Life is Strange

Here is my tribute to a fascinating new fractal I talked about in an earlier post, the Mandelbulb.

(Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3x4uJJqs_w)

The music in the video is ‘Life is strange (trance remix)’ by darkangell.

I recorded the scenes using my work in progress Mandelbulb Viewer/Fly through builder application (which is on my github, if you’re curious). While working on this video, I added a few new effects like glow and fog, and also a periodic ‘beat’ to synchronize some effects to music.

As I mentioned before, the viewer is based on a fragment shader implementation of the Mandelbulb fractal by Tom Beddard. His blog has a lot of nice renderings also.

Ray-tracing is a tedious process, who knew? Normally capturing video in real or close to real time is something that I just take for granted. For this video, capturing a 20 second fly over (about enough for one shot in the final video) took around 30 minutes to render.

The rendering lag became slightly more manageable after implemented recording/config file support in the viewer, so I could go back and tweak the settings of a previous recordings that didn’t quite make the cut, and try again. I also got into the habit of testing the recording at low quality at 640×360 (1/4 720p, same aspect ratio), to get a feel for how it would look in motion at the right frame rate.

Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/10740680

Update: I wasn’t very happy with the contrast levels of the original video, so I decided to re-upload it and ended up re-editing it. Feels a lot more coherent now.

Update II: ‘Life is Strange’ received second place is the Fractalforums.com Spring 2010 Competition. You can see the full set of video entries here.

New Logstalgia Released

I’ve just released a new version of Logstalgia, my website access log visualization that looks a bit like Pong if only it had been created by Jeff Minter. Logstalgia is also referred to as ApachePong (referring to both the Apache Web Server and Pong) which is a much better name, but also covered by multiple trademarks.

Here’s a new video to go with it.

The song is ‘Depart’ by Tekno Eddy, which I found on ccmixter.org, which is a good place to find Creative Commons music that people actually want you to use (with attribution) in your Youtube videos.

The new version of Logstalgia adds a bunch of features back-ported from Gource, like being able to seek to a point in the log file, and the much needed PPM output support for making videos that was probably the biggest feature missing originally.

Go get it!

Linux.Conf.Au 2010

Last week I attended Linux Conf Australia, the annual conference for all things Open Source down under, this year held in Wellington, New Zealand, the city where I live.

I was very lucky to get the opportunity to organize some of the displays at the conference. An application developed for the conference displayed information such as timetables for talks, social events and photos taken by the attendees. It also showed off my latest visualization, Gource, displaying bits of random development from projects like the Linux Kernel.

Here’s a video of the displays I made for the conference.

The Life Flight Trust, the emergency helicopter rescue service for the Wellington area, was the featured charity of the conference. Attendees were encouraged to make donations, with the reward that the largest donor would be able to participate in a helicopter winching exercise. I was asked if I could come up with a way to display the donations, and ended up adapting a live graph prototype we’d developed at work (inspired by ‘Stack’ from Digg Labs).

We displayed the live donation feed during the Pengion Dinner, a dinner for professional delegates on the last day of the conference. By the end of the evening, LCA delegates had raised more than $30,000 for the Life Flight Trust!

Helping out with the conference was a really cool experience and totally worth all the time I invested. Be sure to check videos of the talks from LCA which should start appearing on their website tentatively.

Strange Alien Vistas

I’ve been messing around with a new fractal discovered only a few months ago dubbed The Mandelbulb. It has similar interesting visual properties to its forebear, the Mandelbrot fractal, but in three dimensions, which hadn’t been achieved until now.

Here are a few non-typical renderings of the Mandelbulb taken very close to the surface that I thought were interesting (click for full size):

I’ve been working on a viewer/explorer program based on Tom Beddard’s implementation of the algorithm. The viewer will let you fly around using the mouse and keyboard, set up flight paths and make recordings (using the same exporter functions as Gource). It’s not quite there yet, but hopefully after Linux Conf I’ll have some time to finish it off and make some videos.

