More math art

Welcome MeFites and Diggers! Since you folks are here looking for homework, I thought I’d dig up some other old ones I did for Prof. Banchoff’s calculus class. This one isn’t quite as involved as that other polynomial, but it was still fun to draw:

Detail. Click for the full page.

This is a visualization of some level surfaces of the equation G(x,y,z) = (4-x^2-y^2-z^2)*((x-c)^2+y^2). Another way to think of it is as the product of two distance fields, one from a sphere, and the other from a line, where the line’s distance from the center of the sphere is given by c. I don’t have an exact date for this, but it would have been sometime in the fall of 1988.

hairball from a giant robot

hairball from a giant robot

Originally uploaded by otherthings.

One thing I can tell you about giant robots: you don’t want to be under them when they start coughing and hacking. The industrial demolition ones are especially bad. They’re sold as “self-maintaining”, which just means they get totally neglected by their owners, and wander around town looking for scraps. I think this one had some type of warehouse for lunch. There were paint cans stuck in its teeth, and it looked kind of ill. I don’t think asbestos agrees with their digestion.

Panoramic Timelapse!


Too cool for words: an interactive, panoramic timelapse video of a massive art installation in Amsterdam. Give it a minute or two to start loading; it’ll be worth your wait!

The interface is clever and compact: you see the entire panorama at the bottom, and an expanded view through a sort of window at the top. (The only part I don’t like is the position-based pan control, which makes me feel like I’m balanced precariously on a giant rubber ball in a swimming pool full of molasses. Give me things I can grab and drag, please! Hint hint: here’s a perfectly good rectangle just below! ;-)

What you see through the window is just as cool: the week-long construction process of a roomful of art, time-stretched and -compressed as necessary to highlight the most interesting moments. There’s so much going on that you’ll want to rewind and watch it multiple times. I particularly liked the big green-and-red letters spelling “POINT”, which start out whole and are gradually cut down from the bottom, so they appear to be sinking into the floor. It almost seems like that artist was performing in slow-motion for the camera. If so, they deserve a standing ovation. Bravo!

(via Wooster Collective.)

Scott McCloud is my hero

Making Comics by Scott McCloud

Scott McCloud is at it again. His new book, Making Comics, is a brilliant thing. It’s as insightful as the first book in the series, but tempered with a kind of wisdom and reflection that matches his updated avatar’s greying temples. As a CG animator, I don’t make comics, and I don’t even draw very well. But there are so many parallels between comics and movies that it’s impossible not to learn from this book.

I love the little moments of self-effacing humor, like the two panels above. His geek is showing, and he’s not ashamed. And why should he be? Diagrams freaking rock!

My favorite part so far is the section on facial expressions. This is material that any working animator should know already, and it’s all been covered quite deeply by Gary Faigin and Paul Ekman. But McCloud has found a way to explain these ideas that’s so vivid and concise that you’ll come away more enlightened even if you’ve already read those other books.

(A related note: a Flash hacker named Pete Charlton has whipped up a really fun visualization that compares McCloud’s beautiful two-emotion combo faces against the relatively unnatural expressions that happen when you try to paste the eyes of one expression onto the mouth of another. We had some really fun discussions about all this after I read about his applet on BoingBoing.)

Crossing our eyes at the sun

Photo from the SOHO project.

When we were first building the Telestereoscope, one of my fantasies was to follow up our ten-foot machine with a really big one. Of course, to my medium-sized brain, “really big” meant stuff like clouds and mountains.

To the geniuses at NASA, “really big” means something a bit different. Like, how about, I dunno, let’s say, the biggest thing in the Solar System? The STEREO project is a pair of satellites that will take 3D pictures of the freaking sun.

Be sure to check NASA’s explanatory video, complete with totally mindblowing footage of solar explosions. Wow. Imagine a movie like this one but in stereo 3D! There’s more on yesterday’s launch at

Testing Talkr

Will wonders never cease? You can now listen to a nice, friendly computer-generated lady read my blog out loud in the form of an mp3 file. You can even subscribe to a podcast if you like. Although since my blog these days consists mainly of photos and video, I can’t imagine why you’d want to. Maybe you need material for your next postmodern audio collage. If so, by all means, have at it! :-)

As for Ms. Talkr herself, she’s pretty good for a computer-generated voice. Her sense of rhythm is as comical as you’d expect, but at least she pronounces most of the words right. Except for the title of this blog. That always comes out wrong. Maybe I should have spelled it “Runghy Chunghy” instead!

photo opening tonight!

please come to the party Thurs

Originally uploaded by fotogail.

