Capstone Final Documentation

SUCKERS

Final Writing Assignment

With a sharp jolt to the right for governments around the world seemingly put in opposition to the continual struggle for civil rights for marginalized groups across the globe, 2018 appears to be demarcating a turning point in humanity’s struggle to define itself and what exactly it is that we stand for. Simultaneously, philosopher Jean Baudrilliard’s predictions regarding the eventual nulling and potential disappearance of the distinction between “true reality” and simulation are now more relevant than ever as talks of “fake news,” the United States’ “reality show president,” and the breakneck development of Artificial Intelligence have all afixed  themselves to the daily news cycle. Growing out of this particular moment, SUCKERS–a location-based docu-fiction Virtual Reality series–attempts to highlight both the blurring line between “real” and “fake” as well as showcase how popular narrative is used to oppress marginalized groups. Through a mixture of semi-directed interviews, written short stories, and completely unscripted conversations, SUCKERS puts individuals traditionally denied the right to a voice in the place of horror’s most classic monster, the vampire, in order to highlight how even today marginalized groups are made to play the role of villain as a way of robbing them of their humanity. The experience muddles the distinction between the “real” and “fictional” world by injecting unaltered news and history, such as the ongoing Malawian vampire purge, alongside stories fitted to the world of SUCKERS with “real-world” equivalents, like Weibo’s announced ban of vampire content and the following response from “The Voice of Vampires.” Additionally, the form of the series complicates this distinction further through the interaction of requiring audience members to track down QR codes around the city of Shanghai that link them to individual episodes shot in the locations in which they found the posters, forcing the audience to question the “realness” of their own realities.

Demonstration / Proof-of-Concept

Veer Link

Slides

Une Pipe: Hyperbolic Electronic Orchestra Final

Like much of the work that I’ve produced over the last year, Une Pipe explored themes related to Baudrilliard’s conception of hyper-reality, as well as the well known Marshall McLuhan mantra of “the medium [being] the message.” However, while many other works that I’ve created have tackled this mostly in form, my Hyperbolic Electronic Orchestra piece also attempted to tackle these topics in content as well.
Structurally, the piece is relatively simple, with the contents on screen slowly “evolving” from pre-human origins, to video recordings of nature, until eventually the audience watches as the development of human civilization is complicated by the creation of various technological media. Each “section” addresses a step in Baudrillard’s theories on Simulation and Simulacra which state that as technology becomes increasingly advanced, eventually we will not only no longer be able to distinguish simulation from “base reality” but simulation will have an impact on our “real” world much as our “real” world once dictated the laws of simulation.
However, wanting to avoid positing that the reality we exist in is the original realm, I decided to begin the piece with computer generated images and simulations of the big bang and a DMT trip (in order to visualize connecting with a higher being or the catalyst of human consciousness). From there the piece delves into the realm of nature shots, all recorded using cameras to “capture” the “real” world, before the form of the footage begins to glitch out with the introduction of the television static and advertisements as a visual motif. Finally, once the computer screen begins to load up, advertisements and videos involving “deep fakes” (in which AI powered programs digitally face swap people’s faces onto other’s bodies) try to force users to confront the fact that we now live in a world in which “cat fishing,” “deep fakes,” and “fake news” (arguably all a product of what is traditionally considered the simulation) have impacted and altered our reality. Connecting this section to the one prior are clips of reality television shows that attempt to highlight how television and media in general has helped to blur this distinction between “true” and “false.”
The audio for the first two sections (Twin Peaks Theme) was chosen because of it’s origins as a theme song for an incredibly surreal show. I like to imagine what aliens would think of our world if this were the only media they were to encounter about our planet, as it is sometimes simply a drama about life in a small town, while other times becoming a super natural crime thriller. The second audio is a remix of the first song, meant to emphasize the way in which technological advancement has allowed us to “remix” our own realities.
I worked alone; however, I do believe I could have benefited from working with a partner. My original goal for the piece was to combine two patches that I’d created previously to mix an element of my own orchestration with random chance (allowing clips to be chosen from a bank of samples, though on my own queuing), but the merging of patches eventually fell to the wayside as I attempted to perfect my video piece’s artistic vision.
While my piece specifically addressed the concept of hyperreality in content, I was (happily) surprised by the number of pieces that incorporated glitching and other digital art techniques because it made me feel as if I was tapping into a particular vein of this artistic moment. And while my individual piece experienced some technical problems, I was actually quite happy with those issues as they helped me even further blur the line between what was “real” about performance versus what was spontaneous.
Here are the clips used as well as the final video:
https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/10FWQn88AOSMYJa_ScV3609WoqaVt6YPN?usp=sharing

[SUCKERS] Capstone Update

Due to the length of my blog post last week, think this update will be relatively short while also attempting to summarize the work that has been done for [ S U C K E R S ] up to this point.

