ARTO

Time for a sta­tus update on my stay in Sin­ga­pore. I have already entered the final three months of my time here. Time flies when you’re hav­ing fun eat­ing every­thing in sight, it turns out.

On the work front I have indeed found the time to do some think­ing about what my next big thing will be. Noth­ing has firmed up to the point where I feel like shar­ing it here but I am enjoy­ing the con­ver­sa­tions I am hav­ing with var­i­ous peo­ple about it.

In the mean­time, I have been keep­ing busy work­ing with a local start­up called ARTO. I have tak­en on the role of prod­uct design­er and I am also respon­si­ble for prod­uct man­age­ment of the user-fac­ing parts of the thing we are build­ing.

That “thing” is about art. There are many peo­ple who are inter­est­ed in art but don’t know where to start when it comes to find­ing, enjoy­ing and acquir­ing it. We’re build­ing a mobile and TV app that should make that a whole lot more easy and fun.

When I say art I mean com­mer­cial, pop­u­lar and con­tem­po­rary art of the 2D vari­ety. So paint­ing, illus­tra­tion, pho­tog­ra­phy, etc. Things you might buy orig­i­nals or prints of and put on your liv­ing room wall. Oth­ers are doing a fine job on the high end of the art mar­ket. We think there are parts remain­ing that have been under­served to date.

There are many mov­ing parts to this prod­uct, rang­ing from a rec­om­men­da­tion engine, con­tent man­age­ment sys­tem, mobile app, TV app and more so I am nev­er bored. There is always some­thing to fig­ure out in terms of what to build and how it should work and look. For the past cou­ple of years I was always too busy man­ag­ing the stu­dio to real­ly get into the details of design but now I can total­ly focus on that and it real­ly is a plea­sure.

On the peo­ple side we have a small but grow­ing team of bril­liant indi­vid­u­als hal­ing from var­i­ous parts of the region includ­ing Viet­nam, Myan­mar and India. This lends an addi­tion­al lay­er of fun chal­lenge to the goings on as we con­stant­ly nego­ti­ate our dif­fer­ences but also dis­cov­er the many com­mon­al­i­ties afford­ed by the glob­alised tech indus­try. I also get to trav­el to Ho Chi Minh City reg­u­lar­ly which is a nice change from the extreme order that is Sin­ga­pore.

It is ear­ly days so I not only get to help shape the prod­uct from the very start but also the com­pa­ny itself. This includes fig­ur­ing out and main­tain­ing design and devel­op­ment process­es. For this I find my Boy­di­an explo­rations quite use­ful, paired with what is now more than 13 years of indus­try expe­ri­ence (how did that hap­pen?) I have also con­duct­ed more hir­ing inter­views in the past few months than I did in the ten years before.

In a month or two a first ver­sion of the prod­uct should be in the mar­ket. When we’ve got­ten to that point I will do anoth­er of these updates. In the mean­time just know I am up to my armpits in think­ing-through-mak­ing about art dis­cov­ery and enjoy­ment on screens small and large. If you have any­thing relat­ed to share, or would like to be one of the first to test-dri­ve the thing when it arrives, let me know.

The real­ly good cre­ative peo­ple are always orga­nized, it’s true. The dif­fer­ence is effi­cien­cy. If you have an agenda—a schedule—you will be bet­ter. In order to have moments of chaos and anar­chy and cre­ativ­i­ty, you have to be very ordered so that when the moment arrives it doesn’t put things out of whack.”

Rem­i­nis­cent of “play is free move­ment with­in a more rigid sys­tem” – I always enjoy using pro­fes­sion­al cook­ing as source of inspi­ra­tion for improv­ing design.

(via The Stan­dard — Can the Brains Behind elBul­li Take the Chaos Out of Cre­ativ­i­ty?)

