video creation

“Inexpensive” 3D

A few weeks ago, I ended up in Orlando somewhat by chance. Since it had been a few years since I had done it, I took the opportunity to check out a few of the newer exhibits. One that struck me in particular was Mickey’s PhilharMagic (Disney, wikipedia) which is staged somewhat in the middle of the Magic Kingdom. The theater itself is somewhat designed like the ficitional theater in the 1993 John Goodman film Matinee (imdb, wikipedia). In the film, Goodman’s character, Lawrence Woolsey, introduces what he calls Atomo-vision and Rumble-rama. These innovations bring more senses into the movie watching experience like touch through things like vibrating seats just at the scary moment. In the current Disney version, they use lots of gimics like spraying water, various scents, smoke, and bursts of air to enhance the experience.

One of the additional features is the use of 3D with more modern glasses that almost look like cheap sunglasses. Of course, there are all of the standard 3D gags like pies flying at your head, trombone slides popping off the screen, and gems floating in the air that appear easy to reach out and take for yourself. We’ve seen all of that done before. What I found interesting was the other applications of 3D like flying through the clouds with Donald Duck, swimming under the sea with the Little Mermaid, and riding the magic carpet through narrow streets and buildings with Aladdin. The 3D models of those environments in combination with the use of the 3D glasses made it feel like we were actually flying through those environments.

So here’s my question, couldn’t we do that same thing with computer screens with video game technology? It shouldn’t be that hard for the “cameras” in video game engines to split and display the image to work with a set of inexpensive 3D glasses. Rather than spending all of the money to create heavy and expensive head gear, couldn’t this be a simpler, less expensive, and faster solution? Sure, maybe the image resolution won’t be as high, but it was more than enough to create the illusion. Can some of my engineer readers fill me in on this?


Visual Thinking & eLearning

Have you wondered how Visual Thinking applies to eLearning? or What is Visual Thinking anyway? You’re not alone. So, over at the VizThink community (website, wiki, blog), we’ve decided to do a series of podcasts and webinars covering these topics. Here are the first 3 topics:
Who is TechSmith and what do they do with Visual Thinking? (with Tony Dunckel)
What is idea mapping and how can it be used? (with Jamie Nast & Susi Watson)
How is Visual Thinking related to eLearning? (with Dave Gray & Tony Karrer)

Many more are on the schedule including sessions on graphic recording, presentations, and many others. All of the podcasts and webinars are FREE, but some require registration. Be sure to bookmark the VizThink blog or add it to your reader in order to get the latest updates.


Combining Video & Interactivity

The designers of this site do a great job of combining video, interactivity, usability, and creativity. Notice how the video controls are obvious, provide relevant feedback and are easy to use. They even tell the participant where the moment of truth is so they can jump straight to it.

OK, so really, it’s a fun set of videos with some pretty neat controls. Who knew Christmas lights would do that in the microwave?

Thanks to Mike Cohen at Creative COW Blogs for pointing it out.

How Real Is ‘Real Enough’?

Don Clark, in a recent post on his blog takes on the topic of fidelity in simulations. In posts several months ago I said I was going to come back to this topics. It took a while, and a bit of prompting by Don’s post, so here it is. Here’s a quote:

‘Physical’ and ‘psychological’ fidelity
An underlying problem in military training is the failure to recognise the fundamental difference between ‘physical’ and ‘psychological’ fidelity. So, how real should simulations be? It’s a mistake to think that physical fidelity is an absolute virtue in simulations. A stripped down version of reality will often suffice, and in fact can often provide greater focus for the learner. The important consideration in making such decisions is to be selective in a way that focuses on the psychologically significant aspects of the situation in a way that highlights the learning objectives.

