Capn Design


Using Eye Tracking for Films

Posted February 19, 2011

eye tracking screen capture

David Bordwell invited Tim Smith to his blog to discuss how people watch movies. This is not an anthropological study, but one of empirical psychology. They used an eye tracking device as people watched There Will Be Blood.

In a previous post (which I suggest you read first), Bordwell discussed how director Paul Thomas Anderson is able to influence eye movement in a long shot using only staging. In one scene from TWBB, Bordwell discusses how Anderson focuses attention away from a map.

Many directors would have cut in to a close-up of the map, showing us the details of the layout, but that isn’t important for what Anderson is interested in. The actual geography of Plainview’s territorial imperative isn’t explored much in the movie, which is more centrally about physical effort and commercial stratagems.

This is backed up nicely by the eye tracking data provided by Smith.

The map receives a few brief fixations at the beginning of the scene but the viewers quickly realise that it is devoid of information and spend the remainder of the scene looking at faces. The only time the map is fixated is when one of the characters gestures towards it.

There’s a lot more of this and it’s terribly fascinating. I also learned a lot about how our eyes work. I had assumed some of these concepts based on my extremely limited knowledge of the brain, but it’s useful to hear them explained.

The most striking feature of the gaze behaviour when it is animated in this way is the very fast pace at which we shift our eyes around the screen. On average, each fixation is about 300 milliseconds in duration. (A millisecond is a thousandth of a second.) Amazingly, that means that each fixation of the fovea lasts only about 1/3 of a second. These fixations are separated by even briefer saccadic eye movements, taking between 15 and 30 milliseconds!

Looking at these patterns, our gaze may appear unusually busy and erratic, but we’re moving our eyes like this every moment of our waking lives. We are not aware of the frenetic pace of our attention because we are effectively blind every time we saccade between locations. This process is known as saccadic suppression. Our visual system automatically stitches together the information encoded during each fixation to effortlessly create the perception of a constant, stable scene.

It’s pretty amazing that we intentionally go blind to avoid overloading our brains with information. Finally, I found the way in which the experiment was run to be interesting.

We presented the film on a 21 inch CRT monitor at a distance of 90cm and a resolution of 720×328, 25fps. Eye movements were recorded using an Eyelink 1000 eyetracker and a chinrest to keep the viewer’s head still.

I wonder if the results would have been significantly different, even if it’s likely to be technically impossible, had the subjects been in a crowded movie theater, at home with their family, or on a first date. I’d also love to see this data split out by demographics or geographics. I’m sure I and a teenage girl in Germany watched There Will Be Blood in much different ways.

I’m with Team Outside

Posted December 3, 2009

There was a raging debate on Twitter yesterday about punctuation and quotations. Most people came down on the side of putting punctuation inside the closing quotation mark and that's how American English does it. Quoth Wikipedia:

American English places commas and periods inside the quotation almost all of the time, making exceptions only for parenthetical citation and cases in which the addition of a period or comma would create confusion, such as when quoting a keyboard entry or a web address.

I get that, but I respectfully disagree. I prefer the British style:

The British style places them inside or outside the quotation marks according to whether or not the punctuation is part of the quoted material.

Maybe it's from reading Eats, Shoots & Leaves or maybe it's from my life as a programmer, but I think only the quoted material should be inside the marks.

We could debate this at length (and I'm happy to hear your thoughts in the comments), but I think if we just choose a style and stick to it, that should do the trick. Of course, if I got a gig writing for a publication, I'd happily comply with whatever style guide they prefer.

Wizard Smoke

Posted December 3, 2009

You should watch it in HD (via @AdaptivePath).

Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart

Posted November 23, 2009

To quote my wife after I sent her the link to this song, "it sounds kind of 80s / i mean like 80s power ballads / which i LUUUURVE". Yes, you are right, wife. This song is awesome. [thanks chris]

Beck's Video for Heaven Can Wait

Posted November 20, 2009

Sung with Charlotte Gainsbourg, the video is absurdist and delightful. [via waxy]

Lorenzo von Matterhorn

Posted November 16, 2009

Wow, How I Met Your Mother is popular. An hour after tonight's episode, this phrase was the top search. If you're curious, the LvM is a pickup technique in which you litter the internet with dozens of pages about a unique, fake name and subtly encourage a girl to Google your name, where she finds stories about your brilliance and wealth. You can figure out the rest.

