‪The History of CGI

‪I see loads of great stuff every single day, but since switching from Tumblr I’ve been quite poor at posting sideblogs.

I’m gonna up the frequency a little, but I promise I’ll only show you the good stuff, like this one, which came via @rochellelara:

So many memories! And think of all the breakthroughs yet to come.

Experience a Glimpse of 3D Web Browsing

Coming Soon: 3D computing. Well, it makes sense, doesn’t it?

3D Windows XP Icons
image credit: http://goo.gl/98PXI

My claim is that 3D is the next step in object-oriented user interface (OOUI), which is the way most of us interact with computers after someone (at Apple, I think) had idea that we’d store ‘documents’ in ‘folders’ rather than access them via a command line. Ever since, we’ve  been using ‘object-oriented’ analogies to interact with our machines.

Now is the age of 3D screen technologies, with Hollywood fighting back from piracy with a new golden age for cinema, Samsung outperforming Sony to becoming the number one manufacturer of 3D TVs, and the Nintendo 3DS making use of prismatic 3D in it’s menus, and of course in-game (think I might be buying Ocarina again soon). Not to mention Microsoft’s Kinect, which changes the way we interact in the three dimensions of physical, as opposed to virtual space.

But before all of this, there were innovators trying to make 3D compliant with everyday use, such as TATMobile who, without the power to print prismatic screens, force a behaviour change through the use of 3D glasses, or sell expensive stereoscopic 3D projectors, had come up with a pretty cool lo-fi solution:

The video above demonstrates the use of a front-facing camera on one’s mobile phone to track the location of your eyes, augmenting what’s onscreen, allowing you to see ‘behind’ icons or onto different screens by peering around. Hopefully you can imagine how a 3D screen might alter the way you interact with your device, so it’s no wonder they were bought by RIM and are now developing UI for BlackBerry.

While we’re at it, also check out the work of Bumptop (sadly now defunct), Johnny Lee‘s Wii hacks, and even YouTube‘s foray into 3D video.

Another lo-fi solution to making 3D useful comes from Mozilla, outlined in this fascinating article. Their technology, called Tilt, is not a way to physically see in 3D (it’s just software at this point), but certainly nods towards the future 3D stereoscopy web content. You can test Mozilla’s Tilt plugin in Firefox with their beta plugin at that link, but here’s a demo:

All we need now is for computer, laptop, tablet & mobile screens to become 3D-enabled, and for vast swathes of web designers to optimise their sites for WebGL, and suddenly those social buttons become a bit more clickable.

Tintin & The Uncanny Valley

I wonder if Spielberg, Jackson, Wright, Moffat, Cornish et al have considered the mystery of the ‘Uncanny Valley’ in their latest CGI film, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn?

I’m talking about the principle that when things appear, or intend to appear as visibly human as possible they often can’t jump the gap in one’s perceptions, thereby freaking the living crikey out of an observer.

The Uncanny Valley

Take some time to digest the diagram above, and then hit up the video below to see what I mean. My suspicion is that, yeah, they’ve just about played it safe, but the characters in the film will feel less familiar than they did in the comics, or even the cartoon series.

For more on the Uncanny Valley, check out my post on Branded Robotics, where a leading scientist gives me his thoughts on what works and what doesn’t. Hopefully, the Tintin creators have done their research too.

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?!