Monthly Archives: May 2004


If you’d have asked me last week whether I would see Raising Helen on opening night, I’d have given you a puzzled look and maybe said something about looking forward to Harry Potter. But that was before I realized that the short film Lorenzo will be shown before that new Kate Hudson flick.

Lorenzo makes extensive use of computers but is still a traditionally animated film. I was immediately captured by the visuals of this film since I first saw stills and clips from it. In the age of Pepsi commercials, trailers, and “The Twenty”, theatrical short films are all but dead. I jump at the chance to see one, especially one as visually innovative as Lorenzo.

A technical summary of the animation process for Lorenzo can be found in this PDF from a Siggraph lecture. Also check out this article from VFXWorld.

The Triplets of Belleville

I’m listening to track 3 of the Finding Nemo soundtrack on repeat. Something very soothing about that opening music.

I finally got to watch the Triplets of Belleville DVD special features, and I only wish there was more (full director’s commentary would be nice). When I left the theater last month, there was no question in my mind but that Sylvain Chomet in a brilliant artist and director. The death of 2d animation in Hollywood is a blessing in disguise. Small, modest-budget, completely artist-driven productions could flourish right now. New and different stories could be successful in a way that was impossible when Disney owned the screen in the 1990s.

From an AnimWatch interview with Evgeni Tomov, the Triplets of Belleville art director:

“Animation has its charm and qualities. It delivers different aesthetic and emotional experience. It is not just about telling a story the fastest and the cheapest way. The Triplets would have not been nearly as interesting and unique if it was a live action film. The hand made, drawn feel that comes from the screen, the stylization of the characters (you can not find actors with this kind of bizarre physics) resonate quite well with the equally bizarre story we are witnessing.”

Think big and keep drawing.

Flowdelic and Frontier

Mason Hale of frog design started a weblog last week, and already he’s got some great posts and discussion. Mason and I worked together around 1995. You know, back when the Internet was still fun.

At the time, Mason had been building a CGI framework inside Frontier. This coincided with Frontier’s time as a free application and helped jump start Dave Winer’s push to build Internet-related applications around Frontier. I built a number of web applications in Frontier, wrote some cool un-shipped software that used an embedded Frontier database, and even helped host and maintain the Frontier-Talk mailing list for a time. After a few years, Frontier and I went our separate ways. (Bonus in the previous link: The web server plug-in mentioned in the slides from 1996 was called Rendezvous.)

Yesterday Dave Winer announced that the Frontier kernel’s source code will be released for the first time. This is a really interesting move and, like all good ideas, probably could have had more of an impact if done earlier. AppleScript dominates desktop automation now, but a focused set of Frontier tools could still be very useful. I don’t think this effort will fizzle like the MacBird release did, in part because Frontier is already Carbonized (see Brent’s comments about that) and in use by developers.

Mason and I still bump into each other every once in a while, but now it’s more as parents than as geeks. To Dave, Mason, Brent, Wes, and everyone else that contributed to Frontier’s history: congrats.

iTunes follow-up

Not 5 minutes after I posted yesterday’s iTunes piece, Ryan tells me I’m asking for too much. “My fear is that too many features will render iTunes a useless and unusable app,” he writes, and he’s absolutely right to be concerned.

I will admit that my list contains some less-than-great ideas, only loosely organized around the idea of discovering new music (something I’ve been trying to do lately). I do think RSS support would be interesting, though, because it would allow iMix-like functionality but distributed across anyone’s web site and created using any software.

The important point, I guess, is that iTunes still has room to grow, and that’s not by accident. Smart Playlists and Party Shuffle are two examples of great features that fit well inside the existing interface.

Update: Kathleen wants something similar with RSS, but sort of the other way around: RSS generated from the published iMixes.

The iTunes Platform

It’s no secret that iTunes is one of Apple’s best apps. Of all the iApps, iTunes remains the only one I have no critical feature requests for. With version 4.5, Apple adds to what was already a solid app, and they continue to do so in a way that fits well inside the two foundation pieces they’ve created: the basic music library interface and the iTunes Music Store.

I noticed the other day that they now have trailers and music videos inside of iTunes. The investment they made in the old trailers site was initially just to showcase QuickTime, but it ties perfectly in with the store soundtrack collection.

So what’s next? Here are some more random ideas for the iTunes platform:

  • Movie showtimes. Can they give this a good/fast UI? Sherlock 2 isn’t so bad, but I never have the app running. iTunes is always there.
  • Music magazine. Both original articles and syndicated articles from major magazines and even weblogs.
  • RSS reader. What app couldn’t use a little RSS? I’d like music feeds (which Apple already provides) directly in iTunes instead of NetNewsWire. Double-click a news item to hear a song preview, of course.
  • Recommendations from library. This has been suggested before: An option to feed local playlists to iTMS servers to improve recommendations. This is different than publicly shared iMixes, but maybe could be an extension of that feature.
  • Amazon integration for CDs. Not all music is available in iTMS. I’d like a simple Amazon interface off of their search results, for those times I can’t find what I’m looking for in iTMS.

In “What if were like iTunes?”, Rui Carmo rattles off a dozen features that would be nice in Mail, but he only hints at the real question. What makes iTunes such a great app? Clearly some of it is interface design. Then there’s the incredible speed, which also affects usability. iTunes is the only iApp still written in Carbon, is that a relevant distinction? Does iTunes (because of the music store and iPod) simply get more resources within Apple? Maybe. But even with all of these things, you can’t continue to build and ship a great app without a smart team and tight integration between related groups (UI, WebObjects, etc), and ultimately I think that’s what makes any product a success.

I can’t wait to see what the iTunes folks come up with for 5.0.