I feel like this was a challenge amongst the writers to see how quickly they could hit the top of Google Trends. It also reminds me that the show's audience skews young. It doesn't have the broad appeal of Friends, but that's part of what makes this the Friends of the aughts.

Lady Gaga, You Are Awesome

Posted September 14, 2009

via mtv

Seriously. Please keep being awesome.

The Bad Tour

Posted June 26, 2009

In April 1988, I went to my first, honest-to-goodness rock show. Yes, I'd seen some other live music, but never anything like this. For my birthday, my Uncle Steve took me to see Michael Jackson perform on his Bad tour at Rosemont Horizon (now Allstate Arena) in Chicago. I remember my dad dropping me off with him during dinner at a restaurant that let you throw peanuts on the floor. I also remember being phenomenally excited.

We were sitting in our seats, waiting patiently for the show to start. The crowd was already chanting and I was getting giddy. If you've been to Rosemont, you know it can get incredibly loud. It wasn't as loud as Chicago Stadium, but it was loud. So when Michael took the stage and every single person screamed at the top of their lungs, it was deafening.

Being just barely 8 years old, unable to hear anything and having a huge LED display flashing 'BAD' at me over and over, I immediately started to cry. My uncle noticed relatively quickly and tried to smooth it over as Michael started to moonwalk. Seeing I was completely freaked, he took me outside and got me a 7-Up. The hallway was completely desolate as the world was inside watching Michael and I managed to calm down. We went back in.

The rest of the show was mostly a blur, but I distinctly remember him being in a human-sized, backlit tent doing 30-second costume changes. I'm also positive that the show was life-altering.

The photo above is from the string of Rosemont shows and the video is from the a stop in Japan

Fan-Made, 8-Bit Video of Kanye's "Robocop"

Posted June 18, 2009

Robocop is my favorite song off the latest album and this video with all-original artwork, created by myk31, makes me happy. There are Double Dragon, Mega-Man and Punch Out! references, to name a few. I encourage you to watch it big, in HD. I also encourage you to check out the artist's site. He's got plenty of cool illustrations.

(via Buzzfeed)

Is 24 Good This Season?

Posted March 26, 2009

20090326twentyfour.jpgI've been watching this show for its entire run and I've finally started to lose interest this year. I've stayed dedicated despite the last two mediocre seasons, but it's been a MacGuffin-filled mess this year and I'm getting bored. My breaking point occurred when Juma, the First Boss, stormed the White House by SWIMMING BELOW IT. Really 24? Really?

Despite my apathy, it seems everyone else thinks the show has returned to its former glory, which I don't understand, but their excitement gives me hope. Can any of you convince me that I'm wrong? What, other than inertia, is keeping you glued to your screens each week?

Riding the Shark

Posted January 31, 2009

Tonight, after dinner, we discussed the ridiculousness of Frogurt and other Lost minutiae. The more we talked the more it became clear how close Lost has come to jumping the shark.

The back of my brain turned on briefly — it does that from time to time — and spouted out this gem, "riding the shark". If the graph of a show's quality were to peak right before it went off the deep end, that would be the the shark's dorsal fin and Lost is right on top of it.

To be clear, this is a good thing. Success definitely plays a role, as riding the shark is kind of a fuck you to less successful shows. "What, you don't have a smoke monster or warm-weather polar bears and you're only pulling in 2.3 rating? Watch me move this island, pussies."

Like the rest of the world, I'm nervous they won't be able to keep their balance until the end of season six. Once you commit to life on the back of a shark, getting off means you're in the water with an angry beast with three rows of teeth. You've got to ride that shark all the way home or be prepared to die trying.

Please Movie Industry, Don't Do It

Posted March 13, 2008

The studios seem to be playing the cash grab game and it's making me nervous. It wasn't pretty watching the music industry go down the tubes, but I'm not terribly concerned about it. Self-producing and releasing music is relatively cheap these days and, while this may be hard to believe, I won't shed a single tear as the major labels go down with the ship.

