Cinemetrics: Interactive Movie Infographics

Cinemetrics is the fascinating result of Frederic Brodbeck‘s bachelor graduation project at The Royal Academy of Art in the Netherlands.

cinemetrics quantum of solaceAs a graphic designer, Brodbeck is drawn to particular style details, but as a generative coder he’s interested in exploring the role for graphic design in analysing these same details.

He picked the medium of film as his ‘data-set’ and came up with something actually very unique: rather than analysing the meta-data around a film (i.e. from IMDB), he’s using movies themselves.

The project seeks to ‘fingerprint’ films (a bit like the recent moviebarcode site) and turn them into interactive models. The models can be manipulated to allow users to identify differences or trends in the graphics via a sexy looking interface, all of which he’s now open-sourced on GitHub.

Here’s a demo:

Brodbeck defines the project as “an experiment to find out if the data that is inherent in the movie can be used to make something visible that otherwise would remain unnoticed.” It’s a really interesting area for academic inquiry, one which he set out the following goals:

Measuring and visualizing movie data to reveal the characteristics of movies and to create some sort of unique “fingerprint” for them.

Extracting and analyzing information – such as the editing structure, use of colors, speech or motion – and transform them into graphic representations, so that movies can be seen as a whole and easily be interpreted or compared.

Working experimentally and presenting the work both in print and digital media.

A side effect is that the system he’s built is great at comparing films, so as to see differences between originals and remakes; within similar genres; among a string of sequels, similar filmmaking styles or certain directors.

What’s great is the system is actually useful. It’s an infographic engine for film-buffs, and we know how popular those are, don’t we?!

Frederick, I look forward to the sequel!

Oops, Forgot To Blog…

Er, yeah, sorry about that… Here’s what I’ve been up to instead though!

  • Sharing loads of great links on Twitter – Trunkly has all of these
  • Trying out Google+ to see where the value lies (hmm…)
  • Looking for a place to live with Sarah  (any suggestions?)
  • Playing with my new Kindle (I’m reading Neuromancer)
  • Eating & drinking at some awesome places / seeing friends etc
  • Reconfiguring all my Google Reader feeds (more on this soon)
  • Watching movies: X-Men [8], Tree of Life [8] and Bridesmaids [9]
  • Testing Subscription Options v0.8 (v. cool gradient shit)
  • Reading The Authority by Warren Ellis, which is amazing
  • Listening to some brand new music, c/o Spotify
  • Working my balls off and all that…

Meanwhile, Brand Republic goes and published The BR 200 which is a list of “the best advertising, marketing, media, PR and digital blogs.” They stuck me in at #153, which is cool! Thing is, I haven’t blogged that much, have I? I’ll sort that out, sorry.

The BR 200 (OPML Feed)
BR 200 (OPML)

Meanwhile, as a mark of respect to the others on the BR 200, and to any remaining readers out there, I’ve compiled an OPML list of all the blogs on that list, which you can import into your RSS reader of choice.

There ya go, people! Enjoy all those proper bloggers. Hehe.

Strategy Bot: An Experiment in Social A.I.

In this post I’ll introduce you to my new pet project: an experiment in Twitter automation. The Strategy Bot (pictured) is ‘programmed’ to select & retweet key digital media resources, case studies or news items that provoke a higher understanding of the formation of good digital strategy.

Strategy Bot
He thinks, therefore he tweets.

Some context… I will typically have the odd side project on the go at any one time. Recent examples have included:

  • Recategorising all my RSS feeds for mobile, web & iPad
  • Linking up Instapaper / ReaditLater / Pinboard & Twitter
  • Testing Facebook ads to see if I can drive Twitter followers
  • Playing with XFBML, the new Follow button and Google +1
  • Sketching people’s Twitter avatars with my new stylus

All of the above would be worthy of a blog post, and that might happen for a couple of them, but there’s been one project I’ve been thinking about for a while that I reckon just needs to be shared, because, dear reader, I need your help!

