DIY Lego Slit-Scan 2001 Stargate

[Filmmaker IQ] has a bunch of great tutorials on the technical aspects of making movies, but this episode on copying the stargate Stanley Kubrick’s famous 2001: A Space Odyssey using Legos is a hacker’s delight.

The stargate in 2001 is that long, trippy bit where our protagonist Dave “I’m sorry Dave” Bowman gets pulled through space and time into some kind of alternate universe and is reborn as the star child. (Right, the plot got a little bit bizarre.) But the stargate sequence, along with the rest of the visual effects for the film, won them an Academy Award.

Other examples of slit scan animations you’ll recognize include the opening credits for Doctor Who and the warp-drive effect in Star Trek: TNG.

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Spliced Animations come to life on their pages

Remember those flipbooks you doodled into your history textbooks while you waited for the lunch bell? [Maric] takes the general principles of flipbooks and turns them on their head, giving our brain a whirl in the process. By splicing multiple frames into one image, he can bring animations to life onto a single page.

The technique is simple, but yields impressive results. By overlaying a pattern of vertical black bars onto his image, only a small fraction of the image is visible at any given point. The gaps in the pattern belong to a single frame from the animation. As [Maric] slides the pattern over the image, subsequent frames are revealed to our eyes, and our brain fills in the rest.

A closer look reveals more detail about the constraints imposed on these animations. In this case, the number of frames per animation loop is given by the widths in the transparency pattern. Specifically, it is the number of transparent slits that could fit, side-by-side, within an adjacent black rectangle.

The trick that makes this demonstration work so nicely is that the animated clips finish where they start, resulting in a clean, continuous illusion.

Don’t believe what you see? [Maric] has linked the pattern and images on his video so you can try them for yourself. Give them a go, and let us know what you think in the comments.

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Rigging Your 3D Models In The Real-World

Computer animation is a task both delicate and tedious, requiring the manipulation of a computer model into a series of poses over time saved as keyframes, further refined by adjusting how the computer interpolates between each frame. You need a rig (a kind of digital skeleton) to accurately control that model, and researcher [Alec Jacobson] and his team have developed a hands-on alternative to pushing pixels around.

3D Rig with Control Curves
Control curves (the blue circles) allow for easier character manipulation.

The skeletal systems of computer animated characters consists of kinematic chains—joints that sprout from a root node out to the smallest extremity. Manipulating those joints usually requires the addition of easy-to-select control curves, which simplify the way joints rotate down the chain. Control curves do some behind-the-curtain math that allows the animator to move a character by grabbing a natural end-node, such as a hand or a foot. Lifting a character’s foot to place it on chair requires manipulating one control curve: grab foot control, move foot. Without these curves, an animator’s work is usually tripled: she has to first rotate the joint where the leg meets the hip, sticking the leg straight out, then rotate the knee back down, then rotate the ankle. A nightmare.

[Alec] and his team’s unique alternative is a system of interchangeable, 3D-printed mechanical pieces used to drive an on-screen character. The effect is that of digital puppetry, but with an eye toward precision. Their device consists of a central controller, joints, splitters, extensions, and endcaps. Joints connected to the controller appear in the 3D environment in real-time as they are assembled, and differences between the real-world rig and the model’s proportions can be adjusted in the software or through plastic extension pieces.

The plastic joints spin in all 3 directions (X,Y,Z), and record measurements via embedded Hall sensors and permanent magnets. Check out the accompanying article here (PDF) for specifics on the articulation device, then hang around after the break for a demonstration video.

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Electronic Phenakistoscope!


Looking for a clever way to build a Phenakistoscope? Maybe you’re more familiar with its other names; Fantoscope, Phantasmascope, or perhaps its close cousin the Zoetrope?

If you’re still scratching your head, that’s okay — they have really weird names. What we’re referring to here is a type of optical illusion that mimics movement by showing a series of still images at an offset interval — this can be achieved by looking through slots, strobing a light (like in this case) or even by the use of mirrors.

This particular Phenakistoscope is a very simple but clever design that makes use of a recycled stepper motor from a printer, a CD as the animation disk, a strip of LED lighting, a few potentiometers and an Arduino to control the strobe. It works by synchronizing the strobe frequency with the motor rotation, resulting in the image in motion effect.

Stick around after the break for a full gallery of the build and a demonstration video.

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An Animated Elf


Halloween receives the bulk of the attention for installation-type hacks, but [Stephen’s] animated elf hack-in-progress provides the perfect example of bringing the Christmas spirit to life.

[Stephen] constructed both the background and the elf’s body from a scrap piece of plywood, drawing and painting everything by hand, and then secured the plywood with a simple 2×4 that serves as a stand. The bulk of the hack is rather simple, and reflects the longstanding technique of traditional cel animation: the non-moving portions are kept stationary and only the moving parts need to change. In this case, [Stephen’s] shortcut is to insert a tablet as the elf’s face.

The tablet is a BlackBerry PlayBook, which moves the eyes around and spouts off a few Santa-related quips while animating the mouth. [Stephen] encountered a problem with the PlayBook’s 5-minute screen timeout function, and had to design a custom application to prevent the tablet from entering sleep mode while it played through the animations. His future plans are to drill a hole through the plywood and expose the tablet’s light sensor to detect when someone walks by, then have the elf spring to life in response. You can see his progress so far in the video below.

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The Rabbit’s Hole: Creative Reuse and Stop Motion Animation


The folks down at The Rabbit Hole Hackerspace have been busy lately. They’ve created an amazing stop motion animation short titled “The Rabbit’s Hole”. The three-minute film documents the journey of a white rabbit through several strange lands, including the court of a “hormonally imbalanced queen”, the sewers, a PCB wasteland, and a banana jazz concert. The rest of the video is a behind the scenes view, showing the incredible amount of teamwork that went into the film’s creation.

From set building to final photography, the entire film was shot in one day.  The set was split into 8 pieces. Each piece represented a scene the rabbit would journey through in the final movie. Members of The Rabbit Hole were able to work in parallel, each designing their own section of the set. Once the photography was done, [Whisker] took over for the process of editing and sound design. Just like in Hollywood, post production took much longer than the actual shoot.

The amazing part of the video is that most of the characters and set pieces are created from The Rabbit Hole’s junkbox. Even the star of the show, a 3D printed Rabbit wasn’t immune. Many rabbits were printed for the stop motion animation process. As can be expected, there were a few failed prints. Those prints became Rabbit footed Lamps, Tables, and a rather macabre rabbit’s hand in a tray. Even the camera dolly was welded up from some scrap metal and old roller blade wheels.

We like the way the entire hackerspace was able to come together to create something greater than any one of them could have done alone. This sort of project should be a template for other hackerspaces to follow.

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Arduino particle light box generates animations from sound


Simple tools used well can produce fantastic results. The hardware which [Gilad] uses in this project is the definition of common. We’d bet you have most if not all of them on hand right now. But the end product is a light box which seems to dance and twirl with every sound in the room. You should go watch the demo video before reading the bill of materials so that the simplicity doesn’t spoil it for you.

A wooden craft box serves as the enclosure. Inside you’ll find an Arduino board, microphone, and an 8×8 RGB module. The front cover of the project box diffuses the light using a sheet of tracing paper on a frame of foam board. It’s the code that brings everything together. He wrote his own particle system library to generate interesting animations.

If you don’t have a project box on hand this might work with an extra-deep picture frame.
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