The movie industry is another story. No, I don't have a personal attachment to any of the studios, but making movies ain't cheap, so we kinda need them. This is why I'm disappointed to see them shift focus to 3-D films. There are a bunch of 3-D releases on the way (including Toy Story 3) and the studios just announced an offer to convert 10,000 theaters to 3-D, which the exhibitors have yet to accept. I'm definitely in favor of improving the movie-going experience, but do you really think the Hannah Montana movie was a success because of an additional dimension? (Actually, a lot of people say it was just savvy marketing.) I would think there is more money to made pumping movies directly into all those new home theaters, but I guess that's not as flashy.

Compared to IFC's recent deal with Blockbuster, 3-D seems completely innocuous. The deal gives Blockbuster 60 days of exclusive access to rentals and downloads before any retail copies can be sold and three years of rental exclusivity. So if you use Netflix or an independent store, you won't be able to rent any future IFC release until 2011 at the earliest. This has caused problems in the video game world — I wrote about Madden and EA a while ago — and will only confuse and frustrate movie fans. As the Reeler points out, this is not terribly independent of IFC.

My biggest fear is that the movie industry learns nothing from their audio-only brethren and continues to make it difficult for me to spend money. The 3-D issue seems misguided, but I may just be suffering from fuddy-duddy-ness. Signing exclusive deals seems like just another reason for consumers to find the quickest path to a movie without regard to legality.

Dining with Bear Grylls

Posted December 22, 2007

20071222bear.jpgI'm a big fan of Man vs. Wild, the Discovery show about a survival expert thrown into situations that require, well, survival. While that's the gist of the show, my two favorite subplots (and potential drinking games) are Bear telling war stories ("I knew a man who lived on beetle fur for 12 years in this rain forest) and Bear eating gross creatures then describing what they taste like. My secret desire was fulfilled when a clips show entitled "Bear Eats" came on last night. I was squeeling with joy.

While I recommend you try to watch the show (here's a schedule and here's a DIY video montage), I've decided to compile some of Bear's cooking and eating tips I gleaned from this episode. First, here's some info on the flavor explosion Bear experiences.

On long horned beetles: "It's like a big prawn that's been sitting around for weeks that's all shell and rotting guts."

On termites: "They taste like...a little bit zingy..not very nice citrus." "But termites pack a surprising 560 calories in every handful."

On raw wild snails: "It's like a giant, cold, bogie."

Bear is also an expert in nutritional info and cooking.

On boiled sheep eyes - "Icelanders eat almost every part of the sheep...even the eyeballs. Sheep eyeballs are extremely nutritious. They're high in protein and rich in vitamins A and D. Usually they're the first thing to rot, but in this cold weather, these are still good." He boiled the eyeball in a hot geothermal pool. They're okay to eat raw, but he's just trying to get rid of the bacteria. "It's like chewing gristle full of cold gloop." MMmmmmmm.

On roasted turtle - "I've always cracked the belly, gutted it, scraped all the meat out and ate like that. But in the Everglades the Seminoles used to cook it straight in its shell, sort of like a pressure cooker. Just put it [on the fire], leave it for an hour." "Cooking time will depend on the size of the turtle. One way to tell it's ready is when the shell is brittle and cracks." He hammers it with the his knife to expose the flesh. There's less than a half a gram of fat and no carbs or sugar. "Mmm, this is one of those times you can say it really does taste like chicken."

That's just the half of it, but I'll make you watch the show to see the rest. I love Bear.

Some Tunes for the End of Summer

Posted August 17, 2007

Until I get the reviews up and running again, I thought I'd give a little rundown of three records I've enjoyed in these late summer months.

20070817albums1.jpgGlen Hansard & Markéta Irglová - The Swell Season

I've dragged Jori to plenty of shows in our time together, so when she asked me to see the Swell Season, despite knowing nothing about them, I accepted. They are the stars of Once and Hansard is also the lead singer of the Frames, whose show I once walked out on. I'm glad I didn't know about the Frames connection in advance as my jaded hipster side would have emerged. Instead, I was taken away by their harmonies and amazing chemistry. Glen has a fantastic voice and Markéta complements him beautifully (I'm a sucker for harmonizing hipster folkies). While the album is excellent, I'm not surprised to find that the live show is better. The magic just didn't translate to the studio. Of course that hasn't stopped me from playing the record several times already.

