Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Squid Mutant

Autodesk making in in roads into Highschool Education

Over the summer I went to an education conference at SideFX Software. SideFX software, like most makers of high-end 3d animation packages, are trying to make more in roads in to Education - College and High School.

Since, Animation software is a crucial tool in enabling student visualize scientific principles I only thought that it would be a matter of time that Maya would be taught in High School. .

Buried in the most recent issue of the AWN Spotlight is the news that Autodesk is selling versions of Maya and 3ds Studio specifically tailored for High School students.
The version of Maya has the same features as the professional versions. Curriculum will be packaged with the software which will "simulate the experience of a real-world 3d design job". Lessons are project-based. Students learn how the software can in specific applications such as planetary mechanics, digestive system visualization, weather systems visualization and facial reconstruction. A Capstone Project has the students interact with a "client" and determine how the client's job can be made easier with 3d visualization.

Here is the news article:

Autodesk Introduces New Animation Academy Curriculum for High Schools

There is also more information on the Autodesk site: Media & Entertainment Education Solutions

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Davy Jones never had it so good.

While tooling around the ILM website, I found a section of website that they had dedicated to the last Pirates of the Carib. More specifically, on the creation of Davy Jones and his crew. You can go to the whole website and learn from it...there's even a short movie on the creature creation where it shows them working in zbrush.

They have a cool part where you have this see-all lens that acts as a way to see the characters acting in their mocap suits or the exact same spot in the finished movie. What they did was they gave everyone visual pajamas with painted triangle squares belts and created a computer program to read those in the footage afterwards. In this way they were able to shoot on location which I believe is a supposed first (no green screens).

Characters were first designed and illustrated in the computer between the concept artists and the Art Director, then approved by the Director. Many of Davy Jones' crew were created so that it would be impossible for a human character to just be in makeup. Photoreal illustrations were then created for the 14 characters. They were then modeled in 3d, including facial expressions with emotional targets. Only the bodies were mocap'ed, facial expressions were all keyframed animated by artists.

These are the steps taken during the filming process.

step 1: Shot on location
step 2: Shot is matchmoved.
step 3: Run through iMoCap to get the mocap data.
step 4: Adjust Data Parameters
step 5: Animator tweaks, animates faces and additional motion
step 6: Use simulations for cloth, chains, swords, hands and tentacles
step 7: Light/Render
step 8: Compositing

My favorite is seeing Davy Jones' eye makeup because they thought they would have to cut out his real eyes and put those into the film, but instead they were able to make 3dgenerated eyes that looked amazing! I still cannot get over that. Just think that the actor had to wear makeup for the entire film for nothing!



L-System Hexagon Mutation

click to play

Premise is FX
the rule is X=F[+X][-X]

keyframes are set at 30 degrees, 60 degrees, 90 degrees and 0 degrees

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Great Speculative Zoology Sites

these are all quite amazing....

... and a reason for speculative biology at

Focus Points for the blog

At this point, the blog is coming along quite nicely. We have assembled an array of information that connects the disciplines of scientific visualization and visual development for animation. We also touched upon the aesthetics of scientific visualization, and why humans yearn to depict the cosmos. At this stage, I would like to re-address are intentions as researchers - touching upon the points we established when the blog began. As our research accumulates, these focus points will solidify and become the basis for final web site, which will discuss the interrelationship of art and science in regards to animation.

Our research can now be divided into four main areas. Below I will discuss those areas of interest.

1. Aesthetics and Science:
Is there a subconscious connection between scientific data and the world of art? How do aesthetics impact visual data?

We try to answer these questions by pondering the beauty of snowflake. Our research shows how snowflakes develop and how their structure influence art and design. Most importantly, we find snow crystals to be naturally appealing. Does our attraction towards snow crystals influence our determination to study them?

2. Animation and Science Education:
How does animation impact education in the sciences?

One way to attract a child to science is through the use of aesthetics. Software can be used to stylize scientific data and make it more appealing to children and adults. One could tell the story of the snow crystal through animation. In its descent to earth, we could watch a snow crystal form in real time, and witness how the stresses in the water molecules transform into a series of interconnected open hexagons.