I already have designs on what music I want to use. I’m thinking some Jarre.

Gource in Bloom

My earlier experiment with Bloom (I am tempted to call it Gourceian Blur) has lead to a new effect/feature in Gource.

(Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjUuAuBcoqs)

The bloom effect is achieved by blending radial gradients with each other additively. You can do a high quality version by drawing a perfect radial gradient with a Shader, but in Gource i’m using a 512×512 texture which looks fine in most circumstances.

Don’t Negate the Premise

Gource is a visualization for software projects: or is it?

My previous visualization, Logstalgia, was for website access logs. It turns out the information in a website access log and a VCS history are actually some what similar:

  • they both track users, sort of (an ip address may or may not identify one user, but often enough they do)
  • they show the users interaction with a hierarchical directory/file path. Sometimes on a website the path may be a directory path with no specific file, but we can treat such cases as the user requesting the ‘index’ file at that path.
  • they store the time the interaction occurred.

So the up shot is you can visualize website access logs with Gource, and it looks a little something like this:

This feature is built into the current release of Gource, so if your website uses the Apache combined access log format, give it a go.

Gource: Software Version Control Visualization

Gource (the name is a play on Source and Gorse) is a new visualization for software projects (and perhaps over things? I’ll try to stay focused here) which I released a couple months ago after spending the best part of this year working on it in my spare time and in between projects at work.

This is the official ‘promo’ video.

Gource is a visualization for the development history of software projects. Normally when software is developed, the incremental changes to the code are stored in a Version Control System (VCS) which remembers all the changes that were made, who made them, and when. Gource takes this history and plays it back it back as an interactive animation.

“Software projects are displayed by Gource as an animated tree with the root directory of the project at its centre. Directories appear as branches with files as leaves. Developers can be seen working on the tree at the times they contributed to the project.”

The scenes generated by Gource are made up of quite a few different elements:

  • a tree of the active directories generated by a force directed layout. This is the main structure that everything else centers around.
  • the connections of the tree are represented by splines, coloured by the contents of the directories they connect to. the mid point of the splines drags slightly behind, emphasizing the direction of the motion and giving the tree an organic feel.
  • files represented by coloured spheres (the colour coming from a hash of the files file extension) which are laid out in a spiral pattern around the center of the directory node the belong to.
  • users who are currently contributing to the project. Floating in near proximity to the files they are modifying, the users fire out beams indicating the kind of change they made to the file (green add, orange modify, red delete).
  • labels appear above the active files, users and directories when the become active, and fade out shortly after. This avoids there being too much clutter of text while letting the end user see the names of the actors involved in the current activity which their eyes are naturally drawn to.
  • finally, a camera dynamically positions itself to capture the entire scene or the part of the scene the user is interested in (a specific user, file, the area of the project where activity is currently occurring or everything).

The animated directory tree works using a very tweaked variation on force directed algorithms. Getting this to behave well in most situations (the layout and scale of software projects can differ wildly) was the most time consuming part of the project. If you look at a other visualizations that try to display data with this technique they tend to look very volatile and jerky or only work in cherry picked or static situations where the structure of the tree is constant.

Gource has best support for Git (the VCS system built to manage Linux), though there are scripts to use it with other VCS as well (currently CVS, SVN and Mercurial).

You can download Gource from the project page here.

Birth of a Disco Universe

This started out as an experiment with Metaballs and ended up looking like disco colored supernova explosions and interstellar gas.

I like how interesting patterns in the clouds emerge out of random behavior. To me, that’s the ideal outcome of a procedural animation.

I think I might use this to generate background pictures.

Welcome to The Alpha Blenders

Hello and welcome to my blog about procedurally generated computer graphics.

The title, The Alpha Blenders, refers to a key technique in computer graphics known as Alpha Blending.

I expect this to be a very visual blog. I will be publishing a lot of images and videos here as I write about my own projects (Gource, Logstalgia and other random experiments) as well as the work that influences me (visualizations, demos and graphics techniques).