through both parts, the hilarity of the little, jerkily moving curtain is not lost.

I’ve been enjoying dataists – a new blog about the science and interprtation of data – a great deal recently. Today’s post about What Data Visualisation Should Do is particularly good:

…yesterday I focused on three key things – I think – data visualization should do:
1. Make complex things simple
2. Extract small information from large data
3. Present truth, do not deceive

The emphasis is added to highlight the goal of all data visualization; to present an audience with simple small truth about whatever the data are measuring.

That felt like a nice addition to some of the topics covered in Matt J’s talk at citycamp and my own talk on data from a few weeks ago – but do read the whole post; it’s an insightful piece of writing.

Finally, some stop-motion animation. Our friends Timo Arnall and Matt Cottam recently linked to the videos some of their students at the Umeå Institue of Design produced during their week working on stop-motion techniques. They’re all charming; it’s hard to single any of them out – they’re all lovely – but the dancing radio (above) was a particular favourite.

Making Future Magic: light painting with the iPad

“Making Future Magic” is the goal of Dentsu London, the creative communications agency. We made this film with them to explore this statement.

(Click through to Vimeo to watch in HD!)

We’re working with Beeker Northam at Dentsu, using their strategy to explore how the media landscape is changing. From Beeker’s correspondence with us during development:

“…what might a magical version of the future of media look like?”


…we [Dentsu] are interested in the future, but not so much in science fiction – more in possible or invisible magic

We have chosen to interpret that brief by exploring how surfaces and screens look and work in the world. We’re finding playful uses for the increasingly ubiquitous ‘glowing rectangles’ that inhabit the world.

iPad light painting with painter

This film is a literal, aesthetic interpretation of those ideas. We like typography in the world, we like inventing new techniques for making media, we want to explore characters and movement, we like light painting, we like photography and cinematography as methods to explore and represent the physical world of stuff.

We made this film with the brilliant Timo Arnall (who we’ve worked with extensively on the Touch project) and videographer extraordinaire Campbell Orme. Our very own Matt Brown composed the music.

Light painting meets stop-motion

We developed a specific photographic technique for this film. Through long exposures we record an iPad moving through space to make three-dimensional forms in light.

First we create software models of three-dimensional typography, objects and animations. We render cross sections of these models, like a virtual CAT scan, making a series of outlines of slices of each form. We play these back on the surface of the iPad as movies, and drag the iPad through the air to extrude shapes captured in long exposure photographs. Each 3D form is itself a single frame of a 3D animation, so each long exposure still is only a single image in a composite stop frame animation.

Each frame is a long exposure photograph of 3-6 seconds. 5,500 photographs were taken. Only half of these were used for the animations seen in the final edit of the film.

There are lots of photographic experiments and stills in the Flickr stream.

Future reflection

light painting the city with Matt Jones

The light appears to boil since there are small deviations in the path of the iPad between shots. In some shots the light shapes appear suspended in a kind of aerogel. This is produced by the black areas of the iPad screen which aren’t entirely dark, and affected by the balance between exposure, the speed of the movies and screen angle.

We’ve compiled the best stills from the film into a print-on-demand Making Future Magic book which you can buy for £32.95/$59.20. (Or get the softcover for £24.95/$44.20.)

Links after a lull

The studio is nice and full and humming and buzzing and it’s a great place to be, but gosh, we’ve been busy. And being busy working on projects – like Schooloscope, launched in beta this week – means there hasn’t been as much time for writing as normal.

Even if posts don’t make it to the blog, though, there’s a steady hum on the internal studio mailing lists – bursts of banter, links to curios dredged up from around the internet – and all good fodder for a post full of videos after a quiet period. Time to start clearing that backlog.

Campbell found this delight – the winner of the “Best Visual Illusion of the Year Contest” 2010. It’s brilliant, and the reveal is obvious and uncanny all at once:

Each week, we like to begin and end our Tuesday morning all-hands meeting with a piece of theme music. Matt B and Matt J tend to take the lead there, and this week, Matt J picked “La Serenissima” by Rondo Veneziano – which can’t really be experienced without its surreal animated video:

The lovely stop-motion video for Cornelius’ “Fit Song” came up in conversation one afternoon:

Last week, Matt W tried to explain the magic of the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland, and eventually found us a video of it:

It’s now quite a while since the skies went quiet under the threat of volcanic ash. I loved this animation, based on data from, showing just how quiet European airspace went for a week.

