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Unvalleying the Uncanny: Distinguished Lecture in Computer Science

September 15th, 2011

Chris Landreth, Academy Award-Winning Computer Animator presents "Unvalleying the Uncanny",
part of the Computer Science Distinguished Lectureship Series

Date Oct 31, 2011
Time 4:00 pm  
Location 2405 Siebel Center
Sponsor CS @ ILLINOIS and eDream

In terms of aesthetics, CG character animation has become a victim of its own success.  Twenty years ago, recreating human beings in virtual 3D space was a fantasy, a “Holy Grail” of computer animation.  Today, that fantasy is a reality that surrounds us in films, games, and even TV commercials.   The modeling, animation and rendering of characters as photorealistic human substitutes has become almost commonplace in popular culture.  But, an unintended side effect of this success is that audiences are largely alienated from, not attracted to, these characters.  This seeming paradox is often called the “Uncanny Valley”.  

The Uncanny Valley is a consequence of a very basic but incredibly refined human acuity–perceiving honesty, or the lack of it, when we observe people.  The photorealistic characters in many contemporary CG-animated films are not honest.  They pretend to be real humans, but we can feel that they’re not:  their eyes don’t move properly, their movements are slightly too fluid.  We instinctively realize we’re being hoodwinked, and we stop trusting.

About Chris Landreth
Chris received an MS in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from the University of Illinois in 1986; but before long, the siren call of Art beckoned.  So in 1989,  Chris studied Computer Animation under Prof. Donna Cox, at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA).  This period of time doomed Chris to a lifetime obsession with this field.

*Full press release here
Watch the video

Donna Cox, speaks to Quantum Cinema about the role of scientific visualization

June 24th, 2011

Experts talks: Donna Cox from Quantum Cinema on Vimeo.

eDream director Donna Cox speaks to Quantum Cinema about the role of scientific visualization, the importance of „Vizaphors”, her digital visualization artworks like scientific simulations of the Big Bang evolution and provides some wonderful  hints for those working in this field.

Renate Quehenberger met her at the siggraph10 in LA, Summer 2010.

Quantum Cinema is a project of the University of Applied Arts Vienna, Department of Media Theory.

Augmented reality work featured

November 19th, 2010

Raj Sodhi and Brett Jones, students of eDream associate director Guy Garnett, were featured in the Hack a Day blog.

Augmented Reality with stylus

They have been working on interactive augmented reality as part of their research at the University of Illinois. That research focuses on a novel way of interacting with everyday objects by representing content as interactive surface particles. Users can build their own physical world, map virtual content onto their physical construction and play directly with the surface using a stylus.
Build your world and play in it

— Jeff Carpenter

Dialogue with NEA and NSF on Shared Futures

October 18th, 2010

In mid-September 2010, Donna Cox participated in a historic conversation between the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Science Foundation.  The summit description appears below.

Re/Search: Art, Science, and Information Technology

A Joint Meeting of the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts

This workshop seeks to advance exploration at the intersection of art and science. Areas of particular interest include evolving forms of digital and electronic media, human‐centered computing, videogame design and technology, digitally‐mediated performing and visual arts and research that can lead to a better understanding of these fields.

The primary purpose of this discussion is to lay the foundation for articulating the types of inquiry that both lie at the intersection of concerns of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) as well as represent opportunities for advancing scientific knowledge and new forms of artistic research, output and engagement.

To accomplish these goals, we seek to create a new dialogue among influential thought leaders who can help guide us towards innovation and positive change. The workshop will include highly interactive working groups and brainstorming sessions around key topics and questions as:

• How can we identify innovative, and/or emerging practices being discovered at the intersection of art and science that are potentially transformative and/or deserving of governmental recognition and support?

• How can we explore and understand the impacts of creativity and critical interpretation theories on research and innovation in cognitive science, computer science, engineering, technology, art theory, and/or the social and behavioral sciences?

• Are there metrics we can use or design that can determine the value and impact of interdisciplinary collaborations between Computer & Information Science & Engineering related disciplines and disciplines that exist in the arts and humanities?

• Are there qualitative methods for critically interpreting and measuring the impact of technology‐rich creative endeavors that are resistant to established assessment oriented‐frameworks?

• What role can the arts play in developing strategies and finding creative solutions in environments where the arts do not traditionally come into play.

Goals & Objectives

• Fostering dialogue in support of interagency and inter‐institutional collaboration and resource opportunities.

• Identifying points of intersection between human‐centered computing, information‐technology research, digital media arts, creative disciplines and cognitive science.

• Developing a field impact report about the needs, approach and benefits of a sustainable platform for interdisciplinary research for the creative information technology field. We hope that you will be able to participate in this groundbreaking conversation and join us in this national effort to foster innovative collaboration among creative practitioners in the arts and sciences.

— Kelly Searsmith

AVL uses Digital Arts to Tell Life: A Cosmic Story

October 13th, 2010

eDream's partner, the Advanced Visualization Laboratory at NCSA, has contributed cinematically-treated scientific visualizations for public outreach to Life: A Cosmic Story, which premieres November 6, 2010 at the Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco.  For the all-digital production produced by the California Academy of Sciences, AVL visualized a seamless journey into the Milky Way galaxy to see the early stages of our solar system before the earth was formed, 5 billion years ago. Viewers fly though lanes of gas and dust into a turbulent molecular cloud where our newly formed sun is accreting a protoplanetary disk prior to the formation of the planets.

The AVL team integrated scientific simulations and observed data sets to create the two-minute voyage. They visualized the protoplanetary disk from data computed by Aaron Boley, Sagan Fellow at the University of Florida, using AVL's data visualization plug-in for Maya. The disk was embedded in a turbulent molecular cloud, simulated by Alexei Kritsuk and Michael Norman from the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences, University of California at San Diego. Their adaptive mesh refinement simulation was rendered using AVL's custom Amore volume renderer.

AVL used their ultra-high-resolution 3D display and Virtual Director™ software to design the multi-scale flight path in real-time, while pre-visualizing the scene with their interactive Partiview Software. The Milky Way galaxy, molecular cloud, protoplanetary disk and our sun were each rendered separately in high-dynamic range using different visualization techniques for each layer and composited to create the final dome imagery.

AVL staff involved in the Life project were Cox (producer), Robert Patterson (visualization designer), Stuart Levy (visualization programmer), Alex Betts (visualization programmer), Matthew Hall (visualization programmer), and AJ Christensen (visualization programmer).

Narrated by two-time Academy Award winner Jodie Foster, Life begins in a grove of towering redwoods, majestic emblems of Northern California. From there, the audience "shrinks" dramatically as it enters a single redwood leaf and then a redwood cell, learning that redwoods are composed of the same basic molecules as all other organisms on Earth. Then the audience witnesses key events since the Big Bang, including the sequence created by AVL: the first stars ignite, galaxies coalesce, and entire worlds take shape. On the early Earth, two scenarios for the dawn of life are presented—one near a turbulent, deep-sea hydrothermal vent, and the other in a primordial "hot puddle" on a volcanic island. From these microscopic beginnings, life transformed the entire Earth as it evolved and diversified: filling the atmosphere with oxygen, turning the continents green, and altering global climate patterns. The 25-minute show ends with a review of geological evidence and the connectedness of all living things on Earth.

ife: A Cosmic Story will play seven to 10 times every day in Morrison Planetarium through late 2011. Content advisers included scientists from the Academy, NASA Astrobiology Institute, SETI Institute, and University of California, Santa Cruz.

[text provided by Trish Barker, NCSA Public Affairs]

— Kelly Searsmith