It’s all about the Layers…and Manovich

Wheh!  What a week in Assembling digital Media.  My mind is reeling with the wondrous things I’ve learned.  And yes, it’s time again for another chapter of The Language of New Media, by our old pal, Lev Manovich.Lev                                                                            Yeah, that’s the fella

Chapter three, The Operations, is a densely packed tale of how new media uses software to extend old media’s technique of montage to astounding new heights.  I’ll explore some aspects found in the chapter and how they relate to our class workshop.

First let’s discuss the Montage:

1. (Art Terms) the art or process of composing pictures by the superimposition or juxtaposition of miscellaneous elements, such as other pictures or photographs
2. (Art Terms) such a composition
3. (Film) a method of film editing involving the juxtaposition or partial superimposition of several shots to form a single image
4. (Film) a rapidly cut film sequence of this kind.
In art classes you may have made collages by taking individual photos from a magazine and pasting them onto a poster board.  There may have been a theme to the images, a color scheme, or another shape created collagefrom the individual parts.  You made art by combining individual components into a new whole.  This is a form of Montage.  Most people will view montage as dealing with moving images on a screen and a collage as art in a physical medium.

The montage in photography can be created by layering individual pictures to create a whole scene.2080159362_4720da222c_z

Most often movie montages look something like this

In some movie montages layering effects are used to show things couldn’t possibly exist in the same time and space. An example is people moving in and out of a room in fast motion-crossing each other’s path, but never touching.  The film has been layered with each person ‘s separate sequence combined into the final scene. We grasp the idea that time is being sped up and converged into one cinematic moment.

Unlike old media, that has a finished shape or set sequence (film), new media is ever evolving and changing. After copying the original object into a program, a wide selection of editing tools are available. Put differently; in computer culture, authentic creation has been replaced by selections from a menu. In addition to deliberate changes, such variables as screen resolution, server speed, operating system, web browser, and preset commands in your software can influence the final product appearing on your screen.

pulldownSelection from options and filtering are some of what we were doing with software in the computer lab.  A large, yet limited, variety of options are  usually found in most editing software.  Unlike artist who must pull from original thoughts and raw materials to make infinitely variable creations, New media is creating by merging and altering existing data.

Thinking back to chapter one and the unique aspects of new media, we remember the word modularity. Each object is made up of binary code. Because objects are broken down to digital information they are highly variable. The selection of pre-constructed objects from a menu of options makes it quite easy to assemble  the elements into one unified field and then manipulate them independently or as a whole.  A Layering capability is used to create depth.

If the general trajectory of computer culture is from 2-Djurrasic images towards 3-D computer graphics representations, digital compositing represents an intermediary historical step between the two.

Manovich feels that cinema is the grandfather of modern media and gives many examples of the use of montage as a standard in film.  Viewers, through editing, image layering and Compiz-ShiftSwitchertime compression, can experience the movie from the characters point of view.  The technique puts the audience into the virtual space on the screen. In new media, compositing is the virtual montage. We readily accept separate images within the screen as being individual unto themselves yet somehow connected; Yes, a virtual collage!

 Back to the computer lab…

 In class we are learning the basics of these ideas. To grasp the  concepts of digital layering, we learned to make an animated GIF (Graphics Interchange Format)This format is a perfect example of combining old cinema technology with basic computer compositing capabilities.

Stick Man 101stick man

we started out with a brief tutorial on learning some of the menus (selections) in Photoshop.  Learning them all could take a very long time, but many are intuitively learned as you practice.  The next step was learning the skill of layering.

Photoshop_CS5_screenshotLayering in this format allows you to do some pretty cool stuff.  This is where you can make separate objects appear to live within the same virtual space or create the appearance of movement using still images. Like frames of old celluloid film, each still shot can be shown in rapid succession to give the idea of movement. Perhaps you remember taking a tablet and drawing a character slightly different on each page?  when you flipped the pages, the cartoon appeared to move.  Well GIFS are the same idea.

On the first layer we drew our stick figures head, body, legs, and one arm. Then we set down another layer (think clear sheet ) and drew that same arm in a slightly higher position. Another layer is added and the arm is again drawn slightly higher; another layer, another arm position.

Once all the layers are in place, you see a five or six armed man. hmmmm.  five armHow does this work?  Ah!  We have sandwiched  multiple layers together and can see through all of them. Now we’re going to select which layers we see in every frame we’ll create. Remember, modern media is all about selections from menus. We can isolate which frames we see at one time and create a picture of it.

In the first frame we make visible only the first and second layer.  Viola! The stick man has two arms.  In the next frame we select the first and third layer as visible and the arm is now in the slightly raised position.  stickman flipbookThe next frame will show the first and fourth layer only, and so on.  String the pictures together and show them in rapid sequence.  Yep, it’s the computer flipping your paper tablet to create movement.  Down below you see the results.

Stickmanwavingokay…NOT my creation, but you get the idea…

Taking these techniques as a foundation, computer compositing can also create seamless, virtual reality experiences. In other words, to get from point A to point B, you will  move through the scene just as you would in the real world. There is one continuous scene with no cuts, jumps, fades or dissolves.  This technique is paramount in today’s virtual gaming. These seamless shots are created as the gamer chooses where to explore within the game. That means the technology can create on demand, seamless scenes based on gamer’s selection of pre-designed choices. Manovich describes it as a “construction of a seamless 3-D virtual space from different elements.”  Now reality and computer generated images live in the virtual space with complete compatibility, unable to be seen as individual pieces.

Where old media relied on montage, new media substitutes the aesthetics of continuity. A film cut is replaced by a digital morph or digital composite. Similarly, the instant changes in time and space characteristic of modern narrative, both in literature and cinema are replaced by the continuous non-interrupted first-person narratives of game and virtual reality.

As a result, we now see movies copying the gaming techniques of these long shots with no interruptions or editing. Montages may, at some point, be seen as old-fashioned the movie clip in the link below.


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