Archive for October, 2008|Monthly archive page

Just Me and You, Thirsty

CBS Outdoor showed us their vision of the future last year.

It’s underground. It’s digital. It’s just you – and adverts.

Update: Some readers have told me this video won’t play for them now. If that happens to you, here’s the YouTube link. The video’s still up there.

Feels like a walkthrough for some dystopian video game. The humans are dead.

You and the adverts now. And a train arrives without any real waiting?

I can’t complain because that did, as it transpires, optimise my time to read the question “Thirsty?”

I was, and I still am. So I’ll get an orange juice and go to bed. Goodnight, Advertising. You looked hypnotic going down the escalator.

Felt Tip Rotoscope

Well sort of. I think.

It’s been kicking around for a while, and I still can’t say I know how Nois made this video for Diplo:

Nois are a collective of Brazilian directors with a showreel that’s diverse and impressive. Thanks Bren for a sharp point.

And Audrey Q showed me Donald Hertzfeldt‘s Rejected Cartoons recently, on the felt tip.

I’ve seen a lot of brands lifting the lid on hand-drawn logos this last year or two. Scribbled design is in.

Obviously we all love felt tips – and for baile funk or a deranged cartoonist, they’re the obvious weapon – but why’s this happening on a corporate level now?

Imitation of a new (old) style? Simple fun? Or are we looking at a form of design “transparency”? Surely not… humanity? Let’s hope it doesn’t go the way of helvetica.

The Greenest of Boozehounds

Around the time Bear Stearns got crunched (or was it Northern Rock?), there was an “office humour” email doing the rounds.

Invest your money in Stella Artois, your liver in drinking, and some spare time recycling the cans afterwards. You’ll get a better return than you would from the market. Ba-boom.

Was the laughter still ringing in the ears of Public Life when they created this campaign? Or are they hitching a ride on the greenwash bandwagon?

You can’t miss these ads on London’s buses – and they do catch your attention. But they took me in the wrong direction. Much like the bus I caught this morning.

Are many of the UK’s conscientious recyclers also thick-lidded boozehounds? Has the country, collectively, taken one email gag that literally? Should I recycle less and save a bottle bank backlash?


The Drink Aware Trust’s website made me feel first thoughts on this campaign were overharsh.

The interactivity’s good, the use of video is engaging. It’s all very navigable and informative.

I guess that’s a difficulty with advertising for government/ non-profit. You need a captive market before full engagement. And who’s out there browsing for social change?

Only in America.

Hook or You’re Slung

I start a vast many books. But often at once. And it’s a small wonder when I get to the end of one.

For both bookstore browser and attention-deprived verbivore, the first paragraph is your blue Smartie. A tasty hook in the gob, attached to a few thousand reeling lines.

Short stories have to be particularly delicious with their opening gambit. Take the first paragraph of Donald Barthelme‘s ‘Me and Miss Mandible’:

Miss Mandible wants to make love to me but she hesitates because I am officially a child; I am, according to the records, according to the gradebooks on her desk, according to the card index in the principal’s office, eleven years old. There is a misconception here, one that I haven’t quite managed to get cleared up. I am in fact thirty-five, I’ve been in the Army, I am six feet one, I have hair in the appropriate places, my voice is a baritone, I know very well what to do with Miss Mandible if she ever makes up her mind.

Donald Barthelme, ‘Me and Miss Mandible’, Sixty Stories (available to browse on Google Books)

I’ve been reading Borges lately and get all kinds of excited in his first paragraphs. But he operates in a completely different way from Barthelme. He doesn’t hook. He’ll start you on one path whilst suggesting a myriad of alternatives. You need a ball of string to get out.

Then there’s this opening paragraph. One that made me read a novel cover-to-cover yesterday:

Not everybody knows how I killed old Phillip Mathers, smashing his jaw in with my spade; but first it is better to speak of my friendship with John Divney because it was he who first knocked old Mathers down by giving him a great blow in the neck with a special bicycle-pump which he manufactured himself out of a hollow iron bar. Divney was a strong civil man but he was lazy and idle-minded. He was personally responsible for the whole idea in the first place. It was he who told me to bring my spade. He was the one who gave orders on the occasion and also the explanations when they were required.

Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman

Completely contrary and utterly brilliant. O’Brien feigns to give away the plot but hooks you on the narrator. Who’s writing this?

And who wrote your favourite first paragraph?

Cuprocking in London?

Is Andy Uprock in London?

This spotted on the corner of Brick Lane, and more discovered around Commercial St last week.

Uprock is doing a world tour of his floating cup installations with the branded endorsement of VICE and Mooks.

Self-promotional cups. If anyone reading this gets commissioned to write a second series of Nathan Barley, please take note.

The Hills Have Eyes

“…today’s favelas in Latin American megalopolises: in some sense, are they not the first ‘liberated territories’, cells of future self-organized societies?”

Slavoj Zizek, The Universal Exception

For most affluent Westerners, the favelas don’t represent the future. Favelas, ghettos, slums, banlieues – all amount to historical failure. Indecent truths that are too immediate to expel from the City. But too volatile to accept in society. They can’t be looked in the eye.

Parisian artivist JR has forced society to do just that with interventions in Paris, Palestine-Israel, Liberia, Brazil and, recently, the Tate Modern in London.

The photograffeur pastes his massive photograffs onto wall space to surprise with portraits of the marginalised.

In Paris he got banlieue kids to pose in caricature like the “extra-terristrials that most Parisians assume that they are”. In Liberia, Sierra Leone and Libya last year his focus shifted to women. He photographed victims of domestic violence and rape, increasingly fixated by the eyes.

JR’s Women are Heroes 28mm project is now exhibiting at the Lazarides Gallery on Charing Cross Rd. He’s taken to a neighbouring street with his photograffs, and you should be able to catch all of this if you make it down before mid-November.

I can’t honestly say I was impressed with JR’s piece at the Tate Modern. In the context of work by Os Gemeos and other Brazilian street artists, it felt wrong to me. Too much picture-postcard favela – the gun-running glam-ghetto of City of God, with an old camera-as-gun trick.

But his work in Rio’s Favela Morro da Providência is truly moving. He’s a socially-motivated artist to the core and the more I read about him, the more I’m impressed.

Full feature article to follow in the next issue of Jungle Drums. I’ll share the link once it’s up.

Update: As promised, here’s the full article on Jungle Drums.

Kobe Kills the Critic

Last week at the BFI an esteemed panel gathered to discuss the role of the film critic.

All the panellists were writers. One, at least – Mark Cousins – is also a filmmaker. All of the discussion revolved around the critic as writer.

But online film distribution and viral films are not best criticized by writers. They’re best criticized by more films.

When Kobe Bryant jumped an Aston Martin back in April, eloquent replies quickly followed.

Firstly the literal critic. This critic wanted to point out that the jump wasn’t possible. The sceptic annotates the film to question the physics. “The workings are wrong”:

But that’s not as compelling as the moral critic. The moral critic says that Nike making and distributing a film to suggest their sneakers can help you jump a speeding sportscar is irresponsible.

You could write that opinion. But who reads anymore? Make a film showing the consequences instead. (I truly hope that this film is also a fake – if anyone knows differently, please let me know and my apologies):

So what’s the most powerful critique? Show how Kobe could kill, or write about the potentially irresponsible approach of Nike’s viral marketing? Are you even reading this?


But if you are still reading, and you dig that kind of thing, stick your nose in Mark Cousins’s new book. I had the pleasure of working with him on Widescreen: Watching. Real. People. Elsewhere. I think he’s one of the best critics alive.

How to VJ #6

Some VJs are machines. Literally machines. Programmes that generate visuals to synchronize with an audio input.

I picked out this film by Low North to show you what I’m talking about (link for more info). Watch to see pixel-per-pixel mapping of an audio track:

I reckon it’s a stunning piece of work. But you may feel differently. We’re desensitized to audiovisual synchronization by the everyday viewing of cartoons, music videos, even 3D fractal screensavers with their precise, ambient motion.

What’s so impressive about this kind of animation, and what are its precedents?

