Archive for the 'old style' Category

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.

tiny Wallpapers from France

Monday, November 12th, 2007

Superscript from France has created a nice online wallpaper editor and repository. The tiling of the motifs is implemented in the simplest way, repeating them over a square grid. I wish they implemented something like rotations of reflections to create more complex patterns, or even symmetries that are not square, like triangular or hexagonal, but that would complicate things a lot, and sometimes it is better to have something that is somehow limited, instead not having anything at all, other than the idea of something really powerful that was never made. As limited as they might be, the expressive potential of tools like this one is nearly infinite. I also wish they rendered white as transparent so we could have different colored wallpapers just by changing the background color of the body tag, and I wish the drawing interface was more fluid, perhaps a bit more like the one we made for Tiny, that understands strokes rather than clicks.

Superscript’s wallpaper application looks like a natural sibling of the Tiny Icon Factory, and a good resource to decorate the backgrounds of your webpages. This is one of the 888 motifs already available there (you can also make your own of course, and I’m sure by the time you read this there will be at least 900):

Cartoons at MIT

Sunday, February 18th, 2007

My first assignment for one of my classes was to come up with a vision of Batman as if he was created in the late 1920s by the Disney animation studios instead of the late 30s DC comics. I was given an early Mickey Mouse short film animated by Ub Iwerks called Plane Crazy as a source of inspiration. Of course I didn’t stop there, I reviewed all of Iwerks’ work and other early north american cartoons from that era, featuring Betty Boop, Felix the cat, Popeye and others. It was very interesting for me to look at the contrast in spirit between the late 20s and the late 30s in the United States. Batman and other superheroes would embody such a different vision than the one conveyed by the animated cartoons and funny strips of 10 years before. On one side, the 20s animations by Iwerks and others seemed to be all about having fun. Their inventive characters would just spend their time chasing the girl or building airplanes out of cardboard boxes, just to crash them on a scared cow a few seconds later. Everything crazy would happen and everything was alive. Your car, your shoes and your fingers would all have a life of their own, and the characters would perform their adventures dancing at the beat of swing or lindy music. Ten years later, and very close to WWII, characters like Batman came to life to protect north americans from the treats of evil, at any cost. How to change this idea of Batman -that of the superpolice- to make it fit in the careless, playful, sloppy world of the animation films from the 1920s? I could think of a short story that would involve Catwoman, Batman, Robin, a haunted house that was built on top of a cave, a whip, and lots of many, many naughty bats.

I find it refreshing that I can combine this kind of stuff with my research, and with other more scientific oriented subjects, like the new class I’m taking from Gerald Jay Sussman, Adventures in Advanced Symbolic Programming. I hope I can survive it, because I am already learning a lot from it.


Tiny PLWidget

Friday, January 19th, 2007

This is what happens when you don’t sleep. Tiny PLWidget, finally running, and soon to be unleashed.


I spent almost a week trying to figure out how to stop the widget from being dragged across the screen when the mouse was down and traveling through the drawing canvas. Conjectures and advice pointed me to look for some javascript event logic error, potentially caused by a conflict between the DOM event implementation, and the Apple Dashblard event implementation. However, after 33.27 (base 60) hours of not sleeping and working with the PLW Cannibals on our one night project for the Media Lab prototype-a-thon competition, I figured out I just needed to define one CSS parameter called -apple-dashboard-region on the div ID I didn’t want to have dragged. The code on the CSS would look like this:

#canvas {
	width: 13em;
	height: 13em;
	margin-left: 1em;
	position: relative;
	border-width: 1px;
	border-style: solid;
	border-color: rgb(204, 204, 204);
	margin-bottom: 1.4em;
	-apple-dashboard-region: dashboard-region(control rectangle);

This defines a rectangular region where the widget will not be dragged across the dashboard, letting you concentrate on making drawings, or other things.

Airports, Airplanes, and the Future.

Friday, January 5th, 2007

I wonder if the transition to the new year makes people more aware of the passage of time. Last week, when it still was last year, several friends of mine expressed their disappointment at what has become the future they once envisioned. One of them was comparing the present with 2001 A Space Odyssey, and another one with The Jetsons cartoons. “Where is my trip to the moon, where is my flying car?” It seemed to them that something was missing from what was promised to them, like the promise was not kept. Even though I am very skeptic about predictions of the future, I would question them on why would they choose The Jetsons instead of Blade Runner, where I can find pointers to several things that are already happening. Maybe they were longing for an optimistic, safe and hygienic version of the future, discarding any possible catastrophic or apocalyptic vision. I personally don’t remember very well the time when I used to dream about the future. I can’t recall if I had my own idea of the future, or if I was borrowing my expectations from somewhere else like my friends seemed to do, but I know now that I don’t put much effort in giving a shape to the future anymore, perhaps because it always turns out to become something else, and I’d rather wonder with surprise than frustrate myself when confronting my failed expectations, and I’d rather put my energy towards working on a better today.