And that’s a full slate, I think. Have a lovely weekend.

Weekly(ish) links: Knitting, Indium, and introducing AR through advertising

Last week’s links slipped over into this week’s. If you read Matt’s weeknotes for last week – week 242 – you can probably understand why. But! Better to be late than to forget them.


I loved Reknit: a site for turning unwanted woolen goods into new products. You send off an unwanted pullover, it gets unravelled, and sent back to you as something new. This month, it’s a scarf; next month, you’ll get something else based on a vote (in the running: a beanie, iPod case, cut-off gloves, or socks). If you don’t have a sweater to recycle, the site even offers to find you your nearest Goodwill store, where you can no doubt buy many new, old, scarves. This isn’t a large-scale industry, though; it’s the creator’s mother. And that’s the bit I really love, encapsulated in its tag line: this month, my mom will turn your old x into a new y. It won’t ever be a big operation, but it opens up her knitting to a slightly wider audience than the rest of her family. Lovely. Matt Brown coined something similar in the studio last week: small scale Gran-ufacture.


On a slightly more sombre note, Matt Jones sent this image to the studio mailing list, from a 2007 New Scientist article on the depletion of Earth’s natural resources. The stat that really caught our eye was the dwindling resources of Indium. Indium’s a critical component of LCD displays, and whilst, obviously, other screen technologies are available – and will continue to be developed – Matt noted that it’s a reminder that non-screen-based interactions (like those in Availabot or made possible through RFID) have an environmental value as well as a technological one.

Fauxgmented Reality

The picture on the right is an advert I saw on the tube last week, for the University of East London. We write a lot about Augmented Reality on the blog, but I always assume we’re coming from a technologically informed/privileged position. So when I saw this on the tube, I did a double take; this is a faux-AR image of the Thames, with UEL facilities and landmarks picked out not only by map-pins, but also glassy iPhone-style bubbles. Perhaps the point of reference is meant to be mapping, but the combination of the popups with the photograph feels exactly like AR to me; the idea that AR was already a usable metaphor for advertising was very surprising. It’s also a reminder of the ability advertising has to introduce new concepts, rather than just illustrate old ones.

It’s not all serious links about Augmented Reality, or the Earth’s dwindling resources, on the studio mailing list, though; there’s also a decent amount of “here, look at this!“. It’s alright to like pretty things. I found this video from friend-of-BERG Alex Jarvis, and just had to share it. Ingenious animation, beautiful sketching; seems like the right thing to end these links with.

Celebration of function

This post is going to be about objects that celebrate their functions. This was an area of research for me during my time at the Royal College of Art. I’m going to follow on from Matt’s post on Disco and intrinsic activities. More show than tell here I think.

Here is my favourite piece of video right now. It is from the film 9 and a Half Weeks (via James Auger), and if you can wade your way through Rourke and Basinger power bonking their way around Manhattan you see this tape deck in his apartment. I’ve looped the video a couple of times and slowed it so you can see clearly.

I’m pretty sure it is a Nakamich RX tape deck. Using a system called UDAR (UniDirectional Auto Reverse) it mechanically flips the tape over at the end of each side. Something to do with aligning the heads. It is a fantastic piece of perfomance, and completely intrinsic to the nature and qualities of tape decks. Whatever it’s functional relevance might be, witnessing a mechanical operation so performative is excellent, the object is so discreetly joyful about what it is doing.

I also came across this video of a Red Raven records vinyl (via Alex Jarvis) on, along with some lovely research on vinyl video. It has two components. One is the vinyl, which has a large area of printed imagery on the larger than normal label; the second is a sixteen sided mirror which sits in the middle of your turn table and works like a zoetrope, reflecting the images on the vinyl as it turns and creating animation.

This a is beautiful response to the intrinsic qualities of vinyl and the mechanism of the record deck. More products should include this sort of wit and performative funtionality.

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