Being sick for the weekend & first part of the week sort of slows me down. But I think I’m still making good progress this week.
Saturday Salvador spent a few hours writing some code for me so the poppet animations are pulling in from XML, making it more robust. We only tested with a couple but it seemed pretty sturdy. Also started sketching out a storyboard for the video while Sal worked on the code.
Sunday I spent some time starting to work on the website, though I guess I shouldn’t be worrying about that quite yet. Placed an order for a custom survey marker (see frame 8 of the story board above). Sort of surprising how easy it was to make one, though I haven’t gotten it yet so we’ll see how it turns out.
Monday…was a blur. I have no idea what happened. Tuesday I tried shooting some stop motion elements from various people’s projects to use as customized emoties. But it didn’t turn out quite as cool as I had hoped, maybe just because keying the elements into the scene just doesn’t look that great. I think I’ll just stick to hand drawn animations for now, it’s just a lot easier to control the quality and it looks way better.
Then I decided it would be better to use the weekday hours to use the woodshop, so I spent the next two days working on making the final boxes. I’ve been putting off making them for a while cause I was indecisive about what materials and things to make it out of but I just went with some plywood. It took a solid six hours in the shop to make the things, another six or so to sand the things, and another couple to finish them with danish oil. It’s hard to tell in the picture but they do look much nicer than the MDF boxes and they’re considerably lighter.
I want to get most of the major construction bits of the project out of the way early so I’m not rushing that part at the very end. Plus I’d like to start filming things for the video and I need the final boxes for that..
Ok. So there’s effectively 3 weeks left… time to start planning a bit I think.
Week 11 (Mar 25-31): Animation, Character Design, Rovo Refinement, Prop & Poppet Production, Non-Demo Video Interactions.
Week 12 (Apr 1-7): Non-Demo Video Interactions + Live action filming & editing, Exhibit Planning, Graphics, Photo shoots.
Week 13 (Apr 8-14): Process Documentation, Exhibit Planning, Show Graphics, Booklets, Install Show.
Monday’s review went pretty well. Here’s a little video of the set up the night before. The laptops were on nicer stands for the real thing. But you’ll notice the fan, which I was using to try and keep my laptops cool. I also pumped up the AC, just to be safe.
The project was generally well received. The main feedback was around the best way to frame the project and present it for the final show. Some felt like there needed to be some sort of use-case scenario narrative of some kind that tells the story of the system a bit better, which I agree with. I think what I realized is that it’s probably time to wrap up the demo-able part of the boxes soon in order to get into more of the video prototypes of the future of the system, because a lot of the things we talked about I could easily show in that format but wouldn’t really be able to show in one continuous demo of the system.
Some mentioned I needed to state my case for why the system is good, or more specifically why this form of mixed reality is better than other types, though I feel like I explained that. But I guess I could be more explicit about that. Perhaps showing other use cases would help showcase the potential. Phil also mentioned that the assets seemed placeholder, which they are. I really need to spend more time on the content part of the system.
Some noted it was good to continue playing with the sense of scale and confusion. And there were opportunities to push the limitations/affordances of street view more (wished I had shown the videos of my street view tests). We talked about how it could be more site specific or how the sites could be more special. Also another comment about being able to leave something behind and playing up the fact that it’s not really real time.
Having the system running for an extended period of time I realized that really figuring out the video streaming was a top priority. Having to rely on the internet connection means that when it flickers off the system goes down, so I after the review I spent more time trying to figure out a way to do it without internet for demos. Turns out the easiest solution was just there all along in iChat. Making a local network between my computers and using the video chat in Bonjour is faster, more reliable, and higher quality. I know I had tried iChat in the beginning but whatever set up I had at that point made it not work. But for whatever reason this works now. AND it can use the same web cam feed as camtwist, so the feeds will line up identically on both, and I can have two less cameras in the entire system. I don’t know what combination of settings I had before that was making it not work, but now it does. And I think it might be slightly less intense on my computer than the broadcasting/streaming via Ustream technique I was doing earlier, so that’s a plus.
