Saturday, December 27, 2008


How many people I wonder, have spent a fair bit of the Christmas holiday watching the television or playing computer games as opposed to reading? How many have taken video footage of their family unwrapping presents as opposed to photos that catch just a moment in time? With the technology we have in our hands now, I wouldn't be surprised that most people have been watching / taking some form of animated image over the holiday. Even the way we display our 'still' photos on the computer or on digital photo frames becomes an animated process via 'slideshows' where even the transition from one image to another is animated.

Animations - chimneyAnimations - santa in sled

Which of the images above holds your gaze the longest?

Are we really surprised that the majority are more stimulated by a moving image than a static one? Why? We have amazing works of art all around us from paintings to architecture, man-made sculptures to nature's own, we visit and look, ponder and exclaim on the skill of the creator and then move on, but the minute something moves it captures our attention and holds us there so much more. Would we really look at a painting for an hour or more?

Film, the moving image is a huge testament to this, and with the coming of the digital age, computer graphics and special effects allow us to see things in motion that we were only able to imagine previously. The 'dreaded' powerpoint presentation is a common example of how we seem to prefer to watch things move instead of static images. The times I have watched text, bullet point and goodness knows what else animate in from the left, right top or spiral out and zoom away. The audience is no longer looking at the presenter but at the presentation, wondering what it will do next.

So why does the moving image capture our attention so much more than a still image? Is it because we are intrigued as to what will happen next? Whether it will fall in line with our expectation or unfold the story we have imposed upon it? The moving image (animation) brings things to life helping to create a story that we can follow however short.

Evidence of this is seen in the following quote from James Robinson's article in the Guardian's TV Ratings page on 26th December:

'The BBC trounced ITV in the Christmas Day ratings war, with an average audience of 14.3 million tuning to watch BBC1's Wallace and Gromit film A Matter of Loaf and Death, the highest rating of any TV show all year.
The specially commissioned 30-minute episode of the Nick Park animated drama recorded an audience share of 53.3% last night, 25 December, according to unofficial overnight figures.'

Wallace and Gromit film A Matter of Loaf and Death drew 14.3 million viewers to BBC1. Photograph: Aardman/BBC

Why was this the most watched program on Christmas Day? Why are the stories of Wallace and Grommet so intriguing - is it the cleverness of the way it is put together, or the suspense of the story? This type of animation is probably the most relevant in highlighting the still versus moving image theory above. Stop frame animation - if we were to view only the static frames as individual images, we would become bored as there would be far too many images for us to take in, so we would move on. But process all those images into an animated sequence and it becomes immediately more appealing, easy to watch and assimilate. Rendering a computer animation into individual frames amounts to the same thing - understanding the story as individual frames is nowhere near as easy than watching them once pinned all together.

Is it the possible story that is about to unfold that holds our attention or purely the 'moving' aspect? Are we looking at an image and subconciously, or even consciously, creating a tale that we can then assimilate and learn by? Do our brains take information on board much more easily via a story that is being told by a sequence of images or from pages of text, or even the way it is told?

For instance, the funniest comedians (for me anyway) are the ones that relate observations, tales from everyday life that they replay in a different format which then become immediately hilarious. The comedian knows that we will recognise the observed stories in ourselves or in people around us and if related in an exaggerated way, with gestures and over emphasis, we will find it amusing. Once again, is it the story or the 'animated' telling that hits the button, or the way it is told?

This has always intrigued me and hopefully through observed research into the use of The Talking Walls pilot application at Beaulieu Abbey, I aim to discover more about our perception of the way people learn and assimilate information through images.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Update on Papervision3D

A very busy period at the moment but I thought I would just post an update on where we have reached with Papervision3D.

Success, basically. We now have our matrix as a 3D object within Flash which we can rotate and move around. We also have movieclips assigned to the individual cubes which animate if we want them to etc. The last part is not quite there. This is the part where you click on the movieclip'd cube which takes you to another image. So close to sussing it, a few scratching of heads and hopefully we will get the last little bit done, and this can finally become part of the Abbey project.

