Happy Holiday Going With the Flow…

Happy Holiday Animated Christmas Balls

I usually do not like going with the flow – even though I write psychedelic lyrics like “floating down the river”. I prefer a vision and then stick with it. I was just looking back through a sketch book and was very satisfied to see sketches of tools such as Zen Pan and Node Notes (two yet to be released features) and they have been built to be exactly like the sketches.

There are times however when some things may not work out quite how planned or better yet, something better comes up during prototyping. We should not turn a blind eye – sometimes, you can use the prototyping phase as a creative phase – most of the time though, to be sure… it is during the thinking phase with hands clasped behind thet head or in the sketching phase on paper that you maximize your creativity due to the flexibility of thought – or the eraser 😉

In constructing an online holiday message with animated Christmas balls to the multimedia industry, students and friends I came across a couple of almost accidental adjustments that formed the final product. Here is a summary of how the message was created.

    It started with the picture – a focuso shot of Christmas balls in a window display during a flickr photoclub night walk. When I saw the results I thought, hmmm… that would make a good backdrop to a card. Focuso once again acts as a catalyst for creation- see the “Dan Zen Gives Pecha Kucha Talk on Focuso at FITO, Toronto Flash User Group” post.
    I have been building a tool that will let anyone on the Web place animations that move to the frequency of sound such as from an mp3 over top of any picture or video. This uses the compute spectrum in Flash. A very simple example of compute spectrum is here. The interactive tool is partially complete but I have realized that I was really building Zen Mix II. So I have put the tool on hold as I organize Zen Mix II – it has been sketched out. I can now access YouTube videos directly in Flash with just the video page url so that will be reason in itself to make a version II – unfortunately, Zen Mix is in ActionScript 2 and ActionScript 3 is needed for YouTube access. So… I thought I would put the animations to sound over top of the Christmas balls for the holiday message.
    I needed some music – although here is a slight twist – I would use voice rather than music to trigger the compute spectrum. I think there is a wide open field with respect to using sounds and voice as opposed to music in visualization and am planning on exploring these spaces one day with Zen Sound a tool that you can place sounds and mix them in space along with some other interesting features. For voice work, I have just started using Ableton Live and have started in on a piece that uses only vocals as psychedelic sound effects and delayed forever looping and stuff. I am planning on embedding thoughts of Nodism on some of them and may work with Future Girl Madeline Zen on some of these. In Ableton, I recorded 9 tracks of different Happy Holiday voices. Unfortunately, it was a test recording and I was not even paying attention but I thought they sounded okay so I started mixing. I was getting roughly what I wanted – sort of like a round of these voices but with individual ones to start so that individual Christmas balls would light up. And then I found this eternal delay that was amazing! This was the accident. I did not have to do anything, it seemed to know what I wanted and the voices became a round almost magically.
    There are the displacement map experiments I have been doing such as mentioned in the “Light Show for Christmas Psychedelic Band” post. I wanted to displace the picture of the Christmas balls with sonic ripples coming from the balls themselves. This would look cool but would possibly lack relevance as balls do not usually vibe like this. I got the displacement working with the Christmas balls but was sort of not liking it very much initially because it was too jittery and not fluid like the light show. So I went into the code and reduced the speed at which the spectrum was calculated using a simple modulus and then applied a tween to the size of the animation and things smoothened out – but it was so strange. I had happened to set width and then set the height based on the width and scale and this caused a feedback in the tween that made the width and height of the circle go wider and higher like a mouth talking rather than a uniform radius. That coupled by the semi-bothersome issue of the compute spectrum being smaller until the normalization I programmed in picks up and hence the animated wobbling circle starts smaller inside the Christmas balls, led me to one conclusion – accident two – use the animation as a mouth. This has more relevance to the “music” and looked cute on the Christmas ball. Eyes followed and it was fun to include them in the spectrum animation rather than outside because eyes move when you sing. There are times when this automated animation looks very realistic – certainly as realistic as a muppet 😉 So in the end, displacement was not used – maybe next time.

Enjoy the creation – if you have read this far, thank you for your interest – and please say hello in the comments.


  1. Comments on blog posts just don’t seem to happen for me… here are some e-mail responses:

    That is the neatest most fun holdiay greeting. Thanks. I am going to have to share that one for sure if you don’t mind. You are most ingenious.

    I love your animation, it is cute.

    Definitely delightful. Thanks DZ. A very Merry Christmas to you and family!.

    That’s brilliant, Dan! Easily blows away every other ecard I’ve ever received. Merry Christmas!

    Buene Feste [Happy Holidays] to you, too. I REALLY enjoyed receving your ecard and reading about the creative process leading to its development.

    lol! wow, that was waaaay kewl Dan! thank you! happy holidays to you too.

    That was awesome! Thanks Dan, happy holidays to you too!

    That is the most unusual, creative and artistic Christmas … er… “holiday” greeting I’ve ever received I loved it! Thanks,

    That wz a nice greeting. thank you.


  3. I think I recognize some of the IMM students, although I did not recognize their voices. I’m sure I saw Carlos.

    Have a wonderful Christmas and a new year filled with Love, Joy, Peace and Serenity to you and your family Dan.

    You are such an inspiration and an inventor of dreams for the students of IMM.

  4. Great Christmas card Dan, I felt like I was at a Christmas party, the voices gave a great warm and inviting ambiance. I also liked how you scaled the size of each of the little characters… it reminds me of weaving in and out of a busy Christmas party and seeing tons of friends and family.

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