For a change at this event I actually had the luxury of attending full sessions for almost the entire 3 days. It was a great chance for me to take in all the inspiration that everyone else normally gets to enjoy and to also view the event from an attendee's perspective.
This was FITC's first event in San Francisco and by most accounts it was a great success. Inspiring and educational, plus a great chance for friends and colleagues new and old to meet up.
What follows is a report on the things I learned, experienced and thought about while at the event. Originally this took form in lightly organized Prezi I put together that I then presented at FlashinTO Gathering v91.0. The actual presentation took me 30 minutes of fast paced delivery to get through.
One of the interesting new additions to the FITC format was the Influxis Voodoo Lounge, an informal area complete with couches, beer and wine. Many speakers and attendees gave short 30 minute presentations on a variety of niche topics. Influxis live streamed the whole thing and have said they will post the archives eventually.
A session I caught there started with the question, "Do you want to see my game talk or my talk on celebrity stalking?" The next 30 minutes involved a good look at the ins and outs of stalking celebrities using Twitter id's geo-tagged photos, ruby scripts and AIR applications to figure out where your favourite celebrities (or in our case Seb and Jeremy) are spending their time. Check out SeekAIR and a detailed breakdown of the entire process and it's findings here: http://www.zaalabs.com/2010/07/finding-celebrity-locations-via-twitter/
The Adobe keynote was a little more compelling than usual and featured Mark Anders and Kevin Lynch. Kevin talked about the failure of Flash killers to have any real effect on Flash other than to drive Adobe to make Flash even better. Much of their time was spent discussing mobile and the future of Flash Player 10.1 and AIR 2.5 on devices. This included some neat demos including an Asteroids rip by Grant Skinner that saw players flying in first person on their phones, connected to an AIR application on screen that acted as the game server. You can sign up for a semi-public beta of AIR 2.5 for mobile here: http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/air2/android/
They closed with a Q&A in which they fielded questions about everything from multi-threading (it's coming sometime, in some form, but with some control/restraints on it to keep developers in check) to Alchemy's future (will they do more work with this? response was a laugh from Anders when he realized it was a Flash Player team member who asked - indicating to me that the team wants to do more with this).
Physical Interfaces and Alternative Hardware
A growing trend over the years has been the increased merger of alternative physical interfaces via hardware like the Arduino with Flash. R Blank demo'd a glove full of buttons and sensors that he created to help influence his musical creation, Synthia.
On the more commercial side of things, the guys from Litl were on hand to show off their cloud computing, Flash running, webbook.
Another are that seems to experiencing a great deal of maturation lately is that of interactive installations, both art and professional based. Theo Watson and Emily Gobeille talked about their work including the full room video projection experience, Funky Forest. This is a a project that they've evolved over many iterations to one of the most recent, the Moomah Edition. Another great project interactive video project they showed was Knee Deep. Best thing about Emily and Theo is seeing just how excited and happy they are about these pieces, particularly as they share the experiences, both anticipated and unexpected, that they've witnessed others having.
On the extreme opposite end of this spectrum was Steve Mason from Obscura Digital talking about the work they do for luxury clients like the penthouse suite at the Hard Rock Hotel in Vegas. More on this below.
Maybe mapping is more your thing, in which case Ryan Stewart, a self-proclaimed map junkie and Adobe evangelist, gave a crammed room of map nerds some good info. AIR 2.5 on Android will be the best all Flash experience available for using the GeoLocation API. In the meantime you can use HTML5 + ExternalInterface to grab geo data from the browser.
One great source of maps and map data is ESRI. It's free for non-commercial use and offers a great set of Flex 4 components. Beyond this, Ryan showed some real interesting work he's done to create offline mobile AIR applications that allow him to use custom maps (think scanned topographical maps) to navigate when he's off the grid. This process uses a combination of Modest Maps and Zoomify to build tiled maps. He also mentioned using gpsbabel.org and his own library for manipulating various gps data formats.
Ever since the introduction of true code generated audio in Flash it's been a pretty big thing. André Michelle and Joa Ebert's AudioTool is regularly used to show how amazing and powerful Flash can be. It even made an appearance in the Adobe keynote. André talked about many of his experiments and revealed that they plan on making a plugin format for AudioTool, likely based on their experiences adding many of his own experiments into the interface. One track that was called out as an incredible example of what AudioTool can so is "teeth" by rnzr.
Also in the realm of audio is Didier Brun's work. He's created a clever way to do audio recognition in Flash. Basic summary is he draws out the audio data, applies a series of filters on this image and then matches it to a previously recorded image. Using this technique he can create voice control systems or do things like pitch detection. You can find a post and video demo of his VoiceGesture system here: http://www.bytearray.org/?p=1151
Or download the demo files and early alpha of VoiceGesture that he handed out at the conference here: http://bit.ly/9qZDWY (zip file)
One of the main kickstarters for Flash's massive adoption was the addition of video. Over the past year we've heard lots of rhetoric about the death of Flash video at the hands of HTML 5. Robert Reinhardt gave everyone some clarity on this issue with a balanced perspective on Flash, HTML 5 and Silverlight as video delivery platforms, including a look at encoding for them and delivering the content using different technologies. It was refreshing to see this last day, first thing in the morning session, full of people with intelligent questions who understood the nuances of this topic. Robert's conclusion? Flash is still more or less the best option. His suggestion, why not deliver Flash by default and fall back on HTML 5 for devices that don't support it, rather than the other way around as many fanboys have been suggesting.
