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Bringing characters to life with CGI

When you ask somebody their favourite character from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, they will most likely say either Groot the tree or Rocket the raccoon. However, it’s easy to overlook the complex process required when bringing these characters to life on the big screen.

http://youtu.be/aQT3Spc3-dE

Laurie Brugger works as a rigger for a visual effects company called Framestore. This is a company who have won numerous awards for their work on Gravity, Harry Potter, The Dark Knight and The Golden Compass, just to name a few. Brugger’s role is to provide the physiological make-up of a character by adding joints and muscles digitally, enabling the animators to control them.

However, there is more to this process than simply sitting behind a screen.

The amount of work required depends on the scale of the project. During her talk at the recent TEDxEastEnd event, Brugger discussed just how much work went into creating both Groot and Rocket even before the animation itself could begin.

For both of these characters, it was important to understand their scientific backgrounds. In the case of Groot, the walking, talking tree that relies on his ability to grow roots very quickly, the Framestore team turned to horticultural science to understand the mechanisms needed when recreating this digitally.

In the case of Rocket, the designers analysed real-life raccoons to understand their markings, movements and mannerisms. The team also relied upon veterinary science for information on bone size and structure, which gave them an understanding of the raccoon’s skeletal make-up.

In the meantime, concept painters provided a number of visual ideas for how the characters could look. This inspires the digital designers to transform them into free-moving, animated portrayals.

CGI animation is an integral part of the creative industries. It is a process that requires a lot of work by a number of people to appear effortless on screen. As with many other creative processes, thorough research is vital to understanding the overall objective of the work. But all this hard work pays off by making the impossible a reality on screen.

If we in the advertising industry are to compete for people’s attention with these visual feasts, wouldn’t it be a good idea to take the same amount of care over our work as the team at Framestore do?

Click here to see how our augmented reality app turned tired old print into an exciting experience.

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Painting a Portrait of London

How do you define a city? This is the question Mark Currie asked himself when he first set out to produce a film that offers a true perspective of London.

http://youtu.be/NCRXGSmSgN8

From the outset, it became clear to Mark and his team at Chocolate Films that each Londoner had their own personal perspective of what London represented to them individually. Mark consulted a statistician who told him that a survey of 1,000 people is a good sample size to give an accurate picture of London.

With this in mind, Mark and his team went out and started filming the perspectives and back stories of 1000 completely random people within London.

Each film is kept short at roughly three minutes long, with Mark anticipating that the overall length of all 1000 Londoners will be roughly the same as four seasons of Breaking Bad.

The project is only on its 64th Londoner, so there is still a long way to go. However, due to the hype that the documentary is beginning to get, a number of amateur filmmakers and other interested people are getting involved. Workshops have now been set up on a regular basis to enable people to learn the filmmaking skills needed to get across their own perspective.

The team at Chocolate Films follows three simple criteria when selecting their subjects:

1)    You have to be a Londoner – if you don’t claim to be a Londoner, then you aren’t one

2)    Everybody is as important as each other – there is no inequality in terms of title or celebrity status

3)    Everybody is interesting – nobody has a boring backstory

One key feature of this project is the ability of video to engage and inspire people’s imaginations around subjects that had not previously interested them. Video has become a major format in artistic projects and marketing strategies due to its ability to condense complex messages into an interesting and informative experience. It also stimulates multiple senses with minimal effort from the viewer.

Video will only get bigger as the emergence of 4G connectivity and more advanced devices makes it more accessible.

Once the documentary has been completed, it will offer a unique insight into London and the different lives of people there. Although it’s going to be a very long process, it is definitely one worth keeping an eye out for.

Click here to see how bmore used video to tell a human story behind a useful but somewhat humdrum insurance product.

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Derby the Dog and his 3D printed legs

Never put a good dog down.

When Derby the dog was born in August 2013 with deformities in both of his front legs, he was almost sent to be euthanised. However, he has now been given a new lease of life thanks to the wonderful process known as 3D printing.

