Posts tagged ‘art’

AT-AT Day Afternoon

A wonderful short film by Patrick Boivin

“When I was a kid, there are two things I wanted badly and never got… A real dog and a Kenner AT-AT Walker.”

Via SlashFilm – a short film on how the video was made:

July 10, 2010 at 6:33 pm Leave a comment

Dog Years

This sweet and deceptively simple little film was created by Omni Productions back in 2004. The film was produced for  The Joy of 8, a celebration of the restraints of shooting on Super 8mm film format. It was reportedly produced on a five pound budget.

Each filmmaker was limited to shooting a single fifty foot / 3 minute cartridge, edited sequentially in camera that could be screened alongside a separate audio soundtrack as a coherent film. The filmmakers didn’t see the finished product until the night it was screened. Incredible.

March 25, 2010 at 8:10 am 2 comments

Stream of Unconsciousness

Today we bring you the story an artist who expresses the essence of his art in an unconventional way. From

Brilliant art often comes out of pain and suffering. Such is the case with Tucker, a German shepherd who ran loose, dragging a large bolt and chain, through rural Ohio for months until he was down to a bony 49 pounds. After being rescued, Tucker ended up in Lakewood with permanent foster parents Jim Lasher and Kara Vlach-Lasher. Sweet and gentle, Tucker suffers from the canine equivalent of multiple sclerosis and cannot raise his leg to pee. As a result, he leaves elaborate and visually interesting trails on the sidewalk. Seeing their beauty, Vlach-Lasher has captured them in photographs.

A wee bit of Tucker’s journey from stray mutt to whiz kid of the Ohio art scene has been leaked to his homepage:

Educated on the rural roads of central Ohio, Tucker earned his BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arfs) in residence. He briefly dabbled in biscuit mosaics and rawhide drawing until he realized that he did, in fact, need an opposable thumb. His preference for the urine medium began to emerge shortly after his move to Lakewood. Tucker states that the canvas of the century old suburb’s varied sidewalk surfaces provides an exceptional backdrop for his expressionistic work. From swirling concrete sections to smooth sandstone slabs, the diverse textures of these assorted surfaces allow him to experiment with his compositions through careful use of texture and contrast.

Vlach-Lasher’s photographs of Tucker’s work are wonderful. She distills the creative juices of Tucker’s expression into fluid works of marked beauty. Hopefully, while wearing rubber boots…

Check out a slide show of Cleveland’s number one artist here.

February 17, 2010 at 8:15 pm 3 comments

For Every Action

There is a not necessarily equal and typically 10% faster reaction. At least neurophysiologically speaking.

The February 3, 2010 issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B includes an interesting article. In The quick and the dead: when reaction beats intention; Andrew Welchman, James Stanley, Malte R. Schomers, R. Chris Miall and Heinrich H. Bülthoff (Welchman et al.) write about the different neurophysiological pathways followed by intentional acts and reactions.

The mythology of the American West is shaped by liquor and Hollywood (Brown 1995). Inspired at least by the latter, the Nobel laureate Niels Bohr considered why, during a gunfight, the man who drew first was the one to get shot. He suggested that the intentional act of drawing and shooting is slower to execute than the reactive action in response (Cline 1987), an idea grounded in the everyday trade-off between stimulus-driven behaviour and intentional, planned actions.

Welchman et al. didn’t actually study gunslingers, they studied identical movement sequences in conditions where participants either chose to initiate the movements themselves or reacted to an opponent. Their work demonstrated that reactive movements were, on average, 10% faster than intentional movements.

They propose that this occurs because intentional and reactive sequences follow different processing routes in the cortex. After all, a system capable of producing quicker movements in response to threats in the environment makes perfect evolutionary sense.

This is nifty stuff – but what’s it got to do with dog training?

Well… no matter what the nice sales brochure tells you, a four-week course will not magically turn you into a real dog trainer (especially when that course also covers sales, business operation and franchise rules).

Dog training isn’t a rote task (like being a census taker) that you can pick up in a few days – it’s an art. And like classical guitar or dressage, it takes years to master it.

As Welchman et al. conveniently point out, an inexperienced handler has to rely on those relatively slow intentional movements when he works with a dog. While this may only be 10% slower than the reactive movements an experienced trainer relies on – that 10 % can mean the difference between a bite and a crisis averted.

