animation

Closing Time

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by Giuliano De Felice

Digital Archaeology Lab, Foggia University (Italy)

giulianodefelice@gmail.com

Archaeology is nothing without a narration: aghat’s why I spend the most of my teaching and research activities trying to figure out how to connect archaeology and communication.

Day 1, in the classroom

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One day, in the classroom …

Me: “… And if today it is impossible to imagine archaeological communication –and any archaeological activity- without the support of digital technologies, the question always bouncing in my mind is: what are the terms of this growing interaction and what can we expect for archaeological communication in the future?”

Class: “Better instruments, growing precision, more integration!”

Me: “Sure, but a real evolution is not to be confused with technological development, which, as we can easily imagine, will keep on growing enormously, but rather has to be pursued experimenting new and richer integration forms which aim to make the archaeology of the future a shared, public and sustainable one”.

Class: “Ok. And then?”

Me: “The starting point is that, as a side effect of the ‘digital’ approach to archaeological communication, archaeological heritage has swiftly become a collection of finds and monuments from which to choose, case by case, the one that will most enhance the technical capabilities of computers and software”.

Class: “Yes, we see that 3D visualisation is today the principal medium of archaeological communication: the demand for multimedia products in museums and parks or other cultural institutions remains high, while the pursuit of ever more beautiful and attractive products is in full swing. Today much of the communication game of archaeology involves the creation of breath–taking reconstructions and models”.

Me: “Yes. Today everyone can produce on a laptop a kind of content that 5 years ago was reserved to mainstream productions! But the rapid and uninterrupted development of computer graphic techniques seems to be taking archaeological communication toward a strange kind of a modern (and virtual) neoclassicism: the rest of the world still considers it as an adventurous occupation, delving into ancient secrets, strange objects and mysterious monuments.

Class: “Or else a dry and dusty routine of observation and cataloguing …”

Me: “Right! 3D surveys of entire monumental complexes or ancient art objects, immersive models of famous archaeological sites, as well as high quality virtual reconstructions have drawn the attention away from that bunch of stuff you learn during your classes”.

Class: “…”.

Me: “I mean that every archaeologist perfectly knows that archaeology is not only concerned with individual finds or monuments; it deals every day with mute, dull and irrelevant fragments (of a whole that no longer exists) and seeks to squeeze them to reconstruct activities, stories, visions, cultures, of which those fragments are often the only traces. So, if the significance of an archaeological object is more complex than its material aspect and is profoundly linked to the story it conceals and yet could reveal, let’s try to narrate this story!”

Day 2-118. In lab, at home, in the train.

In the next days, I was browsing some books when I casually saw a picture of a museum display. A simple museum display containing a bunch of twenty little loom weights. And it was love at first sight. I had to tell their story!

So I started to develop a little personal project during my spare time: realizing a short computer animation movie, inspired by archaeology but linked with all day life, something that everybody could understand and, I hoped, love. That’s the story of Closing Time; someone could describe it as an attempt to find new connections between technical solutions and the expressive potentials of archaeology, investigating new languages and expressive forms … For me it’s the attempt to raise a smile from archaeology.

The creation process has been a wonderful nightmare. I had to study a lot, learning to carry out a lot of activities, and to make a long and amazing journey through from the sweet lands of preproduction, through the stormy waters of production, to the not-so-still harbour of postproduction.

I started thinking about a subject, writing down a screenplay and than drawing and painting a storyboard …

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Storyboarding 1

… and animating a storyreel:

first storyreel

The storyreel

Characters begin to take shape

One of the first thing I decided to do was choosing music. This has been the most difficult and more exciting part: music helped finding the mood of the movie, imagining the duration of the scenes and setting up what I can call the rhythm of narration. Before adding music my project was totally static and boring; music is animation.

Then I drawn, modelled, skinned and animated the characters …

Modeling and skinning

Modeling and skinning

After that I built a set …

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The set

…and animated every character, scene by scene. Doing, redoing, deleting, starting over, many, many times.

Animating

Animating

And then rendered. 3 weeks on 3 PCs to get the job done (5400 HD720p frames needed) …

Rendering

Rendering

And, at the end … postproduction. That means for instance retouching the render output to achieve a good result, but also trimming scenes with precision, adding transitions and other video editing tricks, adding sounds, foley, titles. And of course easter eggs! You cannot release a CG movie without hiding easter eggs!

Postproduction!

Postproduction!

Day 119, in the classroom, again.

Me: “Dear guys, please let me introduce to you the project that has been my main activity for the last 4 months. It’s my first short animation movie. 3 minutes of …”

Class: “Wait wait wait … 4 months for 3 minutes?”