The lag time between the two is pretty obvious in the video above. But you can see in this quick video below how much better it is now. Code wise Salvador is helping me turn my widget version of the prototype into a more robust code based prototype so I can have more dynamic content. Hopefully I can get all of that sorted out in the next few days.
I have some more ideas about the rest of the system and things but I think I’ll save those for when I flesh them out a little bit more…
Put together a p.k. for the open house yesterday. I think it was super helpful to have that as a little pre-deadline for me to organize and properly come up with names for and diagrams for the entire system. The project is now officially called “Portals (and friends)” which I like as a name since it encompasses the box and the other objects, but also touches on the the friends involved in the the whole project. I’ll share the diagrams after Monday’s review since I’ll be showing a similar presentation for the committee review.
Tested a mini-version of the photo rovo this morning using a little RC car. The roomba is nice but not able to go outside. I sort of like that you have to really bend down to get it to photograph you. And while the streetview camera has a sort of ominous looking-down-on-you perspective, this little guy looks up to you.
Next things to think about…
After Friday’s presentation I feel like my overall system is in a pretty good place, and at this point I sort of just need to really refine everything. It seems like there’s lots of time but it also seems like there’s a lot to do still (aside from just getting my stuff prepped for the Monday review which includes a draft of the thesis statement).
I’m starting to wonder if this would be a good time to try and reach out to other people to help me finish the stuff out nicely. I just don’t have tons to spend on hiring people to do this stuff. But I can imagine my dream team would include a developer, a product designer, a character designer/animator, and a video editor.
Code stuff: The interactive bits currently work in a bare-minimum capacity using the widgets, but it’s not very scaleable. I would like to have it coded so that I could expand the content dynamically. I have an understanding of what needs to happen, just not sure how to exactly go about it. I feel like what needs to happen would be pretty simple for someone who knows their stuff. This is the part I’ve been puttting off because I’m a little intimidated by it.
Portal Boxes: How sweet do I want these things to look? I would like them to be pretty awesome looking. Or at least nice. I would love to have an industrial designer or prototyper person who could make them look really nice and finished. Maybe they don’t need to be super slick, but I’d love if they were…
Rovo: The Rovo is the least refined of the entire system I think, but I still think it’s an important part of the family that could use some love. But it’s also less of a focus than the boxes, so I sort of feel like I can’t spend too much time on the rovo until the boxes are in a solid place.
Character Design & Animation: The part that I’m probably most qualified to be working on, which I really WANT to be working on. But it’s getting put at the bottom of the list maybe because I’m not as worried about getting it done. But given my background I would think this should be the most refined part of all.. But at the same time I really feel like how much time I spend on this part of the project depends on how scaleable the code part of it ends up being. If I can only have like 4 active poppets I would focus on making less animation, whereas if I could have a ton I would try and make a lot more or ask some of my other animator friends if they’d like to contribute characters or animation to it.
(Bonus) Process documentation: I have this blog which is nice but I would still like to make some sort of documentation of the process. Some sort of edited video of all the experiments and things. I would definitely love to work with an editor for this.
Kickstarter Rewards: I’m a little behind on these : ( I still need to make the how-to-guide, the augmenters, and a stop motion animation. I’d like to get these done before the show, but they’re still at the bottom of my priority list at the moment while the rest of the things are geting fleshed out.