With experience, arts like dog training or sumo wrestling get mapped into the fast, implicit pathways in the brain and they go from being skills we work very hard to acquire to becoming an integral part of who we are. The work is transformed into an autotelic experience.

There are three stages in this process – learning, practicing and mastering.

In the learning stage we need to explicitly parse out actions in our mind as we perform them and our work is almost entirely intentional. In this phase our skills tend to be slow, unnatural and awkward. We know where we want to be, we just don’t know how to get there.

In the practicing phase our actions come naturally, but we aren’t explicitly aware of what we’re doing. This is the “I know when I have it right but I can’t explain why” phase. Running on fast, implicit pathways our skills are quick and natural – but the parts of our brains that allow us to explain what we’re doing can’t keep up with them yet. As William James put it; “We are aware then of nothing between the conception and the execution … We think the act, and it is done; and that is all that introspection tells us of the matter.”

As we master a skill, we hone our actions and our mental processes. Eventually, we reach a stage where the work and our awareness of it meld.  Our intentional and reactive processes work together to put is in a state of flow. And the real beauty of this stage is that the chase never ends. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes; “You can approach it. You can home in on it. You can get really, really, really close to it. But like Cezanne, you can never touch it. Mastery is impossible to realize fully.”

I feel sorry for dog trainers who graduate from corporate training programs thinking they’ve been given all the tools they need to pursue a successful career. Being a dog trainer is the kind of career that should take over your mind, your heart – your very being. Like being a writer, it’s not a job where you’re likely to make a lot of money or get a lot of recognition. You need to do it because you love it. And you need to be willing to spend a decade or more working just to begin to master it. You should to it because being and working with dogs is something that’s so deeply and strongly and intensely etched into your soul that you cannot imagine doing anything else.

And worst of all, like Cezanne, you need to realize that being as good at it as you really want and need to be is an illusive target that you’ll never truly achieve.

My really crappy photoshop Cezanne imitation

February 6, 2010 at 10:20 pm 14 comments

Incorporeal Punishment?

My previous post was about robot dog trainers. Today I’m following up with some observations on an interactive canine art exhibit that might make me re-consider my opinion about robot dog trainers.

SNIFF is an interactive projection created by artist Karolina Sobecka and software developer Jim George.  This high-tech virtual dog interacts with passers-by in real time. From the artists’ website:

As you walk down the street you are approached by a dog. He is on his guard trying to discern your intentions. He will follow you and interpret your gestures as friendly or aggressive. He will try to engage you in a relationship and get you to pay attention to him.

Sniff is an interactive projection in a storefront window. As the viewer walks by the projection, her movements and gestures are tracked by a computer vision system. A CG dog dynamically responds to these gestures and changes his behavior based on the state of engagement with the viewer.

Video tracking data collected from infrared sensors allows SNIFF to interact with observers in real time. The positions of moving objects on the sidewalk outside the installation are tracked and a simple gesture recognition algorithm interprets them.  Fast, big movements are interpreted as threatening and slow, approaching actions are interpreted as friendly. SNIFF’s software stores a history of its interactions with viewers to form “relationships” with them over time.

SNIFF’s behavior strikes me as unnaturally awkward and stereotypic. Like a severely under-stimulated zoo animal. Note the eerie similarity between SNIFF’s movements and those of the caged Thylacine in the video below:

What makes SNIFF tick? According to the developers:

SNIFF is composed of two main components, a video tracking system and a game engine for real time graphics. The video tracking system is built in openFrameworks; for the game engine we chose is Unity3d.

People on the sidewalk are monitored by an IR camera in openFrameworks. In oF each individual person is isolated and assigned a unique id for the duration of their interaction. Each persons’ position and gesture information is continually sent to Unity3d via OSC networking protocol. In Unity, an artificial intelligence system representing the dog forms relationships with the individuals. He chooses which person to pay attention to, is able to move towards them or back away, responds to their gestures and initiates gestures of his own. Based on the interaction he gets excited or bored, friendly or aggressive, which is reflected in his behavior.