I’ve been interested in getting the most out of Twitter for a while, and I’ve been certain there is some utility among the network’s parasites: the lowly twitterbot. I’d love to perform an autopsy on one to see how they really work, as there are some excellent cases of these automata being actually quite useful or cool. For example:

  • Spotibot – @replies suggested music based on your requests
  • Wikipediabot – random links to Wikipedia pages every hour
  • Easy Joke – RT’s with “that’s what she said” on certain phrases

There are loads more listed on the Twitter Fan Wiki, and of course there are millions of spambots that behave in similar ways. But I wanted to make something that would be primarily useful to me, and that others might enjoy too.

The idea arose from the need to detect, share and archive truly excellent links, without cluttering my personal Twitter feed. Did you know you can automatically add Twitter links to Pinboard for archiving? It’s a bloody useful way to passively log the stuff that’s held your attention. And did you know you can create a self-hosted archive of all your tweets? I use Tweetnest to this end, where I’ve been logging my personal tweets here. Try searching for something!

Mr. Strategy Bot is just another way to add useful stuff to my own personal content library. But throughout the course of his life, I’d like him to be useful to everyone. Or at least, everyone that works in digital media (you gotta have a niche). So how should I automate him to this end?

In my attempts to pin down what makes these robots work, I found a number of approaches, typically making use of Twitterfeed (a pretty blunt RSS syndication tool) or the Twitter API (way over my head). I needed something that would let me ‘scrape’ the top links from a list of Twitter users, and automatically RT the top five links.

I have totally failed in my attempts, even after a whole evening spent in the depths of Yahoo! Pipes. For now, I’ve had to settle on the manual way. Yep, I’m manually RT’ing the links until I find a better solution, five a day, with a bit of prose each time to help round out his character.

I will continue to research means of automating his behaviour, as I think the idea of one’s own personal virtual pet social robot is a really powerful idea. Wouldn’t you agree?

[box]Please leave a comment if you can help create virtual life! Let’s give this guy his own A.I. existence out in the digital ether.[/box]

In the meantime, you should follow him on Twitter here.
He’s programmed to follow back!

Design Excellence in Tron Legacy

I watched Tron Legacy this weekend.
Awesome movie, if only for the following reasons:

  • The music
  • The aesthetics
  • Jeff Bridges
  • That’s it

Despite not having the greatest storyline or script, the film has still had quite a profound effect on me thanks to its frankly mind-blowing visual identity.

As with most of the films I watch these days, I like to do a quick post-view scan of the web to consolidate my thinking around certain plot points, characters, or to brush up on production trivia.

This time, I hit up IMDB’s forums to read others’ views on Tron’s iconography, delved into some pretty weird fan pages, and researched the history of the crew – but in all of my post-view readings, I think I’ve found the major contributing factor towards why this film looks so damn good.

This film looks so damn good, in my belief, due to Joshua T. Nimoy, a software artist who worked on the film’s procedural artwork and user interfaces, which add a thick and gooey layer of believability to both Encom’s software, and to Tron’s 3D environment.

He has this to say:

I made software art before there was Flash or Processing. Things have not grown easier or harder, they are simply different. I am not just a user of Adobe and 3D programs. I work in the source ideas from which those programs originate. If I need a new algorithm, I learn it from theories, ask one of my peers, hunt for reusable code, or invent my own way. My most contagious meme is BallDroppings. My most visible work is commercial. My artiest works have shown in serious galleries and museums.

So, here we have a guy who is just brilliant at design, working on some of the world’s coolest and most progressive brands, plus a shitload of other stuff, and who knows how to hack to achieve a great effect. Pretty much the perfect dude to lead the march at Digital Domain when they were asked to work on Tron Legacy.

Following clearance from Disney, Josh has published a fascinating piece on his site about his work on the film, which I’ve pulled some interesting thoughts from:

I spent a half year writing software art to generate special effects for Tron Legacy […] in addition to visual effects, I was asked to record myself using a unix terminal doing technologically feasible things. I took extra care in babysitting the elements through to final composite to ensure that the content would not be artistically altered beyond that feasibility.

