Monday, September 30, 2013

So long Facebook and thanks for all the posts!

Yeah, so I deleted my Facebook account. I haven't activated any bots to go through and remove me from any posts historically cause I think that's kinda rude towards my friends and family who are still there. But I'm gone and I won't be leaving any more info with that company for future use or whatever.

I'm not so naive that I think that this will 'erase' me from that part of the internet. Far from it. Information I left inside Facebook is only private for now and I know it's never really deleted just stored for later on. In the meantime they're already employing new algorithms to figure out which of your posts are worth reading or not.

I'm not bitter, and it was a free service and I definitely got some fun time out of it. I'm under no illusions about the nature of the arrangement, but I think the scales are finally tipping too far in their favour.

So [aside from this stupendous list of criticisms!] these are my reasons for departing [in no particular order]:

  • 1. Ever increasing monetization. [Wasn't it more fun when there were less ads?]. Edit: Now they want your credit card too!
  • 2. Pretensions to politics. [ Really? Something about this just ain't right].
  • 3. Privacy policy changes and fluctuations in the use of your material. What, don't you want to be famous? Your face could be used to sell vacuum cleaners!
  • 4. Facebook's crappy treatment of 3rd party devs. I believe Social Fixer likely made Facebook a better place to be, although I never used it. What's wrong with people making client-side tools to make Facebook's site more enjoyable?
  • The bloated arching rise of the Junk Web. I love me some cat macros but some of my 'friends' are completely out of control on Facebook. And it's ugly.
  • The inane posts, VagueBooking, and general time wastage. I'd rather get excited and make things than sit and read about someone else eating their dinner.
  • Cross-site tracking and monitoring what I'm into, yo.

All this being said, I love you people and think the internet is a great place. Too bad it's being compartmentalised and monetized so aggressively. I'll be in touch, and you know, when we chat next I'll have more new stuff to tell you cause you didn't hear it all over Facebook!

I may return to Facebook at some point in the future but likely only as a photography or app business entity as I fully recognise the power [hand raised to eye in salute] of 'the social' in this regard.


P.S. if you have interesting reasons why are or are not on Facebook I'd love to hear from you in the comments! What did I miss? Why should I still be there? What did you have for breakfast? Don't hold back.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


So... I don't know about you, but I find the furore surrounding Edward Snowden's revelations regarding the NSA and big tech companies betrayal of it's users and their data astounding. I mean we used to joke that privacy on the internet was a thing of the past and now we know conclusively that it really is.

Edward, we ALL owe you a beer, and probably a LOT more.
I realised we were living in a surveillance-state online only about 8-12 months ago when I began to use Ghostery in addition to adblock in my web-browsing activities. In using these tools I learnt more about online advertising's pervasive intrusions into our everyday web-surfing habits involving cookies, image tags, HTML mail with triggers pointing back to companies letting them know when their message had been even simply opened by me, and more. But I still thought that my communications were basically safe, let alone un-interesting enough that I wasn't really concerned that it might be true that someone, somewhere could be reading or listening in. I wasn't using encryption beyond https or SSL and the idea that I might want PGP or anything else seemed like an unnecessary encumbrance.

"If you have nothing to hide you don't need any rights."

Things have changed dramatically in a few short months. The online landscape has forever altered. US spying programs with names like PRISM, Five-Eyes, Xkeyscore, Tempora and more yet to be revealed are illustrating [much to the US' chagrin] just to what extent ALL our communications are being hoovered up 24/7 in rolling caches of searchable records. And individuals like NSA head General Keith B. Alexander are struggling to stay on top of the leaks and are forced to engage in a comedic cat and mouse game of leak vs assurance in what increasingly is a massive abuse of the trust of the every American citizen.

And it's not just the US. The UK have a three-day rolling store of pretty much everything going in and out of the United Kingdom in electronic form. And metadata storage for up to 30 days. Metadata can be more revealing in analysis than the actual conversation in your phone call. Information about who and when you spoke to someone and for how long can be manipulated in ways that yield connections between parties otherwise invisible at first glance.

