Final Animation

Working on this animation was essentially an extended exercise in acclimating to the After Effects interface and getting to know its different features, effects, and functions.

In the course of working on this project, I experimented with track mattes, blending modes, motion graphics effects, a variety of slightly more off-the-beaten-path keyframe manipulations (such as trim paths, pen-tool-aided path creation, and speed graphs),  sound design, text animation, masking, and others. With the exception of the video of the ocean and fire from the title scene, I created all visual assets in the piece, either in Photoshop or directly in After Effects. The music, which I looped and distorted, is by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Scott Walker, and Celer.


Final Project Presentation: The Ambient Orb

Process on this project was divided into several distinct parts, chief of which include fabrication, programming, and thematic/theoretical elaboration.

For a recap on the fabrication aspect of this project—including initial sketching, modeling in Vectorworks and Rhino, and 3D printing—see this blog post.

For insight into the process behind the programming that fuels this project—including working with node, building the keylogger script at the heart of the orb’s functioning, and coding the neopixel LEDs—see this blog post.

For an overview of the initial theoretical and thematic underpinnings of my ambient orb—which, as you’ll learn below, have undergone changes over the course of the last several weeks—see this blog postContinue reading “Final Project Presentation: The Ambient Orb”

Final Project Presentation: Data Visualization without Data*

At the outset of this project, I set for myself the following two goals:

1) To learn D3.js well enough so that I was comfortable manipulating and visualizing data, as well as working with D3’s various functions and its unique syntactical quirks (such as method chaining).

2) To create a visualization that tells a story of Laos and the horrific plight of unexploded ordnance (UXO) left behind since the early 1970s, a result of the CIA’s covert bombing campaign in the country, concomitant with the Vietnam War.

The first task, I am fairly certain I accomplished. With the help of two books, an online lecture course, an online library of D3 works (replete, occasionally, with commentary and example code), and various online forums and communities, I’m now comfortable visualizing data with D3.

The process of fulfilling my second task—and the variety of obstacles I encountered over the course of this process—is essentially the story of my work on this project. (This story … below) Continue reading “Final Project Presentation: Data Visualization without Data*”

Design and Fabrication

Before even setting out on it, I knew that the fabrication aspect of this physical computing project was going to be about as much fun as it was going to be challenging. I have never worked with CAD software or 3D printing before, and have little to no experience with the design of physical, worldly objects. But the idea of slowly, gradually realizing a physical thing—beginning with no more than a sketch or a hazy idea in mind—is so exciting to me that the learning curve of everything involved in actually accomplishing this realization was almost negligible.

With that said, the single theme that most defines my path working on the fabrication component of this project is that of collaboration.

Continue reading “Design and Fabrication”

Character and Early Planning for Final Animation

For my second, extended animation piece, I wanted to do something that doesn’t necessarily rely on a singular character or persona. Given the time constraints for putting this piece together (~two or three weeks), animating, scripting, and modeling a character (and accommodating for its movement, shading, and so on) seems a little cumbersome. I’d prefer instead to focus on a simple avatar and its dynamic interaction with a series of interesting tableau-like backgrounds.

Here is the avatar/character I plan to use for my animation:

I created it in Adobe Photoshop using the brush feature and a palette of different colors I made in the upper left corner. Here’s a screenshot of my work environment:

I simply went back and forth,  between dark shades and light, between the lighter yellow to mustard and brownish to black, adding shadow, inserting color, or introducing white, and evening it all out with multiple layers of soft (brush hardness set to 0%) strokes.


I will likely add to this yellow orb avatar and create alternates for a variety of scenarios over the course of the composition of my animation. I plan on creating lighter versions, darker, more shadowy versions, as well as versions with higher reflectivity for brighter light scenes.

Final Project: Data Visualizations without “Data” and the CIA’s Secret War in Laos

Between 1964 and 1973, the US dropped anywhere between 2 and 2.5m tons of bombs on Laos, more than they dropped on both Germany and Japan combined over the course of WWII.

The US, then fighting a spurious war in Vietnam, was not officially at war with Laos (official acknowledgement of the bombing campaign of Laos came in 1970). The CIA’s covert activity in Laos—Vietnam’s neighbor to the west—was intended to cut off supply lines for the North Vietnamese army, as well as to suppress the Laotian communist party, which at the time was engaged in a civil war against the royalist government. It is frequently contended, moreover, that US warplanes would drop remaining munitions from bombing runs in Vietnam in Laos, in order to return to their bases with empty planes.

Per Legacies of War, the 580,000 bombing missions undertaken by the US unloaded what was equal to “a planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24-hours a day, for nine years—making Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.” Even still, few in the US or the world were aware of these bombings at all.

Cluster bombs were heavily employed in the bombing of Laos. It is estimated that over 270m cluster bombs were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War. Anywhere up to 80 million of these (with some analysts putting this figure higher) failed to detonate upon impact—more than a third of all those dropped.

Per Legacies of War, “nearly 40 years on, less than 1% of these munitions have been destroyed. More than half of all confirmed cluster munitions casualties in the world have occurred in Laos. Each year there are now just under 50 new casualties in Laos, down from 310 in 2008. Close to 60% of the accidents result in death, and 40% of the victims are children.”

These undetonated munitions are called unexploded ordnance (UXO). And they are at once the legacy and active (albeit delayed) continuation of the US’ secret war in Laos.

Data visualizations are rife in media today. They allow numerical information to be grasped by ordinary people who have no background in parsing tables, charts, and datasets, or who simply find it difficult to comprehend the scale of statistics, or empathize with the stories depicted in shapeless, colorless numbers.

In this respect, we might consider widening the term “empathy machine”—which has of late been reserved for immersive virtual reality systems by the silicon valley edutainment complex—to extend to all media or designed experiences that facilitate an emotional comprehension of something that people, for one reason or another, have difficulty understanding—or, in some cases, are altogether alienated from.

Data visualizations tell a story. They do so in a manner that is at once not without an aesthetic logic (i.e. people work hard to make them visually compelling) and whose authenticity or verity is usually beyond dispute—or at least much less disputable than editorialized .. in paragraph form

But … rising cachet … prestige …

For more reasons than one, data visualization …

a cultural reason … yearned-for and sought-after …  Our time, after all, so regularly ..  … post-truth, alternative facts …

But this … on data … , while salutary in a number of ways, comes with risk of …


data visualization between historiography (the writing of history) and memorialization (its … living)


Laos (see flagged stats on first page of eternal harvest) … casualties unrecorded and unrecognized …

what might data visualization … without data …



comprehension of the scope/scale of mass death events … the .. that turns human lives into numbers, … visualizations and others similar .. purport (and in many cases, successfully do) turn those numbers back into something that alienated .. can once again understand

Returning to the topic of the covert bombing runs of Laos by US warplanes, we might ask a couple of questions about data visualizations. Who visualizes data? What data is there? What is a data visualization without data?

ICMadness Collaboration Sketch

“ICMadness” is a class-wide event held here at ITP, during which students from different Introduction to Computational Media (ICM) sections collaborate in groups of three on a randomly decided-upon project for roughly an hour and a half.

My group included Ellen Nickles and Jenna Xu, and our project’s parameters (randomly generated by an algorithm provided for us) were “climate change,” “nested for loops”, and “unusually large.”

Continue reading “ICMadness Collaboration Sketch”