The hold-up for us was the Collada file. If the Max model is not set up correctly with material ID's etc then the Collada file will not work. We even took the Max model as a 3DS file into Swift3D, and then immediately exported it out to Papervision3D. (This creates a folder of sub folders containing all the information required, including an AS3 file, which does not happen if you export to a Collada file from Max.)

It needed me to realise the problem was with the materials, Paul as a Flash designer understands how to pull it into Flash, the publish settings, parameters etc but not Max and materials within Max. So when the Collada file refused to see the materials within Flash, we wondered if it was how the Collada file is created / exported. Using Notepad to look at the code within the Collada file, I saw it mention material ID's, so went back to Max, made sure that each material used was saved to the library with it's own material ID. The file then newly exported and brought into Flash worked.

I will post a step by step tutorial on this blog once the Beaulieu Abbey project is finished, as we found some of the tutorials we have visited have assumed software knowledge on the part of the user, and if they have not used the software before i.e. Max as a Flash designer, the tuturial then fails and frustration rises. Hopefully it will help other newcomers to Papervision3D and Collada.

Hopefully next post you will see the KubeMatrix in action...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Interaction with Papervision3D

The above image has been created with Papervision3D by Den Ivanov and can be viewed on his website. It is a lovely piece of work and shows some of what Papervision3D can achieve.

enables Flash / Flex users to use 3D content for the web. Flash was originally designed for just 2D input / output, however interactive. Macromedia Director was the tool that designers used to create interactive 3D interfaces for CD-ROM's / DVD's, not Flash. This is changing rapidly with this rather fantastic render engine.

I am not an expert on this but in trying to see how it works, there does not seem to be an interface that most of us would recognise, such as in Mental Ray. Once downloaded and installed, within Flash, you then have Papervision3D as an AS3 scripting page. Already, those of you who have any experience with code and Flash will know that this is new to me. What I have learnt is that it is an open source 3D render engine for Flash, the programming behind this only enhances the fact that there is a whole world of very clever people out there, making my skillset miniscule by comparison.

To explain - my husband is the Flash / Web designer, I ususally stick to my 3D work, and between us we are looking to use the interactive capability of Papervision3D in The Talking Walls project for Beaulieu Abbey. Unfortunately, neither of us are expert in code - of any sort. Paul uses CSS, AS2 etc as part of his job but his background is in graphics not programming. (Traditionally the two were always separate - not the case now, with programmers designing, and vice-versa.)

As for the 3D modelling aspect of Papervision3D, we are able to bypass this part of the coding, as we have Swift3D and Max. Papervision3D /Flash will import 3D content from either Swift3D or Max, using Collada as the export from Max, and Papervision3D export from Swift3D.

We have searched high and low for step-by-step tutorials for what we want to achieve. Looking through the web, there are some absolutely wonderful examples of Papervision3D, some of them showing exactly the kind of interactivity we want to incorporate.



But how to do this evades us at the moment. I know it won't be too long before we work it out, we already have interactivity on a single object thanks to this website we just need to know how to add the other cubes and make them interactive at the same time, and still allow the user to rotate the KubeMatrix.

In Director, this would have been fine, but we would really like to create the whole application in Flash.

If anyone reading this knows the additional code to make each cube interactive i.e. click and go to another page, then we would love to hear from you. It needs only to be the full faces on each cube, i.e the faces without the connectors, not every face.

Meanwhile, perseverance and determination (and stubborness) will succeed I am sure. As soon as we have worked it out, via help or otherwise, we will post the tutorial on this blog.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Building Beaulieu Abbey - Revit Architecture 2009

The image above is my first render 'out the box', i.e. using the standard settings within Revit Architecture 2009. This is perhaps the biggest area of change within the latest release of Revit Architecture. Mental Ray has been incorporated in the new version which is a great boon for all the architectural practices who do not have access to follow on programmes such as 3DS Max. It allows their scenes to be rendered much more realistically, with soft shadows using the Mental Ray Sun and Sky. The previous render engine, Accurender was very good, but gave a less photorealistic image, more illustrative, although you did have the option of Radiosity for interior scenes, which produced some excellent results.