While I bet after a discussion we might totally agree, his words here only seem half accurate. I agree that, especially in today’s gaming environment, we have focused too much on visual fidelity at the expense of game play, story, and, as Don terms it, “psychological fidelity”. Take a look at the success of the Nintendo Wii. They went the opposite direction. The graphics are frankly weak. Instead they focused on the game play and moving it closer to reality. Think about tennis or bowling not by button mashing like most games do, but by actually moving your arm and your hand. Talk about fidelity. (On an awesome side note, retirement centers all across the country are buying Wii’s so that seniors who couldn’t think about lifting a bowling ball again can get back out on the lanes. How cool is that?) Alternatively, I don’t want to say how many times I’ve crashed my car in Project Gotham Racing 3 (PGR3) for the Microsoft‘s Xbox 360 because I was staring at the incredibly realistic scenery with shadows, reflections, tire marks, and dents from previous impacts. (Note the picture at the right. The top image is Tokyo, and the bottom is Tokyo in PGR3. Truly amazing visual fidelity.) However, did those incredible graphics impact game play? Actually, at least in my case, they hindered game play. Impressive, yes…necessary to achieve the learning objective, no.

Where Don and I start to deviate is in his last sentence where he says we should focus “on the psychologically significant aspects of the situation in a way that highlights the learning objectives.” In my recent American Idol post, I talk about the importance of good decisions and good feedback in simulations which are a certainly part of the “psychologically significant aspects”. So while I agree, it’s only half right. Physical fidelity should be considered when physical fidelity matters to the business objectives. For example, in the a simulation of a conversation, does physical fidelity matter? Well, it depends. If the goal is to teach the participant the right words to say, then no. However, if the goal is to diffuse a tense situation such as an angry customer, body language and facial features matter. Sure, sometimes exaggerated, cartoon-like features can suffice, but it’s the business objectives that determine the level of physical fidelity as well. As another example, take a flight simulator. If a pilot is being trained, I want the virtual cockpit to be identical to the real one not only in visual fidelity, but also in haptic and tactile feedback so they know what it feels like too. Does the fidelity of the landscape matter to the learning? Only if the skill flying over/through the landscape is part of the business objectives.

So while, I agree that psychological fidelity is important, when designing simulations we also need to determine the level of visual, physical, haptic, and tactile fidelity based on the business objectives for the session.

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New Favorite Toy…Ooops, I Mean Tool

I’ve been meaning to replace my MP3 player for at least 9 months now. My old 256 meg player was limited in space, functionality, and was a bit bulky. While buying an MP3 player usually wouldn’t warrant a post, the Zen VPlus from Creative Labs has already become more than just a player. On the market for about 8 months now, it does all of the things an MP3 player should, but it’s the “extras” where I think it really shines. My favorite feature is it’s recording capabilities. I’ve already used it to help remember a few brainstorms while I was out, but I was most impressed with it during my interview with the founders of ZingTrain. The cafe was active and noisy, but the recording using the built in microphone still picked up the 3 of us clearly, and for an hour and 10 minutes the file only took up 15 meg of the 4 gig drive. With a regular size headphone jack, I was able to plug it into the auxiliary port on my car stereo and checkout the highlights.

At only 1.5 ounces and 2.6″H x 1.7″W x 0.6″D, it’s easily transportable, but not quite as forgettable as the iPod Shuffle which is about an inch shorter. What’s more amazing though is that with the small size, it still has a full screen including video playback (and the Shuffle is missing a screen completely). While I probably wouldn’t want to watch a major movie with it, for basic news or talking heads, it’s more than capable, and actually quite easy to use. My only real complaint is that the software doesn’t share the devices usability. Clearly they had different design teams on the related products. With a relatively similar size, 4x the capacity, less Digital Rights Management restrictions, and a slew more features like recording, FM radio, and recording, I’m not sure why anyone would every buy the iPod Shuffle or even the iPod Nano.

Whichever toy…um, I mean tool…you buy, the features have become quite amazing. There are a number applications for learning, communications, and performance support. Considering things like the weekly message from the CEO, daily quick tips, portable storage for files, books on tape, and performance support, inexpensive tools like this could easily be deployed through a sales team or even a broader organization.

The Curse of the Yellow Hammer: Learning Edition

A couple of days ago Christian Glawe from Creative Cow Blog wrote a great post on The Curse of the Yellow Hammer. (If you’re not reading Creative Cow, and you’re at all interested in the graphic and visual design side of our business, it’s a great resource). In the post, he says:

We all know how techno-centric our industry is. And how quickly that technology changes. Simply keeping up with all the new capabilities, gear, workflows, software, platforms, etc. can be a full-time job…Some of my colleagues know this as my “Yellow Hammer” theorum. Often, we become wrapped up in discussing whether we use a Yellow Hammer, or a Blue Hammer, or a Green Hammer. What I’m interested in finding out is the best way to nail two pieces of wood together to make an angle that works well within the design concept of the house.

