Anarchy in the Arts and the Techno-Revolution A Visit to SCAN '94 by Byron Grush

The Franklin Institute Science Museum is located at the head of Philadelphia's scenic Parkway drive which leads to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Across the Parkway is the Rodin Museum, housing the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside of Paris. Inside the Franklin are hands-on science exhibits like a giant human heart you walk through, a rain forest, the four-story Tuttleman Ominverse Theater and currently, the Star Trek Federation Science exhibit, complete with a virtual reality Transporter. This November, Franklin Institute was once again host to the Small Computers in the Arts Symposium.

SCAN (Small Computers in the Arts Network), started fourteen years ago as an electronic music conference. It wasn't long before visual artists using computers for everything from sculpture to algorithmic art "invaded" the conference and expanded its scope and influence. Through thick and thin, regulars and newcomers have created unique and fascinating sessions dealing with the theme of the individual artists and their joyful struggles with technology in art. Very different from the annual SIGGRAPH conferences, there are very, if any, venders, and the emphasis is on desktop, home-brew systems rather than expensive workstation level machinery. This makes SCAN a very vital and stimulating experience and a good forum for those of us who operate on a shoestring.

Which is not to say that SCAN isn't state of the art: in fact, keynote speakers usually include "names" from the computing world such as Lillian Schwartz, Bill Moog, and others. There are electronic concerts and an art show. This year's art show was held at the newly opened Silicon Gallery in Philadelphia's Olde City gallery district, with the opening during "First Friday," the traditional gallery openings night. An on-going theme of SCAN has always been "so, just what IS computer art, anyway?" The question continues to attract a multitude of answers from the art community as the show and performances illustrated.

Of interest to me as an animator were several presentations, and the sense of an emerging direction for computer artists which seemed prevalent: multimedia design. Of course, there were some demonstrations of the newest software. Macromedia Director 4.0 was shown by John Thompson, who wrote the Lingo scripting language for it. Specular International demonstrated some of their multimedia products, as did HSC (Kai's Power tools), Virtus (WalkThrough and VR), and of course, Dr. Bill Kolomyjec from Pixar with the new release of Typestry. Beyond the usual trade show demos, these presentations were mostly by and for the personal/professional artist community.

Dr. Bill Kolomyjec talked somewhat guardedly about Pixar's current project for Disney, saying that it seemed like every animator on the west coast was working at Pixar. He hinted the project was a little like "Tin Toy" (Pixar's award winning short) taken to the ultimate surrealistic extreme. Typestry version 2, by the way, isn't just for "flying logos" anymore. For those who are unfamiliar with Pixar's software, it is an implementation of their Renderman Photorealistic rendering interface aimed at the creation 3 dimensional type in a very user friendly environment (for both MAC and Windows). It lets you turn TrueType, Postscript and other "stroke" fonts into 3D objects and apply the same kind of lights and surfaces (called "looks") that you've seen in films like Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park. It's possible to then animate the objects and output the results into Quicktime or Video for Windows animation files. You can treat objects made in "drawing packages like Illustrator or Corel Draw in the same way as the type, though the software is marketed as a type manipulation application. If you are hesitating about buying real state of the micro animation software like Autodesk 3D Studio at $3000, you might want to look at Typestry for $300.

Tom Porett, Director of Academic Computing for the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, presented his case history of the production of a multimedia project he recently completed for the admission personnel of the university to use for recruitment and information for prospective students. This involved the planning, editing and production of an interactive CD ROM containing lots of text information, stills, moving images and animation and an interactive navigational system so that the material could be presented, or explored by an individual viewer. It is interesting to see how artists from many specialties are and will be gravitating into this "new medium" which embodies so much of the old technologies, cinema, animation, sound, theater, and so forth. CD ROM authoring presents all sorts of new and unfamiliar production problems, but adds the dimension of interactively and allows you to work in a non-linear form.

And speaking of galleries, Mary Ann Kearns and Walter Wright of the 911 Gallery in Indianapolis, Indiana, showed their latest adventure in art exhibition: a Virtual Gallery on the World Wide Web. For those of you have just returned from another planet, The World Wide Webb is an interactive environment to be found on the Internet (you've heard of that, right?). Their on-line gallery allows you to use browsing software like MOSAIC to view works by media artists who have exhibited at 911 Gallery. Most of the images are for sale as prints. While digital motion images are a little more of a problem on the Internet, the possibility exists to promote your animation in this way by representing them as lower resolution "thumb-nails" and either selling rights to download them as files or in some other form. The E-mail address of the 911 Gallery is etools@iquest.net. They are located at 911 E. Main Street, Indianapolis, IN 46220-1714, tel: 317 257-8350

There was a lot more of interest at SCAN, including lots of telecommunication and internet activity, of course, the electronic music and the more traditional artists using computers to design or execute sculpture (growing models in tanks!), the application of an interactive brainwave analyzer to produce music and visuals in a dance performance, light sticks (a single row of lights which produced animated images as you move your eyes across it) and other far out ideas. Oh, yes, and Devin Henkle and I did a teleperformance we called "The Electronic Toybox." We used some teleconferencing software called SendIt which enables us to link two remote sites, I this case, the Northern Illinois University School of Art Electronic Media lab in DeKalb, Illinois and the SCAN conference at the Franklin Institute, by standard telephone lines via high-speed modems to send pictures back and forth interactively. The idea was to create a performance involving audiences at both sites who could communicate visually using the software. It was fun and relatively successful. Only somebody in the audience stole my handcuffs!

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