3. The Relationship Between Software tools and Scientific Visualization:
How does the usability of software impact scientific visualization? Can the democratizing of animation (i.e. anyone can animate with software tools) contribute misinformation?

Without the aid of software, the snowflake's descent would be a difficult story to tell. Without a tool such as Adobe Illustrator, I would have to draw the snow crystal with a compass and ruler to ensure that I was representing the crystalline structure properly. Without After Effects and Flash, I would have to painstakingly create the morphing crystal through hundreds of drawings. Fortunately, with the existence of such tools, our ability to visualize science has been made much easier. Houdini is an excellent example; we can now program L-systems in minutes. But usability also allows for misinformation. The Creation Museum in Ohio is an excellent example ( State of the art animation and visual displays convey information, from a religious point of view, which go against general scientific principles.

4. Scientific Visualization, Conceptual Design and Speculative Biology:
How can scientific visualization benefit the entertainment industry and animation in general?

Just as science can be made more appealing through artistry and stylization, conceptual design can be made more appealing through science. Many artists, such Alex Ries and Wayne Barlowe, are use science to make their creations seem real. This has created a new genre of art (or science) called Speculative Biology. Speculative Biology will have a growing impact on the entertainment industry as conceptual designers strive to make their imaginary creations as real as possible.

Any comments?

- joe

Dougal Dixon

One of the goals of this sight is to promote the importance of biological referance and scientific data for purposes creature development in the motion picture industry. Pietr Folkes immediately comes to mind with his marine biology expertise. I also mentioned Wayne Barlowe, who also injects natural history into his science fiction and fantasy creations. In my previous post I mention my fondness of Barlowe - I've spent many hours perusing his books of illustrations. In that post I mention how I was introduced to Barlowe as a kid through the pages of Omni magazine, but I was mistaken. That particular issue of Omni actually featured Dougal Dixon, a writer with a background in earth sciences and palaeogeography. I may have gotten the two confused due to a rumor that an Dixon, in some way, copied some of Barlowe's work (this is mentioned on wiki site I reference below).

One of Dougal's books, After Man: a zoology of the future (go to for more information) exemplifies how scientific data can benefit the world of science fiction and fantasy. The book is a capativity treatise on the evolution of man 5 million years into the future. It is primarily based on the impacts of genetic engineering, and how genetic engineering can fast-track the evolutionary process.

Dougal is primarily known for books on Dinosaurs. I not sure of his impact on the motion picture industry and if he influenced Mark Mcreery, who was the main conceptual designer for Jurassic Park (and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl).


Friday, October 19, 2007

Koch Island

Give this a shot in you favorite L-system software

premise: F+F+F+F
rule 1: F=F-F+F+FF-F

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Visualizing the Impossible

It's amazing to see Japanese conceptual design from the 16th century. On the Western side of the world, humans were concerned more about science and religion, but the Japanese seemed to be fascinated by the supernatural (I think Guillermo Del Toro, ripped of one the images for Pan's Labyrinth.) But now, imagining the supernatural is a world-wide phenomena , and many artists, aided by digital tools, are using scientific principals to give life to fantasy. Just like Wayne Barlowe, Alex Ries is a gifted illustrator and conceptual artist who places his alien creations within plausible environments. Check out his amazing creations: (http://ttp://

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Japanese monsters 'Youkai'

Blindness causes uneasiness. If you eat blind, the sense of taste alters. If you pinch your nose then, then it would even be harder to distinguish the different taste between water and tea. Five senses function supplementing each other. If one sense doesn’t function, other starts to function harder. How much information you gain from your sight is enormous, and it is not easy to complement your sight with other organs. It is the imagination which could be based on the empirical and the logical that can fill the lack of information. As long as what we see is not certain, all the interpretations are equal. Interpretations are finite. It becomes irrelevant whether it is based on science or logical background. It becomes something about which is more realistic to the one who has experienced.