When I think about it, there is a difference between the prediction of something that can possibly happen, and the prediction of how things can be. The former one doesn’t really need much imagination. To speculate about if there is going to rain tomorrow or even if a pandemic disease is going to devastate humanity 17 years from now is very different from pretending to guess (or estimate) how humanity is going to be living 50 years from now. Not only what problems will be faced but what changes need to be made, and how much progress in what direction is to be expected. How things should be.

After comparing the experience of commercial air transportation between what is shown in Kubrick’s Space Odyssey movie, and what actually happens when you go to the airport and fly on a plane, I can’t help it but sympathize with my friend’s frustration. Forget about going to the moon, and forget that 2007 is 6 years after 2001 (I can’t see much progress from then to now). Just look at the difference in service. The only four things I have seen changing in air travel since I was a child are that people can’t smoke in a plane anymore (what were they thinking?), the quality of service has decreased substantially, and the volume of humans has increased at the same pace, together with absurd security measures. Maybe too much has been spent in liquid detectors and there is no money left to fix those holes in the ceiling? Not only there are who-knows-how-many times more people swarming all airport terminals, but all of them have to take off their shoes, throw away their mascara, and take out their laptops. The transition to the new year is also a good excuse for long distance travel to a lot of people, and a fantastic opportunity to experience the subtle changes of social behavior in our fast paced, technology driven civilization. I remember the year 2000, when laptops were something not everyone would have, how normal it would be for me to browse around the airport terminals, find a comfy spot, connect my laptop to a nearby power outlet, and enjoy countless hours of digital activity and cappucinos waiting for my flight without having to drain my battery. Some years later, I noticed how the power outlets started to become scarce in some airports. Today, people hunt for the remaining outlet that some maintenance electrician forgot to shut down, and sit in the floor by the bathroom door and the hallway as they check their emails or stare at their spreadsheets. Not me, I have decided to go back to books… no need for batteries, and tons of fun.


Tiny tomorrow @ MIT Museum

Thursday, November 16th, 2006

Tomorrow at 6 pm Brent and I will show the Tiny Icon Factory at the Delight by Design show in the MIT Museum. We will open the site again, show some animations and give away some stickers. It has been a good opportunity to look at them and start figuring out interesting ways to get them organized. I find it very surprising how creative people have been when given just 169 squares of black and white and a total absence of individual authorship. Looking at all this icons has been a very pleasant experience.

A rough sample of a sequence of icons is here.

The following pictures feature some blown-up renders of some sample icons with their names and ids. The names were given to them by their creators, and their ids were given to them by Rails, when written as binary strings into a database table.


Mandelbrot @ MIT

Tuesday, November 7th, 2006

“… science is cumulative and art is not”, B. Mandelbrot.


Eighty two year old legend Benoît Mandelbrot gave a two and a half hour long talk at MIT (location 10-250) yesterday night. A couple of key influences to his ideas I didn’t know about are the work of the japanese print maker Hokusai and north american abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock (if you wanna be Jackson Pollock for a minute without having to ruin everything around you with splatter paint click here). Mandelbrot claims to have found many brilliant examples of self similarity (shape and resolution of detail are scale invariant) in Hokusai’s work (a wave made out of waves). Pollock’s approach towards painting might encompass the fundamental motto behind Mandelbrot’s quest: a simple generation rule leads to a very complex outcome.

For Mandelbrot, his life work has been fueled by the opposite pairs of science and art, simplicity and complexity, smoothness and roughness, leading him towards the eternal opposition of the ideal and the real. Having had the opportunity to witness one of my old time college heroes in action will keep me happy for at least a week.

A quick note on Jackson Pollock: I am always amused when I find out in the news that the biggest price paid for a piece of art in history has reached a new peak. The four last ones I remember were paid for a Picasso, a Van Gogh, a Klimt, and only after last week, a Jackson Pollock. One hundred and forty million dollars, how can that be?

A quick note on Hokusai: Check out Kozyndan’s furry tribute to Hokusai’s wave here.