The Magic Reality of Pixar

In their new short “The Blue Umbrella”, Pixar Animation Studios outdo themselves. The animation is cutting-edge photorealistic to the point that is almost impossible to believe that the entire piece is Computer Generated (CG).

In order to render the magic of the city and the two main characters – a blue and a red umbrella, Pixar resorted to a number of new animation and special effects technologies, which the short fantastically showcases.

Among the various techniques used, prominent are – Global Illumination, Deep Image Compositing and Camera Motion Capture – all set against an enchanting backdrop of dreamy out-of-focus imagery.

Global illumination is “a simulation of how light is emitted and reflected off surfaces, not only the light which comes directly from a light source (direct illumination), but also subsequent cases in which light rays from the same source are reflected by other surfaces in the scene (indirect illumination).” These processor intensive scenes often took 20 to 30 hours to render an image for one frame of film.

Deep Image Compositing is where a scene is created by layering images with notion of depth data in addition to the usual color and opacity channels,  giving greater depth of field. Finally, Camera Motion Capture is a technique of reshooting rendered scenes by recording the physical movements of a dummy camera to create a handheld feel.

An excerpt of the glorious culmination of these techniques and technologies is seen below. Just remember, it is entirely animated!

Advertisements

Keeping Peace at a Price

The United Nations (UN) is about to do something it has never done before. It is going to its first war.

The UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been on the ground since 1999 and over the years the maximum 19,815 personnel mission has seen next-door neighbor Rwanda’s genocide spillover to anarchy, has been silent witness to rebel forces’ taking over Goma, the country’s second-largest city and has recently seen the surging violence of murder and rape of innocent Congolese.

On 28 March 2013, frustrated and exasperated with recurrent waves of conflict, the UN Security Council (UNSC) decided by Resolution 2098, to create a specialized ‘intervention brigade’, with a mandate “of neutralizing armed groups and the objective of contributing to reducing the threat posed by armed groups to state authority and civilian security in eastern DRC and to make space for stabilization activities”, for which it is “authorized to use all necessary means to carry out its mandate.”

In other conflicts, the UN has allowed nations and regional alliances to go to war; however, in Congo, the UN itself and the ‘blue berets’ themselves, under the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), will be responsible for the operational capacities, field operations and the inevitable casualties. The newly-appointed Force Commander Lt. Gen. Carlos Santos Cruz has explicitly indicated that the intervention “starts now!

Continue reading →

A Numbers Game

Bangladesh Population ProjectionRecently, the representative of the UNFPA in Bangladesh stated that the last census to be held in Bangladesh could be in 2021, due to the rapid urbanization of the country and the difficulty of enumeration in cities. The last Population and Housing Census, 2011, conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) showed the population at 149 million people.

However, should Bangladesh not conduct censuses beyond 2021, we would be losing out on valuable information that indicate where our economy and our demography are heading, and help guide policy matters. The UK is also planning similar changes and researchers are worried at the loss of invaluable info. In a world of ‘denominator management’, a small population (i.e. a small denominator) makes most economic indicators seem rosier. But to truly know where we stand and where we need to be, we need such detailed information and regular censuses, no matter how politically unpalatable or logistically nightmarish the process may be.

In the US, recent census data reveal a number of interesting facts that point to the direction of demographies and the economy. Among them are that White Americans will no longer be the majority by 2043, rural population is decreasing for the first time in the US and Asian & Hispanic populations are growing the fastest, in percentage and absolute terms respectively, becoming the bulwark of tomorrow’s labor force.

Continue reading →

This Hacker Life!

We are, or more accurately, are compelled to becoming tach savvy to the point where we are becoming regular hackers. No, I do not mean hacking small everyday DIY stuff, like they teach at Lifehacker. I mean to hack into your gadgets to make it do things it wasn’t originally meant to, to build smart gadgets & robots with a $25 ARM Linux box computer, to use virtual currency that’s decentralized and encrypted, to go on networks that provide anonymous, untraceable exploration and communication – and the sorts.

Jailbreaking, rooting and hacking your devices has become so commonplace that often the choice of hardware depends on the ease of figuratively prying it open and gaining capabilities that are beyond the ‘official’ technical specs or above the approved apps list, be it your smartphone, your game console, your set-top box or even all combinations thereof.

The ubiquitous and ingenious Raspberry Pi is making its way into our lives in the forms of DIY projects, Kickstarter initiatives and children’s essential learning tools. And it is not just limited to scientists, programmers, instructors and geeks, but a slew of enthusiasts are using the Pi to fabricate everything from smart toys to supercomputers and cloud infrastructure. Continue reading →