While he goes on to describe how this relates to art, he could have just as easily been describing the learning community, especially those of us bloggers. We spend a lot of time talking about whether this wiki is better than that wiki, or this LMS is better than LMS, or this development tool better than that one. We even debate whether blogs are better than wikis. Games, simulations, widgets, wikis, blogs, and on and on and on all are a lot of fun to talk about, but don’t get us any closer to our goal.

I think we should spend more time thinking and talking about how people actually learn to do the things they need to do and the best way to help them with that. Eventually, we’ll get to the tools, but I think we keep skipping a step and forget that in the end what matters is that people know how to do what they need to do better than they did before. Hopefully, that’s something we can do something about.


The Power of Debate

Debate may be one of the most powerful learning tools out there. To be able to win a debate, or even compete to any extent, both sides need to understand their opponent’s argument. In fact, I believe one of the best ways to win a debate is to first argue (and win) from the opponent’s point of view. Winning the opposing argument requires going beyond simple knowledge of the opposing view point into deep understanding and even appreciation. When many people debate, they often don’t even understand their own argument well enough to know why they believe it. I should be clear that, in my usage, debates do not imply anger or personal attacks, but rather passionate, civil discussions on important issues.

Over the last 6 days, Ann Arbor has been home to the 45th Annual Film Festival, the oldest of it’s kind in North America. Screenings are held for about 100 films (of over 2,000 submitted for consideration) in classic movie palace splendor including the classic organ prelude. I had the opportunity to screen 25 of them ranging in length from 2 to 30 minutes each (obviously more were towards the shorter end). Each of them presented various points of view including some that were aligned with my own, some were quite enlightening, and a couple were even disturbing.

Some of my favorites included Mischa Livingstone’s A Little Fright Night, Benny Zenga’s Ski Boys, Eric Flagg’s Gimme Green, and Carlos Marulanda’s Breathing Chamber. Two movies deserve some special attention. First, Stranger Comes to Town by Jacqueline Goss uses the game World of Warcraft to create machinima describing the U.S. Visit program run by Homeland Security from the point of view of various real life people (represented by avatars) who have attempted to enter the U.S. legally. For more information on machinima, see my earlier posts (Machinima: Using Virtual Actors for Learning and Entertainment, The Movies: The Game, Invasive Species in Second Life, or listen to my presentation on the topic).

The second movie, 731: Two Versions of Hell by James Hong, not only exposed me to a story I never had heard, but it also debated both sides of the story completely. The first half presents the story, impact, and remains of a Japanese biochemical warfare facility during World War II from China’s point of view. The second half plays the exact same footage backwards while presenting Japan’s point of view. I’m not sure which side is more true, or if, as with most debates, they both might be true.

What I like about this event is it’s ability to quickly expose my thought process to ideas that I normally don’t get a chance to hear, understand, or appreciate yet I know they exist. Events like this provide platforms for artists to express their points of view and start open and honest debate on important topics.

Support the arts. They provide a valuable service by helping us all be learners.


Invasive Species in Second Life

Meijer, a regional 1-stop shopping center, and the Nature Conservancy have joined forces to educate and help reduce the impact of invasive plant species on the Michigan environment. Non-native, invasive plants have begun dominating the local environment due to well meaning home gardeners. To help combat the problem this spring, labels have been added to plants sold by Meijer indicating which plants are “Recommended Non-invasive”. In conjunction, they decided that a coordinated video campaign both in-store and on the web would be the best way to educate the public. Unfortunately, they decided on this approach in November…in Michigan. Not many plants available for video shoots in Michigan in November, and going to a more temperate fall location would defeat the purpose of showing Michigan plants overwhelmed by invasive species. Waiting until spring to shoot the video would be to late to run the promotion. So, video production experts, Silver and Goldie Goodman, suggested a novel solution…use Second Life to make a machinima video (high, medium, Google). Even more impressive, it was created at a fraction of the price of live or traditional animated video.

