Thursday, October 29, 2009

Different Roles - or should I say walls

Several developments since the last post which have kept life pretty busy. First of all though, I had several emails resulting from the Jane Austen demo posts, showing interest in the project. One in particular was from Linda Robson Walker, the author of 'Why Was Jane Austen Sent away to School at Seven? An Empirical Look at a Vexing Question' which formed the basis of The Talking Walls' virtual build of Steventon Rectory. Linda mentioned that the first few paragraphs of the last blog were quite technical in the terminology used, for which I apologise. I forget that readers may not be familiar with animation terms so I will explain a little.

The house had been built in 3D for the earlier demo that was posted. The little clip of just the house spinning and looking dark brown, was an experimentation in another piece of software, where the materials previously shown on the house were discarded in preference for a flat beige colour. This was to help decrease the file size in order to upload it, the file size was initially large due to the program through which it had originally been built. I hope this is a little clearer, the original house can be seen more clearly on this link

Thankyou Linda for your response and contact, it was wonderful to receive such a great email (I will be in touch).

Regarding the title of different roles, I am very lucky to now be a part-time lecturer at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton, in the subject of branding and marketing to the 2nd and 3rd year students. Alongside of this, I am also lecturing at the University of Winchester in Animation & Games (Specialist 1 module)for the 2nd year BSc students on the Digital Media Design course and also about professional processes (Processes 3 module) for the BA and BSc 2nd year students. Extremely interesting and varied subjects, and great places to work.

This leaves me some 'spare' time to continue with various projects for The Talking Walls and continue researching for my PhD. As part of all of this, I was honoured to be invited to talk at Winchester ENetwork by my Director of Studies, Dr David Birks, last Tuesday at the Winchester Business School. This was my first visit to the Business School, and I was amazed at how the building had been adapted for use as an art gallery, seminar, conference and study rooms. The 'room' in which the talk was being held could not have been better, it was in the old chapel with a vaulted beamed ceiling, beautiful windows and yet all the modern technology for giving presentations / conferences. I think my voice was a little lost in the vastness of the room and the fantastic turn out - approximately 100+ people from the University, local business and support organisations such as Business Link.

My talk was about the challenges I have met in the development of The Talking Walls since its conception in 1996. The title was Building Talking Walls, an apt title in many ways. From the feedback, it seems to have been received extremely well, and has brought me into contact with several people who I would not have met otherwise. Thankyou David and Professor Neil Marriott for inviting me to talk and welcoming me so warmly.

Winchester ENetwork is an excellent opportunity for students and businesses to network, an ideal way for prospective creatives to understand how other creative businesses started in their chosen field, and learn from their success and the many pitfalls that can occur when first starting out in business.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Steventon Rectory (Parsonage) rebuilt

video

The above is a cel shaded anim of just the Rectory (Parsonage taken from the original 3D file of the demo and passed through Swift 3D. Initially with the idea of creating an interactive Papervision3D file so that users can rotate it and explore the building. Unfortunately, due to the building having been created in Autodesk Revit Architecture and then exported to Autodesk 3DS Max as an .fbx file, there are too many faces and Papervision struggles to show them all. A rotation only was then decided on, until more time can be allotted to simplify the 3D model.

The small amount of research committed on this so far brought to my attention that there seems to be a discrepancy on what the building actually looked like due to conflicting sketches. The fact that the building no longer existed made it a prime consideration for being the first of Jane's homes to be re-built in 3D, discovering the uncertainty in how it looked made it more of a challenge.

Below are the sketches in question:



The two images above show a much smaller building than the two below, although each image states that it is Steventon Rectory (Parsonage).



These two images although on first look appear similar, the chimney placement is very different. There is a central chimney in the lower image, and not in the one above, although they both have a side chimney, which is not visible in the top two images.

There is a theory that the lower images are actually depicting Ibthorpe House, you can see the likeness to this building in the image below. Certainly the top of the second set of images above looks very similar - except for that central chimney.


I puzzled over this for a while and read various articles from Jane Austen experts such as Linda Robinson Walker in order to come to a decision as to how I portrayed the building. Within Linda's document Why Was Jane Austen Sent away to School at Seven?
An Empirical Look at a Vexing Question
there was this image of the land around the house which helped considerably in making that decision along with the logical explanation / view given by Linda Robinson Walker:


This image certainly helped place the building in the surrounding landscape and provided very useful information in regard to the outbuildings and garden. There may be further information available from the Jane Austen Memorial Trust and / or other organisations that would clarify this further, as it stands the look of the animated building has been created from the information found only on the web.