A landscape generated from silence

So a few weeks ago, before he went surf­ing in Moroc­co, m’colleague Alper report­ed in an elab­o­rate fash­ion on the project he and I did for the artist Sarah van Sons­beeck. If you’re into data visu­al­iza­tion and infor­ma­tion design and you haven’t read it already, I encour­age you to do so right now. I thought I’d post some addi­tions and com­ments to Alper’s post here, going into some details relat­ed to work­ing with 3D graph­ics in Pro­cess­ing, aes­thet­ic con­sid­er­a­tions, and some oth­er bits.

Final rendering of the silence landscape

Dealing with 3D in Processing

As Alper writes, part of what we were doing involved gen­er­at­ing a 3D land­scape from the sound vol­ume and loca­tion data Sarah had gath­ered. What I found was that work­ing with 3D in Pro­cess­ing can be cum­ber­some, espe­cial­ly with regards to cam­era con­trols. I had a hard time get­ting a sense of the 3D mod­el we were gen­er­at­ing, since the cam­era con­trols I had at my dis­pos­al were lim­it­ed and a has­sle to use. I can imag­ine that if you do this kind of work a lot, you have a kind of con­tain­er Pro­cess­ing sketch that has all the cam­era con­trols in place. I didn’t, so ulti­mate­ly I decid­ed to go to a tool that had all the cam­era con­trols already: Google SketchUp. I could have gone to a more pro­fes­sion­al tool such as 3ds Max or Maya, but SketchUp is freely avail­able and suit­ed me fine. Using Mar­ius Watz’s unlekker­Lib, I export­ed the geom­e­try of our land­scape to a DXF file and import­ed it to SketchUp and that was that.

An early Processing sketch attempting to generate a shape from the data

Rendering

SketchUp is fine for manip­u­lat­ing and explor­ing a 3D mod­el, but its ren­der­ing left some­thing to be desired. It had been a while since I dab­bled in 3D graph­ics (back in art school, mak­ing games) but I did recall that glob­al illu­mi­na­tion ren­der­ing yields pret­ty pic­tures. Sarah had told us from the out­set that above every­thing else, it was impor­tant for the out­put of our exer­cise to be aes­thet­i­cal­ly pleas­ing. Accord­ing to her, in the art world, beau­ty is para­mount. So I did some Googling (as one does) and bumped into Sun­flow. Karsten Schmidt had exper­i­ment­ed with using Sun­flow as a ren­der­er direct­ly from Pro­cess­ing, but this library turned out to be out­dat­ed for the cur­rent ver­sion of Pro­cess­ing. There is how­ev­er, a Sun­flow exporter for Sketchup. So I used Sketchup to set up the basics of the scene I want­ed to ren­der (cam­era angle and such) export­ed and then man­u­al­ly edit­ed the result­ing Sun­flow file. The Sun­flow wiki was a great help for under­stand­ing the anato­my of the Sun­flow file for­mat. In addi­tion, this page, which shows exam­ples of many shad­er set­tings, was very help­ful when it came to fig­ur­ing out the mate­ri­als we end­ed up using. A snow-like mate­r­i­al with a “sun sky” light, which makes the whole thing look like Antarc­ti­ca, seemed like a good fit for the sub­ject; silence.

An intermediate rendering of the landscape done with SketchUp

Aesthetics

Alper right­ly points out nei­ther of us is a graph­ic design­er. But this does not mean cer­tain aes­thet­ic con­sid­er­a­tions came into play dur­ing this project. For instance, towards the end, we had ren­der­ings of the land­scape float­ing above an infi­nite plane, as if it’s an object of sorts. I felt this did not do jus­tice to the con­cept we were pur­su­ing, so we even­tu­al­ly decid­ed to merge the mesh with the under­ly­ing plane. We achieved this by sim­ply adding a band of aver­age noise lev­el around the datas­cape and regen­er­at­ing it. Opti­cal­ly, thanks to the nice illu­mi­na­tion in Sun­flow, there is no bor­der between the land­scape and the plane that recedes to the hori­zon.