Sorry for the late notice… I keep forgetting that I can also use this blog to announce stuff that’s going to happen, and not just stuff that’s already happened.

To wit: a couple of my photos are in an exhibition at the Brickhouse Cafe in San Francisco’s SoMa district, right by the ballpark and the train station. The opening is tonight from 7-10pm. Swing by if you’re in the neighborhood! Details below the jump.

Continue reading photo opening tonight!



Originally uploaded by otherthings.

I was walking down Tire Beach today, when one of the homeless folks who lives around there suddenly shouted out “we were burned up in a fire!” with a cheerful grin. I laughed, not sure if she was joking.

She was not joking.

Lightpainting animation brings everyone happiness!

Apropos of my godson Leo’s video debut, check out this crazy stuff! Some folks from Japan have been making animations using sequences of long-exposure nighttime shots using flashlights to draw each frame. Some of the cycles are really impressive, especially considering that they have no way to compare one frame to another– they just have to draw each frame in space, freehand, and hope for the best. I mean, holy cow, a walking quadruped! They also did a short film (with a great percussion soundtrack) that was entered into the Ottawa Animation Festival. Rock on! There’s lots more info on their main site: PIKA PIKA. One particular quote from the blog makes me just want to hug these people:

We got all sorts of friends in different fields together to work on this project. During the process,they got to know each other and discover new things. This is also about “communication”. People can meet new friends as they create a piece art very easy which brings every one happiness. We spend a very enjoyable evening at the workshop and the party through this animation.

This is just such a joy to see. The collective live animation aspect reminds me of some of Lorelei’s stop-motion parties: there’s something really fun about seeing a dozen different people animating simultaneously, even if the results are total chaos. Also related: the amazing bullet-time light-graffiti spinarounds by PiPS:lab, and the lightpainting alphabet made by Juan Buhler and me.

Vision farming

I always felt that the original Matrix missed a great opportunity, when they used that stupid battery metaphor to explain why the machines needed humans. Supposedly they depended on us for our “bioelectric energy” or some such nonsense. Pins and needles as the sole power source for a planetful of machines? Yeah right. That and $3.50 will buy you a lukewarm cup of coffee. And even if you did buy that line, why humans? Couldn’t they have found a more useful species, like, oh I don’t know, electric eels?

No. There had to be a better explanation. It didn’t take long to figure it out: the real reason the machines needed humans was to solve the problems that were hard for machines. Being intelligent, they recognized that every intelligence solves some problems more efficiently than others. So, rather than destroy us, they simply took advantage of our inherent capacities. But in order to do so, they had to make us want to solve their problems. The best way to do that? Make us believe that we were solving our own problems. Thus the Matrix: an artificial virtual world full of dark, terrible situations, designed to make us solve problems we wouldn’t otherwise care to solve. Need a new high-tech weapon? No problem: just assign every person in the Matrix to one of two imaginary superpowers, and make them go to war. History has shown that with the proper motivation, humans will invent all kinds of horrible stuff.

What I like about this version was that it explains not just the existence of the Matrix, but also why it’s such an awful place. (This eliminates the need for yet another boring and nonsensical speech by Agent Smith, in which he explains that the original Matrix was a paradise, but it fell apart because humans didn’t believe in it. Say what?)

Anyway, I bring this up now because of an interesting post by Clive Thompson over at Collision Detection, about humans being used in exactly this way: to solve problems that are hard for machines. See also Thompson’s 2002 article on the same subject.

We’ve used computers as our render farms for years now. How appropriate that they should start using us as vision farms. And how strange that this should turn out to be not just a better narrative device for a sci-fi movie, but actually true.

I, for one, welcome our new machine overlords.

Cassidy Curtis's splendid display of colorful things.