Many thanks to the organisations / people who have posted this information on the web, the sources mostly used were:

Jane Austen Society of the UK
Jane Austen Society of North America
Astoft
Jane Austen
Hantsweb
Pemberley

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Jane Austen demo now on YouTube

Finally succeeded in posting the Jane Austen demo up to YouTube. I say finally, as it has taken most of the day. Codecs, converters and then disabling all firewalls, anti-virus software on the laptop. This last part was because the 'old faithful' BT HomeHub kept losing signal - a few brain scratches later and my grabbed-at theory worked - Windows Defender, Kaspersky, Windows Internet Security and Pop-ups, all disabled, and hey presto, the file uploaded successfully.

I would love to know how you are supposed to know these things and plan your time accordingly. You are left with such a choice of what it could be: wrong codec, wrong converter program, wrong fps (frames per second) - all of which were thankfully clearly explained on the YouTube upload page. Having made sure you have now complied with the standard settings, and it still it will not upload, where do you go now? Could it be a problem with BT, or YouTube, a compatibility issue maybe, firewall on the router, on the PC? Maybe Kaspersky, ZoneAlarm? Very frustrating.

Still, with the above stated brain scratching session, I turned the whole lot off and risked catching a serious cold, but at least it worked, and so far no cold has appeared. I shall know this now and when I come to upload some more animations, I will be prepared.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the Jane Austen - Steventon Rectory demo on YouTube.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Jane Austen 'themed' Talking Walls application

This is an idea we have had since before Christmas, and at long last have found some free time to work on it. The demo has taken barely a week to produce from initial research through to the final editing of all the different elements. It always takes longer than you think it is going to, this time mostly due to research and putting some finer details in to make it that much easier to watch.

The general concept is to create a Famous People 'themed' Talking Walls series, covering the homes in which they lived, their family, friends and their work. Jane Austen is planned to be the first of these. The series could include famous figures such as William Shakespeare, Henry VIII, The Bronte Sisters and Charles Dickens, building a rich architectural, heritage and digital storytelling resource.


We hope to receive funding from interested parties to develop this project into a full Talking Walls application, exploring the buildings over their lifetime, pulling in the work they created there and their stories whilst living there.

The raw Revit file before taking into 3DS Max.

The application (as in all Talking Walls applications) would be available for iPhones, smartphones, handhelds and kiosks, accessed via The Talking Wall web server so that you would be able to visit any one of the homes, viewing the real space and exploring the virtual with your phone or provided handheld, continuing over the web once back in your own home / country.

video

The demo above has been greatly reduced in quality to fit within the guidelines for uploading video on this blog, nonetheless it still gives a good idea of Steventon Rectory, how it was positioned and its closeness to the church. This has been modelled based on several hours worth of research over the web. A better quality version can be seen on our website www.thetalkingwalls.co.uk. The images it is mostly based on are shown below:



More images will be placed on The Talking Walls website soon, with information gleaned albeit mostly on the rectory. If you have any information that may help with this project, please contact me, I would be grateful for any help clarifying the structure of the building. Thankyou

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Talking Walls - Beaulieu Abbey


The Beaulieu Abbey pilot is now live on our website. This will be free for a trial period which will continue until the kiosk has been installed at Beaulieu Abbey. After the installation, there will be a product launch, and after this the web version will only be available on a membership basis, with content available for download at a small cost (similar to Apple's iTunes app store). The kiosk and web / mobile version will then have the 'Abbey Slices' section uploaded and any tweaks / amendments completed.

Abbey Slices is the real nub of the application. This allows the user to explore the building in the different 'time slices' (major architectural changes based on research and available footplates), and jump to the different centuries to see what the building looked like and how it was used. It will be very worthwhile to re-visit once this goes live.

Imagine having this on your smartphone as you roam around the physical space of the abbey, standing in the apse of the great church and seeing how vast the internal space of the abbey was, or in the cloisters with the buildings complete in all their glory around you. The visitor / user will then be able to re-visit once back at home via the web and explore in more depth, using the fact sheets and lifestyles, or quizzes.

There are nine characters who can 'escort' you on your 'Tour', which can be the full 14 sections or specific ones you are more interested in. The characters have their own little snippets of information about how they lived there, the roles ranging from Abbot Sulbury through to Percy Warbeck, a pretender to the throne seeking sanctuary in the 1400's. They also 'own' a category of the Abbey, such as Medicines and Herbs, 'owned' by the Infirmarian, Brother Thomas.

Nine is the key in this application, created by one side of the KubeMatrix, a tool developed for simple navigation of the content, primarily for mobile use. This takes me on to explain the design and navigation in a little more depth.