The logic does not always ensure the reality. That is because the conditions differ from the culture and social environment. When something appears to be a ghost to some people, the idea of ghost becomes more realistic than scientific interpretations, and then the scientific interpretation would become only a possibility. It is the same quality that both science and superstitions try to explain the unknowable.

Here are some pictures of monstrous creatures in Japan. Some appeared in the classic novels in Heian period (9th century) which is the time period that art and literature flourished. The scroll called ‘hyakki yakou e maki’(100 monsters night walking) was published in 16 th century, and many after since then. They all have stories based on nature, morals, god/deities, karma, and different cultures in different regions.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Some L-Systems Terminology

F - move forward and create geometry
H - move forward half the length and create geometry
G - move forward but don't record a vertex distance
f - move forward but don't create geometry
h - move forward half a length but don't create geomety
T(g) - apply gravity
+(a) - turn right a degrees
-(a) - turn left a degrees
^(a) - pitch down
&(a) - pitch up
/(a) - roll counter-clockwise
\(a) - roll clockwise


L-systems translate letters into graphics. The letter F draws one segment, FF draws two segments, FFF draws three segments, etc..

Growing structures are enabled through a "re-writing" process. A graphical representation of a tree is grown when the strings are re-written in a cycle. The re-writing systems begins with an initiator (the first string, for example AB) and a series of consecutive rules which determine how the strings are replaced (rule 1 could be A=AB and rule 2 could be B=A).
The initial string is then rewritten based on the rules, which are followed in order (AB becomes ABA, ABA becomes ABAAB).

- joe

Koch Snowflakes

The snow crystal has gone on to inspire a range of design motifs. Its radial symmetry is seen through a range of symbols ranging from the Star of David to Japanese Heraldry to Arabian desgins. Snowflakes are also reminescent of fractals, in fact, one of the earliest Fractal curves is know as the Koch Snowflake. The Koch Snowflake first appeared in a paper written by Swedish mathematician Helge von Koch. The Koch Snowflake is also known as Lindenmayer fractal since it can be produced with the computer langauge, know as L-systems. Devised by biologist Aristid Lindenmayer in 1968, the L-systems code is a formal computer langauge which uses a series of rules to create recursive structures. L-systems are also known as a genetic algorithm since the langauge is fundimental in visualizing botanical growth patterns. There is a range of software products that implement systems, such as Houdini. It is my belief, but I haven't varified this, that L-systems drive the growth patterns of Paint Effects in Maya.

An excellent resource for L-systems is

You can also download the book The Algorithmic Beauty of Plants at the site as well (


Monday, October 15, 2007

What makes a snowflake beautiful?

The molecular structure of a water molecule discourages the formation of equilateral triangles. As snow crystals evolve, open hexagons form due to stresses in their molecules. These radial formations exhibit beauty through symmetry and an endless variety of detail. The eye/brain response to this beauty equals captivation. Scientific visualization is born out of this captivation. Like explorers in ancient Rome, guided by a Ptolemaic map, we too explore a multitude of worlds captured in the random beauty of free-falling snowflakes. This captivation begs the question: which came first, the aesthetics of science or our affinity towards design? The answer may be irrelevant - beauty is what it is. But, you could (and should) believe that the world is one huge living entity - beauty is it's survival mechanism. Humans are designed to preserve beauty, and therefore, we are designed to preserve the world.

Go to


Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Two Hypotheses on Nuerons and Visual Perception

I know this subject is outside of our group's sphere of influence, but I did some reading over the summer on perception and neural activity. I was already familiar with the Grandmother hypothesis (the sparse hypothesis) which states that there are individual neurons that light up when we see certain objects, i.e. an individual neuron lights up when we see our grandmother. It is also good to know that there is another hypothesis known as the distributed/dispersed hypothesis. This hypothesis states that perceptions are dispersed over many neurons that required near simultaneous activation for the generation of imagery.

I learned of these separate theories in a book called The Brain, by Michael O'Shea (part of the Oxford Press series, A Very Short Introduction). The hypotheses are discussed on pages 76-78.