Instead of being put down, Derby was taken to a non-profit dog shelter called Peace and Paws Dog Rescue. From here, Tara Anderson, an employee at a 3D printing company in New Hampshire, fostered Derby and set about offering him a second chance in life using her 3D background.

To begin with, Derby was fitted with a cart that offered a little extra mobility but not enough to allow him to play and run freely with other dogs.

With the help of her colleagues at 3D systems, Tara set about designing and testing prosthetic legs for Derby to use. During the summer of 2014 though, another couple in Pennsylvania adopted Derby. This didn’t stop Tara seeing him though, and she would regularly visit, testing out different designs for Derby’s new legs.

After many trial-and-error attempts, the 3D printed prosthetics that Derby now uses are called ‘elbow cups’. These were designed in such a way that they were comfortable for Derby to wear, whilst also being durable enough to withstand his weight.

Derby can now run up to 3 miles a day wearing these new prosthetics and, in the video below, you can see how visibly happy he is when he is out and able to run around in them.

Tara is now hoping that this technology can be used to help other dogs with similar deformities.

http://youtu.be/uRmoowIN8aY

 

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Beautifully detailed blood clots provide benchmarks for scientific understanding

This award-winning photo portrays the fantastic landscape within a blood clot, the major trigger behind heart attacks and strokes.

Using a scanning electron microscope, a team at the University of Leeds were able to produce the photo exposing the unusual structures developed during blood clotting.

The grey background is used to reveal the clot itself, whereas the coloured blobs emphasise the significant structural details. These include: red representing red blood cells, turquoise representing platelets, and purple, blue, green and yellow representing different types of white blood cell.

Despite providing a beautiful representation, the photo also proves very useful in supporting scientists’ understanding of the way in which blood clots form. This could potentially lead to novel drug production in the future.

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Insulin might not be so great after all…

...well, for fish anyway. Insulin is widely known as the hormone used to treat diabetic sufferers. It is responsible for countering the effects of another hormone, called glucagon, to restore blood sugar levels within a number of animal species.

Until recently, insulin’s affiliation with murder was only seen through fiction. However, a team in Salt Lake City has now proved that this might not be as fictional as first thought.

Certain types of mollusc, known as cone snails, have been found to use insulin as one of their many weapons to capture fish. The snails that use this technique – Conus geographus and Conus tulipa ­– release a cocktail of toxins, including insulin, into the water to confuse and weaken the fish. This then causes the fish to go into hypoglycaemic shock and allow the snail to ingest the fish whole.

The insulin used by the snails differs in structure to the insulin inside our bodies. In fact, it is the smallest insulin molecule ever found by scientists before. However, this small size is thought to explain why it it’s so fast and effective in deactivating the fish’s movement.

The team behind the work were very shocked by the findings. Safavi-Hemami, the leading researcher, said, "It was very surprising to us since it had never been shown before and people have worked on animal venoms for decades."

They now plan on investigating the genetic make up of the insulin produced by the snails. This would determine whether they developed the weaponised insulin from scratch or evolved it from their own insulin.

Safavi-Hemami stated, "It's believed that vertebrate insulins have evolved from ancestral invertebrate genes. Whether this is also true for the insulin we found cannot be answered yet."

To see the snail in action, click here.

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bmore terminology guide

What are we talking about? HTML5, 4K, MOV, MP4, iOS, Search, SEO, SME, EPS, RGB, CMYK, HIGH RES - It’s easy to get confused with all the terminology we use as a full service agency. Click here to download our Terminology guide, to help you understand all of the TLA’s (Three letter Acronyms) we use day to day.

bmore terminology guide

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Tired hands when writing? Let a robot do it for you

We have all been there.

Whether it’s during an exam, writing a letter or simply doodling whilst you should have been paying attention, everybody’s hand cramps up from writing at some point or another.

