I am writing this post from the floor of SIGGRAPH 2009, this year being held in New Orleans, USA.
Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a keynote talk by Will Wright, the designer behind several landmark games such as SimCity, The Sims, and Spore. He presented an entertaining and panoramic talk entitled “Playing with Perception” which covered topics involving human psychology, visual processing, game design and the interrelatedness of multimedia technology. During his hour behind the microphone he swept through a staggering 270 slides, thereby wildly breaking the golden rule of “one slide per minute”, but coming from him, it worked. Respect.
I am guessing here, but from his talk I deduced that he is also a hobby photographer, and he continued to dedicate several of his many slides to this topic. Here are a few of the points which caught my attention:
- New technology fails to have its intented impact where there’s a misunderstanding, or ignorance of, human psychology.
- Several decades ago everyone expected 3D imaging and displays to be widespread by the turn of the century. However, 2D photographic effects (like shallow depth-of-field) are used to great effect in movies and photography, where it focusses our attention where the director intended. This lack in 3D makes the experience poorer rather than richer. (For a live concert broadcast experience, however, 3D works well, since here we demand to focus our attention freely in an immersive “I’m there” experience.)
- Visual art (painting) gradually evolved from crude rock painting to photorealism, before in recent times further developing into subjective and emotion-driven abstraction. The same may hold for animation and photography, at least in some contexts.
- Case in point tilt-shift photography is taking us further away from reality, and yet has immense emotional appeal. A possible reason is that the toy-like appearance of the photographed reality gives us the feeling of being able to manipulate and play with the scene (à la SimCity) – this pleases our senses.
- Being behind a camera lens gives you the ability to see the world in new ways, and trains your perception. After a while you see creative angles in everyday objects, even when your camera is not with you.
- With the addition of digital and CG tools, film makers have the ability to create (almost) any conceivable image on screen – the question is therefore no longer “what is possible to create?”, but purely “what should we create?”
Indeed, what should we create? It’s often amazing to see how extremely simple technologies can be enormously immersive. A clear favourite of mine is this music video, which doesn’t make use of any computer animation. Digital effects can greatly enrich our experience, but the art lies in knowing when, and how much, it is needed.
Looking at his professional success it is clear that Will deeply understands the aesthetics of interactive technology. And this is the exactly what I admire in SIGGRAPH – it brings technical innovation and aesthetics together in a single venue – something rare indeed.
Here’s to innovation, beauty and perception!
PS: Since writing the above blog, I have seen the 3D CG session featuring mind expanding scientific visualisation from NASA Goddard’s space flight centre. Stereoscopic 3D showing the sun’s coronal mass ejections in the UV spectrum (photographed in stereo by the twin SOHO spacecraft), a visualization of deep-ocean currents, seasonal ice cap variations, and much more. This was followed by a biomedical visualization tour of CTs obtained from 3000 year old Egyptian mummies. And then there were the animated shorts of Pixar, followed by an excerpt from U2 – live in 3D.
3D is indeed amazing when used correctly – it is just taking long to mature. When it comes into its own it will blow your mind – wow!