Me: “Yes; but every single second is the hard outcome of struggle among creative issues, technical problems, temporary lacks of inspiration and all the things I taught during my course!”.

Class: “He’s gone mad …”

Day 120. Today.

I believe that besides any kind of innovation what is really needed to renew archaeology is the creation of writing styles and narratives that can animate the bulk of knowledge scattered throughout the knowledge domain. Apart from requiring formal perfection in visualisation, we could require digital technologies to support a narrative plot, to tell a story, to help transmit cultural messages in different ways and forms.

I started this idea of creative reuse of archaeology last year with the 4 videos called Pazzi da museo. Those videos were deliberately ironic as the result of the choice to convey a message containing what little knowledge we have, using a simple and ironic style (last year my post for DoA 2014 was dedicated to the realization of these videos, together with Matteo Toriello, a very capable digital animator). This year, Closing Time is a further step: not only because I did everything on my own, but also because there is no connection at all with archaeological knowledge; the characters could have been everything else than loom weights. The important point is that they are used as characters: they want to introduce themselves, come to life and narrate their story.

A simple story, because, in spite to common belief, only in few occasions archaeological finds are masterpieces or wonderful objects: in most cases they are common people, exactly like the rest of us.

Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of NewHouse Productions and Pazzi da Museo, please welcome Closing Time!

All the other videos quoted in the paper are on Giuliano De Felice’s YouTube channel.

Archaeology, Animation & Visual Effects

June 27, 2012

I’m a  freshman majoring in Animation and Visual Effects in the Digital Media Program, Westphal College, at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.  Today was my second day on a 10 week STAR Scholars Fellowship using archaeological evidence. The majority of my time will be spent modeling virtual furniture appropriate for the virtual interpretation of the 18th century Dexter House which was excavated in Independence National Historical Park. To better understand how the house may have been furnished Jason Kirk, Professor Muschio and I today visited the park to meet with Chief Curator, Karie Diethorn; Chief Historian and Park Archaeologist, Jed Levin and Deborah Miller, Park Archaeologist, to seek advice and guidance regarding appropriate furnishings.

NPS Archaeology Lab

Being new to the project, I didn’t have much to contribute to the meeting, other than take in all the information that was being communicated. The main discussion centered on where to find artifacts of the time period to use as models for Dexter house furnishings. I was impressed by the excitement and passion all expressed toward the project. The collaboration quickly came together as ideas flew back and forth, developing what would be in the house, and how it might look.  Field trips to historical sites and museums were planned to study suitable furnishings. The project still has a long way to go, but hopefully we can give people a historically accurate glimpse into the past using today’s technology and the expertise of Park archaeologists, curators and historians.

Joseph Tomasso

Freshman, Digital Media Program, STAR Scholar, Pennoni Honors College

Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Digital Media Technologies

I am a Digital Media student in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA. I am currently interning in a six month Research Co-op under Dr. Glen Muschio. He and I are engaged in multiple projects aimed at preserving Philadelphia’s rich cultural heritage through the use of current and next-gen digital media technologies. This is a unique opportunity for me, as the Co-Op allows me to combine my passion for digital art and animation with my interest in history.

3D models of Dexter House, front and side

On Monday, June 25th, I finalized preparation of a 3D digital model and animated fly through of the James Oronoco Dexter House.  The archaeological remains of the house were discovered during archaeological excavation of the grounds now occupied by the National Constitutional Center in Independence National Historical Park.  Dexter, a manumitted slave, occupied the house in the 1790’s. The house was used as the meeting place for discussions that led to the formation of the African Episcopal Church, one of the first two Black Churches founded in Philadelphia.

Interior hearth of Dexter House

The 3D digital model of the house is based on the archeological record, public tax and insurance records and historical photographs of similar houses. The animation showcases the exterior of the property as well as portions of the unfinished interior. This is the third iteration of the model developed by Drexel Digital Media students including Sean Brown, Chester Cunanan, Jake Nichols, Christian Adams, Rachel Young and Colin Wagner.

Interior stairs at Dexter House

 

Jason Kir, Digital Media junior Westphal College

Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

A day of archaeological geomatics

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle in flight.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle in flight.
Image © Callen Lenz

Well, firstly, I can’t believe it’s been a year since last time! Doesn’t time fly? What’s happened since then I hear you cry? I’m still the Geomatics Manager for Wessex Archaeology, responsible for GIS and Survey. The big news is my desk is now paper free and I’m trying to keep to a paperless work regime, essential seeing as most of my workspace is taken up with computer equipment, leaving no room for unnecessary clutter. In the photo you can see not only my laptop but the recently rebuilt GISBEAST machine with it’s quad cores, 64-bit OS and 12Gb RAM, tooled up with all the software I need to do what I do. (more…)