A Sunflow rendering of the landscape, still floating above the ground

There’s more to be said about this project but I feel like wrap­ping up. A few final words with regards to the util­i­ty of this piece as data visu­al­iza­tion then. I think from this per­spec­tive it is prac­ti­cal­ly use­less. As a piece of graph­ic art that pro­vides a vis­cer­al sense of the data gath­ered by Sarah dur­ing her walks how­ev­er, I think it is quite suc­cess­ful. Keep in mind she’s used this as part of anoth­er pub­li­ca­tion, where a set of anno­ta­tions is over­laid on it.

I would also love to do an inter­ac­tive ver­sion of this, allow­ing for free move­ment through the 3D space, as well as addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion lay­ers with anno­ta­tions by the artist and geo­graph­ic con­text. Who knows, we might come around to this some time.

But for now, this is it: a pic­ture of a land­scape, gen­er­at­ed from silence.

Work now so you can play later

There’s a lot going on at the Leapfrog stu­dio, which explains at least in part why things have gone qui­et around here. How­ev­er, I want­ed to take the time to alert you to some upcom­ing events that might be of inter­est.

An urban game in the Rotterdam city center

On Sun­day Sep­tem­ber 27 around 50 young peo­ple will play an urban game I designed for Your World — Rot­ter­dam Euro­pean Youth Cap­i­tal 2009.1 It is part of a two-day event called Change Your World, which enables groups of youth to set up a new ‘move­ment’ with finan­cial sup­port and advice from pro­fes­sion­als. You might want to hang around the Rot­ter­dam city cen­ter dur­ing the day, to wit­ness what is sure to be an inter­est­ing spec­ta­cle. More info should show up soon enough at the Your World web­site.

A pervasive game in the Hoograven neighborhood of Utrecht

Around the same time, from Sep­tem­ber 18 to Octo­ber 11, you’ll be able to play Kop­pelkiek in the Hoograven area of Utrecht. This is a game I’ve cre­at­ed for the Dutch Design Dou­ble pro­gram.2 To play, you take pho­tos of your­self with oth­ers in a range of sit­u­a­tions and upload them to the game’s web­site. It’s designed to sub­tly per­me­ate your dai­ly life. With the help of our play­ers we’re hop­ing to cre­ate a col­lec­tion of pho­tos that pro­vide a unique look into life in the neigh­bor­hood. Do join in if you’re in the area. Also, we’ll have a playtest on Sep­tem­ber 16. If you’re inter­est­ed in play­ing a round or two, drop me a line.3

Data visualizations of silence

I’m wrap­ping up some data visu­al­iza­tion work I’ve done for the artist Sarah van Sons­beeck.4 Sarah’s work revolves (amongst oth­er things) around the con­cept of silence. Alper and I took a dataset she gen­er­at­ed dur­ing a few of her ‘silence walks’ using a GPS track­er and a sound lev­el meter and cre­at­ed a num­ber of sta­t­ic visu­al­iza­tions in Pro­cess­ing. Some of the out­put can be seen at the exhi­bi­tion Een Dijk van een Kust. More will prob­a­bly be on dis­play at anoth­er occa­sion. Also, I’ve learnt some new tricks that I intend to share here soon.

What else, what else…

  • I’m still mean­ing to write some­thing up about the work that went into Mega Mon­ster Bat­tle Are­na™ but it will have to wait. I attend­ed two of the three shows and enjoyed both through­ly. There’s some pho­tos up at the opera’s web­site.
  • We’re in the process of fin­ish­ing up the This hap­pened – Utrecht #3 videos. Once they’re all done we’ll add them to the event’s page on the .org site along with the slides. Plan­ning for our fourth event has already start­ed. Mark your cal­en­dar for Octo­ber 26 and sub­scribe to our newslet­ter so you won’t miss the registration’s open­ing.
  • And final­ly, I’m slow­ly but sure­ly giv­ing shape to a new ven­ture which will focus on the use of play in pub­lic space to effect social change. Its name is Hub­bub. The crazy design­ers at BUROPONY are devel­op­ing a sweet brand iden­ti­ty and a first place­hold­er site is up. Stay tuned for more news on that.