SNIFF’s algorithm includes a mood module that is constructed based on how each observer’s friendliness and enthusiasm changes over time. Like many real dogs, SNIFF reacts in a wild and unpredictable way when he gets over-stimulated. And when he gets bored with you he lays down or wanders off to investigate something else. SNIFF’s behavioral repertoire is currently very basic, but his developers plan to use data on how he reacts to his human audience to program him to engage in more complex interactions in the future.

So – if we can create a simulation that behaves like a dog – is the next step a virtual dog trainer? Perhaps, but I think that success with both projects still lies some time in the future. SNIFF only acts enough like a dog to provide us with a transient bit of entertainment. A simulation that reacts in a stilted and highly repetitive way to a few broad types of physical motions will need a major upgrade to evolve into a system that can consistently read canine body language, interpret it correctly, determine how the animal’s behavior should best be modified to achieve a specific goal and then respond to the dog in a way that correctly elicits the desired response. And, of course, the incorporeal nature of a simulation could also present problems in applying punishments and rewards.

Still – SNIFF’s ability to read and react to basic gestural behavior in real time could lead to some interesting developments in a lot of areas.

I think that even if we can build a canine training simulator with super-human observational skills and perfect timing – dogs will still prefer to work with flawed flesh and blood dog trainers because the dog is, and always will be, our first friend.

When the Man waked up he said,
“What is Wild Dog doing here?”
And the Woman said,
“His name is not Wild Dog any more,
but the First Friend,
because he will be our friend
for always and always and always.”
— Rudyard Kipling

January 27, 2010 at 2:47 am 9 comments

A Portrait of the Artist as an Old Dog

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a dog photographer who didn’t specialise in photographing dogs – he was a dog.

Cyrus the Australian Shepherd belonged to photographer Athena Lonsdale and his career, like many of the great ones, began utterly by chance.  As reported in the Missoulian:

Lonsdale was a student at RMSP several years ago when a classmate came to her with a request. He was going into pet photography, and wanted his business cards to include a picture of a dog taking a picture of him. Could Lonsdale and Cyrus help him out?

Lonsdale taped a cheap Instamatic to a short tripod, stocked up on treats and taught Cyrus to swing his paw at the top of the camera. It wasn’t too difficult – the motion is essentially the same as you’d see if you taught a dog to “shake a paw.”

It’s just that Cyrus was taught it to the command, “Take a picture.”

At first Cyrus’ picture-taking was just a cute trick accomplished with an old, empty camera.  An amusing diversion for Lonsdale and, I’m sure, for Cyrus.  Fortunately a friend of Lonsdale’s saw the potential for photographic genius in Cyrus and suggested that she put film in the camera to see what Cyrus would come up with.  The rest, as the say, is history.

What developed was a photography career.

Cyrus’ prints have fetched, pardon the pun, up to $350, and he was even commissioned by people to take their portraits.

Like too many gifted artists, Cyrus didn’t achieve widespread recognition until after his death.  He passed away in September at the age of 13 and his first exhibit;  “A Dog and his Girl” opens tomorrow (Friday, December 4, 2009) at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography Gallery.

Wow.  If dog art fetches $350 a photo – I may have to buy the OddMan his own camera.  Given Audie’s agreeable nature and willingness to use his mouth and paws to manipulate things for me, I don’t think it would take long to teach him to take photographs. 

Rather than a derivative approach modeled on Cyrus’ pre-selected, pre-posed compositions, I believe that Audie would prefer to adopt a more free-form approach. Perhaps selecting subjects based on their aromatic characteristics.

I wonder if I can get a motion-activated still camera that is set to take photographs when it detects a lack of motion instead of the standard camera that is triggered by the presence of motion?   The ‘no-mo’ camera would only take photos of the things that Audie stopped to examine in detail (or that he napped next to). 

If I put the no-mo camera on him before a long, off-leash walk, it could provide some fascinating insights.  Along with the usual poop and dead things, I bet there’d be some fascinating views of game trails, dens, tracks and a host of other wonderful things that my atrophied human senses and chronically distracted mind miss when he and I walk together.

If anyone knows where to get something like this –  please drop us a comment. If it works and it’s affordable, I’ll send you a free pawtographed print by the artiste.