Website for the project. This should probably be higher in the list since it’s a requirement but I can’t really put it together until the project is done. But this could be pretty quick. Just bought the url for it, portals-and-friends.com
Can I do all these things my self in the next 4 weeks? It feels like an awful lot. Doable. But still a lot. Also, I’d like to make some temporary tattoos with the Portals (and friends) rainbow logo… : )
Trying to think of a better name for the Hand Avatar things. Maybe Grabatar or Handle? I like Handle, not just cause it’s a good pun, but also because it relates to gamer handles/pseudonyms. But Grabatar also sounds nice and is pretty descriptive as well…
Either way, here’s a range of various customizations from a few people today. I like the wide variety:
Portals turned away from each other to test the user experience when you can only see your own screen. A couple of long-ish videos of Portal activity with Chiao and Jeremy. I think the interesting part is seeing what type of stories people sort of just randomly come up with when playing.:
Also another thing I had been meaning to test, using the finger as an input to control some animation. There’s something sort of fun about just making my little person just dance around with the music, although it sort of looks like the little person is just punching and kicking my hand:
I think this quote from Will Wright is really relevant to the stuff I’m interested in (I also use to play a lot of his games when I was younger which I think plays a part in my project):
A game is structured quite differently. The paramount constructs are the constraints on the player. As a game designer I try to envision an interesting landscape of possibilities to drop the player into and then design the constraints of the world to keep them there. Within this space the landscape of possibilities (and challenges) needs to be interesting, varied, and plausible (imagine a well-crafted botanical garden). It is within this defined space that the player will move, and hence define their own story arc.
My aspirations for this new form are not about telling better stories but about allowing players to “play” better stories within these artificial worlds. The role of the designer becomes trying to best leverage the agency of the player in finding dramatic and interesting paths through this space. Likewise I think that placing the character design and development in the player’s hands rather than the desiger’s will lead to a much richer future for this new medium.
I’ve also been thinking a lot more about custom markers and things. When I asked Chiao and Jeremy for some user testing feedback they both mentioned it would be nice to have the back side of the marker be a different image. I’m really into this idea of having different personas on the markers, which could trigger different contextual animations. I’m also into the idea that the user gets to design the different sides.
In addition to customizing the little markers I’ve begun to think about the universe these Portals would live in, and I imagine that if people were to use it frequently they would begin to customize their player avatar, by which I mean their actual hand. The word avatar is a little confusing, since I was calling the little illustrated character an avatar. In virtual online games you customize your virtual avatar because it’s the only visible abstraction that represents you. But in Portals you are represented by your own body. I think people would customize their hands to reflect their own personality as well. As a self-test I tried decking out my own hand. (The bunny in the moon is the symbol of my parent’s hometown in Thailand, and the top right is a gemini symbol).
Of course after I was done and put it in the Portal I realized that you can’t really see past the fingers most of the time, so that whole back half doesn’t really matter. So the prime real estate would probably be the fingers.
I think what I really like about this idea of “player customization” is that in this case when you customize your Portal Hand for the virtual world, it has a direct affect on your real physical body in the real world. And even when you’re not in the Portal, these marks could be tell tale signs to other people that you are part of the virtual community. And maybe you recognize someone in real life by their Portal Hand. People getting tattoos or henna on their hands is already pretty common, or at least common enough that the idea of people going around with this sort of bodily adornment doesn’t seem that far fetched or unusual.
Also, it turns out my markers don’t wash out terribly easily… so I’ll get to see what it’s like to have the marks with me in my normal life.
I also asked a few people how they might customize their own hands for the Portal, some people had pretty good ideas already. I’ll let them think about it tonight and then document tomorrow. I’d like to collect a really wide range of customizations from various people.
Goals for the next few days:
- Multi-faced markers with different animations for different rotations. (Happy, Sad, Angry, etc)
- Mock up human-view camera and integrating photos into system.
- System diagrams and things.
- Put together the pecha kucha presentation for Friday, which will hopefully be good prep for the reviews on Monday.
A few weeks ago I got an email through the Syyn Labs mailing list about a South Pasadena Kids Faire looking for local makers to show projects to the kids. I signed up and then didn’t hear anything back from them until yesterday morning. I spent most of last night working on the physical hardware upgrades. Even though you can’t really tell the difference from the outside, I felt better having the innards more solid before letting a bunch of kids have at it.
I brought one Portal to the South Pasadena Middle School this morning (since I didn’t have access to wifi I only brought one) for a few hours. I also changed the street view so it was a view of the school we were at. It’s hard to tell in the pictures but the animations were also being overlaid on top.