Actually, Silver and Goldie Goodman are the Second Life names for Dave & Bev Lang who run LTS Productions, a video production studio just outside of East Lansing, Michigan. They have arguably become the most famous video production group in Second Life with their own island set, props, actors, and studio. They are responsible for other famous videos like Stephen Colbert’s Dream for Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report and for their video, Second Life: Get One, created for Second Life’s machinima challenge for which they won best-of-show. Interestingly, with the recent decline of the auto industry and the related decline in state and local government budgets, traditional local video work was beginning to slow down for them. Second Life and machinima has allowed them to expand their reach globally without expensive travel or location shoots since the “filming” can be done on their island in Second Life. They estimated 60-70% of their video business has shifted to machinima!

For more information on machinima, see my earlier posts (Machinima: Using Virtual Actors for Learning and Entertainment, The Movies: The Game, or listen to my presentation on the topic).


Machinima: Redux

For those who missed my Machinima presentation on Friday, February 16, 2007, Adobe has been kind enough to post it for all to review. This recording contains all of the video, images, audio, and chat from the original presentation. Like the original attendees, you will need to register to view the session. However, once you do, it will immediately begin playing and it can be watched repeatedly, if you want. The recording is almost like being there live, except that to participate in the conversation, we’ll have to chat here on the blog. Please leave any comments by using the link below. I’d love to hear your thoughts or ideas.

For additional documentation check out these posts:
Machinima: Using Virtual Actors for Learning and Entertainment
The Movies: The Game

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I Love TiVo – More New Features

Have I said that before? Well, I don’t think on the blog yet, but those who’ve known me in the last several years know it’s true. Actually, I love all technology. If I could I would buy it all and try it out. I wonder if CNET needs somebody? Some stuff (like GPS) is fun, but I could live without it pretty easily. However, there are a few pieces of consumer electronics that I would truly keep because they have improved the way I live and work. Certainly, not all technology can say that. TiVo is first on the list to keep.

TiVo’s changed my viewing habits completely. First, it saves me time…hour shows take 35-40 minutes to watch, 30 minute shows are 15-20 minutes. That’s a huge savings. It still amazes me how little content a show actually has. It’s not just the commercials which are about 1/3 of the length of the original program. Chop out the “here’s what’s coming in a couple segments”, “here’s what we just showed you”, and the lead ins and lead outs from commercials, and I can save another 5-10% of the time. Plus, I don’t have to worry about when the show airs or if the time changes. It’s always recorded. No complex recording schemes like the old VCRs. I watch it when I want, and I know it will be there.

Certainly, there are competitors including most of the cable companies. I’ve tried many of them and they just don’t compare. Frankly, TiVo’s ease-of-use beats most interfaces of any sort, hands down. Where TiVo really shines is it’s ongoing new features. First, it was home networking features like watching a video anywhere in the house, listening to music from my PC on my home stereo, and viewing pictures from the PC on the TV in a different part of the house. That was cool, and it didn’t require any additional technology. Since then, they’ve added lots of features like casual games, listening to podcasts, buying movie tickets, and getting weather and traffic information. They even added subscription services for short 1-15 minute downloads on topics of interest. All cool stuff, but not game changing until yesterday.

TiVo announced a partnership with Amazon‘s Unbox to deliver movies to the home. Imagine going to Amazon, selecting a movie to rent or buy, one-click download, and in a short time the movie is there to watch. Well, it’s available now. They gave TiVo people $15 in downloads to try out. The movie selection is a bit thin (about 500 right now), but the service is easy and part of Amazon which, of course, is a regular destination for me. Sure there are other download services, but they deliver to my PC or to my portable device…neither of which are great places for watching a movie. Finally, someone has got it so that the movie gets to my TV without a special box (assuming, of course, that I already own TiVo). The video quality was great. Better than broadcast TV frankly. The download process was a bit finicky. Don’t touch the box while it’s downloading. It seems to restart the download. I do wish they had figured out a way to capitalize on a partnership with NetFlix (given their huge selection of movies), but I’m glad someone has finally moved towards a download service that doesn’t require me to sit at my desk or squint at a tiny screen.


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