The central panel of the application is what you will see once the application is loaded onto a mobile device (Flash players will need to have been installed prior to use). The side panels are for accessing the same content in other ways, the same as in most software programs. This means that the core design does not have to be re-designed to fit multiple screen sizes - or at least that is the theory I have developed.

With regards to the navigation it might help to read the following tips:

Home page:
1 - Spinning matrix = goes back to Home page to choose another section
2 - KubeMatrix = rollover tool tips to help you choose which section i.e. Characters, Quiz'Ed or another
3 - Side bar = chooses sections i.e. Characters, Quiz'Ed or another


Sub pages:
4 - Nine KubeMatrix = chooses sub-sections i.e. the individuals in Characters or puzzles in Quiz'Ed
5 - Thumbnails = chooses sub-sections i.e. the individuals in Characters or puzzles in Quiz'Ed
6 - Side bar = chooses sub-sections i.e. the individuals in Characters or puzzles in Quiz'Ed
7 - 'EXPLORE' strip = goes back to Nine KubeMatrix to pick another sub-section
8 - 'MORE' strip = goes back to full KubeMatrix to pick another section


Each further sub section has obvious buttons in how to progress, but if anyone has problem with navigating further into the application, please let me know. Example of further subsection below:


Once installed at Beaulieu, the plan is to gauge and capture user experience with the application on the kiosk, handhelds and web, improving the concept and final application.

Work has started on a Jane Austen themed Talking Walls application, a small animation of Steventon Rectory, the Austen's home before it was demolished, and will hopefully be posted in the coming week. Meanwhile enjoy the free trial and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Events

In the last month I attended a couple of events where I was able to talk about The Talking Walls and the research I have undertaken within my PhD.

The first was SEMN's Commercialising Innovation and pitching event held at the University of Surrey, Guildford. As with all SEMN events I have been to, it was very well organised, with an interesting mix of people attending. We were shown the research areas at the Guildford campus with explanations of some of the amazing research that is taking place there - on the agenda for the day it was entitled 'Advancing the State of the Art', what we were shown was certainly doing this. For me with the areas I work in, it was fascinating.

In the afternoon, I took my turn in the company pitching presentations. The two before me were also in the area of 3D, but in a completely different field. There was Atom Fire Productions pitching 'games expertise on multiple platforms and devices' by Dominic Mason and Drive pitching for collaborative projects using their 'digital modelling and CGI visualisation techiniques' by Chris Longmore. Both were established companies giving very polished presentations, which although great to listen to and watch, made me feel anxious about my own presentation that would follow.

My pitch was for a 'technology partner to provide hardware, network connectivity and web server information hosting for mobile, kiosk and handset installations at heritage sites'. This is something that would really benefit The Talking Walls, allowing us to approach sites with a complete solution. The pitch seemed to go well with several people coming to talk to me afterwards saying how much they enjoyed it, with contacts of people who may be able to help. I am still in the process of following these up, if anything comes from this I will let you know.

I would particularly like to thanks the organisers at the University of Surrey and Kay Henning of SEMN for inviting me to pitch at this event and for making it such an interesting day.

The second event was more about the PhD research. This was the LASS PGR Conference - Human 2.0, held at the Turner Sims, University of Southampton. It is an annual event for research students to put across where they are with their research, display posters and present papers. This is the first of its kind that I have attended and was quite nervous in the build up to it. I had been placed first to present. Having not attended one before, I was quite anxious as to what was expected and being first, I would not able to adapt to anything that would have gone before.

Nonetheless, once I started talking, the nerves abaited, heart was still racing but I managed to think about what I was saying and not 'waffle' and go off track. For me, that was quite amazing! The other speakers were as nervous I think, and gave some really interesting presentations and discussion. It was a shame that there were not as many people attending as expected by the organising team, but there were certainly enough there to make you want to do your best and give them an understanding of your research. Again, many thanks to the conference team in doing such an excellent job of getting us organised, the venue and attendees.

For those that may be interested, posted below is the abstract of my paper submitted for the conference. The other speakers' abstracts can be found on the LASS conference website.

'My thesis aims to investigate methods of capturing user-experience at ‘cultural heritage’ sites with multimedia applications on mobile devices, their interaction with the site, and family / friends, using a case study of a pilot application ’The Talking Walls®’ at a cultural heritage site, which encompasses story-telling and visual narrative.

Through qualitative study, data collected will include observation and interview notes, audio, video, field notes, documents produced by the visitor (s), photos, visual images, mood boards and individual / group reflections, both the observer(s) and visitor(s).

