September, 2018

Annual Letter

Halifax, NS Canada
Preceded by: Annual Address 2017

OAFA — A step to the side at Animat Habitat in 2018: the official website was further developed as a Wordpress child theme and was further secured for member interaction and registration and so on; a collaboration on a similar story about the conservation of elephants has shared great lessons and great losses and so on; and, the studio managed its first donations. The studio has maintained its operating cost through the financial year end of 2018 at ~CA$37,500 (3 percent over the previous year). ~CA$2,385 was received as direct contribution to studio efforts and more than CA$1,000 of that contribution was directed to wildlife conservation projects on the ground (33 percent to Computer Art Hardware and Software, 25 percent to support studio investments in general in future, ~25 percent to Big Life Foundation, ~15 percent to Sheldrick Wildlife Trust). Studio expenses were limited to ~CA$1,000 in its 2018 financial year. These expenses are managed in four categories: hardware, software, fees and development.

  • Computer Art Hardware: CA$742;
  • Computer Art Software: CA$31;
  • Expenses and Fees: CA$137;
  • Research and Development: CA$387;
  • Sum Total Investment (2018): CA$1,297.

A notable expense at the studio this year was a modest resupply of Hard Felt Nibs for the Wacom® Art Pen. Art is traditionally a physical work, with stages of the process that are very tangible. Digital art opens a world of possibilities however the tools for digital artists are in many ways limited. Wacom® — a Japanese company named from the Japanese wa “harmony” and the abbreviated “computer” — makes creating digital art feel most connected to the physical process. The Intuos Pro is the latest iteration of tablet technology (without the screen) and the Hard Felt Nibs are a supply of replaceable tips for the pen that make drawing on the surface of the tablet feel more like drawing on paper. The Wacom® Intuos Pro – and Intuos 4 – with the Wacom® Art Pen and with Hard Felt Nibs is the cornerstone of the computer art toolkit at Animat Habitat.

Notable studio expenses are listed below.

Computer Art Hardware [of 6 items]:
  • 1. Wacom® Intuos Pro: CA$429.62 2017
  • 4. Wacom® 5PK Hard Felt Nibs (3x): CA$52.58 2018
  • 5. Wacom® 5PK Hard Felt Nibs (2x): CA$32.64 2017

OAFA WEBSITE — Designing a website and gift shop is one milestone, then developing and maintaining it to effectively manage updates is another. The studio has built its Wordpress and Woocommerce architecture into a structured and versioned child theme of the Wordpress theme: Twenty Thirteen by the Wordpress team. The Wordpress child theme designed for the studio website is titled Twenty Thirteen Unicorn (Dark, Light, Rainbow). The Twenty Thirteen architecture continues to underlie the Unicorn theme and continues to be maintained and so on.

This website design process was replicated for a second Worpress child theme based on the development of the Last of the Big Tuskers (2018) official website for the documentary film by James Currie. The website is structured in much the same way, however, this time designed to promote use of cover artwork — this time derived from the Wordpress theme Twenty Seventeen also by the Wordpress team. This Wordpress child theme is titled Twenty Seventeen Coffee (Dark, Light, Blend). The Twenty Seventeen architecture continues to underlie the Coffee theme and continues to be maintained and so on.

OAFA CONSERVATION — Big Life Foundation and Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT) were identified as two official channels for revenue from the art of scene one at Animat Habitat. Big Life Foundation in particular is a force in the protection and preservation of wildlife and wild places in Kenya and Tanzania. An initial donation was made through Nick Brandt and Big Life USA. SWT operates in sites across Kenya. An initial donation was directed to a SWT nursery unit in Nairobi National Park. At least one wildlife conservation project on the ground in Namibia or in Botswana is to be identified next as a third official channel for revenue from the art of scene one — to be determined. One or two more projects on the ground in Africa may be considered after that.

