Making of “Word Wars- News from the Empire”

Sharing here my thought and tool process that brought me to create the project called “Word Wars – News from the Empire“.

Word Wars Blender Scene

I’ve been playing around for a while with Blender scripting and even organized monthly workshops about it to share the experience with other artists in a group called “Blender-Brussels“. And since the beginning of these workshop sessions, my goal was to turn one of these one day projects into a daily video generation tool.

Then last month, while preparing the class I gave to a couple of artists in New York city, I started writing a small example script that would grab some text from the web and turn it into a 3D object inside a Blender scene. And while playing around with the script, the idea to turn this into a very resource hungry news reader came to me. Basically, from then on, the rest followed.

As a Star Wars fan, I’ve always been puzzled by the countless memes and reinterpretations it has generated. It somehow reflects how Hollywood culture can really take over our imagination and even become the mythological stories of our western society. But it also portraits Hollywood’s fascination for war stories, an important part of U.S. culture in general. I can’t think of any other western country where the war hero is so present in politics and everyday life. But again, when you know that the U.S. has almost constantly been at war since it’s creation, this comes with no surprises.

So it became clear to me that I wanted to address these subjects in a simple and buzzworthy manner. Following the path of the YES MEN, I chose The New York Times as my only source of war news.

Practically, the whole project consists of a prepared Blender scene, with a starry night (I’ll come back to that later), some placeholder for the texts, a modified Star Wars logo and the “Main Title Theme” music by John Williams.

Then I have two Python scripts. One that fetches the RSS feeds from the NYT and filters the news searching for war related keywords. If at least one article is found, it will add the text to the scene and modify the animation keyframes (because I do always want to have the text start at a certain time and vanish into the infinite emptyness at another particular time also) to fit with the music. The first script finishes by rendering the clip. The second script takes care of the uploading to Youtube, adding the title and filling the description.

To get the feeling right, I studied carefully the original intro from the first Star wars movie. The dedicated wikpedia page helped me also figure out some of the things, but in the end, I took some creative liberties that maybe only a hard core Star Wars fan would notice.

The original font used by Lucas is the “News Gothic” by american author Morris Fuller Benton. But since I’m a big fan of open source fonts, I preferred to use “News Cycle” by Nathan Willis, also an american author and − full disclosure − a good friend. The font is similar to News Gothic and fitted perfectly for the job. Using it, I was also happy to promote his excellent work in the open font world.

For the logo, I downloaded the svg version of it from Wikipedia and searched for amateur SW fonts for the missing characters (O&D). In the end, I found myself redrawing almost all of it, point by point, in Inkscape, until I reached the desired look.

Word_Wars_Logo

For the music score, it quickly was out of question that I would try to find a replacement for the original score by John Williams. First, it’s so iconic − the music is a meme in itself − that it would be pointless to find a remix or a different version of it. I really wanted to keep close as much as possible to the real feel of a Star Wars intro, and well, can’t do without John and the brass from the London Symphonic Orchestra. Second, if you worry about copyright issues, there is two arguments that made me stick by this choice. One is that, since I was uploading to Youtube, I knew they would let me use the music but would also certainly pay the necessary royalties to John for me. Then, if anyone still complained, I could certainly make a case, with all the clips and remixes you can find online, that the song could be considered as public domain. (I know that last argument is a bit too far fetched, but there should be a case like this in copyright laws.)

Then for the star field background, I wanted to pay my respects to those fans scrutinizing every official Star Wars trailer looking for a detail or a key that would unlock a piece or a new character from the coming movie. So I searched for the real star field that you can see from earth and found it from Paul Bourke’s page, luckily in a very high resolution. Since there was no license mentioned on the page, I contacted him by mail. Here’s his response:

No license … go wild.
Acknowledgements welcome.

I could not be happier. Adding this little detail, that until now I (guess) was the only one who could see it, for me, really tied the whole project together. It’s subconscious to the viewer, but s/he is watching those flying vanishing news from earth.

