Context-free

February 26, 2008 at 12:23 am | Posted in artsy, books, computers, design, geeky, internet, school | 3 Comments
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Community of Variation
[via Context Free Art Gallery and Community of Variation]

For a computer science assignment last week I wrote a program with a friend in Scheme that generates sentences using context-free grammar. By specifying a few basic rules for parts of speech and including a simple word list, you can get some remarkably coherent results — coherent, that is, in a strictly grammatical, minimalist sense. There’s actually no attention paid to the meaning of the words used, or to their relationship with each other, a consequence of the grammar being “context-free.” We had a few laughs using our program to generate bogus math proofs, but instead of puzzling you with a slew of inside jokes and insomnia-induced geekiness, I’ll point your way to a much more impressive — not to mention amusing — application of the same algorithm, this time used to generate an entire scientific paper. You can even put your own name down as an author! Here’s an example passage:

We question the need for digital-to-analog converters. It should be noted that we allow DHCP to harness homogeneous epistemologies without the evaluation of evolutionary programming [2], [12], [14]. Contrarily, the lookaside buffer might not be the panacea that end-users expected. However, this method is never considered confusing. Our approach turns the knowledge-base communication sledgehammer into a scalpel.
[Stribling et. al (PDF)]

Not too bad for randomly generated babble, is it? Continue Reading Context-free…

What I missed out on as an aesthetically challenged 14 year old

November 28, 2007 at 9:13 pm | Posted in artsy, computers, rambling | 1 Comment
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I made a few vectors the other day. Clearly I don’t have enough work to do. Convinced I was able to create “art” after reading a few tutorials about “vector art,” I proceeded to learn Illustrator and try my hand at it. The results are pretty, but you’ll notice I prefer calling them simply “vectors.”

The idea behind these vector images, or vexels they’re called if you make them in a raster program like photoshop, is to take a photograph or some other “reference” image, trace the different blocks of color on it either with or without image-processing tricks like posterize to help you, and use layer after layer of these flat shapes to build up a cartoon-like image. You might have been struck by the originality of the animation in A Scanner Darkly, which used a vector drawing technique to convert live-action film into graphic-novel-like frames.

After spending a bunch of hours doing these, though, I realized that most of the vector art people make — my images below included — is bullshit. Tracing shapes on a photo with a computer is probably the only thing easier and less artistic than tracing things on a photo in real life (okay, so it can be argued that operating Illustrator takes more motor skills — not to mention geek points — than holding down tracing paper). Most of the good “digital art” that can be made by Illustrator really isn’t of the posterize-trace-eyedropper tool type. Even if a reference photograph is used, a decent artist usually seems to render the result with a highly stylized digital vocabulary. Since correct proportions and likeness are more or less a given, the real challenge, just like in non-digital art, is to add something to the image.

Even with a healthy dose of aesthetic insight, though, photo-realistic vector art is still unsatisfying to look at. The typical style among skilled vector artists seems to involve anal-retentive layer organizational skills, plus clever manipulations of transparency and color, which achieves an admittedly dazzling multilayered appearance. But these images lack dynamism or impact. It’s almost as if the pictorial “correctness” of digital art is a little stifling. That’s why for the time being, I’m going back to my sketchbook. The paper one. Enjoy these for what they’re worth.

derek.png drawing-038.jpgMy roommate listening to his pants on the headphones. I’m not sure what he hears. I got a little bored after putting in a few layers, so his shirt and arms look a little unfinished. His face also has a slightly weird contour. And the bottom where the reference photo cuts off is a little too obvious in the final product. Was a little too lazy to give a “brushstroke” look to the pants, but after I got the point all the contour tracing got a little boring. Was inspired to go and do some drawing though. Using a pen is much more satisfying than a mouse, although getting the proportions right is definitely more of a challenge in real life.

sunset.png Sunset over the Maine coast. This was a nice ref photo, and I played a bit with the rendering of the reflection as well as the colors. It was also remarkable how realistic I could get the sky to look with some careful color choices (didn’t go directly off the original photo with eyedropper tool), although not as realistic as some of these guys can go in Illustrator.

Reference photos, so you can see how much of a shameless tracer I am:

img_8251.jpg sunset1.jpg

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