KinectToPin

Victoria Nece and I have released a compiled app and UI panel for getting Kinect mocap data into After Effects—it’s called KinectToPin. For a step-by-step guide, read through this tutorial.

Multi Medias

Mixed media (1950s?, fine art, 35M hits): Describes a work that mixes two or more visual media, often restricted to the disciplines of painting and sculpture.

Intermedia (1960s, fine art, 25M hits): Describes a work that mixes any two or more artistic disciplines usually recognized as separate. Popularized by the Fluxus group. (Coined by Dick Higgins.)

Hypermedia (1960s, computer science, 20M hits): Describes an organized collection of media files that the user can move between at will. Wikipedia is a hypermedia system. (Coined by Ted Nelson.)

Multimedia (1.2B hits)
1. (1960s, fine art): Describes a work that mixes any two or more media; largely replaced in current usage by “intermedia.” (Possibly coined by Bob Goldstein.)

2. (1990s, computer science): Describes a device that can display multiple types of media—sound, video, text, images, etc.

3. (1990s, popular): Describes a work in any medium either created or experienced using such a device; largely replaced in current usage by “new media.”

New media (1990s, media theory, 69M hits): Describes works which are both created and experienced using a computer.

Transmedia (1990s, media theory, 3M hits): Describes a narrative dispersed across multiple works in multiple media, each of which contains only a portion of the complete story. A long-running franchise like “Star Wars” can be considered one epic transmedia work. (Coined by Marsha Kinder.)

Rich media (2000s?, design, 9M hits): Describes works distributed via the internet that make use of sound and video, as opposed to images and text.

(Hit counts from search performed 23 mar 12.)

Types of Animation

1. Time-lapse: Photographing a scene only at selected intervals, creating an illusion of spontaneous change when played back. The earliest form of animation, predating live-action cinema; various playback methods for time-lapse photos had been invented by the 1830s.

2. Stop-motion: Photographing a single object and moving it while the camera is stopped. Can be done with paper cut-outs, characters with poseable armatures, or even cooperative human actors (“pixilation,” which with this spelling has nothing to do with computers, meaning “possession by evil spirits”). Quickly adopted in the 1900s for visual effects in early silent films.

3. Replacement: Replacing the object being photographed with a different object while the camera is stopped. “Classical animation” is replacement animation using pencil drawings on paper or ink on plastic cels; this technique dominated animated feature production until the late 1980s. Less common variations use photo collage or sculpture. First came into wide use with “lightning artist” vaudeville acts in the 1910s, where audiences would watch an animated film being made.

4. Rotoscoping: Using live action as a frame-by-frame reference for animation. Traditionally done by projecting film footage and tracing it, an established technique by the 1940s. “Motion capture” is a modern variant of rotoscoping, in which the analysis of movement is done with a computer instead of by hand.

5. Computer graphics: Breaking an image down into mathematical elements and manipulating the values of those elements. Usually done by representing an image as a grid of colored dots (“pixels”). Widely adopted by the 1990s; the most common form of animation in use today.

Kinect Setup Links

(Check out the rest of the Kinect section for more tutorials.)

The Kinect has two basic tricks—first, it grabs a depth map, and second, it figures out the joint coordinates of your skeleton from the depth map. There are lots of easy-to-use options for the first trick, but not so many for the second. Still, even using the depth maps alone, you can track motion more effectively than with most RGB methods.

1. Depth Maps
On a Mac, you can get started quickly—for an initial test, you can run CocoaKinect, a small app that just displays the depth map. Then there’s a Processing library and a Max/MSP/Jitter external that work out of the box. You can also get a Quartz Composer plugin that also runs on the latest version of Isadora, but its installation is slightly more complicated. Which brings me to:

2. My Bundles
With few exceptions, installing software for the Kinect requires getting a program from site A, a couple of drivers from sites B and C, and an installation tutorial from site D. To get you started quickly, I’ve collected all the bits you need to install:

I made these bundles for my own convenience, and they’re all almost certainly out of date as you read this, so once you have them up and running you should get updated versions of the programs and drivers from the original sources listed here.

3. Easier Installer Options
There are now some easier installer options for OpenNI/NITE. Here are:

4. Skeleton Tracking
On Windows, there’s BrekelKinect, a slick-looking all-in-one utility that can capture depth maps and do skeleton tracking, recording joint coordinates to BVH files (usable with Maya or other 3D programs). (It might be able to communicate live with other programs, but I haven’t tested that.)