Follow Robert's blog for lots of great video info: http://blogs.flashsupport.com/robert/
Also check out Robert's videorx.com project for encoding your media. He's created tools that provide deep analysis of the actual footage in your video to determine the best settings for encoding and then you can let his servers do the processing as well.
On the more experimental side of video is Eugene Zatepyakin who's ported the OpenCV and OpenSurf camera vision libraries into an Actionscript project called ASSurf. After seeing his demos online I asked Eugene to make the trip from Russia to talk about the work he's been doing. For his first time presenting he did alright and I hope he continues to do great work and share it with the world.
As many people have come to discover, FITC is definitely not just Flash any more. One great example of this is the work of Eskil Steenberg who made his first appearance with us in Toronto this year. Eskil's the one man show behind the Love MMO, a procedurally rendered multiplayer online game that he's built entirely himself. Not only that, but he's also built all his own tools to create the game with. Love itself is innovative and beautiful but it's Eskil's vision for the future of tool UI's that is really incredible. Watch this video to hear him talk about the video editor he's been working on - and if you're a VC give him some money to develop it further.
Experimenters, Innovators and More
Though most nearly every FITC presenter could be classed under this heading, two in particular worth noting are Joa Ebert and Mike Creighton. Joa, whom I overheard impressing both a Flash Player and a Photoshop engineer with his techniques during the speaker dinner, continues to work at a level above most everyone else. He presented on his project Apparat, which as described by Branden Hall, takes your swf, analyzes it and packs it back up, smaller and faster than it was before. You can download Apparat on Google Code. Joa also announced JITB, his version of the Flash Player written in Java. He recently posted a video showing JITB's performance and posted about what it is and isn't.
While Joa is busy building low level creations like Apparat, we also have the likes of Mike Creighton who relishes in taking the open source projects out there and combining them into new fascinating work and contributing back to the community in the process. Mike's Flow project aimed to give him the ability to capture the movements he made while creating a physical sketch on an easel so that he could re-purpose that data into new creations. You can find his work on Google Code.
I started the conference off by attending a full day workshop by Branden Hall on the HYPE code framework that he and Joshua Davis released awhile back. I've played with HYPE before, used it once to rapidly create a loader and even spent half a class teaching it last winter. But attending the workshop made a lot of things about HYPE clearer to me and seeing some of the things Branden's done with is indicative of it's full potential. If you have any sort of visual work to do HYPE probably has some tools that could save you lots of time.
This is a product I'd previously heard of but hadn't paid much attention to nor did I realize how powerful it had become. I mentioned Steve Mason earlier and the work he's doing at Obscura Digital. Steve spent a good deal of time showing us Touch Designer, a software package made by Derivative right here in our hometown of Toronto. If you are familiar with the 3D software Houdini, then you know Derivative. We actually spent some time learning Houdini when I was at Ryerson. Derivative is all about making creation of things easier using node based development. At the simplest level this is like having a box that represents your 3D model mesh and then connecting that with lines to boxes that represent your surfaces, shaders, textures, etc. Touch Designer has all the 3D stuff in it but can also take input from video sources, incorporate Flash swfs and much much more. Obscura use Touch Designer for the majority of their work. Touch Designer is free for non-commercial use with a limited output resolution. Interesting tidbit, Obscura have built their own highly optimized Flash Player for use in their Touch Designer projects. Here's a video of Steve going through some basic capabilities in Touch Designer:
Hypercard, inspiration and genetic algorithms
One of the strongest presentations I've seen was Jeremy Thorp's trip through the story of Hypercard, the people who've inspired him and eventually leading to his involvement in the creation of an accessible playground. Jeremy wrote an application in Processing that used genetic algorithms to evolve an organic playground within certain parameters (odd shaped space with a steep 15% grade that had to have all paths with less than a 5% grade). Jeremy's trip down memory lane and into the future was hugely inspiring. His ultimate message, we live in an age where we have tremendous power and capability to generate novel solutions to novel problems and that he hopes we all recognize the power of this to shape our future and communicate in powerful and meaningful ways.
This is guy who's hard to classify into a single idea. His presentations are always an exploration into his thought process. This kind of personal insight often resonates differently with individuals. At the surface though, Robert is hugely creative and inspiring. Watch this video to get an idea of how magnets have inspired him for both a physical gallery show and for his digital work.
Yugu Nakamura and Frame
Already the most viewed video I've posted from the conference, Yugo clearly left a strong impression on everyone at the conference as he closed off three amazing days of presentations. Yugo started with a bit of history, showed some of his work, talked about his inspirations and finished with a showing of a product he's calling Frame. The basic premise is that we live in an era where so much art is being created digitally but yet the ability of the general public to purchase and display this art is very limited as is the ability of the artist to make money from it. Some of the more successful people like Natzke and Davis have relied on prints of their digital creations to generate revenue. Yugo's idea is to create both the physical hardware and the distribution network to allow people to purchase and display these digital creations in their homes. Yugo's company has done much of the design and are working with industrial designers now to develop the idea into an actual product. Frame would support Flash, Openframeworks, Cinder, Processing and more. Watch Yugo talk about Frame and see the introductory video he showed.
This isn't actually the end. I have more to say, mostly on some larger take away ideas that seemed to be carried across many of the presentations, but I'll save this for another post. For now I'll leave you with this quote from Mike Creighton and echoed by many others, "Just start!" The sentiment being, stop simply thinking and talking about your ideas and start doing them. A fine idea indeed.