Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Flash CS4

I am currently spending far too much time learning the new tools in Flash CS4! Also, because I am also a College lecturer (as well as being an MA student myself), I am having to update all my handouts for Flash..... time consuming stuff. I have been using Flash 8 and have jumped to the new version and its mind blowing how much new stuff there is to get my head around - Inverse Kinematics, the new motion editor, 3D tool, to name a few. I have also been playing with Camtasia, a recording software to create video tutorials.  I only downloaded the free trial, but I think its worth getting the full version because it's a great tool and will be quicker than creating step by step handouts with screenshots! I am also dipping my toes into After Effects.... its just finding the time to absorb it all! :)

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Characterising yourself

For one of our weekly assignments at Uni, we were asked to attempt to characterise ourselves, so I thought I'd be brave and post my attempts.....

I tried to portray mood with the drawings at the top. The side profile ones make me think of medusa.... I don't really see myself as a snake headed monster though.....

As this was a short project, this was my final sketch. I wonder if I was subconsciously inspired by Betty Boop or even Holly Hobby from the 70's.

I know this needs more time given to it, but I have been sidetracked by the theory work and trying to do some animations.... and most of all the demands of work at College....

Monday, 27 April 2009

Lev Manovich discusses the icons of memesis

In an article entitled: 'Reality' effects in computer animation, Lev Manovich discusses what he calls, the icons of memesis.

To suggest the idea of progress of computer graphics towards realism, researchers privilege particular subjects that culturally connote the mastery of mimetic representation.

Historically, the idea of mimesis has been connected with the success in illusionistic representation of certain subjects. The original episode in the history of Western painting is the story of the competition of Zeuxis and Parrhasiuss. The grapes painted by Zeuxis symbolise his skill to create living nature out of inanimate matter of paint. Further examples in the history of art include the celebration of the mimetic skill of those painters who were able to simulate another symbol of living nature - the human flesh.

While the painting tradition had its own iconography of subjects connoting mimesis, moving image media relies on a different set of subjects. Steven Neale (1985) describes how early film demonstrated its authenticity by representing moving nature:

"What was lacking [in photographs] was the wind, the very index of real,
natural movement. Hence the obsessive contemporary fascination, not just with movement, not just with scale, but also with waves and sea spray, with smoke and spray".

Computer graphics researchers resort to similar subjects to signify the realism of animation.

This search for realism is associated more with 3D animation than 2D animation; as there seems to be a quest for more and more realism
within 3D, whereas within 2D there is more of a blend of traditional and digital skills. This perpetual pursuit for realism within 3D, doesn't always work with the viewer as they can feel unnerved by this ultra realism within animation, edging towards the perverse feeling within the 'uncanny valley'. Beowulf (2007) has been attributed with this phenomenon, as the prominent actors, such as Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie and Ray Winstone have been emulated through 3D animations with the use of Motion Capture. There is a debate as to whether some animators consider Motion Capture as 'animation', and a big debate as to whether this animation is ultra realistic or not. Half of a group of students who went to see this film at imax, thought it was absolutely amazing and half thought it was awful. Some thought that although the CGI was realistic, it was also soulless. There was confusion with the realism and the awkwardness of the 'acting'. As the characters were so realistic, more was expected of the 'acting', and this was why they interpreted the characters as impassive and wooden - because their expectations were higher due to the animation being closer to reality than they are accustomed to. Ultimately, this led to an element of disorientation when viewing the animation.

I do not agree with the concept that Motion Capture is not animation, because the animators work tremendously hard on animating into the captured footage in order to achieve the final product, but I have to agree that the characters do come across as soulless. The human attribute that is so elusive...... the spirit of the individual will continue to be problematic for the animators to capture, whilst attempting to create this sought after hyper realism.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

More Memes....

Thoughts, like fleas, jump from man to man. But they don't bite everybody.
---Attrib. Stanislaw Lem.