New Zealand

Here in New Zealand, the ongoing saga of Kim Dotcom being illegally spied upon by the NZ government simply won't seem to lay down and be quiet. This is likely because the GCSB and NZ Police force used PRISMs data supplied by the NSA in their efforts to raid his Auckland home and place him in police custody on behalf of the US government. If the NZ government is using PRISM to look for copyright offenders where do they draw the line with your information? PRISM was designed to facilitate US government surveillance of foreign intelligence targets "reasonably believed" to be outside of the United States during the Bush era, not spy on what music you might be downloading.

"The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it."

This famous quote by activist John Gilmore from the Electronic Freedom Foundation seems to suggest that the internet can heal itself and work around problems like censorship. Organisations or governments that wish to know what your internet connection is carrying use technology like deep packet inspection and internet filtering that are designed to detect the nature of traffic on the internet. However in the wake of the knowledge that the NSA and GCHQ actually fibre-tap the very cables that cross undersea between our countries before they come into contact with your countries different landing points and ISP's, this sentiment now seems more like a wistful, rose-tinted vision of the pre-Snowden era that we'd now like to magically come true. And it's really not going to.

Laura Poitras and Glen Greenwald

The two reporters chosen and initially contacted by Edward Snowden are now under tremendous pressure from multiple governments and go to great lengths to protect themselves electronically. They are at the pointy end of the very tools they are exposing and the measured pace with which they reveal each new piece of information is vital in keeping these issues on the tip of public awareness. If they revealed everything in one release WikiLeaks style, the scandal would likely froth over and the US would quickly return to pointless outrage over Miley Cyrus' VMA costume choice or other such matters, and it'd soon be business as usual.

Sympathy for the devil?

Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Skype and most recently Apple...

We all use something from one of these companies in some shape or form, right? And they all let the NSA in the door and they all share data with the US government. They are now clamouring for permission from the US government to reveal the amount and type of data requests placed upon them in an effort to own up to their part in the information hoovering. I find it very hard to have sympathy for them at this point and indeed so it seems does Europe and other large parts of the world. Confidence in cloud-based storage products is taking a bashing as anything connected to the internet is vulnerable. I'm not about to trade-in my cellphone for paper and pen but it makes me think twice about *free* services like Gmail or Facebook.

Now the conversation about real privacy begins.

I think we're lucky that the debate is happening. I believe we're lucky that a democratic world-leading country is at the heart of these revelations and is attempting to deal with them in any sort-of public fashion. I find it hard to imagine many other countries owning up to the nature and extent of programs like that which the NSA are engaged in and discussing ways of backing up and out of the current situation. I acknowledge that there are necessary lengths that governments need to go to in order to protect it's people and I don't pretend to know where that line gets drawn. But it simply does not include my internet t-shirt orders by default, right? Or your phone call to order pizza? Or our drunken text messages from last night? Or your Facebook status update about how you just fed your cat. Or indeed the photos of your cat on your cellphone.

So now the rush to build proper NSA-proof encryption begins as it's revealed that the NSA has worked hard to undermine established encryption standards so they can peer into hidden communications. Discussions and tips about how to remain unseen by the NSA and secure online are highly informative. Can you reliably use TOR or not? And who wants to? Who wants to have to jump through all these hoops to protect our privacy? What is it worth to you or me who previously took it for granted that no one was listening?

I'm not sure but we are going to find out. Sooner rather than later thankfully.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

LightPulses from MrWinter

Mr Winter requested my assistance for his latest release entitled LightPulses, an ambient ride through some of his latest sonic meanderings mellowed with tasty tidbits and aural treats from sessions gone past. This being a purely digital release, Chris requested an animated gif for the cover, and let's face it, who doesn't love an animated gif lately?

w00t, two for two.
After listening to a pre-release version of the mix [putting my headphones on and going 'somewhere else' for a bit], the music demanded something spatial and ethereal...

I'd been gagging to experiment with LEDs and fibre optics and longer exposures some more and this led the charge into creating the imagery this time. The final result is a combination of some long exposure images like these:

Some Maya motion-blurred object rendering, a little comping in Shake and finally some logo and colour work in Photoshop, et voila!:

Thanks for the opportunity to work with you again MrWinter!


