Art: Pushing pixels from ‘The Dudleys!’ to Dead Pixel Designs

Our passion for retro lo-fi pixel art has really fired up these last 2 years. It all began with the discovery of the freeware progam IcoFX which allowed us to reconnected us with our c64-generation creative urges. I produced our first pixel art poster for a Supermarket show in Big Star Records’ basement in September 2008 and things have snowballed from there!

Happening around the same time was the erection of a giant public lo-res screen at the end of Adelaide’s busy Rundle Mall- The Rundle Lantern. Astonishing in both scale and low-resolution, it wraps around two sides of a multi-storey carpark at a highly trafficked intersection. Emma Sterling and I leapt at the opportunity to produce original animation for it. Our ‘how to’ guide to producing animation for it is available here at Creativity Base. Merge Magazine also caught wind of what I was up to, and commissioned artwork for a front cover and feature article spread.

Meanwhile, in North America, a man I met through a chiptune email-list was cooking up a grand design. Emerging theatre writer and director Steven Gridley put a call out for chiptune musicians and pixel artists and animators, to help create a world that slips between the ‘real’ and that of a glitchy 1980’s Nintendo game. I was originally eager to animate many projected sequences throughout the play, but in the end the team expanded and the workload was shared nicely. Below is a showreel featuring some of the animated sequences from the play, and a chiptune score also written by Steven Gridley. Mine is the flat-looking Mario-esque sidescroller. You can read more about the show at the blog Brooklynshiner.

Since then, I’ve had enough compliments on my pixel art to decide to open an online store, and make designs for merchandise and apparrel. Dead Pixel Designs launched late last year, and the inventory in the Zazzle shopfront is growing nicely. Recent friend and gun programmer Jay Straw also helped me integrate the store into my website, closing the associative gap between danimations and Dead Pixel Designs.

In March, Emma Sterling and I are running a pixel art and animation workshop as part of the DIY cultural event Format Festival right here in Adelaide. Keep an eye on their website, and come along if you love pixels as much as we do- finished works will be screening on the Rundle Lantern!


Web 2.0: Best free data sharing tools for effective collaboration

Anyone working with video, audio, high-end graphics or animation projects will inevitably face the need to move and share hefty volumes of data. Outside of bringing your client or collaborator into your studio, or running an account with a courier company, there are many more time and financially economical ways to send works in progress for approval. Unlike FTP transfers (and these are still great when there’s a tech-head on each end of the deal) the solutions this post focusses on don’t require technical savvy on the recipient’s end. Emma Sterling and I rely on these tools heavily when we are collaborating with other professionals locally and internationally, and if you manage your workflow around their limitations, you won’t have to shell out a cent.

Best free tools for moving data

For files under 100Mb, we still use the longstanding favourite, YouSendit. With a free account on YouSendit, you can send files, along with a short description to multiple email recipients. Rather than gumming up their email inboxes, YouSendit stores the data on their server, and simply sends a nice, friendly email with a download link to your selected recipients. The file resides there for a limited time (a number of days) which is generally ample for the short-term exchanging of content. We also recommend you download the helper application to enjoy added drag-n-drop convenience from your desktop and improved transfer speeds. If you value the service, you can also pay for membership, express delivery and a range of other options.

When 100Mb of Yousendit free transfer love aren’t enough, it’s Sendspace to the rescue. Sendspace’s transfer rates tend to lag behind Yousendit’s a little in our experience, but we’re yet to find a better free way to move such sizeable hunks of data. We mostly use Sendspace to deliver previews of videos we’re editing. By using Adobe Media Encoder to export our footage from Adobe Premiere, we are able to compress our work to sit snuggly under their 300Mb limit (Media Encoder calculates the file sizes before the compressing begins) allowing us to move any project’s low-res preview, regardless of its duration. Another way of working with the file size limitation is to use 7Zip or a similar compressor, and break your compressed file into 300 Mb chunks. Sendspace also offers a free downloadable application called Sendspace Wizard, which resembles an FTP interface, and again offers improved uploading times and flexibility. Once you’ve uploaded a file, your recipient gets a simple email with a download link and you’re in business.