Buy The Swell Season
Buy the Once soundtrack

20070817albums2.jpgThe Hood Internet - Mixtape Vol. 1

Okay, I'm friends with half of the Hood Internet, but their mashups are awesome. They mix up indie rock and hip hop with great aplomb. Sure, everyone has a mashup blog these days, but STV SLV and ABX have found their calling, which is why you keep hearing about them. The first mix tape is almost all winners. I especially enjoyed "Girls Just Wanna Fix Up" (Madonna and Dizzee Rascal) and "Rock Yo Sea Legs" (Crime Mob and the Shins). You can download the whole thing or just hit up the blog and download the tracks individually. As long as you're there, check out today's track, which was especially awesome.

Download Mixtape Vol. 1

20070817albums3.jpgThrow Me the Statue - Moonbeams

Somehow, I landed on the mp3 blog I Guess I'm Floating (a link from a link from a link, probably) and found a couple songs by this Seattle band. For the first time in a long time, I went straight to their label's site and bought a copy of the record. The album starts out twee but isn't the slight bit abnoxious. It feels like I just happened upon a really cute coffee shop with Throw Me the Statue playing and bopped along as I ate my egg salad sandwich. Then it starts rockin' a bit, albeit quietly. The album won't win awards and won't sell a million copies, but I'm enjoying it and it's perfect for summer. If you pick up the record, check out "About to Walk" and "This is How We Kiss".

Download "Lolita" and "Conquering Kids"
Buy Moonbeams from Baskerville Records

Don't Put Down That Mag

Posted August 14, 2007

Magazines are a dying breed. As Khoi pointed out today, he's bored with magazines and does his reading online. For the most part, I can't argue. Growing up I subscribed to three video game magazines as it was the only real source for news (sidebar: I miss the early days of EGM). Now, I not only get all of that same news online as soon as it happens, but I can watch a high-def trailer of upcoming titles. The internet is just a better delivery tool for niche content.

Then why do I subscribe to nearly ten magazines? One of the reasons, as Khoi points out, is to soak in some delicious print design. Print and web designers both yearn for the other side and I agree; magazine design seems to offer so many interesting options and constraints. I've really enjoyed the spreads from NY Magazine, Good and Edge in recent years.

More importantly, it's still very difficult if not impossible to get news on the net in a satisfying environment when you're out and about. The iPhone is on the right track, but the small screen is good in a pinch, not for long reading sessions. Magazines are just easier to digest. The web may have revolutionized distribution, but it still lacks the nuances of presentation.

Khoi is right in that buying magazines for their content is pointless — you can get 95% of the same information online. Instead, I'm buying it because I prefer the experience. The typography, layouts and photos are much more palatable on the printed page. If forced to choose, I'd have to side with the convenience of the internet, but it's not too long before I won't have to make a choice. The iPhone has made mobile web much more palatable, but some day soon digital paper and flexible screens will give us mobility and design, which will put the magazine to bed permanently. Without a doubt, I'll welcome that day with open arms.

Advertising During a Tragedy

Posted August 8, 2007


Poynter's E-Media Tidbits called foul on the Washington Post for display an ad before a slideshow from the bridge collapse. They're absolutely right, it's completely distasteful. A smart commenter points out that tragedy drives a lot of traffic. So what to do?

To me, the issue is the way the ad was deployed and not its right to exist. Anything that keeps me from viewing content is going to cause frustration and when I am already distraught, my patience is non-existent. Whether it was due to the blog post or some other factor, the ad is now down. There is still an ad above the slideshow, but no on seems up in arms about it.

What really matters is respecting the mood of your audience. My best example is my local Fox newscast. No, I'm not talking about the ads between the segments, I'm talking about the news itself. I remember one time just after 9/11 when there was a teaser for the 9pm news that went something like this:

News lady: We speak to a family of one of the THREE THOUSAND killed.
News man: Two men were found brutally murdered by a group of unruly teens
News lady: Here comes fall fashion!
News man: Is your house safe from lead poisoning? FIND OUT.
News lady: Indian summer just won't quit!

All of this happened without skipping a beat and I nearly vommitted. In the end, it comes down to common sense. WaPo is a huge national newspaper and I'm sure leaving the ad there was accidental. From the brief glimpse, it appears to be an ad featuring a car racing around tight corners and I don't think they're stupid enough to leave that running intentionally.