After all this, I polished the scripts a little, moved it all to a small dedicated server, cried a little when I saw the difference in rendering times between the server and my desktop, reworked the scene to pre-render the parts that never change, gained a couple of hours, then patiently waited 20 days (for 20 videos to be generated) before releasing it to the public.

For those interested, you can download the project files from this repository. Feel free to use and modify as this project is released under a Free Art license and let me know if you make anything of it.

And while I was writing this post, Youtube announced me the latest video, “Episode XXVII”:

“moDernisT” et le fantôme du MP3

moDernisT

moDernisT” a été créé en récupérant les sons et images perdus lors de la compression en mp3 et mp4. La bande sonore est composée par Ryan Maguire à partir des pertes dues à la compression du morceau “Tom’s Diner”, de Suzanne Vega. Ce morceau n’a pas été choisi par hasard puisqu’on appellera plus tard son interprète “la mère du mp3“. En effet, Karlheinz Brandenburg, l’inventeur du mp3, a utilisé ce morceau comme référence pour paramétrer son algorithme.

La vidéo a été réalisée selon le même principe par Takahiro Suzuki en réponse à la piste audio, mais à partir des pertes d’image du clip en compression mp4. Les deux fonctionnant donc comme des “fantômes” de leur versions originales compressées.

Les petit(e)s malin(e)s auront noté que la version présentée dans ce clip Vimeo est compressée également. C’est pourquoi Ryan Maguire propose d’acheter le morceau non-compressé au prix que tu veux.

The Ghost in the MP3

Merci à Vinz pour la découverte.

Star Wars blended

All 6 Star Wars

All 6 Star Wars films, blended together on top of each other, is a brilliant readymade mashup of this iconic universe by Georges Lucas. To me, it sounds like the perfect thing to display at the next VJ fest, as is. It also produces beautiful stills that any glitch/collage artist should be jealous of. But now that it’s done, you can move on. Just keep this in mind for your next costume party based on movie themes.

The full movie (enjoy until the take down notice).

Some stills taken from this extended gallery.

PTEgWlw - Imgur

Fqjkrty - Imgur

FR5T9po - Imgur

RRDscsv - Imgur

Via @johnmaeda

#uHbench map

A map of known places where urban hacker benches have been built.

uHbench map
A workshop and exhibition of the uHbench project has been scheduled in Constant VZW at the end of this week. For that, they’ve asked me to produce 2 posters that will be displayed along the benches built for the occasion.

One of the poster was obviously going to be the instruction sheet. But for the second one, I hesitated for a while, and finally set up for a representation of how far this project has reached since it’s creation in 2012.

Because thanks to the open source nature of this project and the support it received − not only from friends but also from members of diverse communities  all over Europe −, this project has traveled further than what I would ever imagined. So this map is, of course, a little self-flattering, but I do hope it creates a sense of community beyond borders for those who participated and maybe will encourage some to add their mark to the map.

The vector map is here: http://xuv.github.io/uhbench-map/map.html

For the technically minded, the map was done using the wonderful D3js library. Which I was discovering for the first time but enjoyed a lot (amazed by its possibilities). The code for this project is shared on Github.

− Have you built a uHbench? Want to have your instance on the map?
Add an issue with the name(s) of the builder(s), location and date or clone the repo and update the data.tsv or send me a mail with those informations.

Blender shortcuts right in your search engine

Blender Cheat Sheet

Two months ago, I attended a community meetup in NY called Quack & Hack. The point of it was to gather people around coding to improve the DuckDuckGo search engine.

If you don’t know DuckDuckGo (DDG) by now, it’s the “search engine that does not track you”. And it’s been my tool of choice when I want to search something on the web. It has nice features like the !bang mechanism and the instant answers which I find really handy. But most importantly, I feel good not being followed by an all seeing eye like You-Know-Who.