There are a few set backs though. The trees, for me anyway, are too soft, almost fuzzy. These are RPC trees, the ones you would have used in the previous version will not render in the new version, they now need to be these RPC trees. They render very softly and are not sharp in detail - or shadow - as the previous type. They are far better for Elevations though, as they show the flat shape of the tree, showing as grey. This can be overcome by using a paint fill on the pertinent face.

For the people used to using Max, they will be disappointed with the lack of settings that Mental Ray gives them in Revit Architecture 2009. Mental Ray is so powerful within Max, but in Revit Architecture 2009 it has been whittled down to presets, some of which you are able to customise. Both programmes now have Pro-Materials. The images below are on Medium at 300dpi - this gave quite large images which have been compressed for uploading:

As you may remember from the previous post, the shadowing is much more realistic, giving a very much nicer image.

I would recommend though, that if you want far more control over how this renders, including the trees / plants, then it would be worthwhile exporting from Revit Architecture 2009 as a '.fbx' file and take it into Max (or equivalent). Then add your trees, using Max's own. With the fbx format the materials, unlike a dwg import, remain with the model, so you will not need to adjust unless you actually want to. It depends on how far you need to take the image. Revit's rendering with Mental Ray may be all that you need, the images above are not too shabby considering they are from purely bringing in the model and pressing Render.

The Abbey, since the last post, has been added to with work now started on the interior of the Abbey and the surrounding buildings. It will not be long now before this goes into Max, to create the finer details. These are often less easy to model / manipulate in Revit, as you cannot get to the vertex / edges / faces. The strength of doing as much modelling as possible in Revit Architecture, is that it is easier to see the construction by creating sections as and when required, and easier to model to the correct size by using styles, dimensions and levels.

Back to work....

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Building Beaulieu Abbey - Revit Architecture 2008

For the last few days I have been working on Beaulieu Abbey using Autodesk's Revit Architecture 2008. The software is the ideal tool for creating 3D buildings whether old or new, and the Abbey is certainly proving its capability for old. I have a floor plan and artistic sketch to guide the way the building used to look before it was torn down in the 1500s. These are by an authority on Beaulieu Abbey, Harold Brakspeare, drawn in 1901-2.

Other references have been remaining Cistercian abbeys such as Pontigny in France, one of the very few reasonably intact examples, and the reference material mentioned in an earlier post. The area that I have scratched my head about more than anything else are the heights involved, windows, doors, roof. And with Revit, it is important to know this, as soon as possible really.

The doors, windows etc are components, (termed family files in Revit), and can be made to your exact measurements, they understand that they cut holes in walls and when removed the wall fills in. They are parametric, Revit is parametric, a building information modelling solution for architects. Everything created in the project builds a database. This database can then be called upon to give almost any information relating to the project, or edited via schedules. Which is all very good, but you need the information first, hence the importance of heights and widths above.

This is one of the programs that I teach, over the last two years or so, pretty consistently on behalf of Excitech Ltd, who 'lead in the provision of design solutions for the construction industry and for facilities management'. Not being an architect and therefore not using the software everyday, it is projects like this that really help to push my knowledge of the software, and allows me to understand a few of the problems that the people I teach may come up against.

Revit Architecture 2008 has been really great over the last year, and certainly over the last month, but I will shortly move the project into Revit Architecture 2009, as there are several really good enhancements in the latest release, which will make my life a little easier again. For me, the best has to be the FBX export to Max. Whilst still modelling, either 2008 or 9 will be fine, it is when I come to develop the animations, walkthrough's, and full renders that I will need to have it in 2009 to export it completely to Max. David Light expands a little on this via Autodesk's whitepaper. on his excellent blogsite.

