29 February, 2012

Creating films for Life Online

Blogger: Emma Shaw, Media Developer

Getting the opportunity to work on a brand new gallery doesn't happen very often, so when work began on Life Online and we found out we were going to make video content for it, we were very excited.

Creating videos for a gallery is fun, because you get to learn about the subject, film interesting people, and come up with creative ways to explain people's ideas in films that can be as short as one minute! We've learned a great deal about the history and development of the internet from the Life Online team, and we've had the chance to work with the founders of the internet, the people whose ideas created the online world we know today.

One man we had the pleasure to film was Vint Cerf, who not only co-created the foundations for the internet back in 1973, but inspired the character of 'the architect' in The Matrix Reloaded movie... what greater accolade?

We met him in a small meeting room in Oxford while he was in the UK attending a debate about the future of the internet. He gave us his time for free, waited patiently as we set up the camera, answered all our questions (intelligent technical ones from Life Online curator Tom, and less intelligent ones from me, "can you tell us, again, about the time when you turned OFF the internet?") and even though we overran our allocated time, he stayed with us to make sure we had everything we needed. He is one of the nicest men I've ever met. You can see him in films all around the galleries, explaining how it all began.


We also recorded some interviews over Skype, with legendary figures such as Ray Tomlinson, who is credited with being the inventor of email. He told us about sitting in his office late one evening, acting upon an idea he'd had to send electronic mail between computers. In that moment he effectively changed the way we all communicate today - can you imagine life before email? When he achieved this, it was so late in the evening that the building was empty, so he didn't even have anyone to tell!


There were some creative challenges, like how to explain what TCP/IP is, in a way that we could understand ourselves. Our in-house animator Sven Shaw came to the rescue and created some beautiful animations which show how TCP/IP enables pockets of information to be carried along the networks, like pigeons carrying mail, effectively allowing information to flow freely and efficiently across the networks. You can see the full film in the gallery.

Want to know how a search engine works? Find our in the gallery, with the help of our friendly web crawler spider.


It's not all been hard work. We've enjoyed watching old technology programmes from the 1980s which announced great innovations such as the floppy disk, and computers which could connect to a network via the telephone (if you have a few hours to wait), so people could talk to each other online for the very first time.

It's amazing to be a part of the Life Online team, and we hope you enjoy watching our videos as much as we enjoyed making them.

Your own videos can be a part of Life Online too. Visit www.nmemlol.wordpress.com and take part in missions for the Your Life Online Project.

22 February, 2012

"System Overload" youth project ready for Life Online [open source]

Blogger: Dave Smith, Life Online Youth Engagement Officer

Six months ago, a group of dedicated young people came together to work on the development of a brand new artwork as part of the Life Online project. Here we are in February and the fruits of their labours have just been installed in the Level 7 gallery, as a piece called System Overload. So, how did we get here?


It all began back in September. A month earlier the group had voted to make an animation about net neutrality and with the help of artist Jack Lockhart they embarked on a series of workshops and activities. The aim: to learn how to animate and how to make cool art.

The first thing the group did was create a visual language to use, playing with concepts, ideas and techniques, working out how to represent abstract things like "the internet" as interesting animations. The results were three animation techniques: stop-motion, lightwriting and pixilation, and some ideas about where to go next. The group also researched the net neutrality and started to have ideas about why it's an important topic and what they wanted to say about it.


The next item on the agenda was to develop a structure for the artwork. As the piece was going in a gallery we didn't want a projection onto a wall, not when there was the chance to make something more interesting. As the group talked, the idea of using nodes and lines developed, and we combined this with experiments in projecting onto 3D objects like boxes. The result was a pattern, to be cut from wood and hung in the gallery: the animations would be projected on this later on.

With the structure in place we got on with animating. Led by our "meme master" Callum, the group started to create phrases and animations that explored net neutrality in the language of the internet: - Lolspeak (a language beyond us adults!)


The project hasn't been all slaving over a hot camera: the group took a trip to Liverpool to see work on display at Tate Liverpool and FACT, examining what was good and bad about artworks and how they were displayed (and we've also had some great pizza...)

Slowly, the work came together over the autumn and winter and by the end of 2011 we had a bank of animations ready to assemble into one artwork. The final theme and name of the piece (System Overload) and a name for the group (Networked) were all worked out in January and added into the final display you'll see in the gallery. The last touch was to head to Factory Street Studios to compose a soundtrack to help create the mood we wanted.

Last week was the most exciting so far, as the group, Jack and the technicians gathered in Level 7 gallery to install the work. There were a couple of little issues but it was a generally smooth process and System Overload is now on the wall and ready to go when the gallery opens to the public on the 30 March 2012.

Later in the afternoon the local press were invited to see the work and meet the group – it was their first press event and despite having to be photographed from all angles and give soundbites they did really well.


So, what's to come? The group are going to be spending the next couple of weeks working on some other creative projects, and then the gallery opens. If you want to learn more about the process why don't you come along to the Breakfast with the Artists event or visit Life Online [open source] from the 30 March to see the work in the gallery.

15 February, 2012

Meet the Life Online Project Leader

Interested in finding out more about our brand new gallery, Life Online? Then meet Joe Brook, Life Online Project Leader to hear more about the inspiration behind the new space, and see a sneak preview.

10 February, 2012

Curating the Internet for Life Online

Blogger: Anna Ward, Content Developer

Seven weeks to go before Life Online opens to the public. The physical build is coming on, looming shapes have appeared in the foyer, and upstairs in Level 7, walls are appearing. Our technicians are ready to fit screens, lights and speakers, and the office is a hive of activity.

Behind the scenes at this stage, everything needs polishing and signing off. There are bits of text to finish, films to check, interactives and animations to be tested and improved, and content still to collect. We are liaising with external agencies about design, animations and games, and with artists about their installations in our temporary exhibition upstairs. All the while we are talking to the press and helping our marketing and PR teams to get the message out about the gallery.

In short, we're busy!

There is one area which still needs a lot of work, but when I describe it, you won't think it sounds like work at all.

Cloud Browsers

At the centre of the gallery there are three large projection zones. In the office we have been referring to these areas as the 'Cloud Browsers'... a meaningless name which has its routes in a long forgotten concept. They are Find Out More stations, with a twist. Because our gallery charts the history and impact of the internet, we need to represent the internet within the gallery. But of course, we cannot allow free and open access, especially not when someone's search results will be projected six feet high for all to see; so starts the job of curating... the internet!

Our Find Out More stations (the name is still up for debate - any suggestions welcome!) will expand on the topics explored elsewhere in the gallery. In them you will find articles produced by our curators, films made by our in-house media development team, and lots of relevant content streamed live from the internet. Hundreds of websites need to be found, checked for accuracy and interest and added to the relevant section in the Stations. For the next seven weeks I am paid to surf the web! Better get back to it...