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Palmer Lucky, OculusVR and the Rift

The shipping developer version may differ a little to this.  <== take a look here for a quick clip explaining what it's all about. If you're like me you were rather excited in the mid 90's at the thought of virtual reality taking off but ultimately disappointed as the tech and implementations never materialised beyond The Lawnmower Man, then you'll understand my enthusiasm for this whole project! As Michael Abrash [now a developer at Valve] puts forth in posts on his blog, the time may finally be right for the holy trinity of micro-componentry [tracking chips, hardware gyros, LCD displays with enough density], computing power and audience acceptance for VR to finally arrive.

Enter Palmer Lucky and his Kickstarter campaign to create the Rift which ultimately raised nearly 2.5 million dollars US [ten times what they asked for], and now the developer kits look like they'll ship to keen recipients in March/April this year. There's talk of a commercial version in the coming months which may be compatible with current and future gaming platforms including consoles that should include an internal display capable of 1080p.

The Oculus Rift's FOV can be summed up in the image below:
Now that's immersive.
This widely expanded FOV [Field of View] is achieved through a combination of anamorphically pre-distorted stereoscopic left and right views and LEEP optics. You can get an idea of what the pre-distortion looks like in this image here... check out the monitor view:
 Cue moments of vulnerability where friends and family re-arrange the furniture while you're in RiftSpace or pelt you with projectiles in an effort to increase the immersion.
Alongside Mr Lucky are some heavyweight industry proponents proclaiming their involvement including John Carmack [of ID software and Doom fame] supplying space-industry know-how in the form of low latency gyro software and hardware, Gabe Newell and Valve Software [who have already prepared Team Fortress2 for the Rift], Epic Games' Unreal SDK and game engine, Unity3D's game engine [ready alongside the Unreal SDK with built-in support for the Rift's launch] and Adhesive Games' outstanding Hawken already Rift-ready. The list increases almost daily!

Naturally this head mounted display will offer the kind of immersive experience gamers have been craving for years, but as an artist as well as a gamer I see a new possibility opening up, that of creating experiences that people simply want to be part of - moments of exploration, virtual sculptures and the kinds of visual poetry that is rather lost when displayed on a normal computer monitor. Alongside the entertainment options I'm interested in creating and sharing 'places' that cannot be visited physically and moments that are otherwise impossible to be part of.

All in all it's a very exciting time for game development and game consumers and I can't wait to try a set of these things out!


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hardcore realtime HDR stereoscopic welding helmet

It is a very exciting time to be interested in imaging and potential VR/AR developments...

"In this demonstration, we present a specialized version of HDR (High Dynamic Range) imaging (use of multiple differently exposed input images for each extended-range output image [2, 1]), adapted for use in electric arc welding, which also shows promise as a general-purpose seeing aid. Tungsten Insert Gas (TIG) welding, in particular, presents an extremely high dynamic range scene (higher than most other welding processes). Since TIG welding requires keen eyesight and exact hand-to-eye coordination (i.e. more skill and more visual acuity than most other welding processes), being able to see in such extreme dynamic range is beneficial to welders and welding inspectors."

This is a fantastic example of current realtime stereoscopic image processing in an application where AR [augmented reality] can be of real benefit to the technician... you can see in the associated video clip where the AR overlay indicates critical information like the speed of the weld and the TIG tip distance so the technician performing the weld can close in on the creation of the optimum join in the metal. Normally not only would the join itself be nearly impossible to see where the tip is, but the technician can see other things like the smoke emanating from the weld, the surroundings, the rest of the metal involved. Plus the helmet looks cool! Reminds me of this:

Coinciding with Michael Abrash's blog at Valve about his involvement in and development of the Oculus Rift mean things may be coming together at the right time finally!!

So excite!


Thursday, August 23, 2012

CG horsing around

Here's a brief clip of our current CG horse tech at Weta Digital. I built this digital animal last year utilising reference captured at Massey University's Equine Veterinary lab... It took a few months to put together and is a bit of a snapshot of the current state of our deformation technologies for muscle, fat and skin simulation. Some derivatives of this piece can be seen in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and of course our upcoming The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and it's other two parts.

I worked on the digital double horses and riders for The Two Towers and The Return Of the King and it was a privilege to be making our new horse far, far more detailed this time around.