That’s about it for now, thanks for your atten­tion. I promise to pro­vide con­tent with more meat and less self-pro­mo­tion in upcom­ing posts.

  1. Karel Mil­lenaar, game design­er extra­or­di­naire at Fource­Labs and a fel­low res­i­dent of the Dutch Game Gar­den, has helped me out on this one. []
  2. I’ve asked Tij­men Schep of Pinep­ple­Jazz, NetNiet.org and the new Utrecht medi­al­ab to be my part­ner on this one. []
  3. Around the same time a lot of oth­er inter­est­ing stuff relat­ed to design and soci­ety will be going on, such as the third edi­tion of Utrecht Man­i­fest, the bien­ni­al for social design. []
  4. I was turned on to this gig by the ubiq­ui­tous Alper Çuğun. []

Stay hungry, stay foolish”

I grad­u­at­ed from the Utrecht School of the Arts in 2002. Now, less than sev­en years lat­er, I am men­tor­ing a group of five stu­dents who will be doing the same come Sep­tem­ber this year. I took a pho­to of them today, here it is:

Bright young bunch

From left to right, here’s who they are and what they’re up to:

  • Chris­ti­aan is tech lead on Hol­lan­dia, an action adven­ture game inspired by Dutch folk­lore. His research looks at ways to close the gap between cre­atives and tech­nol­o­gists in small teams, using agile tech­niques.
  • Kjell is design­ing a series of exper­i­men­tal games using voice as their only input. He’s research­ing what game mechan­ics work best with voice con­trol.
  • Max­ine is game design­er on the afore­men­tioned Hol­lan­dia game. Her research looks at the trans­la­tion of the play expe­ri­ence of phys­i­cal toys to dig­i­tal games. (In of Hol­lan­dia, you’ll be using a Wiimote to con­trol the spin­ning top used by the hero­ine.)
  • Paul is build­ing a physics-based plat­form puz­zle game for two play­ers. His research looks at the design of mean­ing­ful col­lab­o­ra­tive play.
  • Eva is mak­ing a space sim­u­la­tion game with real­is­tic physics and com­plex con­trols. She’s research­ing what kinds of fun are elicit­ed by such games.

Prac­ti­cal­ly speak­ing, men­tor­ing these guys means that I see them once a week for a 15-minute ses­sion. In this we dis­cuss the past week’s progress and their plans for the next. They’ve set their own briefs, and are expect­ed to be high­ly self-reliant. My task con­sists of mak­ing sure they stay on track and their work is rel­e­vant, both from an edu­ca­tion­al and a pro­fes­sion­al per­spec­tive. It’s chal­leng­ing work, but a lot of fun. It forces me to make explic­it the stuff I’ve picked up pro­fes­sion­al­ly. It’s also a lot about devel­op­ing a sense for where each stu­dent indi­vid­u­al­ly can improve and encour­ag­ing them to chal­lenge them­selves in those areas.

I’m look­ing for­ward to see­ing what they’ll deliv­er come Sep­tem­ber, when it’s their turn to grad­u­ate, and go out to con­quer the world.

An assortment of weird things in public spaces

I’ve been research­ing street art and relat­ed top­ics late­ly, and have come across a range of inter­est­ing things peo­ple have placed in pub­lic spaces. I thought it would be fun (and per­haps enlight­en­ing) to col­lect them here. Each entry fol­lows a sim­i­lar for­mat, list­ing what was left, by whom and with what intent, what it was made of, and what the reac­tions were.

Clear­ly, ‘play­ing’ in pub­lic spaces is not with­out risk. Reac­tions can vary wide­ly and are depen­dent on such a huge range of things that you can essen­tial­ly not pre­dict what will hap­pen. If you want to leave things with the aim of chang­ing the public’s atti­tude, you’d best embrace this unpre­dictabil­i­ty, make use of it, and not be naive about it.