This was the first time I’ve taken a Portal outside of the studio walls, so I didn’t have much planned/prepped aside from just grabbing the box. I would have liked to have more visuals/handouts etc. But it was interesting doing some user-testing. The most frequent comment from the kids was just “that’s so COOL!” which isn’t super helpful feedback but it’s nice to know they’re into it.
Even though it’s really only half the system, watching people interact with it I noticed a bunch of little things and got inspired for some additional things..
Some notes/observations for myself… (in no particular order)
I need to secure the screen via straps or something, as pressing up against my belly cause it to pop into the box while I carried it to my car.
I need to get some padding on the portholes. Having the portholes doubles nicely as handles, but they’re pretty tough on the hands for transporting. Having padding would also make it a little less painful to use in its “normal” way.
People frequently attempt to reach towards the front of the box, I think because the spacial relationship of the image being in front of their hand makes them think they need to go forward. After the initial confusion people get it, but I should probably create some sort of affordance to encourage people to reach back instead of forward.
Having the big open space in the front half of the box just serves as a cliff for things to fall into. I need to fill this with something. Still considering putting speakers in there.
These two images above are awesome. I had been meaning to try the white sleeve thing for quite some time but hadn’t gotten around to it. But this kid happened to be wearing a white shirt, which keys out perfectly. I love how the disembodied hand just sort of hovers around. I think I need to include the white sleeve thing as part of it. Also fun to note that the boy in the blue shirt next to him tried to put his shirt into the box too after seeing this.
Interacting with the Portal is a very intimate experience. Of course the way it’s designed you end up being pretty close to the screen, but observing people of various heights and ages there seems to be something that makes even spectators want to huddle in a little bit closer than usual.
Table height is probably the most optimal in terms of accessibility, though that little asian girl in pink was having a hard time even when she got a boost from her dad. But I don’t think she was more than 3 or 4 years old and her arms just weren’t long enough to reach in. I started with the box set back from the edge but noticing how short everyone’s arms were it got moved closer to the front. But I should remember to bring a little step stool or something next time. But I like that even a 3 yr old can use it.
When I opened up the top to show the innards to some kids their mom was like “look, don’t touch so much” and I had to tell her “it’s ok, it’s sort of meant to be touched a lot.”
The little characters are way to light in foam core and fall over super easily. Of course their paper base isn’t very stable either. But I think these pieces will be have to have a solid acrylic base to give it some more heft. The other problem with the characters is that the fiducial markers don’t stand up to the constant rubbing against the bottom.
I’m glad my project can exist outdoors. Luckily we were in the shade, I don’t think it would survive in the sun. But I like that it doesn’t have to exist in a controlled dark room.
My “photographer” character looks like a hobo. At least according to one kid.
If no one is using the Portal and someone came by they would often just stand back and just look at it (probably thinking “uh this looks like a screen”). But upon seeing someone use it they shift to being amused/surprised.
Couple of kids were asking for more characters. I really need to start working on a system that lets add more animations more dynamically. This is a code thing. It’s a little daunting so I’ve been putting it off but I think I really need to figure it out.
I found that the girls tended to stay more engaged with the project for some reason. I think both the boys and girls were into it but it seemed like the girls were more likely to linger for a while or return to play with it. At least that’s what it seemed like.
Kids would often bring a parent over and animatedly explain how the Portal works to the adult. For the most part the kids also already knew what green screening was.
Co-creating characters and modular animation augmentations
At about 2:30 am last night it occurred to me I could make the demo set up more engaging by allowing people to draw/design their own characters, with little interchangeable markers on the bottom (snap on lego style or something). Of course I didn’t actually have time to prep stuff for this but I intend to incorporate that aspect the next time I demo it. While I still want special specific characters to do specific things, like the photographer, there is also something interesting about the idea of a physical and modular way to use animation, and being able to pick your own animation. It’s like going to the bead store. Or maybe it’s more random, like you don’t know what you’re going to get until you put it in. Then it’s like a secret message that gets revealed. I’ll definitely need to flesh out the object > animation relationship system for this to work.