Low North pay homage to Lillian Schwartz. Here’s one of her seminal films – Pixillation (1970):

It’s not quite pixel-per-pixel, is it? But nearly 30 years ago, Pixillation was one of the first digital films to be shown as a work of art.

It was the result of groundbreaking work by Lillian Schwartz as a consultant and researcher in visual and colour perception at Bell Laboratories.

As she says in The Computer Artists’ Handbook:

“A computer can have (be!) an unlimited supply of brushes, colors, textures, shadings, and rules of perspective and three-dimensional geometry. It can be used to design a work of art or to control a kinetic sculpture.”

But Ken Knowlton, her Bell Labs colleague and author of the BEF LIX (Bell Flix) animation programme, spoke of a troubling dichotomy. Whereas artists – human animators – were “intuitive… sensitive and vulnerable”, programmers were “constricted… cold and inscrutable”.

Look just a few years further back to John Whitney. Is that dichotomy so clear?

Like Lillian Schwartz, John Whitney has immense stature in the history of the digital arts. He’s sometimes credited (see the Wiki) as one of the fathers of computer animation. And his vision was simple:

“Above all, I want to demonstrate that electronic music and electronic colour-in-action combine to make an inseparable whole that is much greater than the parts.”

In the 1980s, Whitney was responsible for the invention of an AV “synthesizer for the future”, the Whitney-Reed RDTD. But earlier in his career he worked with Saul Bass on title sequence for Vertigo (1958).

Imagine Whitney’s vision pre-electronic. Pre-computers. When you watch the minutely synchopated animation of Fantasia (1940), for example, you don’t imagine a computer in sight. You might, however, when you watch Oskar Fischinger’s work – because it has that level of detail and timing:

As the date will tell you, this animation involved no computer. Fischinger worked for Disney as an animator on Fantasia. He’d used charcoal-on-paper for his early works. He’d played with coloured liquids and a “Wax Slicing Machine” in between, and invented the Lumigraph (a colour organ) in 1950.

Some of the most visionary animators and filmmakers of the pre-digital era laboured with incredible precision to synchronize visuals with music. There’s a separate strand of film history – one that competed against narrative cinema, the talkie, but appeared to have lost.

You’ll see origins of this battle in the early 1920s, with films by the Dadaists and particularly Hans Richter.

If you want to VJ, in my opinion, you should be aiming for “an inseparable whole that is greater than its parts”. The results can be as revolutionary as you make them.

It doesn’t matter what you use to create. But when you produce audiovisual synchronization, regardless of programmes, software or dialectics, you’re pumping new blood into a rich, historic vein of cinema.

Make it human. Make it how you feel. Because an audience will feel it with you.

Feel like some more? Check out the Center for Visual Music.

Please do it at home

When Zico left his role as Minister of Sports in Fernando Collor de Mello‘s government, he must have known things would be different in Japan.

And although the White Pelé quickly earned the fans’ adulation at Kashima Antlers, going on to manage the national team at the 2006 World Cup, he couldn’t always understand the culture.

Players, apparently, expected instruction. Not just tactical guidance – they would, at times, look to the touchline for direction. “What should I do when I have the ball? How should I proceed?”

Interesting to see how Japanese metro signs differ from the ones TfL produce here in London.

They don’t ask for a change in attitude (“be nice”), and they don’t just state what you can’t do (“No Smoking”). There’s no criticism of loud music, mobile phones or make-up application. Simply an instruction to proceed – “Please do it at home”.

Everyone’s entitled to their own vices, as long as they keep them private. Do what you like, but don’t make your dirty mess in public.

So what are these suicide barriers on the platform saying?

The Magnificent Recession

I’m not sure the sea will become the land, and the land the sea.

But the recession will inevitably lead to trading places.

“Be there when the market turns”, say the black-humoured creatives at Storåkers McCann, Stockholm for Dagens industri.

It’s a sharp thought, and a creative result.

Thanks to Hyper Island the ad world expects great digital from Sweden. So I’m pleased to see that pedigree in print, too.

Back in London, bussing through Bank and dodging the pinstriped boozehounds – I wonder. Will the City Boys sleep long and hard this Friday? How far will they go on craft and spittle in the Magnificent Recession?

A penny for the shoeshine’s thoughts.