Another great thing about DDG, is that they have a program called DuckDuckHack where they invite coders to submit improvements to the search engine. These, if approved, end up for example as being new instant answers. I, personally like the weather one, the password generator or the Gimp cheat sheet. But they have many many more. It’s impossible to know them all.

So, as a user and fan of Blender, I thought it would be nice to have the crazy number of shortcuts for that open source 3D software directly available in my search engine of choice. It would not only be helpful to me, but maybe also to the larger Blender community. And in the end, it might also have some of those Blenderheads care a bit more about not being tracked when they avidly search for the latest hot features of Blender.

In the end, the process of getting those shortcuts live on DuckDuckGo took longer than I expected. But it’s now live since yesterday. So try it out and search for “Blender cheat sheet” and tell me what you think.

You can take a peek at all the effort it took by looking at the conversation I had with the DuckDuckGo team on Github. What mainly happened is that I first submitted a “Blender Cheat Sheet” using the classic way for submitting instant answers and during that period, they were working on a different one, which would be easier just for submitting “cheat sheets”. So I had to port that to the new system, and adapt the code until their new stuff was stable and ready to ship.

But I’m glad to have gone through all this. It was an interesting experience to work with the DuckDuckGo team, a nice and friendly crowd. It also feels rewarding to know that my little contribution might hit thousands of users. And I’ll be glad to have that feature in my toolbox when I’ll be giving the next Blender workshop here in NY, at the end of June.

Blender Cheat Sheet all

I finished Facebook #orSoIThought

Facebook High Score Animation

On May 27th, I’ve finished The stupidest game on Facebook. I was silently running this little self-amusing game since the 15th of May and then, later on, opened the process publicly. In the end, it took me less than 15 days to fill up to 99 the most famous 3 icons that you find on the top right corner of Facebook… on a desktop browser.

99+ 99 99 So that’s what it looks like. No cheating. No Css rewriting. No photoshopping. And as a proof, I was screen grabbing the page every 2 hours from the mobile version of Facebook. (Actually, I did not set that up for this project specifically. It is a part of my LoveMachine project, which has been running for more than a year now: I take a screenshot of Facebook every time the bot runs, mostly for debugging.)

So today, I looked for the first time at all these screenshots and especially the ones corresponding to this period and to my surprise, I’ve found out that the stupid game does not work at all on the mobile version of Facebook. If the highest score on desktop is clearly 99, I have no idea what the limits are on mobile. (On the top of this page, you can see the gif created from all the screenshots.)

This is of course very disappointing. It makes the game a little useless, or at least, not multi-platform, as games should be these days.

Anyway, I guess that closes the challenge. I have other plans for the monster than trying to reach 999 or whatever the limit is on mobile. If any of you is up for the mobile challenge, please drop me a line. I’d be interested to see your results.

As a happy note, and to close this chapter, I found out that when the score of unread private messages reaches 99+ in the desktop browser, it resets the counter by itself. Which, to me, is obviously a bug. So, as a joke, I posted a status about it and tagged the Facebook Design team in it.

Facebook design response

They replied.

The stupidest game on Facebook

and you don’t need to install any app for it.

Facebook Highscore - almost there

While contemplating the most watched icons on Facebook, it became obvious to me that this was an actual Facebook score. I’ve always believed Facebook is a game. And therefore, it should not be taken seriously. Any other use of Facebook would be foolish.

So these icons, well placed on the top right corner of the window, just like in video games, are supposed to give you information, but they mainly only invite you to click. For those not on Facebook, the left one is for “pending friend requests”, the middle one is for “unread private messages” and the one on the right is for “unread notifications”. That last one behaves more as a garbage collector because there is a lot of different kind of notifications. It can be comments, likes, game notifications, tagging, etc.

The trick with these icons is once you click on them, it resets the counter. It doesn’t mean you have read the notifications or that you replied to all your messages or that you responded to all the friend requests. No. It resets because you clicked on them.

Another thing to note is that the counter for each of these icons stops at 99 or 99+. There’s an end to it. Beyond 99 friend requests, private messages or notifications, is not worth counting. Why? Why not 999, 9999…? I sometimes have my mailbox or my RSS reader saying 157 unread messages. But no, not on Facebook.