Dropbox is the file-mover that I’ve discovered most recently, and is one we tend to favour specifically for internal use. Dropbox creates a web-drive, which conveniently appears just as any other folder would on your desktop. When you move or copy a file to it, any other computers (or mobile devices) with Dropbox installed (provided they are also logged into the same account) will automatically update their contents locally. We find this most useful when moving data between our home and Tomorrow Studio offices, and also use our Dropbox to keep templates and frequent use documents ever-ready. You could also easily create multiple accounts, for instance, project specific ones that could facilitate a cost-effective collaborative server… quite enticing since the ceiling for free accounts is initially set at 2 Gb but is expandable to 5 Gb, provided you share the love, and spread the word about Dropbox!

Dan Monceaux


Art: ‘Heartsong’ performance combines music, animation, video mixing, sculpture and text

Several months back, Emma Sterling and I were invited by Sophie Hyde of Closer Productions in Adelaide to join a project out of Flinders Medical Centre’s Arts in Health program. The project entitled Heartsong was inspired by the experiences and thoughts of patients and their carers on the Cardiac Care Unit. Fittingly, the resulting multimedia performance was to premiere in an adjoining space, and did so last week.

Heartsong poster & performance details
Heartsong poster & performance details

The project’s video design task was almost an open brief when we were first introduced, though other elements of the performance had been roughly hewn. A text had been assembled by the project’s producer, Cheryl Pickering, constructed from patient and staff testimonials. Accomplished musicians Richard Chew (keyboards) and Ian Dixon (flugelhorn) were involved, and successfully plotted an improvised musical course which supported the text with colour and emotion. A large scale sculpture of a human heart (approximately six feet tall) was constructed by Diwani Oak, and then lit by Emma Sterling and myself, using a combination of projected and LED rope lighting. Diwani also produced several screen-printed and hand-crafted hangings which also adorned the space, and provided a canvas for the thematically connected poetry of Ian Gibbins to feature on.

Heartsongs central sculpture by Diwani Oak (as installed at FMC)
Heartsong's central sculpture by Diwani Oak (as installed at FMC)

Emma Sterling’s and my greater commitment though was the production and presentation of video and animated content to harmonize with Heartsong’s other elements. We called upon many of the approaches we used to produce our first documentary film ‘A Shift in Perception‘ back in 2006 and set about crafting stop-motion animations, moving textural sequences, lifting public domain found footage from The Internet Archive, and preparing them all for live delivery.

When audience members enter the Heartsong space, they are first drawn to Diwani’s light sculpture, which sits as the work’s hearth. An animated rendition of it also rotates on video screens, while another projection presents a faithful recording of a medical heart monitor read-out. When the improvised music begins, pre-recorded voices recall the words of patients and nurses alike, and lead the audience through the patient’s journey- from symptoms and hospital admittance through care and recovery. In performance, my task is to react to the text and emotions presented by Richard and Ian with improvised video, which I layer, blend and loop for the duration of the performance using Arkaos GrandVJ and a Korg NanoKontrol MIDI controller. The piece is designed to have a meditative, gentle and nurturing quality about it, and audience responses thus far have suggested we’re striking that chord.

Heartsong is installed and performed at the RiAus
'Heartsong' is installed and performed at the RiAus

The first performances of the work are behind us now, with only one remaining performance of our debut season remaining. On Friday, December 11th at the Royal Institution of Australia from 6-9pm, the installation will be open, with the performance occurring around 7pm. The performance runs for approximately 25 minutes, and will be followed by a panel discussion with the involved artists plus another artist also currently exhibiting at the RiAus, George Poonkin Khut.

Dan Monceaux