These images are a month's worth of work - in between training, and are only shaded rather than rendered, but they give a reasonably good impression of the work completed to date. The buildings are accurate to the measurements provided by Brakspeare, and follow cistercian references / style as much as possible. There is a lot of finer detail still to produce, columns, archway details, wall and window tracery, which will take a little longer again, but they are still easier to create accurately in Revit, than in Max. This would have taken much longer to have created completely within Max, so thank goodness for Revit.

Monday, June 2, 2008


A busy month with various events having happened as well as the work on the Beaulieu project.

I am now studying my PhD (MPhil/PhD in Design) with Winchester College of Art, University of Southampton. The reason for moving from Solent to Southampton is mostly due to the creative design support from my new supervisory team at Winchester, Dr David Birks, Ed d'Souza and Professor Ashok Ranchhod. It will also allow me to submit a practical (the TW application) as well as the thesis. This was not impossible at Solent but also not the norm, with Winchester it is expected from a design student.

The PhD therefore has had a little lapse whilst waiting for the paperwork to go through. I am now desperately trying to get back into it, a little difficult with the break in study and the Beaulieu project, but thanks to the encouragement and focusing guidance from Dr David Birks, I am starting to write again. The more I am reading about ethnography and case study research, the more I can see how the PhD will be invaluable to the development of the Talking Walls application.

I wanted to study at this level primarily to discover how people would want to use this type of application in a heritage environment, how they prefer to learn about their culture, what aspects of their culture were they interested in and how to provide something that would engage and encourage them to learn more. I thought that if I looked at these areas, I would be able to build these results into a template, giving the public something that they wanted to use and were able to use easily, adapting it to their own level and learning preference. This has always been the basis of The Talking Walls.

Technology has become an integral part of this now. When I first embarked on this concept, CD-ROMs were all we had, then DVDs and kiosks. Now we have the web, mobiles, PDAs, interactive TV, intelligent whiteboards as well as DVDs and Kiosks. With this hardware, we also have touch screens, gps, bluetooth, RFID and wireless. Instead of confusing the issue, i.e. which platform do I design for, this technology allows The Talking Walls to expand by becoming multiplatform, offering the user a choice in how they would like to interact with the application. This might be dependent on age, culture, wealth or class.

I like to think that I am a fairly good observer of people, reasonably sensitive / intuitive, and empathise with different people's situations, therefore observing how people use and interact with the application and the environment they are in makes perfect sense to me. Studying people this way might take longer than doing a survey with a heap of questions, but it will hopefully give me a really good insight and help in creating a user friendly, entertaining, educational heritage application. Here's hoping!

A new website, same web address, courtesy of my other half Paul, has just been uploaded. It is now down to me, through Contribute (web editing software) to update the information and provide more images. It will also have a staging area for people to view the application as it develops, so if you are interested email me and I will send the link.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Beaulieu Abbey Project

Today is the official start of the Beaulieu Abbey project. It has seemed a long month with quite a bit happening including the final event of the Digital Horizons year long programme of masterclass seminars (more about this later). This day has been long awaited, the first day of working on a real TW project which will culminate in a fully working Talking Walls application showing how a site changed over the years, with the lives of the people who lived and worked there - a form of architectural, digital storytelling with animated visually-rich timeslices.

The prototype was of Dunster Castle, a National Trust property, near Minehead in Somerset, this pilot will be of Beaulieu Abbey, in Hampshire. The Abbey was a Cistercian monastry, the largest built in the UK, and provided a working life for many people as well as the monks that were based there, during and after it had been built, a process that took several years. Pontigny Abbey in France is the closest example in size and style, and is luckily, still standing in most of it's glory.

The 3D model will be based on sketches, floorplates and images found in the very few books written about Beaulieu Abbey. They are:

The Cistercian Abbey of Beaulieu, in the County of Southampton, by W.H. St John Hope Esq., M.A. and Harold Brakspear Esq., F.S.A.