Bjarneskans, Grønnevik and Sandberg (2000) state that: Memes do not only influence behaviour to promote replication, but many of the most successful memes have other side-effects (for example, being able to invoke various emotions) or promote their replication by being useful or through other features (like parasiting on other memes, e.g. parodies and imitations); using a biological analogy one could say symbiotic memes spread mainly using their usefulness, while parasitic memes compel the host to spread them. This compulsion can be more or less subtle, ranging from explicit orders like in chain letters ("Send ten copies of this letter to your friends") to implicit influences that link with our attitudes like the "Save the whales" meme described in (Hofstadter 1985, p. 55).

It is quite common that memes are confused with ideas/thoughts. Both are cognitive structures, but an idea is not self-replicating and is spread passively (i.e. for extrinsic reasons) if it is spread beyond its initial host at all. The difference is sometimes hazy; the idea "Isn't it time for us to eat?" can easily spread in a small group, but will not spread well outside the group and will disappear once the question is settled, while a meme usually can spread generally and does not have any limited lifespan. Taken from: www.aleph.se/Trans/Cultural/Memetics/memecycle.html

Memes are virul, they are non genetic replicators and can spread like wild fire. I have found it difficult to refine the Meme to a definitive meaning and the above extract helps clarify that Memes are not simply ideas or stories that are spread between small groups of friends. It's good to know what they are not; in order to grasp what they are....

Sunday, 8 March 2009

What is a meme?

These answers to the question: 'What is a meme?' were taken from alt.memetics, at http://maxwell.lucifer.com/virus/alt.memetics/what.is.html

Glenn Grant: Meme (pron. meem): A contagious information pattern that replicates by parasitically infecting human minds and altering their behavior, causing them to propagate the pattern. (Term coined by Dawkins, by analogy with "gene".) Individual slogans, catch-phrases, melodies, icons, inventions, and fashions are typical memes. An idea or information pattern is not a meme until it causes someone to replicate it, to repeat it to someone else. All transmitted knowledge is memetic.

Tony Lezard: Richard Dawkins, who coined the word in his book The Selfish Gene defines the meme as simply a unit of intellectual or cultural information that survives long enough to be recognized as such, and which can pass from mind to mind. There's not much of a sense of describing thought processes, but nor is it just a model. As Richard Dawkins writes (this is from memory), "God indeed exists, if only as a pattern in brain structures replicated across the minds of billions of people throughout the world." (Of course the patterns aren't physically identical, but they represent the same thing.)

Richard Dawkins: Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leading from body to body via sperm or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain.

Memes should be regarded as living structures, not just metaphorically but technically. When you plant a fertile meme in my mind, you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme's propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell. And this isn't just a way of talking -- the meme for, say, 'belief in life after death' is actually realized physically, millions of times over, as a structure in the nervous systems of people all over the world.

H Keith Henson: A meme survives in the world because people pass it on to other people, either vertically to the next generation, or horizontally to our fellows. This process is analogous to the way willow genes cause willow trees to spread them, or perhaps closer to the way cold viruses make us sneeze and spread them.

Peter J Vajk: It is important to note here that, in contrast to genes, memes are not encoded in any universal code within our brains or in human culture. The meme for vanishing point perspective in two-dimensional art, for example, which first appeared in the sixteenth century, can be encoded and transmitted in German, English or Chinese; it can be described in words, or in algebraic equations, or in line drawings. Nonetheless, in any of these forms, the meme can be transmitted, resulting in a certain recognizable element of realism which appears only in art works executed by artists infected with this meme.

Heith Michael Rezabek: My favorite example of a crucial meme would be "fire" or more importantly, "how to make a fire." This is a behavioral meme, mind you, one which didn't necessarily need a word attached to it to spring up and spread, merely a demonstration for another to follow. Once the meme was out there, it would have spread like wildfire, for obvious reasons... But when you start to think of memes like that -- behavioral memes -- then you can begin to see how language itself, the idea of language, was a meme. Writing was a meme. And within those areas, more specific memes emerged.