Maybe one box will contain my specific characters while the other box is the free for all. Or maybe just go with it and “crowd source” all the “extras” live. But then do I keep the characters people make or let them have it as a take away gift? I think the take away is more fun. Maybe I just need documentation of all the characters that end up getting made and that can go back into the space as a print out or something…
A quick hardware update.. I finally got to laser cut my pieces for the guts of the Portal. Below, I’ve transplanted the LED’s from one of the old foam core boxes to the new acrylic box.
And inside it’s rather lovely. I know that no one will really be seeing the inside of the box in the box, but it makes me happy knowing how beautiful it looks inside. I am really hoping this is the last set of light boxes I’ll have to make (still need to do the second one). Cause laser cutting white acrylic isn’t terribly cheap. And I’ve made 4 of these things already..
Camera mount design could use some revisions still I think. But this works for now. The cameras are attached to an inner piece which slides out so I can get the cameras in and out more easily if I need to. Removability and adjustability are super important to me..
And the newer version of the lighting mount. The pieces are suppose to sort of fit together like a jig saw, which they do.. but they just dont stay together really. Glue was being too frustrating at 1 am so I just taped the thing together. It works for now.
This week I’ve been doing a lot more thinking than making which is good but means it’s has been slightly less productive than I hoped Portals wise (mostly due to some outside projects taking over much of the week). But I’m hoping that reflecting on what I’ve been doing so far this week will help me plan the next few days a little better. Hardware wise, I finally got the courage to break open the webcam mounting arms in order to figure out a way to mount them in the box more solidly and consistently. I was really surprised at how well made these little webcams were made and the design of the little joints, which I’m re-using as mounting hardware for my specialized set up. The pic below shows the first “cam-pop” design, the latest version is a bit different.
Having designed the camera mounts I’ve started to layout the production ready designs in illustrator to be cut out on the laser. I also drafted up the production ready design of the light boxes in illustrator. I tried to go up to Hillside to get them cut out but ran into a bunch of issues due to my lack of experience laser cutting. Long story short, nothing got cut but I learned a lot from this time around. Hoping to get to cutting tomorrow morning, since I’m constrained by the laser lab hours.
In the mean time I’ve also begun to think more about the ability of the Avatar characters to be both inputs and outputs. While the last full scale prototype was the little accordion player I’ve been thinking about the affordances of having the photographer avatar in the real space and how that could become an input device for location specific Portal content. In the image above you see a rough photorobo (lacking any sort of character design). My little point and shoot camera happens to have a silly little feature that will automatically take a picture when it detects a smile. So I set it on that mode and turned on roomba, and set about trying to smile at it as it runs. It was a quick test but enough to sort of enjoy it. In theory a potential network could look something like this:
mini-avatar in Portal moves > large-avatar in Real World moves > Camera captures images of smiling people in the location > Using Eye-fi, geo-tagged images are instantly upload to Flickr > Flash app pulls in the images from Flickr > Tagged images are displayed / tracked above the mini-avatar in Portals.
This sort of helps complete the loop from Physical to Virtual, a few times over I think. I’m still not sure how much of this system I want to actually want to flesh out, but I think prototyping this a bit further could prove to be interesting. John and Andrew have been playing around with trying to figure out how to hack the roomba for their own enjoyment/experiments so that possibility is a little closer than before..
I feel like I’ve hit a bit of a plateau this week though overall. Maybe I’m just having some trouble figuring out what my priorities are for the project. I’m feeling like I want to be making diagrams, making scenarios, designing characters, creating animations, creating the interactive systems, hacking hardware, hacking code, and a bunch of other things. All at once.. I also feel like I need to get into serious production mode next week before the big week 9 review..
Side Note Reference
My sister’s friend sent me a link to this project from 2009, which I hadn’t seen but, that seems pretty related to Portals, although different:
Digitie is a real-time communication channel between two different places.
These are linked by two apparatus, which enable communication by gesture.
To use them, participants have to put one of their hands into the device. The hands of the users are displayed together in a united image on a screen. Strange people of different languages, ages and cultures and far distant living places , are able to get in touch with each other.