Week 142

I am sat on the couch at home typ­ing this. iTunes is on shuf­fle (some Bur­ial at the moment). I’ve just had a Bi-Fi snack sausage (a guilty plea­sure) and some ice tea. I was kind of hun­gry, but now I’m ok.

Last week wasn’t as crazy as many recent ones have been. Still pret­ty busy, with some work in the evenings etc. But the pace is low­er. That’s a nice change.

Today I sort of wrapped up project Tako. Sort of, because although I’ve deliv­ered what was this project’s aim, it is part of some­thing much larg­er. So we’re already mak­ing plans for phase two. Any­way, I’ve pub­lished an anno­tat­ed deck of slides to the project’s par­tic­i­pants weigh­ing in at 100+. It describes con­cepts for play­ful stuff that can be added to the pro­grams of ten of Utrecht’s major cul­tur­al events. It also describes a metagame that can be used to tie it all togeth­er. The response to it has been good so now the next step is to actu­al­ly pro­duce a selec­tion of these con­cepts, which is super excit­ing.

I start­ed the week with a long dri­ve to the West­land for a slight­ly over­due eval­u­a­tion of Mega Mon­ster Bat­tle Are­na. Dario Fo, Daniël and myself agree it would be awe­some to put on an improved ver­sion of the show at oth­er venues because it real­ly is some­thing spe­cial, more peo­ple should see it. If you have sug­ges­tions for a suit­able event or venue, let me know.

On wednes­day I made a last minute deci­sion to drop by the great TrouwAms­ter­dam again for an evening on maps as art and new car­tog­ra­phy tech­niques. Amongst other’s Sarah van Sons­beeck was there to talk about her work. She men­tioned the project Alper and I did with her, which I found flat­ter­ing. The evening’s pro­gram con­tained a love­ly range of the super-artis­tic to the very applied and the hyper-ana­log to the pure­ly dig­i­tal. Good stuff. It reminds me of the fact that I want to do Hub­bub games that involve maps in some way.

In between, I’ve been bang­ing away at designs for Layar. It’s inter­est­ing to expe­ri­ence the rhythm of idea diver­gence and con­ver­gence in a project. It’s like ebb and flow. This week was def­i­nite­ly char­ac­ter­ized by a new wave of diver­gence, which means scram­bling to cap­ture all that emerges. Next week we’ll need to bring it all togeth­er again and focus things. Ebb and flow.

iTunes has start­ed play­ing an Inter­pol song now. I think I might grab some crisps after I’ve post­ed this.

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.