On Mac, Windows, and Linux, there’s OSCeleton, which sends joint coordinates out as OSC data. It’s quite a bit harder to set up than BrekelKinect, but it has the ability to do live skeleton tracking and pass the information on to other programs. Here’s an example receiver patch for Isadora. (A warning, you’ll need to use Terminal commands to install OSCeleton. If you’re not comfortable with that, I’d start with one of the ready-to-use alternatives and dive into OSCeleton when you have a full day to spend poking at it until it works. Here’s a Mac setup tutorial.)

Synapse (Mac/Win) is another powerful skeleton-tracking OSC app to experiment with, although it works somewhat differently than OSCeleton. It’s an all-in-one download that’s very easy to set up.

OSCulator (Mac) is an OSC routing app that can help you manage all the information that these OSC apps pump out; use this config file to get started.

4. To talk to Flash, you can use another app to get the Kinect data, analyze it, and send OSC using Flosc (Mac/Win/Linux) or Oscar (Mac). Other Flash options are AS3Kinect (Mac/Win/Linux) and Beckon (Win).

Faster After Effects

After Effects is a powerful tool, but it can be frustratingly slow, especially on older computers. And, with HD files being six times as big as before, even newer machines can bog down quickly. Try these tricks to speed things up.

Step 1: Lower the display resolution from full to half—or third or quarter for older machines. This is especially important with HD.

Step 2: Turn on low quality for layers that have lots of effects applied.

Step 3: If you’re working with animation, go to Composition Settings

Step 4: …and try reducing the frame rate by half. (This isn’t as useful if you’re working with live action or prefer a smoother look.)

Step 5: Go to the Memory & Cache preferences…

Step 6: …and reduce the percentage of RAM that After Effects is allowed to use. You’ll have less space available for RAM previews, but things might run faster overall.

Read Canopus DV files

A decade ago, Apple and Microsoft had just begun to offer DV video capture over Firewire as a built-in OS feature. The quality of their early DV codecs was awful, so smaller companies stepped in to provide better ones. The Canopus codec was, arguably, the best of the lot, but it was crippled to work only on a system using their expensive custom Firewire cards. Since the cards are no longer sold, this creates a problem for people with lots of Canopus DV AVI files still lying around.

If it’s worth it to you to continue working in the Canopus codec—in my opinion, its superior quality still holds up—their Procoder software (US$500) includes an un-crippled version. For the rest of us, fortunately, Canopus was a good corporate citizen; they released several free tools to help out their former customers. Here are your options:

1. Canopus DV Playback codec (Windows only).
Install this and you can read Canopus AVIs. This is the most hassle-free solution if you run Windows and just want to import the files into another program. However, you’d need to convert them to another format to carry them over to a non-Windows OS, with accompanying generation loss. And even on Windows, Canopus files still can’t be played directly over Firewire out to tape without Canopus hardware.

2. Canopus DV Converter app (Windows only):
This is a step up; it reads a Canopus AVI and writes a Microsoft DV AVI, which you can play and record to tape on both Mac and Windows. This is probably the simplest archival solution. However, it has an annoying limitation—it can’t convert video files with no audio track. In the settings, set the target format to Microsoft DV (AVI 2).

For converting any Canopus file, including those without an audio track, there’s:

3. AVI FourCC Changer (Win) or AVI FourCC Changer X (PPC Mac).
It’s not as user-friendly as the Canopus converter, but it’s my preferred choice. It looks a bit like the old ResEdit file tweaker for Macs. You’ll see two text fields with the letters CDVC (sometimes one will be full of garbage characters). Change both of these to DVSD. Then save. (Be careful; unlike the Canopus converter, this overwrites your original file.)

4. AVI2CDVC (Windows only).
A command-line version that does the same thing, only you can batch-process a folder. Once again, remember that you’re overwriting originals.

And finally, if you just need to watch a Canopus file on any system, there’s:

5. VLC Player (Windows, Mac, and Linux)
Confirming once again that VLC Player plays everything, it’ll read a Canopus AVI just fine.

Send HTML Email

Sending correctly-formatted HTML email can be a more complicated process than you might think. But the free, cross-platform Thunderbird email client is a decent solution.

Step 1. Click the Write button to compose a new message:

Step 2. Click in the body of the email.

Step 3. Go to the Insert menu and choose HTML:

Step 4. Paste in your HTML code and then click the Insert button:

Step 5. You should now see a preview of your page in the body of the email:

Step 6. Click the Send button:

Step 7. Choose Send in Plain Text and HTML and click Send again:

(Made with help from Jamie Ryckman.)