Lee Borkman: Memes, like genes, vary in their fitness to survive in the environment of human intellect. Some reproduce like bunnies, but are very short-lived (fashions), while others are slow to reproduce, but hang around for eons (religions, perhaps?). Note that the fitness of the meme is not necessarily related to the fitness that it confers upon the human being who holds it. The most obvious example of this is the "Smoking is Cool" meme, which does very well for itself while killing off its hosts at a great rate.


Came across this animation while looking at some creative blogs. I drink far too much coffee at work and when researching or studying at home and this amused me. I will have to see if I can find anything about Emilie Tarascou and Stephanie Marguerite, the animators.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Darwins Dangerous Idea

I stated on Facebook that I am studying memes and I got lots of queries from my students and an ex student asking me what memes were. I was even on live chat giving some of them an extemely brief overview. A student of mine from last year asked what are memes? Then wrote on my wall before I could reply:

A meme is a unit or element of cultural ideas, symbols or practices; such units or elements transmit from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena. The etymology of the term relates to the greek word mimema for mimic. Memes act as cultural analogues to genes in that they self replicate and respond to selective pressures.
Taken from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme.

It didn't matter that he had Googled it and taken it from Wikipedia, I was happy he had bothered to actually do the search!

I've also had an interesting debate with a colleague at work about Darwins Theory of Evolution. He studied Geology at University and fully embraces Darwins theory. What I struggle to get an understanding of is; where did we originate from? Not the species... just how did we come into being. He was attempting to explain that before the 'big bang', there was no concept of time, there was nothing. His words were... 'It just is', but being the curious creature that I am.... I cannot accept that from nothing.... came everything. It is an infinite question that I cannot find a solution to....

I am currently mentoring a trainee lecturer and he kindly told me about 4 on Demand. He said that he watched Richard Dawkins series on Darwin the other night and that I might find it interesting. I registered for 4oD last night and watched Part 1, but was too tired to carry on and watch Part 2. Part 1 was interesting, but I am hoping that Part 2 will be more enlightening. It was intriguing to see the author of The Selfish Gene talk avidly about a topic he is obviously so passionate about.

I have stumbled across a couple of interesting ideas/theories while reading Chapter 2 of Darwin's Dangerous Idea, that I feel the need to do further research on. I do feel that I am getting further away from memes, but still want to pursue the diversion of looking into the 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population by Thomas Malthus. For a brief overview for now, the wikipedia search quotes that:

The book An Essay on the Principle of Population was first published anonymously in 1798 through J Johnson (London). The author was soon identified as the Reverend Thomas Robert malthus. While it was not the first book on population, it has been acknowleged as the most influential work of its era. Its 6th Edition was independently cited as a key influence by both Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace in developing the theory of natural selection.

A key portion of the book was dedicated to what is now known as Malthus' Iron Law of Population. This pessimistic theory suggested that growing population rates would contribute to a rising supply of labour that would inevitably lower wages. In essence, Malthus feared that continued population growth would lend itself to poverty.

One immediate impact of Malthus' book was that it fueled the debate about the size of the population in Britain and led to (or at least greatly accelerated) the passing of the Census Act 1800. This Act enabled the holding of a national census in England, Wales and Scotland, starting in 1801 and continuing every ten years to the present. Taken from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Essay_on_the_Principle_of_Population.

It would seem that we may ultimately be leading to a 'Malthusian Catastrophe' as the Worlds population heads towards exceeding its ability to produce food for all. An interesting article in The Wall Street Journal - New Limits to Growth Revive Malthusian Fears by Justin Lahart, Patrick Barta and Andrew Batson,

(http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120613138379155707.html) states that 'Today the old fears are back. Although a Malthusian catastrophe is not at hand, the resource constraints foreseen by the Club of Rome are more in evidence today than at any time since the 1972 publication of the think tank's famous book, "The Limits of Growth".' They provide the reader with a poignant quote from the think tank:

'If the present growth trends in World population, industrialisation, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next 100 years.' The Club of Rome Think Tank, 1972.