While I had initially hoped that I would be able to begin working on my capstone last semester, and I found the classes that I completed last semester helpful in terms of preparation, I’m really starting to come to terms with the fact that the work I did last semester was exactly that: preparation. What I mean by that is, while most of the work that I created then will not make it into the final project in the forms that they took when they were created, I found the various processes that I went through in Interactive Documentaries, UX Design, and Programatic Design Systems–not to mention Intermediate Creative Writing–extremely helpful in various ways.

  • For interactive docs, though I may not use the documentary channels created for the final installation, I was able to not only research real life occurrences and media depictions of Vampires, working in the documentary form and participating in critiques honed my eye for a project that has now developed into a docu-fiction series. It also prepared me well for the actual process of shooting and editing.
  • Though the wireframes and interactive prototypes I created in UX Design aren’t necessarily applicable in that I won’t be creating an app as I originally intended, I learned valuable lessons about User Testing and was given the opportunity to think of the actual real-world interaction that users will have with my project.
  • Similarly, the generative posters I created in PDS may not make it into my final capstone project; however, as a design course, I found the general principles that we learned in class to be extremely helpful guidelines for creating my poster series, particularly when it comes to the lessons we had that encouraged us to reproduce particular artistic styles or works of art.

Production wise, I had to push back shooting for a number of unexpected reasons from my originally planned starting date; however, one of the main reasons that I chose to create an episodic series was to ensure that the experience could be created piece meal (i.e. if I only have half of the originally planned time I will be able to create half of the planned episodes at 100% quality rather than if I had planned for one “feature length film” and would now only be able to create one half quality experience). That said, the camera is finally here and with the capstone budget approved (meaning I can purchase props, visual assets, and necessary plugins), I am now only at the mercy of my actors’ schedules. This week I am meeting with all the main characters that have agreed to be in the experience to go over their scripts* with each of them and shoot them with both 360 and pancake cameras to create posters and other promotional materials.

Storywise, the three confirmed and one stretch story that I’ve finished scripting and would like to include in the final capstone are as follows:

  • a Vampires Anonymous meeting focused on a human being without the vampire condition that is addicted to drinking human blood nonetheless
    • will look at addiction, allyship, and support networks
  • the first date between a vampire lady and a human woman that has never dated a vampire before
    • will explore sexuality and intimacy. won’t attempt to be too emotional, will play more at the awkwardness of first dates and will keep a running joke of the vampire being decades older than the human.
  • a black vampire that more directly addresses issues of intersectionality and identity within the context of Shanghai
    • loosely follows in the footsteps of “shes gotta have it,” looking first at others to define the main character before examining and interviewing her directly
  • a 富二代 “vampire-hunter” that becomes infamous on the Chinese internet after using his parents’ money to support anti-vampire hate and purge groups around the world
    • will also explore the intricacies of native chinese vs. laowai “power dynamics” in Shanghai while also helping to ground the world of SUCKERS into the real world.

SUCKERS Update and User Testing

A lot has changed since my last update. First and foremost, the camera has arrived!  Meaning I can finally begin shooting. I plan on beginning with the “Vampires Anonymous” episode, which will require a fair amount of script improvisation while I polish the scripts for the other episodes.

Additionally, in order to complete my user testing, I designed 3 posters that will eventually be used to direct audiences to the episodes via QR codes. Two of the designs were based explicitly on Chinese propaganda posters, while the 3rd was based on the No Smoking/Spitting/Littering signs found in the Shanghai metro.

For this part of the user testing, each poster was specifically designed to convey varying levels of information (the VR headset one shows that it is a VR piece, gives the title and a brief description; while the one featuring Mate simply has the title; the last one doesn’t even include the title). For the testing, these posters have been placed around the building, when scanned users are prompted to answer three questions:

  • What attracted you to the poster?
  • What compelled you to scan the QR code?
  • If after scanning the QR code, you received a link to a 5 – 10 minute video, how likely are you to watch the video?

However, even if the unknowing user tester opts to not answer the questions, each poster links to a separate typeform that tracks views, meaning that I can track the number of scans each poster gets even without receiving more comprehensive feedback.

Additionally, I met with a number of friends during the last week to discuss particulars of the script. While not super comprehensive “user testing,” these conversations definitely helped inform the direction that individual episodes will take. For example, in regards to the episode that features a date between a female vampire and a female human being, a bi-sexual friend of mine provided extremely helpful feedback about both issues I was worried about and some that I had not yet considered. One issue I was concerned about was the portrayal of non-heteronormative characters by straight actors, to which she informed me that the issue is not as straight forward as black/yellow face, explaining that as long as steps are taken during the writing process, most issues can be avoided. Additionally, she gave me important insight into common issues faced by bi-sexual women dating in the modern world (parents confusion about one’s sexual identity, insecurity on behalf of lesbian women about bi-sexual women switching between men and women, etc.) Another conversation with an African-American friend was also extremely useful. Without even explaining that the series aims to tackle issues of identity, drawing parallels between the vampire and laowai experiences, my friend insisted on the importance of highlighting racism within the vampire community. It was an important point for him that vampires wouldn’t simply be a broad group in which everyone is seen the same, but that the portrayal of race relations within the vampire community closely mirrors the race dynamics of real life.