Beaulieu King John's Abbey, by Dom Frederick Hockey O.S.B., F.R.Hist.S.

A History of Beaulieu Abbey A.D. 1204 - 1539, by Sir James K. Fowler K.C.V.O., M.A.

Studies in Cistercian Art and Architecture Vol 2, ed Meredith Parsons Lillich

The Barns of the Abbey of Beaulieu at its Granges of Great Coxwell & Beaulieu St. Leonards, by Walter Horn and Ernest Born

Some of these books have been very kindly loaned by John Pemberton of Ipley Manor, which once was an outlying farm of Beaulieu Abbey, and others recommended by Susan Tomkins, the archivist at Beaulieu.

Other resources to aid the rebuild are photos of the site and the remaining artifacts, maps and paintings by various artists over the years. Obviously the accuracy of the 3D rebuild will depend on the information available, but it is hoped that the final outcome will be a true example of the Abbey, how it was placed and how it came to be what it is now.

The application will also tell the story of the Cistercian monks, what they farmed, how they lived their lives and their interaction with the community that grew with the Abbey. This will become a rich resource for students and pupils for their studies and history projects, as well as monastic societies.

As King John's Abbey, Beaulieu saw a lot of royal visitors and these will become some of the characters that the user will be able to choose to tell their story whilst being guided around the site.

There will be educational quizzes and various other elements to entice the visitor to explore further, and learn more about the Abbey, it's inhabitants and surroundings.

The visitor will initially be able to explore and view this information via a kiosk, a handheld application will also be available, along with a fantastic new Talking Walls website in which people will be able to delve deeper.

It is just as well I love history, architecture, and research, as it is going to be a busy seven months. If anyone reading this has stories about Beaulieu Abbey, or knows of other books or websites that might be relevant, please contact me.

I will post images of it's progress, meanwhile please wish me luck for the start of this very exciting project.

Monday, April 7, 2008

How about this new and very useable interface?

I have just come across this very user friendly interface for smartphones / pda's via NexTechNews' website, searching in fact for the generic screen size for mobile / handheld devices. Apparently not yet ready for PocketPc (my phone's system) but running really well on Windows Mobile 5 and 6.

The company is PointUI and they are offering free downloads of the software. I really think it makes navigating through content much simpler as those who have an iPhone may also agree.

Then of course, looking at the same site - NexTechNews - there is the AT & T Microsoft Surface. Absolutely amazing - so many applications, including (typical woman here) recipes whilst cooking? The Talking Walls would be amazing using a Microsoft Surface - perhaps in kiosk mode. Excellent - I wonder what the cost will be?

The same but being used in a retail environment, T-Mobile, allowing the customer to discover more about the different phone models, tariffs and accessories, and choose the ones they want on their own. Very neat.

The gadget I am waiting for is the Garmin Nuvifone - a very cool gadget (if cool is still 'cool' of course!!) This is due out in the third quarter and has some very nice touches, including 'Panoramia'. This is where you are able to take a photo of where you are, send it via 'PeerPoint' to your partner / colleague. The GPS position is included allowing your colleague to easily find you. You can continue your conversation whilst getting there, dock the device and it changes to the GPS Navigation, still allowing you to talk, hands free. Sounds very good, I hope it matches up to our expectations and roll on 3rd quarter!

I have just treated myself though, to a new gadget - an EliteGroup UMPC, a tablet PC running Windows XP. The interface on this is very Mac-like, but the system itself is full Windows XP. The 7" screen size makes it a reasonable size for carrying around, and absolutely ideal for writing / researching on those train journeys to London. It plays video, music, slideshows exactly the same as a PC, and has made my Archos AV700 redundant (now on Ebay!). The new gadget has WiFi and Bluetooth, so emails and web browsing will be more enjoyable than my current squinting on the smartphone. All in the name of research, of course!!

Happy Viewing!

