Sunday, November 26, 2006

Robots and People

Those of us in the Animation industry have always known that robots understand humans, just as much as animals and objects can think and talk. It seems that Scientists - sceptics that they are - have just gotten around to knowing it as well, and are now building robots that do understand us. Have a look at, and don't forget to pass it on to any robots you know.

Although there are some people who feel that people don't understand people, and that is why the world is in such a state, perhaps robots can explain to the rest of us why we do what we do.

Of course, we (people) are a bit afraid that robots will one day take over the world. It seems that animated creatures are on the way to doing just that, as this year has seen an explosion of animated movies, probably the biggest release of any year. But why?
It could be that computers have reached a point where they can produce an animated movie that is comparable in cost and time to a live-action movie. This is the spin-off from libraries that allow characters created for one movie to be recycled for others. It could be that audiences are tired of the big action-packed kill-em-all movies. On the other hand it could be just market forces. A hit animated movie has great merchandising potential, which is rare for a live-action film.

Animated shorts are not missing out either. Waste you time looking at some animated jokes.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

A matter of taste

Imagine going into a restaurant and saying to the Waiter "For starters I'll have a Bugs Bunny, followed by Pinocchio with some Bambi on the side, Ah yes, the Wallace and Gromit looks nice, I'll have that for desert".

The Waiter might think you are a couple of frames short of a cycle, but it could make sense if you suffered from synesthesia; a condition where the senses overlap so that words and pictures, get translated to tastes and smells.

It is a condition that quite a lot of people have. I play the guitar, and think of different keys as colours; F is green, while G is dark red. I have spoken to several musicians who also think like this, but have their own colours.
Now that recent developments allow computers to handle smells there seems to be a niche market here for movie makers.

A news article today announced that an animated movie 'Elephants Dream' is the first one to be made totally with Open Source (free) software.
This might seem a small step for a man but a giant step for a cartoon character. If movies can be made with legally free software then that opens a new entrance level to the industry.

Of course, there is much free software available, but most of it is not up to doing commercial work, and the time taken to learn it makes not worth the bother. Perhaps a new era has started, but in this business that's a daily occurrence.

For those of you who do have time to spare, take a look at the National Film Board of Canada site for the 'Make the Pixels Dance' competition.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Real World

Welcome to the Real World. In case you are one of those people who spend time using machines to listen to music, watch TV, play games, and the like, this is to let you know there is another world out there; one in which poor people strive to earn a living and hopefully get some spare cash above their survival needs so they can buy machines to listen to music, watch TV, play games, etc.

I make this point because a certain Mr Bill O'Reilly feels many of us are losing touch with reality. You can find his comments on
My theory is that Civilisation is in fact built on our needs to escape reality, and movie makers do more than their share in setting up escape routes.

There is one reality we can't escape, and that is crime, so I welcomed the news that the Police are now trying out a new 360 degree camera small enough to be mounted in a helmet. I'm sure Documentary Film Makers will welcome it with open arms.

Of course having eyes in the back of your head won't totally cut down crime; which is a good thing for the Movie world, Bruce Willis, and Politicians.

Much crime - like Computer crime - isn't caught on camera. As we know, it relies a lot on words and numbers, but could it be caught on camera? Part of the problem is that the high bandwidth needed for images is not generally available to most of us, but the Computer Cavalry is riding over the hill to save us.

IBM has just raised the bar with a new computer that will do 8000 teraflops, compared with todays fastest that does 280 teraflops. Have a look at

But speed is not enough, it needs to be pumped down the line, and the scientists at the following address seem to have solved that problem as well, so we will be able to get hi-res images on our PCs equal to the 'Real World' movies.

But, not to be left behind, the folks at Utah are getting closer to making a Quantum computer. When they arrive we will have so much information our minds will be boggled to the point that we will need digital implants to comprehend it all.
By that time we will be able to encrypt our posts with real-time, 3D, speaking images of ourselves that are totally hackproof.

Having got rid of just about all crime, computers of the future will only have Adultery left to contend with. That seems an easy to solve if the new Androids shown in this weeks Gadget Show are anything to go by. They look human from a few feet away, and have a vocabulary of around 40,000 words (most of us have about 15,000), and with the added advantage that you can switch them off.

Real World? What Real World?


