Happy New Year 2010 : le Making of !

You certainly remember the giant calligram created last year by two brothers to wish Happy New Year 2009 to their 900+ Facebook friends. For this new year 2010, they were three to create an even more original way to wish a happy new year, to their friends on Facebook, but also to those who remain offline. It is too often forgotten that 3 out of 4 humans cannot access the Internet (http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm ) – The idea was quite simple: we wanted a 3D musical animation where the first names of all our friends would go from 2009 to 2010. This video had to convey the concept of transition, powdered with snow. They first achieved an astonishing algorithmic feat. Combining syllabs and pronunciation, they generated a poem for each of them, that contained the first names of their friends in octosyllabic quatrains with pair rhymes. The secret? A computer program generator, Comfusy, developed at the EPFL, the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, in 2009. – At the beginning, there were first names… and we wanted to have quatrains with pleasant rhymes as outputs. One of the first issues that we encountered was how to arrange these first names into quatrains, and how to compute the number of lines as it was the main issue. To this end we made use of an automated program generator, which with all the first names provided as input gave us the number of lines and how we had to arrange them. To avoid a scandal within their family, they had to manually place specific first names at the beginning of the poem. The rest of the poem was therefore dynamically arranged thanks to a home-made greedy algorithm written in Python. The next challenge was how to make this poem into a song. – Since we had 3 different poems with varying length, we had to find a theme that could at least have eight quavers per bar for the eight syllabs, but above all that could be extensible, so that we could extend it or reduce it depending on the length of the poem. So it was Mikaël who composed this music, and the good thing was that this music could be transposed to perfectly adjust to the length of the poem. They first asked the Garritan Symphonic Orchestra, composed of around fifteen instruments, to play this new masterpiece. Since the result was a bit like a concert of hoarsed lions, it was eventually the GarageBand Symphonic Orchestra, made up of around fifty instruments, that had the privilege of playing it under the direction of Joël. – Humf, this orchestra did not do its best, so I had to do everything by myself and arrange each note, modulation, crescendo and expression to hopefully reach a satisfying performance. Another substantial challenge was to generate the 3D animation. Importing the poem, generating the time and space coordinates for the text, and creating the digital snow canon, made this project awesome. – For the three videos, we had to generate 17300 images, so assuming around fifteen seconds per image, on one computer only, that would have meant three full days of rendering; but with all the trials and errors that we needed, we wanted to go faster, so we parallelized the process. No sooner said than done, they monopolized their relatives’ computers to generate images in parallel, therefore accelerating the rendering speed by a factor of 5. To temporarily put aside the algorithmic dimension of the project, each of them gave a personal touch by performing in a solo their friends’ first names-composed song. We told ourselves that it would be better to offer our own voice to the song, rather than hiring a synthetic, apathetic and monotonous voice that can be heard in buses or trains. Finally, it was once again Erwin who took care of tagging everyone. The computers were programmed to put everything online at noon sharp, so our three creators decided to enjoy their New Year’s Eve by going to a party. 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… Happy New Year! Feeling that something was wrong, the three geeks rushed to their computer to check how the script was running. – Well, right now we just have had a publishing issue; Facebook put a limitation on the number of people who can be tagged on a photo. So we are relaunching the process, but only with the automated writing on our friends’ walls, and we’ll see what happens… – There is a problem: instead of writing a post on everyone’s wall, the script is writing the same post many times on the same person’s wall. About 500 times, so we are interrupting the process. I hope that this friend will not bear a grudge against us. – Hrrrrgh… Ohhr – So, we have yet another problem: some users have disabled their wall, so we are unable write on it, and the problem is that our program cannot detect it so if it tries to write on the wall it blocks the process and writes on nobody’s wall. We are trying to see what we can do against that. Despite all these delays, our three geniuses managed to solve all the problems and put their videos online. It works! – Ah… I like it when it works. And here is the result: three Happy New Year wishes movies, for the pleasure of eyes, ears and the love of poetry. It was Charles-Henri Dubernard, for TF1.

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