MAiP Practice 1 EVALUATION - J.E.D. Gibbs

Group Interface 1

Group Interface 1 - cd cover

Our group consisted of myself, Maja Dzartovska, Kevin Thomas and Ben Hill.

I have known Ben for nearly two years, initially as one of my students on a graphics course, and now Ben and I both teach at Southampton City College. I first met Maja and Kevin on joining the MAiP course.

Our interface went through several distinct phases:

Version 1:
Ben and Maja produced a storyboard documenting a taxi journey to a sleazy hotel/boarding house, where the user chooses a door to pass through into the practice piece. The planning of this was quite advanced, to the point that I have part-written a suitably atmospheric soundtrack on guitar and was looking forward to hearing it with Kevin's bass.

The concept fitted well with my music videos practice piece, and it was disappointing to have to accept that to do the storyboard justice would require more time than we could allocate, given the competing requirements of the Research and individual Practice units. Ben and I would also need a more advanced 3D skill-set if we were to assist Maja with the fairly photo-realistic 3D world that we wished to create. We hope to return to the concept for the interface for Practice 2.

Version 2:
Maja and I championed a 'pirate' Web Page that would emerge from the smoking ruins of either the Southampton Institute or the MAiP Web sites. In its first conception, this would be somewhat flat, with four rival banner ads, one for each member of the group. These would compete for attention, visually or sonically. For example, mine featured a cartoon version of Nick Harper, with an enlarged head, who would destroy Maja's ad in an effort to gain more space. Maja's character would then float around the page, ghost-like, with a hotspot click-through to her practice piece. My little guitar player would bring in more and more speakers, getting louder and louder.

Ben shot a lot of video for his banner ad, Kevin would adapt his pixel-art piece. I hoped to have my little character running rampant through everyone else's ad, becoming isometric in Kevin's ad and a grotesque photo-realistic cartoon in Ben's.

The big problem was in coordinating each person's work so that the ads appeared to interact. We discussed this extensively and looked at concerns such as whether we could loop the ads in such a way that they were offset to disguise the join. What we really needed at this point was for one person to sit down and produce a detailed storyboard that everyone could work to. This was supposed to be me, and I did not get very far, hence:

Version 3:
Kevin drove all the way from Weymouth (again) to meet with Ben and myself. Kevin suggested that we might move towards a more unified look with four stylised Flash-based characters, which we decided would be united in waving placards, get into a fight and then advertise the individual pieces. My little Nick Harper character, transformed, might live on. These pieces are by Kevin Thomas:


Version 4:
On presenting the concept to Maja later that day, she felt this was too impersonal and insisted on sketching us - this being at her place of work, The Futon Shop on Southampton High Street. The resulting Photoshop piece which emerged was accepted by us all as much more distinctive. I liked her drawing of me too much to complain that I had wished to be represented by 'Nick Harper'.

I added the words across the placards. Maja had created the characters in layers, which meant that animation would be possible. The deadline was by now just hours away, which greatly limited the amount of animation we (Ben) could introduce. We intended that the various characters would surreptitiously advertise their own sites by occasionally reversing their placards, jostle a little and eventually a fight would ensue. Time permitted just a little armwaving. Partly to disguise this, Kevin created a swirling smoke cloud in Flash using a few lines of code impressively quickly. I was keen to have placards and body parts emerging from this in the tradition of Hanna Barbara and Chuck Jones, and Kevin made it happen as soon as I could slice the Photoshop file up and supply him with suitable parts:


Ben now strung the three scenes - unified/fight in smoke/aftermath - together in Flash and added links to our Practice 1 pieces. It was alarming to see just how many computers (4), monitors, scanners and associated electronics, together with a fridge and lights, could be run from just a single socket in a bed-sit.

We tried to record some sounds onto my laptop, which chose this point to act up very badly. The soundtrack therefore falls far short of our plans, and fails to add atmosphere to the narrative of a supposedly unified group which fragments to promote their own work.

I missed the rising excitement of the last hour or so as I went to Southampton City College to print out the cd cover I adapted from Maja's illustration. Typefaces used are Skia and Palatino, using a colour palette suggested by the Institute and MAiP Web sites and Kevin's pixel art practice.

Group Interface 1 - cd cover


Happily the real 'us' actually got on very well as a group, despite the mounting stress, and hardly eating from Tuesday evening/night through to the 4.15pm deadline on Wednesday. We went out for a meal as a group straight after hand-in.

Despite the stress no-one got out of line, and I would be pleased to work with all members of my group in the future. No one leader came to dominate the group, all decisions were consensual without even needing to go to a vote. If anything we were perhaps all too nice to be properly effectual. (I wonder what they have written about me...)

The final piece was a technical disappointment and indeed embarrassment to all of us, and we are all determined to do much better on the second group Interface. What merit it had lay mostly in Maja's illustration skills, and Kevin's miraculous smoke. We had put most of our efforts in to our individual practice pieces and in preparing the research seminar and dossier. It was always easier to continue work clearly needed on our own pieces than to work towards a less clear target, the group project.


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