If you ‘d like to see Cyrus’ work or buy a print, visit Wet Stinky Dog Studios.  There is some surprisingly good stuff there.

NOTE: Gallery date updated 12/04/09 as per Maddy’s correction.

December 3, 2009 at 7:51 pm 6 comments

Still Life With Animated Dogs

Paul Fierlinger was born March 15, 1936 in Ashiya, Japan. The son of Czechoslovakian diplomats, he created his first animated film from a flipbook at the age of 12. In 1955 he graduated from the Bechyne School of Applied Arts. He worked as a book illustrator and cartoonist, and has created more than a thousand films ranging from 10-second station breaks to full-length feature films. Fierlinger escaped Czechoslovakia in 1967 and moved to the United States in 1968.

This film – about “dogs and other things of a divine nature”, premiered on PBS on. March 29, 2001.  If won the Golden Gate award in San Francisco, took 1st Prize at the International Festival of Animation in Zagreb and won the Peabody Award in 2002.

May 9, 2009 at 2:51 am 6 comments

Odd Links

Feral dogs in Moscow adapt to a commuter  lifestyle from English Russia via natureblog.  Go to the link at English Russia for some fascinating information on how these dogs are adapting to changing urban conditions.


Via DogArtToday, disturbing but beautiful Bird Dog sculptures from Australian artist Emily Valentine.


Old news but new to us – The UK’s Telegraph reported back in 2007 that a miniature wire-haired dachshund named Daisy dug up the leg bone from a woolly mammoth when her owner took her for a morning walk while on a beach holiday in Suffolk.

The dog’s owner, Dennis Smith, 69, dug it out of the sand and later showed it to a geologist who identified it as part of a leg from a mammoth that probably roamed the area up to two million years ago.

The 13 in bone is believed to have been uncovered by heavy seas that battered the Suffolk coast and washed away sand that may have covered it for centuries.


Yesterday the Telegraph reported this story about a retired doctor who has trained wo generations of wild foxes to stand up and beg for food.  Cute – but not a particularly good idea.  Taming wild animals all too often leads to unneccessary troubles for two- and four-leggers.


April 18, 2009 at 7:00 pm Leave a comment

Melancholy, Memory and Magic

From ZooToo:

HARTSDALE, NY — A pet cemetery near New York City is receiving international attention after being ranked as one of the world’s best places to rest alongside the Taj Mahal in India and the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.

Hartsdale Pet Cemetery sits perched on a hill about 20 miles north of the Big Apple in Westchester County, NY. It’s a place that, to some, has long seemed like an unofficial “wonder of the world,” because of its size and significance.

Now the Lonely Planet guidebook company included it in its “2009 Best of Travel” book, one of the “Top 10 Places of Rest” around the world.

Here’s a bit of video on Hartsdale from youtube:

While Hartsdale Pet Cemetery does hold a certain Goreyesce cherm, I’m not sure why Lonely Planet selected it for their ‘best of’ series.  If you’re looking for the ultimate goth dead pet fix, you absolutely must go to France to see the Paris Dog Cemetery (pouting that I don’t currently have the time or money to do so myself).  The Paris Dog Cemetery or Le Cimetière des chiens d’Asnières-sur-Seine is not only the world’s oldest public pet cemetery, it may also be the most fascinating graveyard of any type in France.

Located just outside the city of Paris, the cemetery was born after an 1898 law was passed requiring that all dead pets had to be buried in hygienic graves a minimum of 100 meters from the nearest dwelling.  Before the law, most deceased pets were tossed out with the trash or dumped into the Seine.

Le Cimetière des chiens is a situated in a long, narrow plot along the Seine where you can get lost among neat rows of tombstones and monuments dating from the late 19th Century to the present.  It’s an eerily beautiful place made up of melancholy, memory — and if this video is any indication — magic.

March 4, 2009 at 5:45 am 1 comment

Did Lucy Know Audie?


Lucy Dawson is one of the best known dog artists of the early twentieth century.  Dawson,  (who worked under the pseudonym of ‘Mac’) worked in pencil, pen, ink and oil, but was best known for her pastels.

The portrait above bears an eerie resemblance to a shepherd dog mentioned frequently in this blog.

February 10, 2009 at 8:48 pm 1 comment

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