There’s also the chore of having to find a stamp, locate the nearest post box and remind your fingers of those handwriting skills you learnt all those years ago.

Fortunately, a team in America have now combatted these issues and have developed robots that are able to mimic a person’s handwriting. Using an app, a message can be sent in and for a fee of £131, you can have your own personal handwriting copied.

The robots are, in effect, a high-tech update of the autopen machines used to recreate multiple signatures on documents. Now using updated software, the robots are able to write as quickly as humans, whilst mimicking their hand movements, but without the worry of getting tired or making mistakes.

Sonny Caberwal, founder of a New York City-based handwriting service, said, "We're not trying to fool people into believing that someone wrote the note for them. We're trying to give people a tool to express themselves in the way they want."

The robots aren’t necessarily confined to only personal letters either. Research suggests that they could also prove beneficial in the marketing world as well, following on from studies showing that people were much more likely to open handwritten letters.

To see the robot in action, click here.

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Giant beach art created by robots

A robotic beach artist has created a method for developing giant drawings in the sand. Researchers from both Disney Research Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have even developed the robot in such a way that it can recreate photos sent to it from a phone or tablet.

Using a rake at its rear end, the robot calculates a route across the sand before etching its pattern into it. This effectively allows the beach (as long as it is sandy) to act as a giant digitally controlled canvas.

The team are now hoping to add a number of tools to the robot to allow it to create different textures in the sand and erase previous markings.

The developer behind the idea, David Beardsley, said, “We would like to make huge sand art that amazes people, similar to the Nazca Lines in Peru.”

He and his team are certainly heading in the right direction to doing that.

To see the robot in action, click here.

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Chew on this: Chocolate found to enhance memory function

Don’t get too excited just yet.

Whilst research has shown that chocolate can boost memory and blood flow, the quantity of chocolate needed to deliver an effect is vast. You might have an improved memory but it will come at the cost of a much larger waistline.

The research is on going and mainly focuses on a component within the chocolate itself: a chemical known as a flavanol. These are naturally occurring anti-oxidants commonly found in cocoa beans, blueberries, green tea and red wine. In recent years there has been a large amount of controversy surrounding the true functions of flavanols, with many believing that the media has exaggerated them.

Nonetheless, this study aimed at unearthing the truth.

Using a team of thirty-seven volunteers aged between 50 and 69, nineteen of these were given a high flavanol content drink per day, whilst the the other eighteen received a similar drink containing a much lower quantity of flavanols. The study ran for three months, with assessment carried out at both the start and the finish.

Assessment was taken through a memory test and a functional MRI brain scan. The results from these found that patients of the higher flavanol group had a 20% faster blood flow to a section of the hippocampi known as the dentate gyrus. Intriguingly, this region has been linked to age-related memory decline in people.

The memory test also found that the use of flavanols gave the patients enhanced reaction times, allowing their brains to perform as though they were three decades younger.

However, to replicate the quantities of flavanols using chocolate, you would need to eat at least two whole bars of 100g dark chocolate per day. I’m sure there are many who wouldn’t mind this though but, as it is well known, excessive chocolate consumption can lead to many other medical difficulties.

Future work is now looking into the optimal dose of flavanols to administer its beneficial effects, and other healthier forms of flavanol administration are now also being developed for use.

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Could radio signals treat diabetes?

Genetically altered mice have shown that diabetes can be effectively managed using a radio signal.

During the studies, three separate genes were inserted into the mice. The first of these encoded an iron-containing protein called ferritin, due to the reliance on iron particles during the research. These particles respond in a certain way to the radio signals by absorbing specific radio wave frequencies and altering cell behaviour.

The second of these genes was placed next to this first gene and encoded a protein that acted like a heat-sensitive door for the third gene. This third gene was the one that coded for insulin, which became activated whenever there was a flood of calcium.