The research will investigate the meaning(s) of ‘cultural heritage’ for the user(s) and for the cultural heritage site owner(s) / organisation, and why people visit cultural heritage sites. In order to measure and understand methods of capturing user-experience, it will be important to understand what ‘experience’ is and what may form a ‘good’ or ‘poor’ user-experience with a mobile device at a cultural heritage site.

This study will then explore how technology might be used to link these areas together and capture user-experience, how it is being adopted at cultural heritage sites for visitor use and how this may impact on the methodology for designing a multimedia cultural heritage application for mobile devices.

Keywords: user-experience, cultural heritage, mobile devices, digital story-telling, multimedia'

Deborah Wilson - PhD student, Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton

Monday, June 15, 2009

Le Mans 24 Heures 2009


Just back at the hotel (Sable Sur Sarthe) from the Le Mans 24 Heures race - Peugot 1st and 2nd, Audi 3rd, and Lola Aston Martin 4th. Well done Peugot.

The changes here since I used to come with the TR lot in the late 80's / 90's are considerable. The fair ground has moved down the hill, no longer up by Dunlop Bridge. The amount of French people attending has really increased, Parking Bleu used to be filled with classics and supercars, not many there now, the fields behind were just that - fields, now more camping and parking, and a huge prevalence of ordinary cars, followed by performance cars.

We went to the Great British Welcome on Friday, first time attending this part of the event, very good, lots more classics to look at, with a Morgan celebration / anniversary. Missed the town centre parade unfortunately, stopped at Arnage instead and watched the general buzz and queue of interesting cars / vehicles feed by.

Photos on FlickR

Off to the cottage tomorrow in the Marcos, hope the rain stays at bay.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Thoughts on user behaviour with websites and multimedia applications

User behaviour is continuously being researched for web applications by experts such as Bruce Tognazzini, Jakob Nielsen and Steve Krug who have been testing consumer usability since the 1990’s. The research into Web usability appears to have high importance, and justifiably so. There is a rich resource of articles online, blogs and web sites regarding this, as well as books. With the web constantly evolving and changing, the primary resource for exploring this area in more depth, needs to be as up to date as possible, books by the time they are printed are often outdated. Jakob Nielsen’s Designing Web Usability (2000) has been updated recently with his book Prioritising Web Usability (2006). Reading the two books, it is very interesting to note the predictions and how Nielsen’s view of web usability has evolved with the faster technology available, especially in the area of video and rich media, but it is still primarily web based.

The importance of understanding how the user works with websites seems to be accepted by the majority of good web design companies. What I have found difficult to ascertain is the difference in user behaviour with websites and multimedia applications. In the various articles and books researched in regard to usability, the platform is invariably the World Wide Web and the sites designed have been done with the knowledge that most users are information foragers, snackers, people with little time to find the information they require.



The Talking Walls® as a multi-platform multimedia application does not quite fit with regards to some of the web usability guidelines, as will other heritage applications on offer at museums and historical sites. This may be due to the primary goal to be enjoyable learning, entertaining, fun, aesthetically pleasing and informative in a specific cultural heritage context, but still a ‘snacking’ tool and possibly to more than one user at a time.

The visitor using the kiosk application will use it in perhaps a very different way to how they would use the web at home / work. They may want to see what it does, how much content there is, if there is any entertainment on offer and what they may learn from it, but it will be closed off to information relevant only to the heritage site, the visitor will not be able to jump to non-relevant areas, as they can with the web. There are constraints. Then, instead of a solitary session on the web, they may be with a partner, their family or friends so the interaction of the group, their interaction with the application and their surroundings will be different to that of the web and therefore important to discover and analyse. This is really user performance, how they interact and their experience.



There is a further issue of the same content being displayed for a mobile / handheld device. It is predicted that the mobile phone will become an ‘entertainment device’ (Loader 2006) that will consist of communication, navigation, TV, music, radio, camera / video, games, web, GPS technology, and more including paying for your shopping (Hanlon 2008). The future of the mobile phone as an all inclusive device is already becoming a reality although the ultimate success relies heavily on a number of issues: technology, creative content, a simple interface and consumer’s acceptance of the new technology (Brill 2007).

Designing for mobile has a number of issues that need consideration. Having created web usability standards, designers need to explore the best way of creating the same content on a much smaller screen. There has been a lot of progress over the last year or two with several successful interfaces appearing such as the iPhone and Google’s Android interface, both of which have been possible with new technology and new ways of interaction with the interface, such as TouchFlo 3D.