Joined as a signatory Elephant Professional to The Elephant Charter, an authored set of guiding principles by Joyce Poole, Cynthia Moss, Raman Sukumar, Andrea Turkalo and Katy Payneand, based on elephant biology, to form a touchstone for anyone needing to address elephant interests. Also signed the World Wildlife Fund Pledge for Our Planet: to reduce the carbon footprint of the studio, to be a voice for the planet and to address political representatives to help create and support policies that recognize and respect the importance of nature. These principles and petitions represent values that are shared at the studio.

OTHER PROJECTS — Last of the Big Tuskers has entered festivals in 2018. The studio was honored to contribute graphic art to this documentary film in support of wildlife conservation in particular in Tembe Elephant Park. This collaboration has involved map sequences that help set context for location in the film, cover art and title design and so on that help set a visual tone for the film, and website design and so on that serve as an archive about the film.

The map graphics were visual effects based on satellite image data and a model of geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) and low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite systems. Last of the Big Tuskers was the first ultra high-definition (UHD) production at the studio, and the visual effects were rendered, composited and encoded in-house in full in three weeks, two days, twenty-one hours of compute time. Time to set up the models, renders, simulations and so on – time of production was ten weeks spread out in stages from spring 2017 to spring 2018. The map graphics are pictured for ninety-seven seconds (2,425 frames at 25 frames per second).

The one minute and thirty-seven seconds was made up of six shorter sequences of satellite-like imagery, each with select indications of international borders and national parks. Each frame was simulated then rendered in fifteen to thirty minutes with relation to the size of the indicated areas on screen. The renders were composited as layered uncompressed 32-bit color-depth image sequences, and encoded as Rec.709 DNxHR 4.4.4 compressed videos to integrate with the Avid editing system. Last of the Big Tuskers was also the first production for the AVID Editing environment at the studio, and transferring the composited sequences from Adobe Creative Suite involved an appreciation of image formats, compression algorithms and video codecs and so on. All this data requires a minimum drive space: 1.64Tb, with an associated production cost of archival storage and studio workstation hardware and so on.

The title design featured a title typeface designed by Anton Scholtz, a typographer who “specializes in African flavor fonts [with his] foundry based in Durban, South Africa.” The typeface: Tabwa, and title design applied in the film was appropriated to the cover artwork and the website and so on. The cover art was painted in Adobe Photoshop in a painterly style that was reproduced in a set of magnificent seven elephants featured in the film. The digital artwork was a collaboration based upon a frame of footage, or still image, that was referenced directly from the film. The art was made as a posterized version of the archival imagery of the last of the big tuskers. More about art of Last of the Big Tuskers.

A word about Tembe Elephant Park, South Africa. Tembe has a unique topography: a special sandforest that shares a border with Mozambique and that has an elephant population with very special characteristics – “a special genetic makeup to produce strong tuskers” – according to Alois Haberhauer, Elephant Geneticist: University of Kriel.

From a genetics standpoint [the elephants in Tembe] are quite gifted, [though this has a lot to do] with the history of the area, that this must have been a very difficult area to hunt in the peak of the ivory trade, so that would have left a lot of these bulls alone[.] [The elephants in Tembe] were not hunted back then for their ivory. [The result is that there are] a lot more tuskers [per population size in Tembe] than anywhere in South Africa. Even [compared] to a place like Tsavo [National Park], which is a massive park with lots of elephants, they only have a handful of tuskers [per population size.] That is something quite special for Tembe. — Leonard Muller, Elephant Monitor: Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

More about Tembe Elephant Park.

Special thanks to Erik Schram, James Currie, Johan Marais and Richard Moller for reference images of the elephants featured in the film. Thanks to the team at NASA Visible Earth for additional graphic data, in particular The Blue Marble collection. Thanks to the ESRI Conservation Group for additional map data, in particular the Maputaland Center of Endemism, as well as OpenStreetMap and its contributors for additional map data of national parks. Thanks again to James Currie for the opportunity to contribute to his story.

The public availability of financial records is reserved to members of Animat Habitat with the explicit purpose of maintaining a responsible and transparent practice of investment in computer art technology at the studio.