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Other Multimedia Projects

  1. Create a very simple, low-budget presentation of a set of instructions of your choice – for example, the best way to brush your teeth, or how to give basic first-aid. Assume that this presentation may have to be installed on a very old computer in some cases. The instructions are to be text-based, with links via clear and appropriate icons to a pure graphic exposition of the same instructions, for people who cannot read written instructions in your language easily.

    This apparently simple project is not easy to do well. The challenge is to communicate absolutely clearly, in either text or pictures, but not in both at the same time. The design of the presentation should also promote clarity, both in the general layout and ordering and in the design and placing of the icons for the links. Think about the presentation of material one screen at a time. If you do not have graphic design or illustration skills, you could usefully collaborate with someone who does for this project, as the purely graphic exposition of instructional material presents a substantial challenge in itself. However, if this isn’t possible, you could use photographs or existing material (providing you observe copyright restrictions).

    Remember that the brief specifies that this production must be capable of running on a very old and basic system – don’t deny information to people who do not have access to the latest and most powerful technology.

  2. Traditionally, museums and galleries prevent visitors from approaching valuable objects or works of art too closely. Many items are protected by glass cases or barriers, and very delicate objects may be displayed under low lighting conditions. It is almost never possible to see the objects displayed in any context or arrangement other than the one chosen by the exhibition organizers.

    Design a simple multimedia application which exhibits a number of artefacts of your choice, and which allows the user to view and examine the items as they might wish.

    This brief may seem straightforward – there is no particular difficulty in setting up a virtual exhibition. The challenge lies in going beyond the confines of the exhibition paradigm. Imagine what visitors might like to do with paintings, if they were allowed to take them off the wall and look at the back, examine them very closely, or from a distance, perhaps judge the effect of looking at them upside down. What about an exhibition of early Renaissance paintings, or aboriginal cave paintings, which are known to cover earlier paintings lying beneath? Different artefacts raise different possibilities. What might you want to do in an exhibition of ancient Egyption artefacts, or when viewing a display of stained glass window panels? It is your task to enable the virtual museum visitor to control the way in which they view and interact with the virtual objects to the greatest extent possible. Note that the emphasis here is strictly on the visual – the intention is not so much to inform as to provide a wide, user-defined range of visual interaction with the objects on display.

    You will need to design an interface which allows satisfying displays of the objects while providing a simple and effective way of interacting with those displays in order to change them in a number of different ways. As direct interaction with the artefacts on display is the primary focus of this project, the business of having to interact with the computer as an intermediary will be intrusive, and your interface should minimize this disturbance as far as possible.

    More ambitious solutions to this project will require considerable expertise and a wide range of software. So be aware of your own limitations and work within them.

    Clearly, if you have the necessary software and the skill to use it, one fruitful approach to this project could be based on 3-D representations, but this is by no means the only option.

  3. An old harbour town has decided to mount an exciting multimedia installation as a tourist attraction, to be sited in a boat moored by the waterfront. Inside the boat, visitors are to be given access to a very large amount of information and material in all media on the subject of "harbours through the ages". Devise an effective and realistic implementation of this installation, with an interface suitable for constant use by the general public, and some measure of control which will prevent the visitor from being overwhelmed by excess material or getting disoriented.

    The first problem here is obtaining the material. A possible approach is to hook up the boat to the Internet, but a conventional Web browser is too general a tool. You might write a dedicated Web client that automatically queried the major search engines at intervals and then provided a set of links for users to follow (but how would you prevent them getting lost in hyperspace, or stepping outside the material on harbours?). Alternatively, you could download the material, and convert it to some standalone form of multimedia production. How would you store, organize and retrieve the material – and make sure it stays up to date – in this case? As a third alternative, consider how you would obtain suitable material from conventional sources, and digitize it (most of it will be pre-digital). Make some estimates of the costs of this approach, and consider the problems of copyright and clearances.

    The second challenge lies in designing a suitable interface for use by people of all ages and abilities. This is a classic design problem, without an emphasis on special needs. For this particular project it would be a bonus if the interface could relate to the subject of the installation (harbours) in some way.

  4. Produce an interesting and enticing presentation of life on your campus which uses only recorded and remixed sound and still images (no video), to play as a looped show on a simple fixed installation without interactivity, in a foyer or waiting room where potential students are waiting to be interviewed.

    This is an exercise in production and communication skills using relatively simple means. The result will essentially be a looped slide show. To compensate for this simplicity and to avoid possible boredom on the part of the viewers, try to make your production as imaginative and interesting as possible. Avoid the obvious: consider using devices such as humorous or ironic juxtapositions of pictures and/or sound, and consider how to achieve emphatic effects. Think about the pace and flow of the production – try to create variety and dynamic relationships between elements of your material. Make the most of the media you are working with – still images could come from many different types of sources and may be treated or combined digitally. Sound alone can be extremely powerful, so make the most of its potential.

