Friday, March 14, 2008

How Do We Create?

You'll have noticed I've fallen behind on my Blog postings. It's about time I caught up on more of the exciting talks at TED.

This session on how different people create had several good talks.

Robert Lang gave a marvellous talk that to me epitomizes TED, combining pure science with whimsy. After pictures of traditional origami, he described how new designs had been enabled, by considering the mathematics of origami, which follows four basic laws. Using these laws, you can derive new patterns. A flap to make a claw, for instance, requires a circle, and making a series of flaps becomes a mathematical problem in packing circles. This math has turned out to be useful in very practical ways, in areas where you need to figure out how to pack something in a small space, like airbags, or a solar sail that has to get into space in a small capsule and then unfold to its full size in space.
But a picture is worth a thousand words – here’s a sample of some origami that was on display in the lobby. You can see more at this web site.

Later in the conference, there was a challenge to fold one of Lang’s very complicated figures in three minutes flat while accompanied by Rufus Cappadocia of the TED House Band on the electric cello. The paper was pre-folded, making it easier, but Bruno did it while blindfolded, which you’d have to admit made it harder!

I really enjoyed John Kroll’s talk. He’s with Industrial Light and Magic, and won an Oscar for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and was nominated for Star Wars 1 and 2 and all the Pirates movies. Contrary to popular opinion, effects are not all computer generated. As an example, he showed a scene where three ships were coming together in battle. Since the main giveaway in old movies using small models in a tank is that the droplet size is wrong. For the scene from Pirates they combined the actual wake created by barges of the right size. Then they overlayed and extended the image of a partial Black Pearl ship they’d built as a real set. Fascinating to see how the scene was built up. The scene in the movie where ships are drawn into a vortex was even more interesting. They started with complicated fluid dynamics models to build a flat vortex, then dipped it down for the vortex effect, then layered on foam, spray, sub-surface bubbles, atmospherics, and finally the ships. Light and magic indeed.

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