Can Magnum Photography Be Irrelevant?

Posted August 6, 2007

Last month I attended a roundtable discussion with three Magnum photographers and a citizen journalist (he was actually a documentary filmmaker but he used the internet a lot). The moderator spent the beginning of their time discussing the role of technology in photojournalism. More specifically, he was wondering if today's technology would help an aspiring photographer ascend to the top of the field.

The group was quick to say that technology may help keep your picture in focus but it won't help your composition and it certainly won't improve your passion (they were big on the passion). One of the photographers was in charge of overseeing portfolio submissions to the agency and felt that no one was doing anything original and, of course, the photos lacked passion. Calling them stodgy is unfair, but it was clear that they're incredibly skeptical of today's young photographers.*

During the question and answer session, I thought for a while about asking something; I wanted to avoid asking a softball question like, "What was the most inspiring thing you've seen in the field?" After looking over my notes, I decided to reframe the question posed by the moderator. While technology may not be able to create a great photographer, it certainly can help provide exposure. Right now, agencies like Magnum provide a stage for the world's best photographers, but search technology is constantly improving and it seems only a matter of time before the great Goog (or one of its competitors) is able to find beautiful, important and passionate photographs more quickly and more accurately than a photo agency. With that in mind, what role do you envision Magnum and other agencies will play twenty years from now?

Unfortunately, my question was the last one and the woman's response didn't provide an answer, but I don't know if this group was really the best suited to do so. Instead, I'll ask you. Will there be a time when an agency like Magnum becomes irrelevant? Or to wittle it down a bit, will search indexes ever do a better job of finding art than humans?

* As a funny aside, he referred to the hordes of people snapping photos of potentially interesting events "flickr photographers". I promise, it wasn't a compliment.

In Defense of Bear Grylls

Posted July 29, 2007

20070729bear.jpgEarlier this week, it came out that the star of Man vs. Wild and the production team have been staying in hotels during survival challenges. Since the show purports that star Bear Grylls (supposedly that's his actually name) is toughing it out on his own, many are upset that the show is not 100% real.

To those people I say, do you see that rectangular glowing box in front of you? It's a television and very rarely shows anyone's real life. Did you consider the camera crew with him and what would happen if Bear were in danger? Do you think Bear is an expert in every area he visits or do you think maybe he gets some help?

The show is about explaining how to deal with extreme situations and I'd rather see him in the field with a little help than in the hospital battling dehydration. If he has to spend some time in a hotel, fine by me. I'm sure that I'm better off with his tips than I am without.

How I Read the Approval Matrix

Posted July 19, 2007

One of my favorite features of New York Magazine is the Approval Matrix. They place a bunch of items on a two-dimentional axis with Brilliant/Despicable on the x-axis and Lowbrow/Highbrow on the Y-axis. I've always wondered if everyone else reads it like I do. So, I thought I'd show you how I read it. Here is this week's matrix if you want to check it out yourself.


My Take on the Sopranos Series Finale

Posted June 11, 2007

Before you begin, here is your serious spoiler warning (duh). I will be talking about the ending, mostly.

Are all the time-shifters gone? Good.

Everyone seems to be pissed off about how the series ended. After some thought, I'm totally at ease (and I kinda called it, too). While he didn't get whacked, didn't end up in jail and he didn't, well, he didn't end up doing anything, the man was at peace. With the potential threat of jail time, someone trying to kill him, A.J.'s mental health, Meadow's uncertain future and an inept family (blood and otherwise), he ordered some delicious onion rings.

Halfway through the episode Tony self-diagnoses himself in front of A.J.'s shrink and seems pretty easy going about it (he wasn't tense and confrontational, like in his normal sessions). Before the final, nerve-wracking scene, we see Tony visit Junior and he appears to have accepted that Junior is sick and it's time to move on. When we get to the final scene Tony puts on the karaoke classic, "Don't Stop Believin'", and I assume the chorus is meant to be taken somewhat seriously. So, despite not knowing Tony's actual fate, we know that Tony is finally a man in a comfortable place, even if he is a sociopath.

The show has always been about the way people deal with the world ("feelins") and just happens to be set in the world of crime. Gangsters will always shoot, bone and plunder and that should be understood. While it's corny, Tony's inner peace is what gives the show closure. If not the show, then at least me.

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