Monday, November 20, 2006

There's a Marx Bros movie with Harpo opening his shirt to show an animated tattoo on his chest. I have a vague idea it was a dog coming out of its kennel.

the other day - for no reason at all - I recalled the scene, and wondered if tattoos could in fact be animated. I know that certain fish and reptiles can change the colour of their skin, so in theory, they might be able to do it, though they would have no reason to.
Of course, all I needed to do was look up 'Animated Tattoos' and find that not only has it been done, but the idea has been around for quite a while; I never cease to be amazed.
Not only can the tattoo be animated, it can be changed by reprogramming. The potential for these seems endless. Apart from identification, one might hire ones body out to advertisers like celebrity tennis players do with their clothes.
The next stage is to add a soundtrack. Anyone betting it can't be done?
At last it's happened!!! - once again. 3D has hit the TV screen.
Of course, anyone who follows these things will give a big sigh and list previous times it has happened; and I can't say that I've actually seen the latest system working, but you can find out all about it at:
Galloping technology has reached a point where nothing seems impossible, and technhologists are now the Wizards and Prophets of the TechnoGods, so it was not such a surprise when I came across the article suggesting that Bill Gates might be considered as President.
I, for one would vote for him, if they could prove that electronic voting machines were foolproof.
It is not on the basis of his political acumen, but because I have a pretty good idea of his interests, and they are much closer to mine than any other president I know. But then I voted for Mrs Thatcher when she first came to power, and she had been a Chemist.
So I may end up settling for one of the latest Japanese Androids that look human enough to fool most people from a few feet away; have a vocabulary of around 40,000 words, and do as they are told (at least for the time being).

Signs of things to come

I was once picked up one night by the police for driving my moped on a Motorway. I had turned off at a busy junction that had lights and signs everywhere, and I was confused. The police told me that 'The signs were large enough to see so I should not have made the mistake', then let me off with a caution.
The next night I went to the junction again to see why I had missed the signs; In spite of looking at a huge sign showing the directions, I couldn't read anything because lights from the other signs reflecting on each other made several of them unreadable.

I doubt whether that excuse would have stood up in Court, but at the time I thought there must be a better way of helping drivers. There is; you can see it at,1518,448747,00.html

Briefly, it is to do away with signs, signals, and the plethora of flashing commands that distract rather than help drivers. Hopefully the next stage will be to cut down on the animated adverts that now decorate bus stops, shop signs, and poster sites.

Another way to help drivers is get more people off the road. We all know that is 'other drivers' who are the cause of all traffic problems. Well, animation plays its part there as well. Software originally designed for Morphing is used for Face Recognition and prevents banned drivers from applying for licences under another name.

I remember a 'Colombo' detective plot from the 1970s where a driver's alibi was that he could not have been at the scene of the crime as he had been caught on a traffic camera for crossing a red light. He had an accomplice wear a photo of his face, and deliberately cross the lights.

Of course, Colombo caught him out because photos reflect light in a different way to faces. But imagine what it will be like when traffic cameras use facial recognition so your number plate, car make, and face are all recognised in one go. It would even have Big Brother looking over his shoulder.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Around about 1926 Einstein worked on an animated movie about Relativity. True he was only a script consultant but who knows what he might have achieved if he'd stuck with it.

The thought came to mind as in an idle moment I checked out an Animated Periodic Table, and going through the various Elements, noted that Einsteinium was one of the elements. Getting an Element named after you is second only to getting an ice-cream named after you - as was the case with Dame Nelly Melba.

I believe that you can pay to get an Asteroid named after you, which seems a good way to get funding for research.
Of course, large companies commonly sponsor TV series and the like, but would they ever start sponsoring animated movies like 'The Periodic Table'; something which any science student will tell you has been crying out to be animated since day one.

I believe the time has come to start teaching animation as part of Science courses. There must be a zillion subjects out there perfect for sponsorship if animators knew they were there and scientists knew how to visualise. I think a dating agency for the two would be the perfect starting point to get things going.


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Hot on the heels of yesterdays Blog about writing for animation, todays news at reinforces my views.
This is a review of Warner Bros 'Happy Feet', which I haven't seen, but you can get a taste of at

I was always a great Warner Bros fan. Their cartoons were obviously aimed at adults; how many kids really get the point of Bugs Bunny gags? Writing for adults and designing for children is a classic formula in animated movies.

There was a time when Fairy Tales were written as moral tales to warn the young and the unholy of the evils of the world, and the punishment awaiting the wrongdoers. With the passing of time, the messages got lost - or did they?

The theme of so many Animated features is the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which translates into 'The Good' (and beautiful), 'The Bad and Ugly'; we know that bad people are ugly because so many classic animated movies have told us so. True the Queen in Snow White was beautiful, but actually ugly inside, on the other hand in 'Beauty and the Beast', the Beast is beautiful inside.

But there are exceptions. Baloo the Bear in Jungle Book is lovely, if not beautiful. We have beauty competitions, but we don't have 'Lovely' competitions. The problem is we can't measure niceness.

What we can measure to a limited extent is how interesting a person is, and more importantly how close they are to ourselves. I note that Social Networking sites are increasingly using animation to attract attention and say "Hey, look at me, I may not be beautiful but I'm fun".

It may be a very subtle thing that animation is used in this personal way, but I'm sure it's the toe in the door. You can already buy avatars to sell your goods and services, I guess you'll be able to buy them to sell yourself - if it hasn't already been done.