Anyway, this led me to start a game. A stupid one I admit. The game of “not clicking” (looking at you reddit). I promised myself not to click on those icons until they reach their maximum. And I dare you to do the same.

So far, the easy part was getting friend requests and notifications up to the top. Now, I’m slowly waiting for the private messages to come in. A little more than 20 to go. I did screw up two weeks ago when reaching 42, I clicked on the chat window to respond to a friend. That also resets the counter… But thanks to friend support and announcing publicly what I was playing, things got back on track.

If you want to play along, just take a screenshot of those notifications icons and post a message with the hastag #FacebookHighscore

Let’s see if Facebook breaks when we all reach: 99+, 99+, 99+.

Pacman Parvis St-Gilles

Pacman Parvis St-Gilles Screenshot

Bon, ça va faire le tour, c’est sûr. Google nous sort une petite blague pour le 1er avril. On peut jouer à Pacman dans Google Maps. Ouep. Alors, bien sûr, le truc qui va faire la différence entre ce message sur ce blog et les 100.000 autres qui vont être postés dans les 24h, c’est le petit bout de carte qui va être choisi pour vous présenter cet outil à procrastiner. Perso, j’ai pensé au Parvis Saint-Gilles. Je ne sais pas, il y avait là quelque chose qui me faisait penser à la mise en abyme. Question de point de vue, sans doute.

Pour jouer, c’est là: https://www.google.com/maps/@50.831013,4.3448235,18z/data=!1e3

Mais, a priori, ça peut se jouer partout.
N’hésites pas à poster en commentaire si tu trouves d’autres lieux intéressants.

/via prosthetic knowledge.

Autoroutes du ciel – visualisation de plans de vol

plan-de-vol

Pour créer le site Contrailz, Alexey Papulovskiy a enregistré les données de vol de tous les avions de lignes trouvé sur Planefinder.net pendant le mois d’octobre 2012. En superposant ces données de position, les routes du ciel peuvent apparaître.

La carte est interactive, vous pouvez aller voir n’importe quel point du globe sur Contrailz — Visualized Flight Paths of the World.

RaspiVj (alpha release)

Yesterday, I’ve pushed online the code for what I call the RaspiVJ, a minimal VJ application for the Raspberry Pi.

RaspiVJ set up

The idea was to build a portable and lightweight VJ set up that could be versatile enough to adapt to multiple situtations and configurations. So the Raspberry Pi, as a small and cheap computer, seemed a good candidate. It can already play videos up to an HD format and can connect to a screen via HDMI or RCA (for those old televisions).

Inspired by PocketVJ, everything runs from the Raspberry Pi. All is needed is a smartphone, tablet or computer to connect to the web interface of Raspivj and then be able to manipulate the videos and switch between clips.

RaspiVJ screenshot

The difference with PocketVJ so far, is that it behaves more like a VJ application. You can quickly switch between clips, crossfade between two videos and fade to black.

I’ve already been using this application during a live show with the band Left Arm of Buddha. And I think it could be the perfect tool for young bands, performers or musicians that would like to play videos during their shows with a bit of control over the playback, while still being simple to use and easy to set up.

Left Arm of Buddha

Technically, a node.js server sends the interface to the user’s browser and communicates any action from that user to a custom video player (coded with openFrameworks and ofxOMXPlayer).

So all you’ll need is a Wifi dongle for the Raspberry Pi (or a network cable), some cables to connect the Raspberry Pi to a screen or projector and a smart device to access the webpage that acts as the interface.

The code is released on github as open source under an MIT license. Right now, you have to go through a somewhat lengthy process to install the application. But I’m planning to make a plug-and-play image that you will just have to burn on an empty SD card to get running. Just ping me if you’re interested, it would increase my motivation to do so.

Else, if you just like this project or wish their could be more features, don’t hesitate to say hello.