Posts Tagged ‘ Theory

Future of Conference Posters?

Last month I entered a poster into the UCL Graduate School Poster Competition and was lucky enough to win first prize. I find conference posters a bit of a strange animal. The poster session always seems to take place over lunchtime or the coffee break and more often than not the person who made the poster isn’t around to talk you through it. You are then usually left with a poster that has masses of text, that either has too much detail or not enough, and the whole thing can get quickly boring.

I wanted to challenge this a little bit, and as my poster subject was my work with AR, I was provided with the perfect opportunity. The poster was a pretty simple (but hopefully striking) design, a pair of old school binoculars looking at some rocks on Leskernick Hill, Bodmin Moor. The area within the binoculars shows some roundhouses  – giving the impression that looking through the bins reveals the ancient landscape.

Graduate School Poster

My winning poster

I tried to keep the text to a bare minimum so that the poster was dominated by the binoculars. However, this being an AR project, there was a bit of a twist. Using the Junaio API I augmented the poster with a video that overlaid the whole thing when viewed through a smartphone or tablet. The video showed the binoculars moving around the poster, revealing more of the roundhouses.

I am increasingly finding that the best way to explain AR is to give someone an example of it. It was a bit of a gamble, as in order to see the AR content the viewer needed to have a smartphone, have an app to scan the QR code on the poster and have good enough internet access to install and run the Junaio app. The main judge of the competition wasn’t at the prize-giving, so I didn’t get any feedback or a chance to ask if they had seen the AR content, but they awarded it first prize so I hope they did!

I am of course not the first person to use AR in a poster, but I am sure that it will become a lot more popular as it really is an excellent way of adding content to a poster, without being too intrusive. I guess at the moment it could be seen as being a little gimmicky, however this isn’t all that bad when trying to attract people to your poster and your research. One of the important things to remember though is that the poster needs to be able to stand on it’s own without the AR content, as it is quite an ask at the moment to get people to download an app on their phone just to learn more about your research.

The process of adding the content via the Junaio app also wasn’t quite as easy as I had hoped, mainly because the video itself had to be made into a 3D object and be of a very low quality and in a special .3g2 format to enable it to be delivered fast to a mobile device. You immediately lose your audience if they have to wait 2 minutes for your content to download and the .3g2 format was specifically designed to look ok on a smartphone screen and be small enough to download quickly. However, as you can see from the video above, the quality is pretty poor. I created the animation using 3D Studio Max, and then rendered it out to a number of tiffs. I then used ffmpeg to render the tiffs to a video and encoded it into the .3g2 format. The Junaio developer website has instructions for how to do all of this, but it is not really for the faint of heart.  Junaio provides a number of sample PHP scripts that can be run on your own server to deliver the content, and their trouble-shooting process is really excellent. So if you have your own webserver and are happy with tweaking some scripts then you can do some really quite nice stuff. I should note that they also have a simple upload interface for creating simple AR ‘channels’ which is a great way of quickly getting things up there – but doesn’t allow you to have total control or upload videos. But, if you want to pop a simple 3D model on your conference poster, then the Junaio Channel Creator is the app for you! The other thing to remember if you want to augment your own conference poster, is that the channels can take up to a week to be approved by Junaio, so you can’t leave it all to the last minute!

I suspect we will be seeing many more AR-enabled conference posters, particularly as AR booklets, magazines and museum guides are becoming more popular. One can envisage holographic type projections of people standing beside their posters talking the viewers through it, or interactive posters where the content changes depending on what and where you touch it. As I keep coming back to on this blog, it is the melding of the paper with the digital that I find so fascinating about AR, the ability to re-purpose old ideas (such as the conference poster) and breathe new life into the concept – but without losing the original purpose and feel of the thing itself. The design of the paper poster stands on its own (for better or worse!) and the AR content just gives the creator the chance to provide further information and give the viewer that extra dimension into their research.

Dead Men’s Eyes

‘And here,’ he said, stopping on a more or less level plot with a ring of large trees, ‘is Baxter’s Roman villa.’
‘Baxter?’ said Mr Fanshawe.
‘I forgot; you don’t know about him. He was the old chap I got those glasses from. I believe he made them. He was an old watchmaker down in the village, a great antiquary.’

In his short story, ‘Dead Men’s Eyes or A View from a Hill’, Montague Rhodes James tells us a story of a Mr. Fanshawe who discovers a pair of field glasses [bins] made by an eccentric antiquarian. When he looks through them, he is shown a world that no longer exists:

‘A good deal more to the left -it oughtn’t to be  difficult to find. Do you see a rather sudden knob of a  hill with a thick wood on top of it? It’s in a dead line with that single tree on the top of the big ridge.’
‘I do,’ said Fanshawe, ‘and I believe I could tell you without much difficulty what it’s called.’
‘Could you now?’ said the squire. ‘Say on.’
‘Why, Gallows Hill,’ was the answer.
‘How did you guess that?’
‘Well, if you don’t want it guessed, you shouldn’t  put up a dummy gibbet and a man hanging on it.’
‘What’s that?’ said the squire abruptly. ‘There’s nothing on that hill but wood.’

“There’s nothing on that hill but wood”. That is the trouble with being an archaeologist, most of the really interesting things that we want to see are either buried, covered with trees/buildings or have fallen down never to be seen again. This is especially apparent when dealing with sites in the landscape. When I am walking around a ‘historic landscape’, how do I see Fanshawe’s gory gibbet? I can read a book, look on a map or find an old photo or engraving of the area. But what if I wanted the medieval gibbet to seamlessly be part of the landscape as I walk around? I don’t want to make a special feature of it, I just want it to be there almost unnoticeable, so that it becomes part of my normal everyday world. Perhaps then it is possible to realise what it would have been like living with a gibbet in my backyard, sitting on top of the hill and being an integral part of the landscape in which I live.

This, then, is what this blog is about, bringing elements of the past into the present. Not by forcing them down your throat, but simply by bringing them back into existence, and letting them just be. We can then examine our experiences of them and maybe gain some insight into what the world may have been like for past peoples.

In order to experiment with this I am going to be using Augmented Reality (AR) – a way of blending the virtual world with the real world. If you don;t know what it is – take a look at this video. It uses a bunch of computer-trickery to create and display the virtual objects, but the main idea is that you are able to live in your normal world, but have virtual elements augmented into it. This might be arrows floating around pointing out the nearest StarBucks or it might be a full 3D reconstruction of a Roman villa. AR is mostly being used at the moment for advertising and smartphone games that involve shooting aliens invading your front room. However, the technology is advancing at a blistering rate and amazing things are on the horizon.

AR is a bit of a mind-bending concept, so over the next few weeks and months I will be posting thoughts, progress, videos and ideas – which should hopefully make it clearer to both you and me!

Witch Trial Gallows

The Witch-Trial Gallows on the Hill of Salem (Past)

The Witch-Trial Gallows on the Hill of Salem (Present)