The problem here is that this creates another style – one for print, one for mobile, one for web. The same issue appeared in the early days of the web, when people were redesigning their printed brochures to become web pages (Web 1). With the development of the internet, the designs for web became more animated, more information appeared in formats unachievable via print, and with Web 2 there are users as well as designers creating content and uploading to template interfaces or personal blog sites. It is a general concern as to how the majority of web sites and user generated content will translate to the small screen devices that are becoming ever popular. There will need to be new guidelines / standards developed for designing for new platforms such as the mobile device, in fact the mobile could be considered the new web for how content should be designed i.e designing for the lowest common denominator.



There is then the issue of the type of content to be designed. A cultural heritage application is likely to be designed very differently to football club site or a shopping site application through how it is used and the typical type of content expected, required or desired.

Part of my research will observe user behaviour, types of audiences, how they will perceive and use the application, their choice of platform and technology and how this may reflect their age and gender, how they will interact with the software and technology during their visit, singly or in groups and how this will impact on their experience, their involvement and buy-in to the learning narrative and imagery.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

About to go live....

'The Talking Walls - Beaulieu Abbey' application is almost ready to go live. We are just waiting for final approval from Beaulieu and then we can make the website live, such good news.

It has been almost a year of part-time hours in the making, fitting in the commercial training, PhD and normal day to day life. A very full year.

I have a lot of thanks to give to all my very patient friends who have hardly seen me over the last couple of years (took almost a year to develop the funding application for the Micro Project from FSE/SEEDA!), obviously my family for the same reason and then there are the 'helpers' who have helped create this application. They are:

Alex Hogg - for six of the characters voices
Rebecca Furse - for some of the character illustrations and proof reading
Seanine Joyce - for the music
Sandy Whitehead - for some of the illustrative 3D models and some of the characters
Kim Potter - for producing the web structure that pulls all the content together
New Forest Post Productions - for the use (and help) of the recording studio for the voice overs.

Without their added help, I think I would have been up every night til 1-2pm, as opposed to only half. The music is fantastic, something I would not have achieved on my own and adds so much to the whole, and Alex's voice overs, watching him change the way he spoke for each character and sustain that for half an hour at least was amazing, I struggled for just two, but six, no way. Kim used to work with us years ago with Clear Thinking, the fact that she was back in England and able to help us with the code needed to pull everything together for the web was fantastic, so conscientious, knowing what we needed, how we wanted it to work and producing on time - thanks Kim.

There have been a lot of other people whose confidence and support over the development of 'The Talking Walls' right up to the Beaulieu Abbey project, including Beaulieu, have made this possible, thankyou all. Finally, thankyou FSE / SEEDA, without the match funding through the Micro Project scheme, this just would not have been possible.

Once the site is made live, I will post the link here and spread the word online as well as through traditional means. The site will have free access for 4-6 months and then the 'Interactive Abbey' part will be completed and membership to the site will be active. So please make sure you visit the site within this time and explore. Your thoughts and feedback will be very welcome, and will help provide an insight into how the design bears up to use, and what may need changing / adding / adapting.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Nearly There

After a very busy month or two, the Beaulieu Abbey project is nearing completion. Content is still being produced whilst Kim and Paul are 'knitting' all the content together.

Beaulieu Abbey has been a large project needing a wide range of skills, the most recent of which was script writing and editing followed by recording the voice overs for each of the nine characters. This was quite a feat and we feel quite lucky in being able to have someone we know, Alex Hogg, complete 6 (plus additional sub characters) of the 9 voices for us. This took a whole day at New Forest Post Productions' recording studio with Nick's help and supervision. Paul and I returned a few days later to record the last three voices. I must say, it was much easier writing the script than being a voice. I had to do two voices and make them different, very difficult for me as I am not at all good at mimicking accents, let alone for half an hour's reading, so I am full of admiration for Alex who managed so many and all very different.

These scripts are for the Tours(each character can guide you around the Abbey), then there are the story strips and introduction for each character. Nine characters, 3 scripts per character, as you can see, a fair bit of work in just this.


(I have had trouble uploading the sound file but it can be heard on this link - http://www.thetalkingwalls.co.uk/beaulieu_KingJohn_Story.htm)

The tour script is based on the new audio script now available on Beaulieu's abbey website. This was only recently put in place and sounds really good. The delay in putting this in place also caused a slight delay for our pilot as we had to wait for an approved final script before we were able to have a copy. This copy has been adapted to suit each character and the time in which they lived. These 9 adapted scripts, the intros and stories have all needed to be approved by Beaulieu to ensure the detail is correct. The script has been quite fundamental to a large and important part of the application. Fine detail to the abbey model in accordance with the script, animation of the tours, again in accordance with the script, and obviously the voice overs of the adapted character scripts are all now able to be done.

A busy week ahead! It will actually take more than this, probably at least a couple of weeks so the pilot should be ready to install end of March, hopefully in time for the summer season.