Temporal Dysphoria

I decided to use this break to my advantage and try to get the remote to command the Max program so that the interaction and the mechanism behind the device works relatively well so that I can begin the actual visual and composition phases. Because I want this to be a multimedia project, and to give it potential as an instrument beyond a single performance, I would like to give the user the ability to trigger video samples as simply as they would trigger audio samples.
Tech wise, for the final concert, I would like to use my old TV again as well as the Bluetooth “TV” remote that’s actually sending signals to the computer somewhere in the background. In the Max sketch, I would like for a certain syntax of button presses to exist, that when used with established directories of video and audio samples can be used to tell an audio-visual story.
Beyond the classification of Audio or Visual samples, samples can also fall into four further categories:
  1. Background
  2. Loop
  3. Transitions
  4. Flourishes
Background samples are ambient clips that can play without too much distraction.
  • Audio Example (AE): The sound from inside of a cab; street noise; a thunderstorm.
  • Video Example (VE): A tree blowing in the wind; slowed down cinemagraphs; found footage (news footage).
  • ~40 secs
Loop samples are more urgent and tend to command attention. They, like background music loop indefinitely, however because of their relatively short length, the looping becomes more noticeable.
  • AE: An instrumental intro; multiple rap verses (to be played in succession); a vocal hook.
  • VE: An anime fight scene; time-lapses; fast paced gifs.
    • Unlike with AE, you won’t be able to see what is playing in the background; however, it is still looping “behind” these loops. This will be gone over in more detail shortly.
  • 4~12 secs
Transition samples “operate on the same wave length” as loops, in that they exist in the same queue; however, rather than looping indefinitely; they act as “periods,” of sorts: once a transition is played, the queue is stopped until a new track is called after it. If there is something in the queue following a transition sample, it will be played immediately following it’s finish, but if there is nothing in the queue, nothing will play until the next sample is called for.
  • AE: The breakdown of a track; the bridge; when a rapper “goes off.”
  • VE: Credits; the cut away scene; static / glitching.
    • After a transition, if nothing is queued, the visuals return to whatever is looping on the background channel.
  • 5~30 secs
Flourish samples exist on a third “channel” of sorts above both the Background and Loop/Transition channels. When triggered, they will take priority over the currently playing samples. The do not operate on a queue, if triggered in rapid succession, rather than playing after the current sample is playing, they will continually begin to cut off the currently playing flourish and begin again.
  • AE: Rapper adlibs; the spoken word at the beginning of indie songs; something to tie you back to the background audio channel.
  • VE: A full scene / cut; a climatic moment.
Moving towards this end, my instrument for this week is an attempt at a prototype of this final idea; however, instead of adding the complicated syntax mentioned for the final instrument, this week’s instrument simply goes through a loop of “channels” that cannot be called out of order. Only two loops exist, a video and an audio loop, and they operate independently of each other.

p5 generative vaporwave cover

For the art assignment, I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do something in the Vaporwave style. And though, at first, I though that would mean glitching images to make it more retro, I eventually settled on instead doing this tron-esque vaporwave album cover. My main motivation for the pivot was because we’re going to cover pixel sorting and images later in the semester.

The randomization here is relatively basic: I have mountains being generated in a similar style to my “Martian” poster and the grid lines also change color everytime. I think the hardest part of the sketch was probably figuring out the log() function, since I’d never used it before and we hadn’t discussed it in class. Unfortunately, after I got the below screen captures, I didn’t save my most recent changes (switching from random to noise), but you can still find my sketch here!

SUCKERS IDOCS Update 11.4

While it might not immediately appear that we’ve been extremely productive with the project from the outside, due to being behind our current interview schedule, this weekend actually ended up being very good for both planning and conceptualization of the project. Throughout the week, I’ve been steadily combing my WeChat contacts to see if I could find any people that would be interested in getting interviewed and found pretty moderate success; however, last night I was pleased to run into a number of friends from Shanghai–that don’t go to NYU–who all displayed a definite interest in the project. Be it because they themselves are artists, because they’re interested in learning more about VR, or just because they’re good friends willing to help some students complete a really interesting project, every single person I approached and pitched the idea to seemed interested. Add that to the plethora of contacts that Sara was able to make through various social networks (WeChat groups, Facebook groups, Tinder, and Bumble), our current planned interview count has hit 15. Unfortunately though, we currently don’t have a ton of native Chinese interviewees and that is now our number one goal in booking more interviews.