In other words, whenever a radio signal sounded, iron particles would have been produced. These particles would have then altered the behaviour of cells around them and initiated a release of calcium. This calcium would then surge through the ‘heat-sensitive door’ of the second gene into the third gene where insulin was subsequently produced.

These functions were replicated during the study, with the mice showing a significant drop in blood glucose after being exposed to the radio signal.

However, gene therapies are a controversial area of research. Many argue that they should be avoided due to their irreversible and high-risk nature. As such, the scientists are remaining cautious.

But researcher Jeffrey Friedman of Rockefeller University disagrees and says that radio control could make gene therapies safer, as the introduced genes could be turned on and off at will. Additionally, a ‘suicide gene’ could be added to effectively kill off the implanted stem cells if dangerous side effects started to develop.

A large amount of further work needs to be carried out to confirm the results and alleviate safety concerns. However, this study provides an exciting and innovative area of research for the effective management of diabetes.

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Debut novel boosted by YouTube audience

Amazon's bestseller list was recently assaulted by a 24-year-old debut novelist, with a ready-made audience creating unprecedented demand for her book. If you're a teenage girl or YouTube expert you'll know who we're talking about by now. Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, is a YouTube personality with 6.5m subscribers - the kind of audience other authors would kill for. And this audience has helped Sugg's novel, Girl Online, reach the top of the Amazon book chart.

Image: The Independent

This is good news for book lovers - anyone who loves to rant that the youth of today are more interested in their smartphones than reading a book will be disappointed by Girl Online's bestseller status.

But it's also a warning to anyone hoping to become YouTube famous. Yes, Zoella has a deal with YouTube that helps her make videos in return for advertising revenue, but her career rests on more than talking to a camera about beauty tips.

This isn't the first alarm bell to ring when it comes to YouTube celebrity. In our next post we'll look at Jason Calacanis's decision to terminate his YouTube partnership and what it means for the channel.

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Smile, you’re on 4K 30fps wide-angle head-mounted camera

You know those videos of people on bikes or snowboards or freefalling through the sky, their faces fixed in position while the background hurtles away behind them? Be prepared to see a lot more of those as GoPro rolls out its most advanced camera ever. The new Hero4 allows anyone with a spare £370 to produce professional-quality video, putting more power in the hands of amateurs. But what are the other implications for privacy, video sharing and the way we experience events?

“You landed a 360 backflip on your skiing holiday in Banff? Let’s see it!”

Will GoPro bring about the end of the tall tale? So many adventure sports enthusiasts now record every outing that it could become reasonable to expect video evidence of every single anecdote. We won’t be satisfied by verbal accounts of our friends’ holidays – we’ll demand to see footage.

Of course, having video evidence of everything that happens to you can have its advantages. Alexander Hennessy found this out when he was threatened with a gun on a cycling tour of Argentina – the footage he captured on his GoPro was handed to police and the attacker was arrested later that day.

“The mosh pit was fun but I took a GoPro to the eye.”

Not content with filming on their smartphones, some gig-goers have progressed to using GoPros on poles. This is next-level twattery and potentially hazardous to fellow fans.

But despite all the downfalls, doesn’t the GoPro allow you to actually experience the event while you’re filming? GoPro users tend to trust the camera to capture amazing footage, leaving it rolling while they get on with the fun at hand. And if the band ask you to throw them your camera, that will add a couple of hundred thousand views to your YouTube upload.

“I like Andrea but I had to unfriend her on Facebook. Once you’ve seen one GoPro skydive, you’ve seen them all.”

There was a time when GoPro videos were inherently fascinating. Their unique viewpoints alone were enough to earn your attention.

But it’s been a while since the first digital GoPro was launched in 2007, and now there’s plenty of footage out there competing for views. In the same way that people become desensitized to shocking news footage, it’s easy to see how people could become bored by all but the most extreme GoPro films.