Photo of Banksy piece on Essex Road, London

Banksy (2008)

World famous street artist Banksy has cre­at­ed many inter­ven­tions in pub­lic space. A recent one in Lon­don being a mur­al show­ing a girl rais­ing a flag bear­ing the logo of Tesco’s while two chil­dren look on, hands on their harts. The piece is filmed for an hour and the result shows a huge amount of peo­ple stop­ping and look­ing at it. (Which is inter­est­ing in the con­text of to the next exam­ple.)

Pho­to cred­it: Ben Bell on Flickr.

Photo of Tuymans piece in Antwerp

Luc Tuy­mans (2008)

As an exper­i­ment, crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed con­tem­po­rary painter Luc Tuy­mans paints a mur­al on the walls of a busy pedes­tri­an street in Antwerp. Hard­ly any­one (less than 10%) pays the work any atten­tion, as this video shows. What does this say about peo­ple, what does it say about con­tem­po­rary art?

Pho­to cred­it: Pkeyn on Flickr.

The ATHF Mooninite LED display

ATHF Mooni­nite (2007)

LED dis­plays show­ing a Mooni­nite, a char­ac­ter from the Aqua Teen Hunger Force ani­mat­ed show are attached to met­al sur­faces through­out 10 major cities in the USA. They are part of a gueril­la mar­ket­ing cam­paign to pro­mote an upcom­ing ATHF film. After being up for a few weeks, Boston police are alert­ed to their pres­ence and mis­tak­en for pos­si­ble bombs, launch­ing a full-on scare. The artists respon­si­ble for putting them up (Peter Berdovsky, 27, and Sean Stevens, 28) are arrest­ed but lat­er released.

Pho­to cred­it: Emil­gh on Flickr.

Mario Question Block placed in Santa Ana by Psticks

Super Mario Bros. Blocks (2006)

Street artist Poster Child pub­lish­es instruc­tions for the cre­ation of blocks faced with ques­tion marks tak­en from the game Super Mario Bros. online. Inside the blocks are the tra­di­tion­al pow­er-ups from the game. His inten­tion is to com­ment on the onslaught of adver­tis­ing in pub­lic space. Many cre­ate the blocks and put them up in var­i­ous pub­lic places, some as a state­ment, oth­er for fun. One group of young women is arrest­ed for doing the same, but are ulti­mate­ly not charged.

Pho­to cred­it: Block by Psticks tak­en from Poster Child’s site.

Three officers inspecting one of the saucers

British UFOs (1967)

The RAE Rag Com­mit­tee plants six small-sized saucers at equal dis­tances on a straight line in the south of Eng­land. The saucers are made from fiber­glass resin, con­tain elec­tron­ics to make them bleep when tilt­ed at cer­tain angles and are filled with a mix­ture of flour and water boiled at high tem­per­a­ture to rep­re­sent alien life. The result­ing reac­tion is com­pa­ra­ble to the War of the Worlds scare of 1938. The inten­tion of the hoax­ers: to raise funds for char­i­ty. They were not per­se­cut­ed, although some author­i­ties were less than amused.

Descrip­tion based on an arti­cle by John Keel­ing in Fortean Times #228 from which the image is tak­en as well.

Can you think of any oth­er weird things placed in pub­lic spaces? Do let me know.

Three cool projects out of the Art, Media and Technology faculty

So a week ago I vis­it­ed a project mar­ket at the Art, Media and Tech­nol­o­gy fac­ul­ty in Hil­ver­sum which is part of the Utrecht School of Arts and offers BA and MA cours­es in Inter­ac­tion Design, Game Design & Devel­op­ment and many oth­ers.

The range of projects on show was broad and won­der­ful­ly pre­sent­ed. It proves the school is still able to inte­grate arts and crafts with com­mer­cial and soci­etal rel­e­vant think­ing. All projects (over 40 in total) were by mas­ter of arts stu­dents and com­mis­sioned by real world clients. I’d like to point out three projects I par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoyed:

Koe

A tan­gi­ble inter­face that mod­els a cow’s insides and allows vet­eri­nary stu­dents to train at much ear­li­er stage than they do now. The cow mod­el has real­is­tic organs made of sil­i­con (echoes of Real­doll here) and is hooked up to a large dis­play show­ing a 3D visu­al­iza­tion of the student’s actions inside the cow. Crazy, slight­ly gross but very well done.

