Thursday, 15 May 2014

Experiments in animation - II

This is my first attempt to combine text and drawing.  

The text in this case is a short poem from 2009 together with a heavily edited picture taken at Wee Jasper in the early 1980s.  

The process used to create the picture is explained in this post - together with the original pictures.  I want to record my thanks to all those who commented on the post - particularly Robyn Coalson (who prompted me to write the process down) and Ann Polak (who worked out what was happening in the picture).

Putting it together

First of all the poem:
   Once we were friends - 
   travelling far side by side 
   with the magic of us

I wrote this a long time ago - as part of a larger piece which was originally intended to be chanted in a rough 5:7:5 form (although this fragment breaks those rules).  The chant was set to music and recorded at the time, but then I got distracted and and only found the text recently.  

The picture was taken 2 decades ago at Wee Jasper in the mountains to the West of Canberra.  I originally scanned the photo then tried to repair it - but was disappointed with the outcome.  I remember the day - the horses and the company.

In combining the poem and picture I wanted to create a fast loading animation.  I tried a couple of options but eventually settled on the GIF format.  

First, I used Photoshop Elements 10 (PE10) to modify the picture.  I converted it to greyscale and resized the picture to reduce the size and density of the particles in the picture.  i then used a couple of filters - firstly to find edges and then give it a charcoal effect.  It gave the picture a line drawing / shaded effect.

I created 9 layers in PE10.  I used the text tool to add the poem into each of the layers - and then deleted part of the text to create the effect of the poem being written in the final GIF.

I cut the image into each of the layers and used a white brush to hide the detail I didnt want between each of the levels.  When happy with the effect, I merged the drawing an poem text into the 9 original layers.

Next time I would do a couple of things differently.  The most significant part of the picture are the riders - when reduced to final size, the figures have an 'untidy' look - this element of the picture might have benefited from being redrawn with attention to detail.  In the area behind the text I left some picture elements.  These bit me late in the process after I loaded the image onto G+ - a further size reduction at that stage introduced artifacts into the picture confusing the text in a couple of frames.  Next time, I will pay closer attention to that area to avoid later problems.

After a bit of experimentation with size and speed of delivery, I reduced the image size size to 15cm across and 36 pixels/cm and further reduced the color profile to 16 colors.  I increased the lossy rate to a high level (both further reduced the size of the GIF).  I then hit the "save for web" option as an animated gif with 3-4 seconds between each frame.  

I was happy with the size of the final - the file size is about half the size of a normal color picture.  I then uploaded it to G+.  G+ reduced the size a bit more and added some interesting artifacts into a couple of the frames.

Why do this

I started this to learn the process and because I reckon it would be a good way to present fast instruction on simple tasks, unpick complex structures - or to show progress on something (dynamic flow charts - explanations about how current moves through electric wiring diagrams etc). 

When I finally loaded it, I spent a bit of time watching it.  I assumed that I was just enjoying the moment but then Ann Polak made a couple of really interesting observations. She initially pointed out that the: 
"sideshow effect is much like human memory, with snapshots and vignettes the most natural form and the connections more loosely drawn, fading

Later she pointed out: 
 "seeing this layered exploration of the image, that we have lost a bit of the discovery and inspiration that we once had in the darkroom, when new ideas came from seeing images backwards and with negative colours -- not to mention upside down in the ground glass.  While I might spend a damp-eyed moment remembering the smell of the chemistry, there's much to be said for the technology that puts all that and more into any laptop for anyone to explore and master this creative domain.  What wonders!"

These were insightful comments.  Looking at the original picture, there are a number of different elements.  Ordinarily we would use focus or framing to give emphasis to these.  The eye of each viewer may be drawn to different parts of the picture, according to those subtle biases. With an animation technique the elements can be introduced in a different order - giving them, in turn, special significance.

Thanks to everyone who encouraged me with this :)  Really appreciate it.

Peter Quinton
May 2014

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