Monday, March 24, 2008

This is one of several sites I have come across during my research. It is full of links to all kinds of articles but more importantly the description of the term Creative Generalist is what caught my attention.

I have always considered myself to be a jack of all trades, and have been able to put my hand to most things. For example, I can carve wood, plaster walls, sew dresses, design and lay patios and help rebuild my Triumph Stag. I am able to train 5 - 6 pieces of software (Autodesk's Revit, 3DS Max, Combustion, ADT and AutoCAD and Maxon's Cinema 4D) and use them for various design jobs, but am I a master of any one?

They are all creative skills, but that is just it, it is a skill, one that gets better with use and experience. But in order to understand these skills and how to use them, I also need to know how they fit with other areas that will then make a whole - for instance a multimedia project. For example, if I was a Master in Photoshop, would that mean I knew this program inside and out? Would I then know how to use it for graphic design, print, web, textures for 3D or just for one or two of them, or even none, or would I just know what it could do?

In order to fulfil a role as a Web designer, I would also need to know several other areas, Photoshop would be only one of the many tools I would need to be successful in this role. This would be the same for a Graphic Designer or 3D artist.

Therefore, surely most that consider themselves as Masters, are probably jack of all trades as well? There is a need to understand each skill in relation to the whole - such as a jigsaw piece in a puzzle. It is also important to know how these work with each other to be able to create something new and explore new ideas.

I am not sure if this still happens in Industry, but there used to be a time when you started at the bottom and worked your way up through the company, so when or if you reached the top, you had a complete understanding of everything below, giving a thorough insight to the way the company worked, what was expected of each position and the people themselves. Having reached the top, your own experiences may have helped forge new ways / methods in doing things. You have a handle on everything - so are you a Master, or jack of all trades?

Another site, linked from Creative Generalist, is Mark McGuiness's Wishful Thinking which explores this further and pitches Steve Hardy's Creative Generalist theory against that of Scamp - Simon Veksner, a very interesting read.

Finally - there was also this one by Joyce Wycoff A good exercise if you feel like being creative. Have fun!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Catch Up - a very busy February

Great news!

The Micro Project funding application (Research and Development - SEEDA) submitted at the beginning of January has been offered. This is absolutely fantastic news as it will enable The Talking Walls to finally get a project in place, the first one. The development of the existing prototype into a fully working pilot for Beaulieu Abbey will start from the beginning of May and complete by December.

The pilot will allow visitors to Beaulieu Abbey explore what the Abbey used to look like before the dissolution and how the monks worked and lived within the community. It will also help with the research for the PhD, observing how the pilot is used and it's acceptance by the visitor. It is not just the application but also the technology being used that is important. The results next year will be very interesting and will lead to further development for future applications. So, all in all, very exciting.

At the same time, the Creative Industries programme has been launched by the Technology Strategy Board. This is a huge project and is available to creative SME's, technologists and academics to forge partnerships and collaborations, working together to develop projects using and expanding on the skills available in the collaborative partners. This is ideal for The Talking Walls and hopefully we will forge partnerships with other companies to make the most of this opportunity.

It does feel that after years of researching and working hard developing the concept of The Talking Walls, that is is starting to happen. By next year, TW will be in use at Beaulieu Abbey, with hopefully another being built for Bucklers Hard, maybe another for Jane Austen societies and with this new collaboration opportunity, who knows what else.

Thankyou to everyone who has helped me with the funding application for Beaulieu Abbey, and for the current support with the new collaborative funding.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Frustrations of Finance

A busy week or two past and more interest gleaned for The Talking Walls. This is all great and obviously encouraging, but oh, how frustrating at the same time. I would love to work on this and get a model in place - I even have a site who would like this as well, but as all developers / innovators / inventors know, development of the idea to a working model is incredibly difficult to finance. Well, this is the stage I am at currently. Micro project funding has been applied for and now waiting for the outcome. Everything is crossed as you may imagine.