Haas

A nar­ra­tive, lit­er­ary game called ‘Haas’ (Dutch for hare) that allows the play­er to intu­itive­ly draw the lev­el around the main char­ac­ter. The game’s engine remind­ed me a bit of Chris Craw­ford’s work in that it tracks all kinds of dra­mat­ic pos­si­bil­i­ties in the game and eval­u­ates which is the most appro­pri­ate at any time based on avail­able char­ac­ters, props, etc. Cute and pret­ty.

Entertaible

A game devel­oped for Philips’ Enter­taible which is a large flat pan­el mul­ti-touch dis­play that can track game pieces’ loca­tion, shape and ori­en­ta­tion and has RFID capa­bil­i­ties as well. The game devel­oped has the play­ers explore a haunt­ed man­sion (stun­ning­ly visu­al­ized by the stu­dents in a style that is rem­i­nis­cent of Pixar) and play a num­ber of inven­tive mini-games. Very pro­fes­sion­al­ly done.

For a taste of the project mar­ket you can check out this pho­to album (from which the pho­tos in this post are tak­en) as well as this video clip by Dutch news­pa­per AD.

Full dis­clo­sure: I cur­rent­ly teach a course in game design for mobile devices and ear­li­er stud­ied inter­ac­tion and game design between 1998 and 2002 at the same school.

K-141 АПЛ Курск

Some­times you learn some­thing strange while tag­ging vaca­tion shots. At least that was the case with this pho­to I took in Venice:

K-141 АПЛ Курск

Look­ing for some prop­er tags I Googled “K-141” and found a Wikipedia arti­cle on the Russ­ian sub­ma­rine Kursk. I pulled out the prop­er Russ­ian text to use as tags but was puz­zled about the rea­son behind the sten­cil.

I decid­ed to let my direct col­leagues in on the mys­tery and mailed it around at the office. Soon after, Peter point­ed out that the same sten­cil art was blogged at zom­bizi zero-six and Woost­er Col­lec­tive.

Quite enter­tain­ing, but it gets even weird­er. He point­ed out this link, which appar­ent­ly proves the sten­cil spree was part of Russia’s pres­ence at the 51st Venice Bien­nale…

Bart right­ly point­ed out that it’s strange they didn’t get caught doing it. I mean: wouldn’t it be easy for the police to hold the Rus­sians at the Bien­nale respon­si­ble for this bla­tant act of “van­dal­ism”?

Any­way. You learn some­thing new every day, don’t you?

Paris mashed up

Street art hero Banksy strikes again: he’s spread 500 mashed up copies of Paris Hilton’s new album through 48 record stores in the UK. This excel­lent video shows how he goes about Pho­to­shop­ping and past­ing up the book­let, insert­ing a new CD and sneak­ing it into an HMV shop. The music on the spoof album was cre­at­ed by hip-hop pro­duc­er Dan­ger Mouse.

Shot of mashed up Paris booklet

Guys like him make life in the 21st cen­tu­ry slight­ly more bear­able; Banksy proves ordi­nary cit­i­zens can pro­vide some coun­ter­weight to mass media with well-exe­cut­ed and high­ly tar­get­ed actions. HMV doesn’t agree: “It’s not the type of behav­iour you’d want to see hap­pen­ing very often”.

Thanks to Bart for the heads-up.

An invitation to The Sultan’s Elephant

A photo of The Sultan's Elephant by Hessel

A while ago, my friend Hes­sel post­ed this excel­lent pho­to to Flickr. I’ve noticed this insane­ly cool per­for­mance around the inter­web ear­li­er. Now, just as back then I real­ly wish that giant ele­phant and the accom­pa­ny­ing girl will fre­quent one of my country’s small cities even though that doesn’t seem like­ly. Please Sultan’s Ele­phant, come to the Nether­lands, I’ll give you some peanuts when you do!