  5. Thinking about how hypertext and hypermedia work, design a layout for an on-screen presentation of a substantial and heavily annotated manuscript such as the Koran, the Buddhist Sutras, the Bible, the Vedas, the complete works of Shakespeare, or any other substantial body of writing that requires commentary.

    Footnotes and endnotes, as we know them, are a device entirely dictated by the physical form of books and the process of printing. Digital media free us from those forms, but what are we to do instead? Is putting a hypertext anchor linked to a note on a separate page wherever you would place a footnote marker any more convenient than putting numbered notes at the end of the text? The aim of this brief is to utilize the dynamic nature of screen layout to devise a mechanism for associating annotations with a text – a mechanism that is convenient, placing the annotation where it is needed, but unobtrusive. It is a good discipline to try and work within the limits of Web technology (you will probably need to write some scripts), and this may allow you to produce a prototype, but you should also consider whether you could do better by programming your own interface or using Flash. You could also think about ways of automatically generating texts in your layout from XML markup or a database.

    If you have the time and resources, you should also consider how you would change your presentation so that the data could be accessed on mobile devices, with their relatively small screens and no possibility for having more than one window open at a time.

  6. Create an instructional road safety installation specifically for teaching blind or severely visually impaired children how to interpret sounds at the roadside. This should incorporate some very simple interaction with an appropriate interface for these users – to allow, for example, for repetition of elements, starting and stopping the instructions, and so on.

    This is not simply an exercise in applying the WAI Content Accessibility Guidelines, although you will have to conform to the relevant guidelines. Here, sound is a vital part of the system, but it must be interpreted. What is required is not a guide, or a collection of information, but a complete learning environment. This offers an opportunity for you to research and think about educational uses of multimedia, as well as designing both for children and for special needs. The interface does not just duplicate the familiar functions of a Web browser, but has to provide special controls suited to the teaching purpose of the installation.

    You should investigate how blind people use assistive technology to interact with their computers, as this will strongly influence the form of interface you design.

  7. Import a short (say five minutes or so) but already edited piece of video or an animation into a video editing application. Study it carefully and choose 20 or 30 single frames which you feel will best convey the narrative or message of the whole clip on their own. Produce these as (a) a storyboard, and/or (b) a time-based animatic.

    This is presented as an exercise in specific time-based media, but the ability to create storyboards and animatics is valuable when creating multimedia presentations. A storyboard is a sequence of still images that tells a story, like a comic strip. An animatic is a sort of sketch of a movie composed entirely of still images within a time-based environment; each image is held for the duration of the scene it represents in the final, full-motion, movie. Each still image should capture the essence of a scene. The animatic will show the rhythm of the edits that are proposed (or, in this case, have already been made) and the flow of the whole movie. The difference between a storyboard and an animatic is that a storyboard is static – something you might pin to the wall if it were created on physical media – whereas an animatic is time-based and plays for the full length of the finished piece.

    This is an exercise in reverse storyboarding. Its purpose is to make you think hard about how time-based visual media are constructed and developed, and to enable you to identify and subsequently plan structures and narrative development for work of your own. The challenge lies in identifying a few key frames out of some 9000 candidates. You should test out your result on someone who has not seen the original piece you started from – your success will be measured by how accurately they are able to understand the story or development of the piece from your storyboard or animatic.

  8. Devise a multimedia application to assist in the identification of birds in a specific geographical area. This should use still images, sound and text – and Flash movies or video if possible (but if it's not possible, do without moving images). It should include an interface that allows the user to obtain, for example, a view of typical tail twitching behaviour, or a sample of warbling song, as well as allowing them to fill in a form with details of the bird to be identified and obtain a standard set of information about its likely species.

    The aim of this project is to make the end product serve a precise requirement in the best possible way. The requirement is for an aid to the identification of birds – not a catalogue of birds or other attractive presentation. Birds are usually identified by information such as size, colouring and markings, voice, habitat, behaviour, and so on. You need to decide (or research) which features will aid identification, and then assist the user in both recognizing these features and matching them to the birds of your chosen area. Try to think through the ideal solution to this brief from the ground up – you may learn by looking at similar multimedia applications which already exist, but avoid copying them.