I agree with Dennett, that this Malthusian way of thinking is grim, but feasible; but Darwin took from it what he needed in order to help him make headway with his theory.

Dennett (1995) says that: '...the idea that Darwin needed from Malthus is purely logical. It has nothing at all to do with political ideology, and can be expressed in very abstract and general terms. Suppose a world in which organisms have many offspring. Since the offspring themselves will have many offspring, the population will grow and grow ("geometrically") until inevitably sooner or later - surprisingly soon, in fact - it must grow too large for the available resources (of food, of space, of whatever the organisms need to survive long enough to reproduce). At that point, whenever it happens, not all organisms will have offspring. Many will die childless. It was Malthus who pointed out the mathematical inevitability of such a crunch in any population of long term reproducers - people, animals, plants (or, for that matter, Martian clone machines, not such fanciful possibilities were discussed by Malthus). Those populations that reproduce at less than the replacement rate are headed for extinction unless they reverse the trend. Populations that maintain a stable population over long periods of time will do so by settling on a rate of overproduction of offspring that is balanced by the vicissitudes encountered.

This is the foundation of Darwins 'Dangerous Idea', that natural selection would ensure that future generations of species were more appropriately armed to deal with the rigours of life that they would ultimately be faced with.

The other theory that seems quite intriguing is
Panspermia. The idea that life on Earth may have originated from seeds from another part of the Universe.... I will save that for another day though!

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Looking at Memes....

This blog is being created for my Media Discources module, as part of a formative assessment that requires students to use a blog or wiki through the module as a way of logging and recording their activities, as a process of reflections and commentary, and as a means of archiving findings, work etc.

I started researching memes last week. I had set aside the time to do some stop motion experimentations, but had a nightmare with the software not working - so, to make sure the day wasn't wasted totally, I turned my thoughts to memes. I visited Google Scholar and Google Books. I then found myself going to Amazon as I thought it would be wise to actually purchase a couple of books and get stuck into some solid reading. Ended up ordering The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, Darwin's Dangerous Idea by Daniel C Dennett, the Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore, Guerrilla Creativity by Jay Levinson and as an add on just because it looked interesting (and I like anything by Paul Wells), Re-Imagining Animation - The Changing Face of the Moving Image by Paul Wells and Johnny Hardstaff. Oh, and I also ordered The Creative Licence by Danny Gregory as a treat as it came highly recommended. It gave my card a bashing, but hopefully they'll be worth it!

The books arrived Friday and I struggled with which book to start with, but as I'd had a hard day at work, I took a peak at The Creative Licence first and it was a visual feast of inspiration... but I flicked casually through it and thought I'd better get on with the research. I had trouble deciding which order to read the books but I started reading Darwin's Dangerous idea, with the logic that I should have a better understanding of Darwins theory of evolution in order to then go on to read The Selfish Gene and then Susan Blackmore's Meme Machine.

I have read Chapter One, but this is not a book that can be rushed... as the topic is regarding peoples cherished ideas about the meaning of life; it certainly makes you think. It was interesting to read that David Hume and Denis Diderot had speculated on this theory before Darwin, but didn't quite want to take the step forward to investigate the idea further. It was a difficult road to tread... one which could break the spell of sacred beliefs - so was not to be taken lightly. Dennett
sagaciously states that 'Before Darwin,a "Mind-first" view of the universe reigned unchallenged; an intelligent God was seen as the ultimate source of all Design, the ultimate answer to any chain of "Why?" questions. Even David Hume, who deftly exposed the insoluble problems with this vision, and had glimpses of the Darwinian alternative, could not see how to take it seriously.' (Dennett 1995).