Take a look: [the clip has been edited and excludes the fascia, fat and under skin layers sadly].


UPDATE: there's now a story on the site about it and Abraham Lincoln etc... plus I just listened to a review on National Radio about Chris Rogers' involvement in working with us. Chris was in charge of the team we worked with to gather the reference and was not afraid to put a horse on a treadmill at the drop of a hat ;-)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Wedding Photography - Some things I've learnt.

I shoot the odd wedding to expand my portfolio and keep myself up to speed. I started by doing it for friends and family and now I'm branching out into new clients as I become more confidant. I've reached the point now where I feel comfortable with people and scenarios enough to roll with the punches ie: go with the chaotic circumstances and changing conditions...
You only got one chance. Best you be on your A game.
I've also reached a point where I'm comfortable enough with my gear to stop wrestling with it and focus on the people in front of the lens more. I liken this to the days of having clients over my shoulder while I was producing artwork on Quantel or Discreet Logic machines. When someone is paying NZ$1000 per hour to have you put their television advertising together you want the machine to be the last thing on your mind. You need to be able to operate the 3D keyer [showing my age here] while counseling your client on how her dog is gonna be fine cause it ate too much sashimi [this has happened to me BTW and there were actually negative repercusions hahaha - no animals suffered I assure you, just humans].

I realise, [and this is something I say to my clients], that this is an important day and there are no second chances. There will never be this combination of people, dressed the way they are, with this weather, in this situation, in this mood, here for this reason, feeling like this, looking this good... EVER AGAIN.

So that's why I'll be all over the place like a rash, getting shots and getting in people's faces and making people laugh and feel relaxed so that when they look the images they don't cringe and say 'I look terrible in photos'. It's a lofty goal but if I've taken a photo of someone who hates having their photo taken and they don't mind the shot, then I've won. You gotta aim for the stars right?

This is not going to happen again.
These are some of the complications you face doing wedding photography as opposed to shooting in the studio or more controlled circumstances:
  • A schedule that is not in your control.
  • Challenging and often adversive lighting conditions.
  • Children and possibly animals!
  • Uncooperative people who may not want to be photographed at all.
  • Unforeseen equipment problems or limitations.
When presented with these things I try my best to go with it and make up new shooting possibilities on the go to make the most of the available backgrounds, lighting and weather. This is not to say I don't go with a plan and a backup plan too, it's just that even these things can be torn to shreds by well meaning clergymen and the whims of the wedding party.

Be ready to change your plans.
So, with this being said here are a couple of things I learnt on the last job:
  1. Leave as LITTLE as POSSIBLE to the last minute in terms of organisation. The bride requested that I get more shots of her leaving for the venue than my schedule allowed. I accommodated this at the expense of getting to the venue with 30 seconds to spare in terms of prep for when she arrived. I forgot to sync the clocks between my main camera and the backup. I should have done this the night before. [Exiftool to the rescue!]
  2. Have more storage than you need. Seriously, 22GB is nothing when you're using a 5DMKII. I filled up and borrowed an extra 4GB from a friend who appeared with his camera. D'oh!
  3. Plan the formal arrangements with the bride and the groom so you don't miss them. I got what needed to be got last time but the location for this changed and getting everyone required there was a challenge. If we'd planned even better this would have gone smoother, and it really helps to nominate a member of the gathering who knows who's who to be your wrangler and get the right people to the composition at the right moment.
  4. Have a backup camera. I didn't have an equipment failure on the last job but I realised on the day that this extra camera meant I could have two lenses for the ceremony and other moments. This meant I got some more intimate moments with the 100mm during the ceremony that would've otherwise not been possible with the 16-35mm.
  5. Find a nice way to avoid managing other people's photos. I found a few well-meaning people were hoping I might manage an extra 20GB of their photos and 'just upload them'. I cannot do this. There's no way I'll put them of my site with my name on them even if I wanted pretend they were mine cause they were better than what I shot!
I still had a lot of fun and the couple whose wedding it was were relaxed and flexible and open to playing up a little in front of the camera. I think we got some shots they're be happy to look at for the rest of their lives... which is good otherwise we gotta do it all again!