- joe

Monday, October 8, 2007

Science and Media: Fairness?

This seems rather opportune. Unfortunately, I already have an event during this so I cannot go, but if you happen to check this blog and have free time along with an interest....

Does Science Get a Fair Shake in the Media?

Monday, October 8, 2007 : 5:30pm to 7:00pm

University Park Campus
Annenberg Auditorium


Reuters and Scientific American staffers reflect on the special challenges of science journalism with USC's Clifford Johnson and Michael Quick.

Presented jointly by USC Annenberg's School of Journalism and Scientific American, the discussion with leading journalists and scholars to "examine all the elements that go into informing the public about the latest scientific discoveries and the challenges the media faces in getting the science right for a story."

Guests include:

* Author and journalism professor K.C. Cole
* Astronomy and physics professor Clifford Johnson
* Biological sciences professor Michael Quick
* Reuters biotechnology reporter Lisa Baertlein
* Author and environmental journalist Marla Cone

Scientific American editor-in-chief John Rennie will moderate.

A reception will follow the discussion.

here is the website listing:

Monday, October 1, 2007

Yet another Internet...Pseudo-science

Beautiful, isn't it?

This and many other images are all upon this website:

This website details the formation of water crystals (and the photographs of them) when water from certain sources are frozen. Most of the photos are quite beautiful and convincing...such as our photo above. (Says that it is from "the Japan Shimanto River, referred to as the last clean stream in Japan")
While another photo ("Yodo River, Japan, pours into the Bay of Osaka. The river passes through most of the major cities in Kasai.")

Of course, makes sense...clean water plus or minus certain impurities could lead to different formation of frozen crystals, right? Bad Pollution, bad.
And like, all good internet experiments, they go on to show that when you play certain music (hard core rock, folk dance) those freeze into different patterns too. Ok...still somewhat know, sonic resonance or something...

Then comes the best part. They decide to do the same as above with words, except that the words were printed on paper and taped to the water glasses before freezing.
Not so cool, was that ice.

The pictures were good though.

Steve Wilson

Judy Lemus has brought to our attention the art installation works of Steve Wilson. Scientific principles form the backdrop of MR. Wilson's work. Like Pietr, he uses art to educate, and bring to awareness to science-related issues. For example, in one of his installations, he allows human participans to interact with protozoa, through the use of motion capture and live microscopic footage.

Here is the link to his site: Steve Wilson

Even DaVinci Got It Wrong

Referencing DaVinci is an ideal way to initiate any presentation on Scientific Visualization. In seminar it has happened three times so far. In the second instance, Dr. Judith Hirsch began her discussion with a DaVinci illustration featuring a lateral, side-to-side cross section of the brain. This illustration is remarkable in many ways, because it gives us one of the first accurate depictions of the shape and volume of the brain's cavities. Posted here is a similar illustration, but featuring an up and down cross section of the brain's volume. Leonardo's accuracy in determining this volume is the result of using a wax-injection method. In fact, Leonardo is credited as being the first individual to use a wax injection method to make castings to determine the shape and volume of the various organs of the body. But, while Leonardo is correct in determining the volume of the brain, he was wrong in illustrating what existed in the brain's cavity. In this DaVinci illustration, the brain is depicted as having 3 small cavities listed O, M, and N. These cavities reflect the prevailing notion, at the time, that the brain consisted of three cavities (or ventricles), which held imagination, reason, and memory. This theory was postulated by Galem of Pergamum (AD 131-201), who based his work off of Hippocrates, and was part of the ancient belief that the solid parts of the brain were worthless. Furthermore, this belief stated that the three small cavities, held within the solid brain matter, sent fluid (i.e. imagination fluid, reason fluid, memory) through the nerves to control the muscles and organs. This exemplifies, how even the greatest of minds, can propagate misinformation through an incorrect scientific rendering.

The research above was taken from Micheal O' Shea's book, The Brain, A Very Short Introduction.