  9. An artist wishes to convert a many-layered screen print into a multimedia gallery presentation. The original printed image consists of 24 layers, which will be scanned separately. Each layer contains one coloured abstract shape or mark; some are opaque and some are semi-transparent. In the presentation – on a computer screen installed in an art gallery – these shapes and marks are to move around in an apparently random manner, independently of one another, providing an almost infinite possible number of permutations of the image. The ultimate purpose of this display is to enable the viewer to halt the movement at any time, and request a printed version of the particular permutation of the image which is displayed at that particular moment.

    This is another brief which appears deceptively simple: several of the technologies described in the book, including Flash and JavaScript, will enable you to animate layers. However, you must ensure that the technology you choose does justice to the material. Does it handle transparency correctly, for example? There is also an interesting problem in deciding what constitutes random motion of the layers. How will you achieve this? And if the user’s reactions are a little too slow, such that they stop the movement beyond the state which they wished to freeze, how will you ensure that they can retrieve the exact image they actually wanted?

    Another challenge in this project is concealed in the innocuous final requirement that the user be able to request a printed version of the current display. This is a fine art project, so screen resolution prints will not be acceptable. Accurate colour is important, both on-screen and when printed. How will you ensure that the user can print a high resolution image that is identical to what is displayed on the screen at the instant the print is requested?

  10. Take a sequence of screenshots to illustrate how some short operation is performed in a computer application which you know well. Use these screenshots and a minimum of explanatory text to create a PowerPoint presentation (or the equivalent) showing novice users of that application how to perform this particular operation.

    This is an exercise in creating a coherent set of instructions – primarily by visual means – using PowerPoint or some other presentation software. The sort of operation we are thinking of here would be something like resizing an image in Photoshop or setting tab stops in MS Word – anything that requires you to bring up a dialogue or use a floating palette to make settings. You will need to decide at which points in the operation you should take screenshots. (There are several utilities available for taking screenshots on both Mac and Windows platforms if the facilities built in to the system are not adequate for you.) You may need to crop or blow up your screenshots to bring out important features, and it may be necessary to apply sharpening and other filters to make sure that text in dialogues is readable. Think about annotating the screenshots – highlighting relevant controls by drawing a ring round them and so on – but make sure that users can tell the difference between your annotations and the image taken from the screen. Finally, make sure that the images are arranged in a clearly understandable sequence.

  11. A maker of short animated films wishes to give the audience a new level of interaction with her work. A ten-minute film has been made frame by frame with traditional animation techniques, and captured to computer disk, complete with sound track. The film-maker would like the audience to understand more about how the film was made, and to be able to view individual frames or selected sequences at will. More challengingly, she would like any viewer to be able to re-edit the film, and play back their own edited version. This version would persist until either the computer was instructed to return to playing the original version, or another re-edit took place. Devise an implementation of this brief which would be suitable for installation in a public space, with the display of the film versions maintained on a monitor or video projector separate from the computer interface.

    It’s hard to see how this can be implemented without some custom programming. You might consider using one of the consumer-oriented desktop video editors, such as Apple’s iMovie, but before doing so you should think very carefully about whether an untrained audience could make use of it without getting into difficulties. If you prefer a custom solution, you will need to devise a minimal interface that lets the user perform enough re-editing to obtain some feeling of control, but is simple enough to be mastered without instruction. (Non-programmers can usefully try to design such an interface without implementing it.) Note that the intention is only to allow the viewers to alter the sequence of frames, not to interfere with the content of frames in any way.

    The technically minded should also consider the problem of how to maintain the display of one version of the movie while somebody is creating a new edit.

  12. Specify a design for a portable tourist’s companion, and – if you feel you have the skills and necessary facilities – implement such parts of it as you can. This hand-held digital device should tell you where you are in the world (or galaxy), ask you what you would like to know, show you appropriate multimedia material, give you directions on how to get where you want to be from where you are now, make reservations for travel, accommodation, etc. on your behalf, and connect to Web sites for further information where appropriate. It will update itself to remove redundancy, and hold a memory of your personal use for user-sensitive assistance.

    "Location-aware" applications for mobile devices are becoming increasingly common, so you will be able to find plenty of starting points for this project by looking at existing mobile applications. However, providing a complete guide that fully satisfies this brief is an ambitious project, which may not be achievable yet. You will probably end up using a combination of a client that runs on the device and a server that can access a large database, so you will need to think about communication between the two. You should also think about what is required beyond the technology: who is going to provide the information? (If you want to rely on "user-generated content", how will you ensure its quality?) How is it going to be paid for?

    You may find it possible to implement some of the sub-tasks; if so, try to combine as many as possible into a single system that approximates the intended implementation. Make an honest assessment of how nearly your prototype approaches a genuine realization of the brief. (Try to see this from an ordinary consumer’s point of view.)