Archive for the 'media' Category

The advent of computational photography

Friday, November 6th, 2015

Ever since I started working in cinematic Virtual Reality I have fantasized about the time when cameras will evolve from optics based mechanical contraptions to sensor based computational machines. Instead of projecting light into a flat image using lenses, computational photography collects data from the environment and uses it to reconstruct the scene after the fact. I find this subject matter fascinating. In fact, I almost attended Frédo Durand’s Computational Photography class at MIT, but I got too busy fooling around with symbolic programming and pattern recognition instead. I was not surprised to find out that Frédo is an advisor for the upcoming Light L16 digital camera. It looks insane and I definitely want one.

Before we had a Light 16 we had Lytro, a company famous for their shoot-first, focus-later consumer level funny looking cameras. To my knowledge this was the first time ever a data driven photography device has ever hit the consumer market. I didn’t get one, and I didn’t get their next generation DSLR model, but I always believed the Lytro guys were up to something interesting. It made total sense to me when they announced a few months ago they had begun development of a light field camera for Virtual Reality, and I even thought they might actually be the ones to pull that off.

Later I learned Wevr had been selected as a development partner to try the first working prototypes of Lytro’s VR capture system, called Immerge, and I might get to play with it before the end of this year. It will be a great relief after a couple of years dealing with custom rigs made with GoPro cameras and the limitations and difficulties inherited from having to stitch a bunch of deformed images at the very beginning of the postproduction pipeline. And since capturing light fields delivers data instead of pictures, you can move inside the scene almost like you were actually there, instead of being limited to just look around it.

Lytro CEO Jason Rosenthal sums it up in a recent press release: “To get true live-action presence in VR, existing systems were never going to get you there. To really do this, you need to re-think it from the ground up.” I can’t agree more.

Lytro Immerge from Lytro on Vimeo.

Casey Reas Linear Perspective

Sunday, September 6th, 2015

Casey Reas just opened a show at the Charlie James Gallery in Chinatown LA last night. It is interesting to see how his generative work has recently shifted from the purely algorithmic —using rules and numbers as a base to create form from scratch— to a deconstructive commentary on media that utilizes content units —like digital photographs and video streams— as a source of [not quite] raw data that generates his quasi abstract forms over an extended period of time. One of his pieces, the one I photographed for this article, retrieves the main photograph from the cover page of the New York Times every day, and uses it as is as a topological stripe that stretches across the digital frame over and over again, weaving a familiar, yet unrecognizable tapestry across the big television screen that Casey chose as his canvas. Well done.



Directing Motion

Monday, June 16th, 2014

A few weeks ago, @djabatt gave me a ticket to take part on Vincent Laforet’s Directing Motion Tour. It turned out to be a great way to spend my Sunday, revisiting the basics of cinematic language, production logistics, directorial practice, and over all fooling around with a ton of equipment and DSLR goodies provided by the workshop sponsors, that included Canon, Atomos, Freefly MõVI, a few rental houses and some others.

The workshop structure reminded me a lot of a class I took as a film student in VFS, where a few groundbreaking scenes from classic films were deconstructed shot by shot and then reshot by the workshop participants. Pretty fun, like that version of Psycho shot by Gus Van Sant.

This exercise made me compare with my recent incursions developing video based virtual reality at Wemolab, and the crazy fact that the nascent medium of virtual reality is at a place today where traditional cinema was around 1895, where an equivalent language is yet to be developed based on the strengths of this new medium.

Virtual reality is more immersive than cinema because it happens all around you, so there is no screen and no frame to separate you from the content. In combination with sound, it becomes your surrounding environment, almost completely replacing your original reality —the actual promise of virtual reality is presence, meaning that you should actually believe with all your senses that you were somewhere else. This disruptive effect can not be achieved by frame based media like the picture, the page or the screen. They are nothing more than containers of symbols and images that gently occupy the place given to them in our naturally occurring reality. VR is something else. It suggests a different destination. It forces you to be there instead of being here, and for this reason, hints at potential new ways in which a story can be told, more like dreams, or vivid memories. What is the language that virtual reality authors can use to express a direct their vision?

Perhaps for now it’s better to forget about all that and concentrate on all these shiny camera rigs, HD monitors, and HDMI streams of 4K prores video at 60 glorious fps. And I really want a MõVI.






Propagación de Ficciones

Sunday, October 20th, 2013


Maria Paula Lorgia y AnaDK me invitaron a participar con una plática en el Seminario Transmedia y Narrativas Audiovisuales 2013 en Bogotá, Colombia. Después de mucho deliberar, AnaDK y yo decidimos expresarnos en forma conjunta, y combinar nuestros pontos de vista con el objeto de discutir los populares conceptos de Transmedia y World Building:

Los términos importados World Building, originado en la ciencia ficción estadounidense para describir la construcción de escenarios capaces de albergar mitologías y épicas completas, y Narrativa Transmedia, originado en discusiones académicas recientes de teoría crítica para describir métodos de propagación de historias o superhistorias a través de plataformas múltiples, describen en si mismos técnicas de construcción narrativa que aprovechan al máximo los recursos de comunicación característicos del medio digital.