I take representing digital culture in film very seriously in lieu of having grown up in a world of very badly researched user interface greeble. I cringed during the part in Hackers (1995) when a screen saver with extruded “equations” is used to signify that the hacker has reached some sort of neural flow or ambiguous destination. I cringed for Swordfish and Jurassic Park as well. I cheered when Trinity in The Matrix used nmap and ssh (and so did you). Then I cringed again when I saw that inevitably, Hollywood had decided that nmap was the thing to use for all its hacker scenes (see Bourne Ultimatum, Die Hard 4, Girl with Dragon Tattoo, The Listening, 13: Game of Death, Battle Royale, Broken Saints, and on and on).

I like this guy even more now – who hasn’t cringed at stuff like this?

In Tron, the hacker was not supposed to be snooping around on a network; he was supposed to kill a process. So we went with posix kill and also had him pipe ps into grep. I also ended up using emacs eshell to make the terminal more l33t. The team was delighted to see my emacs performance — splitting the editor into nested panes and running different modes. I was tickled that I got emacs into a block buster movie. I actually do use emacs irl, and although I do not subscribe to alt.religion.emacs, I think that’s all incredibly relevant to the world of Tron.

Now, I don’t understand much of that last paragraph, but it’s cool to consider that there are people out there applying proper nerdery to their work, that 99.9% of people would totally miss. It just makes things better, doesn’t it?!

30 Day Song Challenge – Week One

A few of my mates are doing this viral challenge thing on Facebook right now, and because it’s a pretty cool idea, I’d like to join in. However, not wishing to clog up any newsfeeds, I’ve decided to post my music selections up on the blog. Posts like this will pop up once a week until 30 days are up.

Expand the box below to see the full list of musical challenges covered.

[toggle title_open=”Hide all 30 Day Song Challenges” title_closed=”Show all 30 Day Song Challenges” hide=”yes” border=”yes” style=”default”]

Day 1: your favorite song
Day 2: your least favorite song
Day 3: a song that makes you happy
Day 4: a song that makes you sad
Day 5: a song that reminds you of someone
Day 6: a song that reminds you of somewhere
Day 7: a song that reminds you of a certain event
Day 8: a song that you know all the words to
Day 9: a song that you can dance to
Day 10: a song that makes you fall asleep
Day 11: a song from your favorite band
Day 12: a song from a band you hate
Day 13: a song that is a guilty pleasure
Day 14: a song that no one would expect you to love
Day 15: a song that describes you
Day 16: a song that you used to love but now hate
Day 17: a song that you hear often on the radio
Day 18: a song that you wish you heard on the radio
Day 19: a song from your favorite album
Day 20: a song that you listen to when you’re angry
Day 21: a song that you listen to when you’re happy
Day 22: a song that you listen to when you’re sad
Day 23: a song that you want to play at your wedding
Day 24: a song that you want to play at your funeral
Day 25: a song that makes you laugh
Day 26: a song that you can play on an instrument
Day 27: a song that you wish you could play
Day 28: a song that makes you feel guilty
Day 29: a song from your childhood
Day 30: your favorite song at this time last year
[/toggle]

Day 1: your favorite song

Nightmares On Wax – Les Nuits

This was my wake-up alarm music for years, now it’s firmly lodged in my brain.

[hr]

Day 2: your least favorite song

The Black Eyed Peas – Just Can’t Get Enough

I respect BEP for their innovative use of digital in crafting an image, but their music is becoming too ‘lowest common denominator’.

[hr]

Day 3: a song that makes you happy

Only Child – Space Disco

Excuse the shit video, but check the groove. It’ll put a smile on your face.

[hr]

Day 4: a song that makes you sad

Tosca – My First

It doesn’t actually make me feel sad, but all of Tosca’s music is quite sombre (and excellent).

[hr]

Day 5: a song that reminds you of someone

Chase & Status – Blind Faith

This song reminds me of the very lovely Sarah. On an unrelated note, very awesome video.

There you have it. Tune in next week for more of the good stuff, and perhaps join me by posting a link to your own responses in the comments below. Would also love to hear your thoughts on these tunes!