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SUCKERS Generative Design

For the class midterm, I decided to create a somewhat minimal look at the inside of a Shanghai metro car that users can change the color scheme of based off of what line they select. There is both a static and a moving version of the sketch. Check out the static version here, the moving version here, and the Behance post here.


The idea behind this project was a somewhat simple one that I decided to gradually increase in complexity as the pieces fell into place. At first, I just wanted a generative design to represent Shanghai, something that people who live here would immediately recognize, but that wouldn’t be overly cliché, like using any of the easily recognizable skyscrapers or even necessarily the name. I also figured that using something minimal would allow me to utilize the design for a multitude of purposes: advertising, UI, etc.

After settling on the metro, I knew that I would have my work cut out for me. Even though the colors are programmatically decided, because there isn’t some sort of existing CSV document with all the HSL values of each of the lines (or at least that I know of), I had to manually input all the lines’ values into the sketch. In addition, I had to do the work of actually designing the subway! In order to do this, I figured out the size of an iPhone screen and created a grid system that I could use to assign different points to, be it the origin and destination of a line or the origin corner of a rectangle. From there, I created the design and included a variable for controlling the size or “zoom.”

After I had the code working, I decided to up the complexity by making a sketch that moves. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a JS library working to create gifs, but I’m still grateful to have the moving version for later iterations. Once that was completed, I set to work on visualizing the project in the real world. I first implemented it in my existing UX documents by using Line 8 for a poster, but also by using a slightly altered Line 1 render for the onboarding screens. Next, I used a business card PSD mockup to create the mini-promotional materials that I would hope I could use in a guerilla marketing campaign. I want to print 100s in each color and leave them near metro stations so that people think they’ve found free metro cards when in reality, they’re getting a QR code for my VR project. These final versions featured in the Behance page were also put through photoshop in order to give them a more retro, glitchy feel.

In terms of next steps, I’d like to add a few more iterations within the code: namely the ability to toggle having the silhouetted characters visible inside of the metro as well as the text with the title and blurb & the metro line as featured on the posters.

UX “S U C K E R S” Final Documentation

For my UX design final, I decided to continue on with the project that I’d been doing for the entirety of the course that I plan on eventually applying to my capstone. However, despite the fact that it is the same project, it’s changed so much since the course began that I wouldn’t be surprised if someone thought it was a different one entirely! For starters, in the beginning, the project was originally called The Art of Peace (in pieces), and while this may seem like an artificial change, it ultimately came down to the same thing that a lot of my changes were motivated by: the user research that I did simply didn’t indicate that people were all that interested in playing a video game (i.e. the “in pieces” bit of the title).

In fact, despite my initial impulses to completely gamify the experience, when asked on a scale of 0-10 the importance of having a game component to the success of the project, the score averaged out to ~5.58, showing a degree of apathy considering the alternatives (needing a game component to consider the project a success and not having a game component to consider the project a success). In addition, when asked on a scale of 0-10, how much of a gamer one would consider themselves, responses averaged even lower at only ~4.08.

But yet, those two responses drastically changed the direction of the project… Not only did it change the name from Art of Peace to S U C K E R S, it helped me reduce the number of personas I had to focus on to two in particular, it allowed me to simplify the number of interactions that I would have–which ultimately also impacted my user flow and “app map,” and it helped me focus my wireframes (both pen + paper and digital) and visual prototype to just interactions that had to do with playing video and the location-based components of the project.

Ultimately this is all just to say that I found the User Research phase of the design process quite helpful, potentially even the most helpful of the stages that I went through. And now, since I’m going to continue on with this project for my capstone, I’m pleased to have some more skills in my toolset. In fact, since giving my presentation, I’ve started another survey and started to circulate it through different social media channels. Though, I will say, that this time around I’m going to try harder to get respondents that I don’t necessarily know as I didn’t quite get as much feedback as I would’ve liked from the last survey. I also plan on definitely getting more one-on-one user testing now that I have a higher fidelity prototype, since the last time I did user interviews they weren’t quite the level of professionality that I would normally strive for: they weren’t recorded and the basic wireframing of the app made the responses much more abstract since the app’s direction was still in limbo considering that I still wasn’t that sure about if I was going to include the game aspects or not yet.

On another note, I was also quite pleased with the course because it enabled me to really get in the trenches when it came to defining the visual/artistic direction of the project. I’m extremely proud of how thoroughly I was able to design the aesthetic of the project, especially considering how early I am in to this capstone process! I loved searching through the depths of the internet to try to find the coolest retro UIs and pixelated icons, and even though I wasn’t able to include some cool finds and extra work that I did to make elements that worked with my overall artistic vision, again, I look forward to adding them as the year goes on!

Any how, here’s the link to the current Behance of the project and I hope you contribute to the new survey!