My anxious waiting aside, in various discussions with people about this, it has become clear that funding for small companies / entrepreneurs is either non existent or is an incredibly long process. Unless you are incredibly lucky and meet a fantastic contact at that fantastic moment, you will begin the journey of learning where you need to go, who you need to meet, the types of funding available, the funding-specific business plans that need constant guidance on terminology and definitions (thank you Bernard), and a considerable amount of time. And, none of this will be definite, it may be refused, more work required, or further evidence needed. A very long process indeed.

BUT - there may be easier ways depending on your personal circumstances. I have listed some of the ones that immediately come to mind and ones that you would be asked if you had considered when speaking to advisers:
1. A much quicker way would be to apply for various credit cards and use these to fund your time - this would certainly help to get the development work done and possibly a completed model, but how long would it take to pay back the credit cards and what with? What if you already have exhausted this avenue or cannot get anymore credit?
2. Another way, taking more time and a business plan would be a bank loan, again the same problem of a negative cashflow and time to pay it back, interest rates and goodness knows what other expenses.
3. Raising money from family and friends - mmm, wouldn't you be popular if you were not able to pay it back should one of them have a crisis and need their investment back quickly? And if you are anything like me, this just wouldn't be an option, the funds are just not there.
4. Raising money from the family home, with the cost of buying the house, you are probably stretched just to afford this, let alone borrow on top.
5. Finding an investor who is interested in what you are doing and wants to help you to develop it and become part of the company - or even own a considerable chunk. We all know about Dragons' Den, but there are smaller investors who might want to work closely with you.

So after all these very attractive options, what are you left with? There is a great deal of funding available, some of which is grant based, often match funded. A grant is good as you often do not have to pay it back - but it will be for a specific purpose and checks will be made to ensure that the money is spent exactly as you have specified in your cashflow and business plan. The bug bear is that it is often match funded - i.e. you will need to find the same amount (or more), so you could be back to the beginning, and it is often paid retrospectively.

If you are a charity or a not-for-profit organisation, then the available funding increases considerably. This is great, but if you want to run your own business and make money, this is not going to work.

You could tie up with another organisation - in my case, it could be English Heritage, the National Trust or similar. Whoever you approach will either be pro-active and write the funding business plans and all associated paperwork, tying you in to working with them, and more than probably, part own the rights which would curtail any further opportunities with other organisations. Or, allow their name to be used as co-applicant wth you doing all the paperwork, and still curtail any further opportunities.

There are other ways such as Business Angels and Venture Capitalists (VC's), all of which can be found on Business start up sites such as Business Link and Flying Start, but all of them - other than the credit card method, need business plans, cash flows / forecasts and profit / loss accounts. This is the part that takes a great deal of precious time, the precious time you need to continue developing the idea to a fully working model. And, maybe this is just a completely alien area to you as a creative? Wouldn't it be fantastic to have someone who knows you, knows what you are trying to achieve and can prepare all this for you, negotiate with the funding body, keeping you in the picture and everything ticking smoothly? This would be my idea of a business angel.

What would be your idea of a business angel - or your method of funding? Meanwhile, I will continue to wait anxiously and bury myself in research and writing papers - oh yes, that is another thing, with funding applications, you cannot start on the specified project until you have the go ahead. It will be worth it though!!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Flying Start for Women

Fresh back from three intensive days in York on the Flying Start for Women programme. Such a wealth of information has been given in the three days, helping about 60 women to understand the information required for starting a business and/or developing their business.

For me, the most useful outcomes were the the contacts made, focussing on the business model, the elevator pitch and the 1-2-1 session with my designated mentor Deborah Loth. The Flying Start team are all professionals covering finance - Sarah Thelwall, developing business and funding - Dr. Claire Antrobus, managing work/life balance and marketing - Rosy Jones, mentoring - Wendy Parvin, IP - Dave Morgan, communicating - Mark bailey, legal issues - Eileen McMorrow, company formation - Neil Butler and tax issues - Julie Shaw. Lorna Collins is the Director of the Flying Start programme and covered issues such as developing the business model and managed, amazingly, to keeping us all in line and more or less on schedule. Deborah Loth helped facilitate the event and pushed us to understand where we are now and where we want to be. It was a very good event and has given us all a great deal of information to think about and work on over the coming year.