Are we suffering from GoPro fatigue? How much more extreme do the extreme sports films need to be? And what does this mean for the company, which relies heavily on footage from its ambassadors to promote its products?

What the company does have on its side is a ruthless team of editors and curators, picking the very best images from the days of footage available online.

The cameras are getting better. They’re also getting everywhere. This makes capturing incredible footage much easier - a huge advantage for GoPro, as long as they can keep sifting it out from the sludge.

View some of our recent video work here.

Image via GoPro.

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Beat the microbead – the app that is helping to clean up our oceans

It is all too easy to wash things down our sink without thinking about; what they are? Where they are going? And, most importantly – will they cause any harm when they get there? The scary truth is that everyday we are washing things down our sink that are ending up in our rivers, lakes and oceans, and are causing harm.

I am referring to exfoliating face washes and shower gels. Or more precisely, the tiny plastic microbeads they contain to create the ‘scrub’ effect. Wastewater treatment plants aren’t designed to deal with them so many reach our waterways. The worse part of this is most people are completely unaware of the damage they are causing.

To give you an indication of the scale of this problem, each microbead is approximately 1 mm and each product may contain hundreds of thousands of them. They have been found in rivers, lakes and oceans worldwide, including; the Great Lakes of North America, Lake Geneva of Europe and the North Pole.

By contaminating our waterways with this non-biodegradable plastic the obvious problem here is pollution. Not so obvious is these microbeads are making their way into our food chain. Many marine species mistake the microbeads for food and eat them. Some species are able to excrete this plastic but many are not.

You may well have heard of this problem already, unfortunately most people are still continuing to use these products regardless.

The problematic plastics making up these microbeads include; polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethacrylate (PMMA) and nylon. If included, these should be listed within the ingredients on the packaging.

To make life easier an app, ‘beat the microbead’, has been developed. Simply scan the barcode to find out whether the product contains microbeads.

You can download the app here.

Some big companies are on board with the ‘beat the microbead’ campaign and pledging to stop using these microbeads. However, with the help of this app we can make a positive difference by identifying and ditching our microbead-containing products today!

The good news is the microbeads can easily be replaced with natural alternatives such as groundnut shells or salt crystals as were previously used. So get scanning!

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Sorry not sorry: how to apologise without admitting you’re wrong

Last week Urban Outfitters withdrew a sweatshirt from its online store. The item appeared to be stained with blood and bore the logo of Kent State University. In 1970 this university was the scene of Vietnam war protests during which four students were shot and killed by National Guardsmen.

As the week wore on attention moved to another questionable business venture – Death Row Dinners, a death-row themed restaurant in Hoxton.

 

Both of these ideas were bound to cause offence, and both have prompted swift apologies from the originators. But how sincere are they?

After complaints about its sweatshirt, Urban Outfitters issued this apology:

“Urban Outfitters sincerely apologizes for any offense our Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt may have caused. It was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970 and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such.”

And Death Row Dinners issued a statement following an online backlash against the idea:

“We’re shocked and saddened by the response to Death Row Dinners and are genuinely very sorry for any offence caused. The pop up is intended to explore the concept of last meals: anyone who was ever been to a dinner party has probably had this conversation – what would they love their last meal to be.”

There are a few similarities between these apologies.

They’re “saddened”

This is designed to invoke sympathy for the people who have caused offence in the first place. Death Row Dinners also says it’s “shocked” by the response. Really?

They tell us their “intentions”

Urban Outfitters didn’t intend to “allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State” and Death Row Dinners is “intended to explore the concept of last meals”. It’s not clear how the red-spattered sweatshirt does not allude to the shooting, or how exactly the pop-up restaurant explores one of the most complex moral issues faced by humanity.

They explicitly state their sincerity

“Urban Outfitters sincerely apologizes” and Death Row Dinners “are genuinely very sorry”. How do we know this, and why should we trust them following these serious misjudgments?

