Archive for February, 2009

MIT SFS in PictureXS

Friday, February 27th, 2009

I have recently discovered the MIT Science Fiction Society Library in the 4th floor of the MIT Student Center. I feel like an idiot for not having discovered it before, but giving it a second thought, it was probably better that way. I am not sure if I could have afforded to spend my days daydreaming about telepathic detective gymnosperm plants, steampunk robots that will slaughter you if you don’t speak German, or eighty year long space round trips protecting cargos of a few thousand genetically modified frozen teenagers. Today I am as busy as I used to be when I was a student here, but I am not feeling as challenged, and I can comfortably dedicate some space in my memory and imagination to regularly escape into the fantastic stories collected between the shelves of the MIT-SFS library.

Conveniently enough, I have decided to reactivate the picture collecting mechanism in PictureXS, and I will use it in combination with my simple [and overly buggy] Video2Web picture capturing program to keep a visual archive of all the books I will check out [and hopefully read] from the MIT-SFS library. I wonder if I should scan all the covers, they are so remarkably different from anything you see these days in bookstores, and a definite visual treat.

Welcome to E15:oGFx, and Happy 1234567890!

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Just in time to celebrate unix epoch time 1234567890, Buza and I have finished a new website to host E15:oGFx.

The site features our first public binary in the download section, E15:oGFx ALPHA 001, a small collection of examples and tutorials to get you started, and a gallery of advanced scripts in the featured section.

We also spent the last few minutes before unix epoch time 1234567890 posting a few improvised E15:oGFx scripts inspired by the occasion to E15:WEB.

This is a demonstration video we put together a couple of months ago:

18th Annual Salute to Dr. Seuss

Monday, February 9th, 2009

Two weeks ago at MIT, Henry Jenkins performed his traditional Annual Salute to Dr. Seuss for the last time before he leaves to join USC later this year. Perhaps because this was his last performance he read, commented and showed cartoons for a longer time than usual, adding up to more than 120 minutes of Dr. Seuss’ tales and history.

Henry described Dr. Seuss as a man with a political vision that chose to turn his voice in the direction of children, sending them a message of tolerance and diversity through his fantastic fables. Dr. Seuss became a master of propaganda before becoming interested in writing and illustrating books for children, and Henry’s reflections left me thinking about all the tricky relationships hidden between education and indoctrination.

It took me two weeks to access the pictures I took that day for a number of reasons directly related with using film instead of a digital camera. First, I needed to accumulate enough motivation to take the exposed film to the lab in South Station. Then the lab happened to be running an equipment maintenance procedure that usually takes an unknown number of days bigger than three. Time went by rather quickly, MIT style, and I had to start a new process to find more motivation, this time to go back to the lab and pick up the photos.

I still remember the good old digital days when I could have a picture online a few seconds after I took it, but I don’t miss them. Film and the photo lab are a positive influence in my behavior, moderating my attention and adjusting my vision.

Next thing I know, two Mondays have gone by, IAP is over, and I already feel halfway through a semester that I was supposed to keep myself safely distant from.

IAP – Teaching Animation

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Early this year I was offered the opportunity to teach animation over IAP by the MIT Student Art Association. IAP, or Independent Activities Period, is a special four week term at MIT that runs from the first week of January until the end of the month. The class would consist of three weekly sessions of three hours each, and I was required to start teaching right away.

Originally, I was asked to teach a software based 3D computer animation class, but I preferred to forget about computer software and approach animation from a more general perspective. I think learning animation is more exciting -and useful- than learning how to use a computer program. The most sophisticated animation software in history doesn’t help to become a good animator, but a basic set of animation skills can easily be applied across a broad number of mediums.

My first challenge was to find a way to remain entertaining for 3 whole hours. I summoned my favorite moments from Frank Espinosa’s teaching—here at MIT—and from when I studied animation at VFS, including a copy of the classic Illusion of Life by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas.

Having talked about some basics and history of animation over the first session, I needed to outline some kind of program that could be run as a workshop over the remaining couple of sessions. My purpose was to help the students produce simple animations from scratch to completion over a 3 hour interval, and use the results to start a discussion on storytelling, timing, and animation.

After being introduced to Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind Protocol, where he describes a program for people to produce amateur movies over an amount of time similar to what I had in mind, I adapted his approach to design a number of animation recipes, hoping to help the students focus on a range simple enough to conceive a situation and animate it in a short amount of time.

In the end, Computers and digital cameras played an important role in facilitating a quick way to test and screen the animations, but the use of editing or animation software was avoided. I wanted motion to be controlled by adding and removing frames by hand, so that none of the thinking during the animation process could be delegated to the computer.

The following pictures are frames from a Stop-Motion animation created last Sunday by Vvva and Lezno PlaK using a tatami mat, a broomstick, a hand cut banana peel, a hand crafted paper robot, and a Motorola Razr cellphone camera to capture each frame. The recipe they followed required them to create a biped character, and think about a situation where the character would walk until an external force stopped it.