One of the things it has made me think hard about is how much information I need to put across to people when I explain what it is I am doing. I find I respond to people in different ways rather than having a pre-determined 'pitch' that expresses what The Talking Walls is and conveys the benefits to the possible interested listener. When I am talking about it, I forget that the listener perhaps does not even understand the basic elements of the area I work in, perhaps putting them at a disadvantage immediately and switching them off before I have even finished the first sentence. As a 3D trainer, I work with people who understand exactly what this is, perhaps not entirely what it can do, but they have some knowledge of the subject, therefore when I mention animation, 3D modelling, rendering - these are all terms that they are familiar with. But, talking to an investor, or in general networking, the listener probably will not understand these terms, which is perhaps the reason for the blank looks that appear as I go through my spiel about The Talking Walls and the lack of interest that ensues.

Obviously the easiest method in overcoming this, is to always have an example of TheTalking Walls to hand - i.e. on my mobile, then I would be able to show them and let them explore it. This way the application speaks for itself and the blanks looks will hopefully change to one of understanding and excitement. When I have shown people what this is all about, it has been a very positive experience - and memorable with later feedback of other areas in which it could be used.

But there may well be occasions when I cannot show the application and need to pitch without being able to use any visual prompts - so my task, following on from what we started at the Flying Start for Women event, is to develop a few phrases that will help my listeners from non-digital arenas to understand more completely what it is I do and what The Talking Walls will help them do, and hopefully never see another blank look!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

A New Year

The New Year has started well for us, I hope for everyone else too. As predicted the break went by far too quickly, but I did manage to achieve at least one thing before the old year departed, literally on New Year's eve.

Between Christmas and New Year, working on TW and the PhD, I mentioned to Mike about a conference I knew about regarding past papers, the Museum and the Web 2007 conference - Mike suggested the possibility of submitting a paper for this year's event and enquired if we were too late, with the response that we had until the 31st December 07. Ooh eeks! So, amidst the New Year gathering of Paul's friends in Woolacombe, I worked on the 500 word proposal requred for the demo. and managed with Mike's help, to get it in by lunchtime of the 31st. Phew!

It was worth it though, as of yesterday we are now part of the conference with a demo and a paper (this needs to be submitted by the 31st Jan). Montréal here we come.

I have also finally managed to get the micro project application submitted, fingers are heavily crossed that there is a positive outcome to all this work. This was posted on Friday, so early days yet. It has taken a long time and a lot of work, with a huge amount of help from Bernard Brooks at Business Link, thankyou Bernard. I would recommend that if anyone wants to apply for this type of funding that you really do need the help of someone who knows the processes and deals with funding applications on a regular basis. Please don't think you can achieve it on your own, it may be possible depending on your background and experience, but each funding body has particular ways in how this is written and presented, if you do not follow these, then you are quite likely to be unsuccessful, however much time and effort you put into it.

I hope it will be good news again as Beaulieu are still very interested in The Talking Walls for the Abbey and are keen for it to start. So it could be quite an amazing year for us, certainly one of change I think.

As from Monday, I am in York for three days. This is for the residential start of the Flying Start for Women programme. The aim is to help you get your product to market and encourage you to focus on areas that you may be weak on and how to overcome them. It will be interesting to see how this progesses.

I would just like to add congratulations to our friends, Chris and Mandy who will be getting married later this year, after Chris popped the question on Christmas Day! And to my brother Benjamin who also popped the question to his now wife to be, Berengere. Excellent news to start the year with, congratulations to you both.

Quite a year so far, let's hope it all continues and good luck to everyone else embarking on their own or have plans to change what they do this year.