Wild! Breaking has been added as a new official event for the 2024 Olympic Games. Seems like it’s a few decades late, but I actually look forward to seeing this. Hopefully there some good breakbeats to accompany the performing.
My scrapbook of others’ fine content from books, videos, or around the web.
Our family is currently devouring Tove Jansson‘s Moomin books and cartoons, which are resonating with all of the things we’re seeing happening in the world around us lately — timely, then, to come across this article from Aeon on how Jansson’s and Astrid Lundgren’s Pippi books were part of a Nordic postwar antidote to fascism and authoritarianism.
I knew about Jansson working with her mother as a cartoonist for the leftist magazine Garm, but the details about her relationship with her sculptor father makes it much more clear what’s up with the often-distant Moominpappa in the Moomin books:
This message of inclusion is all the more remarkable when we remember that, during the war years, Jansson’s family was every bit as divided as many are today. Her father, Viktor ‘Faffan’ Jansson, was an enthusiastic supporter of Nazi Germany, enraging his daughter with political views that she described as ‘hair-raising’, including open antisemitism. Meanwhile, Tove and her mother, Signe ‘Ham’ Hammersten-Jansson, were earning money drawing illustrations for an anti-Nazi, Left-wing magazine.
The strain this put on the family is transformed into Moominpappa’s absence. He has ‘[taken] off with the Hattifatteners’, ‘who are forever wandering restlessly from place to place in their aimless quest for nobody knows what’. Moominpappa later quietly omits his infatuation with this strange, mindless crowd when he writes the story of his life, which was the approach taken by many Finnish supporters of Nazi Germany. When Moominpappa’s memoirs are complete, there is nothing in them at all about his wayward years with the Hattifatteners, much to Snufkin’s puzzlement.
Dang, these books are good. Fun stories for our six-year-old, and good reminders about how to be a family for ourselves and the community. Looks like we’ll need to start in on the Pippi books sometime soon.
Even when run through Google Translate, this in-depth article from Famitsu on the design of Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a clear and interesting dive into the meticulous design thinking that goes into Nintendo’s flagship games.
For me, the most interesting details are about how much they considered the need for abstraction to make the game successful — so much of the game is modeled on reality but very carefully distilled into primitive shapes and textures (despite the capabilities of newer hardware) for aesthetic purposes but also to help the player inject their own memories and feelings into the experience:
In this way, the degree of symbolization is selected according to the role in the game. However, reducing the amount of information by symbolization can be considered as discarding the amount of information. Regarding this, Mr. Takahashi said, “I think there are many artists who hesitate to reduce the amount of information in images on high-resolution screens. So why can we confidently throw away information?” I don’t think that the amount of information in the picture will decrease and the response will be lost, but I think that it creates an “imaginary gap”. ”
By having an imaginary gap, the user tries to fill the gap by recalling information from his or her memory. And by projecting one’s thoughts on it, it will lead to creating goals and motives for play.
The article also explores the ways that the game has very intentionally placed “play triggers” pretty much everywhere except for the sky (where you even have balloons to shoot down from time to time), as well as an emphasis on leading the player to desire communication while playing. There’s a lot going on below the surface of Animal Crossing!
PS: for the fans of the series, there are quite a few shots of development versions of the game — always interesting to see how the designs progressed from earlier prototypes.
I love when people dig up new dirt on my favorite things from 30-ish years ago, in this case a playable prototype of a never-developed “talkie” version of LucasArt’s The Secret of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. The folks at the venerable MixNMojo site have a good writeup, including a detailed archeology on the differences and new sound resources discovered, along with information and images of LucasArt’s internal debugging tool called Windex (which ran on a second monitor in Hercules monochrome graphics mode!). Neat.
The New York Times has posted a lovely analysis of my favorite woodblock print by Hokusai, “Ejiri in Suruga Province” (circa 1830, from his “Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji” series), in which a sudden blast of wind is the invisible subject of the piece. Nature and landscape and social class and quotidian humor, all meeting together in a pivotal moment of art history where Dutch imports influenced the Edo-era artists whose own innovative works quickly influenced the French.
I’ve long wanted a name for the dot-dot-dot-dot sound effects that have stood in for speech in video games since the early NES days — here described as “beep speech” which works for me! This video is a great roundup on how those beeps function, how they’ve been used over the years (up through Simlish and the even more recent Animal Crossing hybrid speech, which is actual vocalization skewed into psuedo-gibberish), and how they’ve been tweaked when games are translated and localized for different cultures’ languages.
By the time I was reading MAD Magazine as a kid, Antonio Prohías had already finished his run of the iconic Spy vs. Spy feature that ran every month, passing it along to a new artist in 1987 after illustrating 241 strips. I only recently learned that Prohías was already an established political cartoonist and satirist in Cuba by the time he immigrated to the U.S. in 1961, himself an accused spy after fleeing Castro’s clampdown on the free press:
In 1946, Prohías was given the Juan Gualberto Gómez award, recognizing him as the foremost cartoonist in Cuba. By the late 1940s, Prohías had begun working at El Mundo, the most important newspaper in Cuba at the time. In January 1959, Prohías was the president of the Cuban Cartoonists Association; after Fidel Castro seized power, he personally honored the cartoonist for his anti-Batista political cartoons. But Prohías soon soured on Castro’s actions of muzzling the press. When he drew cartoons to this effect, he was accused of working for the CIA by Fidel Castro’s government. Consequently, he resigned from the newspaper in February 1959.
With his professional career in limbo, Prohías left Cuba for New York on May 1, 1960, working in a garment factory by day and building a cartoon portfolio for Mad by night. Ten weeks later, he walked into Mad’s offices unannounced. He spoke no English, but his daughter Marta acted as an interpreter for him. Before he’d left, he had an $800 check and had sold his first three Spy vs. Spy cartoons to Mad. […] During an interview with the Miami Herald in 1983, Prohías gloated, “The sweetest revenge has been to turn Fidel’s accusation of me as a spy into a moneymaking venture.”
The rest of the magazine’s humor hasn’t entirely aged as well, but I’m still sad to think about a world without MAD.
A recent computer vision paper titled Learning to Cartoonize Using White-box Cartoon Representations trains machine learning software to automatically “cartoonize” photographs — a normally human-done process known as rotoscoping (at least when applied to moving images). The results are strikingly similar to the work produced for the (excellent) Amazon show Undone or the earlier animated Richard Linklater / Bob Sabiston classic Waking Life.
It’s interesting that their training data was “collected from Shinkai Makoto, Miyazaki Hayao and Hosoda Mamoru films.” These demo images definitely look akin to the American productions mentioned above, more than I’d expect from the background art of a Studio Ghibli film, say.
The good news for now for human animators: I presume these images each take significant processing power to generate, and would have trouble with consistency between frames even if it could be animated (?).
This great news ought to keep fans of typography and lettering busy: the Letterform Archive, the physical collection of letter arts based in San Francisco, has digitized a significant chunk of their holdings and that searchable database is now free and open to the Internet.
There’s lots to look at, but don’t miss that they have the complete run of Emigre magazine available!