Esta charla busca despejar el aura esotérica que rodea ambos términos al examinar conceptos paralelos y ejemplos que aprovechan técnicas similares para crear sistemas narrativos abiertos, y establecer, de una u otra manera, un espacio de agencia creativa y participación para el público que los consume.

La charla completa se encuentra disponible en YouTube para quienes puedan estar interesados:

En el ámbito del evento tuve el privilegio de conocer y convivir con fascinantes personajes en la impresionante ciudad de Bogotá. Entre ellos cabe mencionar a nuestro viejo amigo vVvA y su paisano/tocayo Andrés Burbano, que hablaron de Modos y Logicas Transmedia, y Arqueología de la Ficcion, respectivamente (y fueron condensados en el mismo video, a pesar de hablar por separado), y el artista metamático digital Pablo Colapinto, quien nos habló de los laberintos en su cabeza.

La ciudad de Bogotá respira profundidad, color e historia. Una vez más, estar de visita en América Latina me hizo revivir lo familiar, todas las cosas que me han hecho falta durante mi exilio Norteamericano, incluso viviendo en una ciudad invadida por mexicanos como es Los Ángeles. Aquí hay unas imágenes que jalé del Instagram:

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Learning AngularJS

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

We just got a contract job at WemoLab to develop a mobile web app for a sports betting startup called Joust, and after a week or so of deliberations we decided to build the whole thing using an AngularJSNodeJSMongoDB combo, pure javascript from end to end.

I have to say AngularJS hasn’t been exactly easy, but there have been several times where I have been surprised finding extremely simple ways to set up certain things, especially when binding event triggered method chains across completely separate scopes. It’s kind of great, even though all those directives are driving me crazy and the learning curve has been steep as hell.

Programming languages are used to create functional worlds. In these worlds, new languages are created to create new worlds within the older ones. They are like stories within stories within stories, except in the case of software all these stories have a life of their own. It is natural to fantasize about a esperanto of programming, or a universal language that could be used to program anything. Today, this language is a dream, but at least in the web, javascript is as close as it gets to being the language of god, and AngularJS, together with NodeJS and a document/json based database solution like MongoDB, are a good reason why.

Friday, May 31st, 2013

I can’t remember the last time I officially hand crafted a website. To be precise, this is not even a website, it’s just a webpage; I plan to update the rest of the website over the next few weeks, but for now, I feel this is a great first step.

Obviously, my first design goal here is to get visitors to download theBlu, but also to learn about it, to want it, and most importantly, to believe in it as a viable platform to communicate knowledge about biological systems. I think about this branch of digital media as the the simulation of life. And there is also the geographical aspect: mapping the environment where this life occurs. If they manage to simulate life well, computer networks will be the Petri Dish of the future.

And it is also interesting to think about the Darwins of the future, combined perhaps with the Pasteurs of the future and others (of the future too, LoL). Because scale is a controllable variable, in the digital realm, looking into the microscopic drama that unfolds inside a Petri Dish can become a similar experience to sailing across the world’s oceans from Galapagos to Galapagos or whatever. Furthermore, the digital explorer is not limited to just observing and collecting samples, but he or she can control time or even manipulate or create life in a way that in the future will probably be possible in the physical world too, but the big difference is that in the physical world we learn to control nature, when in the digital world (or playground) we figure out how to create something like nature.

I don’t want to be all over the place but who cares: so CSS and HTML and Javascript. To me, this combination is as relevant to us as Gutenberg’s printing press. Am I right?

And on that note, looking back in history to the precursors of other media –Étienne Jules Marey and his relation to animation, for example– do you think stuff like theBlu will be faced by the same lens a few hundred years from now? Does it even make sense to think like this today?


IML400 Spring 2013: Done

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Today I finished the second iteration of IML400 at USC. It was a delight to sit through the final project presentations and witness my students walk us through the culmination of their semester work. Most of them tried programming for the first time in my class, and managed to express themselves using javascript in the web by the end of the semester. I guess I must be doing something right.

You can check out their projects in the IML400 website for now. I have heard the Storm server gets wiped every once in a while like other academic servers (something similar happened to us at the Media Lab PLW), but I am hoping the class work will be online for a while and you will be able to check it out.

I am proud of most of my students’ achievements, but I’m going to point a spotlight on Alexander Swenson’s project: the SOOTHSLAYER ELECTRIC TAROT, a playful interpretation of a fortune-telling experience through the reading of a Tarot-like card deck. In his own words, he didn’t want to deliver a useful product like everyone else, where a practical approach dominated the scene. Most of the students chose to develop projects that could have some degree of professional value. Online portfolios, company websites, product websites, etc.

Instead, Swenson focused on play, and used his newly acquired interaction design skills to craft a user interface where mystery and chance are experienced one Tarot card at a time. The website becomes the cards, the shuffle and the fortune teller. The reason for this? To make something cool.

On the technical side, he combined RaphaelJS with jQuery in an interesting way, where interactions with his SVG based animation trigger a series of events that request and load the right card from the deck into sliding iframes, very smooth!

Next is a sequence of snapshots from the final project defense session.