The presentation was not ‘how’ to do Flash 2D/3D effects but ‘where’ we are going with it. Speaker Ralph Hauwert elaborated that we don’t really know where we are going until we know where we have been. He correlated the problem domain of doing pixel manipulation graphics is very much like the breakthroughs in both art and music. Using MC Escher and Pink Floyd as case studies, he argued how these artists were able to break down the barriers of their respective mediums using the same limiting tools as their peers would use along with human ingenuity. PV3D, Hydra, and other real-time visualizations for the web are breakthroughs that have pushed the limits of Flash into the Player it is today. By taking lessons learned from history, we can see that these works of art are highly technical in nature. We can take what we know back then and apply them here and now.
Prior to Pink Floyd, no one heard of the idea of sampling. Members of Pink Floyd used their instruments and equipment in ways no other musicians at the time were using.
They would record a short tune on tape and then play it back with multiple devices, at different lengths and distances, into the same microphone. With each iteration, they would be able to modulate the same tune into a new and different sound. Hauwert described Pink Floyd as essentially “hacking the studio.”
Pink Floyd : Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)
Escher was known for his photographic like drawings that took the shape of some sort of mathematical transformation. Prior to Hauwert’s presentation, I did not know that Escher actually drew out a wire frame plan that would serve as the twisted scaffolds of his drawings. It looked like a grid mesh what it is known today in computer graphics as a displacement map. For each cell in the grid, he filled them in with great detail. The aggregation of finished cells made up for a very complex uniform piece, done without Photoshop, back in 1956.
(Top) Escher's "Print Gallery" (1956)
(Bottom) The grid he used
On Computer Graphics
Correlating these achievements in art & music to the domain of computer graphics, Hauwert commented that some of the early home PC’s from the 80’s were capable of doing graphics that the Flash Player has just recently been able to do. The Commodore 64 and Amiga were capable of pixel bitmap manipulation without the aid of sophisticated GPU’s. He showed a C64 example from 1981 of a rotating 3D rectangle. Back then, 3D on a 16 color computer was unheard of. He also showed an Amiga 500 vectorized video that was dated from 1994. If you look back at the Flash Player, it wasn’t too long ago we had a 3D API let alone full-screen video playback.
In retrospect, we take for granted that much of the above mentioned historical work could be easily done with the modern day personal computer. Hauwert wanted for all of us in the audience to take note that these artistic breakthroughs were extremely technical. The examples chosen in the presentation were primitive but were equally if not more so futuristic.