Make Very Small Movie Files

There are a lot of programs out there for compressing video, but I particularly recommend VisualHub (US$ 25), for OS X.

Update: VisualHub is now free, but won’t be supported past OS X Snow Leopard.

I prefer it even over fancier alternatives like Apple’s Compressor, not because of any special capabilities, but because of its clean interface and the straightforward way it presents your compression options. It’s especially useful it you’d like to fit your movie within a given file size—this is a common task, but too many programs require you to get there by trial and error.

(If anyone can recommend a good Windows program with the same ease-of-use factor, please do, and I’ll add a tutorial for it.)

Step 1. Drag your movie into the VisualHub window:

Step 2. Choose the MP4 tab and check H264 Encoding and Hint for Streaming. For very small file sizes, check 320 Pixels Wide too:

(The H.264 codec gives great results at tiny file sizes. It’s not meant for use in video production, though, so always keep your master copies in DV or another high-quality format.)

Step 3. If you’d like to specify a target file size, click on Advanced:

Step 4. Check Fit each video in… and type in a number:

Step 5. Click Start to begin encoding:

You Don’t Know How to FTP?

FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is a way to send large files over a network from one computer to another. This tutorial uses FireFTP, an excellent addon for the Firefox browser. (If Firefox is already your regular browser, you won’t even have to leave it to send files by FTP.)

If you don’t want to use Firefox, you can also use the cross-platform FileZilla FTP client; the setup steps are nearly identical to the tutorial below. (If you’re on a Mac and use FTP frequently, I highly recommend Transmit, USD $34.)

Before proceeding, get the following pieces of information from your server administrator:

* The address of your server—usually, although not always, the same as the ordinary web address.

* Your username and password to log in.

* The directory you should put files in to make them visible on the web. (Putting files somewhere else can make them visible only to FTP programs, not to browsers.)

And now you’re ready to send a file:

Step 1. Start the Firefox browser and launch FireFTP from the Tools menu.

Update: Newer versions of Firefox may hide FireFTP in a submenu called Web Developer:

Step 2. Click Create an account.

Step 3. Give your new account a name and enter the information mentioned above.

Step 4. Click Connect.

Step 5. Each time you connect, you’ll be asked for your password.

Step 6. You should now be able to see the directories available on your server. Choose where you would like to send your file.

Step 8. Drag and drop your file to send it.

Step 9. Watch the progress bar in the lower left-hand corner as your file uploads.

Step 10. Once your file is uploaded, you can rename or delete it by right-clicking on it.

Step 11. While FTP programs generally have no restrictions on what you can name your file, remember that, to make it properly accessible on the web, you should use no spaces or uppercase letters.

Step 12. If you uploaded your file into a web directory, type the address into your browser and see if the link works!

Now, this is a somewhat involved process for a beginner. There are lots of other ways for people to exchange files, so why should you bother with FTP? Because FTP has no built-in file size limit. (Email attachments, by contrast, are generally capped at 10MB or less.) For getting a few hundred megs into the hands of somebody on the other side of the world, right away, this can be extremely useful.

What’s 24-bit Color?

One of the most helpful concepts to understand in new media is how a computer creates an image.

1. The story starts with Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), who suggested in 1843 that a programmable calculating machine could be built out of a grid of switches, rather than a mess of clockwork gears.

2. A switch has the advantage of being very simple. Unlike a gear, it has only has two positions, “on” and “off.” When you’re trying to design something as complex as a computer, this simplicity is important.

3. A hundred years later, the idea finally caught on. A modern computer’s memory is, basically, a giant sheet of graph paper, a grid consisting of billions of tiny switches, each with two positions.


4. Each switch in the grid is called a “bit.” The bits are grouped in banks of eight, and each bank is called a “byte.” Megabytes and gigabytes are frequently-used units of measurement these days, so it’s important to realize that you’re counting actual, physical objects.

5. Here’s an image in 1-bit color. Each pixel here is drawn by flipping a single switch. There are only two options, on or off, so there are only two possible colors for each dot on the screen.

6. Now, here’s the same image in 4-bit color. Four switches are flipped for each pixel, giving us 16 possible positions. With 16 colors to choose from, we quickly see a remarkable improvement.

7. Let’s try it again in 8-bit color. Now we have eight switches flipped for each pixel, giving us 256 possible colors. The individual pixels are starting to blend together well, but you can still pick some out in areas of fine detail—look closely at the posters on the right-hand side of the frame.

8. Finally, we end up at the current standard, 24-bit color. With 24 switches, we have a healthy 16,777,216 possible positions, enough color choices to create a seamless image.