The problem with these apologies is that they focus more on saving face than addressing the issues at hand. This allows the negative publicity to continue.

There is a crucial difference between the two, though. The apology from Urban Outfitters was accompanied by the sweatshirt being removed from sale – a decisive action.

Death Row Dinners, on the other hand, initially decided to forge ahead with its controversial project.

The announcement of this decision also included the phrases “the severity of the reaction is not at all surprising in the current world of instant outrage” and “if you don't like it, it's very simple, just don't go”. Would you eat at a restaurant that responds to complaints in this way?

In this case actions speak louder than words, and it’s here that Urban Outfitters comes out on top. By removing the sweatshirt from sale the company performs significant damage control. But the Death Row Dinners argument looks set to simmer on for a while yet, with protests planned against it before it’s even open.

So who’s really sorry? It’s not just a matter of who talks the talk, but who walks the walk. Just because you say so, doesn’t make it so – and this is just as true for brands as it is people. Genuinely.

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You wait all day for a bus…

…and Gary Lineker gives you crisps instead. That’s what bemused commuters in Clapham and Oxford Street must have been thinking since last Thursday, when special Walkers vending machines were installed at three busy bus stops. These are not your average vending machines though – Walkers have grabbed attention with a ‘Tweet to Eat’ system that neatly allows passers-by free crisps at the same time as ticking the social media box.

We went to look for the Walkers Bus Stop nearest our London office, but despite faithfully following the directions we were left crispless. Thanks a lot, Gary.

But it does seem that others have had some luck with the machines, with the @Walkers_busstop account receiving a fair bit of attention.

Of course, the power of social media has led to the campaign being talked about far beyond its London-centric borders, with coverage on countless blogs (sorry) and even national newspapers.

With this kind of attention online, does it really matter if the bus stops themselves have technical issues or are missing completely? Only if you’re a hungry Oxford Street shopper expecting a free lunch.

For experiential campaigns with a social media element, where should the focus lie? The truth is you only need a few retweeted words of praise for the campaign to be deemed a success. The flipside is that just a few grumpy tweeters can be your downfall. But when it comes to the crunch, it seems Gary Lineker is a pretty safe bet.

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New ways of messaging

We love Twitter. Who would have thought that those little 140-character messages flying around the internet could provoke so much discussion? Tweets have become central to online communication and Twitter has achieved unprecedented levels of popularity through its beautiful simplicity. But this simplicity is under threat – the pressures of shareholders and the potential for abuse has brought about features that make Twitter a slightly messier place to be.

 

Many of Twitter’s contemporaries have the same problem – in trying to attract and keep more users, they sacrifice the simplicity that made them popular in the first place.

Add to this the fact that Twitter has been going since 2006, and it’s reasonable to assume that it’s not the edgy new upstart on the scene any more. So who is?

A couple of new messaging apps have caught our attention recently, one of which we mentioned in our recent blog on emojis. Emojli is a messaging service without words, allowing you only emojis to get your point across.

While it may not allow us to convey our deepest thoughts and feelings, Emojli does have a few unique advantages. It’s ad-free and guaranteed to work globally since it relies not on region-specific languages, but on the universal language of pictures.

We’re going to be playing around with Emojli and can’t wait to see how it develops.

Another new messaging app creating a buzz is Somebody, by artist and writer Miranda July. What makes Somebody special is that while you send your messages digitally, the actual delivery is very much analogue.

The app does not deliver your message to your intended recipient – instead it sends it to the Somebody user nearest them. That person then delivers your message face-to-face, giving your recipient the benefit of interacting with a human rather than a digital device.

While Somebody has the feel of a social experiment rather than a practical service, it will be fascinating to watch how people use it at various events and designated hotspots over the coming months.

Neither of these apps will be challenging Twitter anytime soon. But the fact that they are being developed and used shows an appetite for new ways to communicate. This should give Twitter food for thought as they consider new features to keep its audience interested.

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