Arts Technology at NYCC

One thing I found rather surprising at New York Comic Con last weekend was the high presence of technology at the event. Sure, I expected booths filled with the newest video games and simulations. I expected panels and presentations to try to put on a show. I did not expect to see so many booths promoting advances in how we could make art in the future. There were new computer rigs, software for editing and special effects, and even brand new inventions.

Two booths stood out to me as end user art production techniques. They both offered new takes on older technology that could make some of the more expensive art distribution methods a bit more accessible.

The first is Lomography. Lomography is a magazine, an online community, and a store for custom made analog film cameras. While this may not seem like new technology, what Lomogarphy is doing is making some of the stranger lenses and filters accessible to a point and shoot culture.

Take, for example, the Fisheye line. This is an $50-80 camera that shoots everything with a built in fish-eye lens. It uses regular 35MM film, which is available in most supermarkets and drug stores. It's the consumer film standard. The difference here is that you instantly get an artistic effect without having to purchase a high end camera with exchangeable lenses.

That's one of the more gimmicky offerings from Lomography. Their standard is the Diana Mini. This compact camera--with old-fashioned flash bulb on top--produces super-saturated low-fi analog photographs for $60-110. It shoots in two formats on standard 35MM film: square (full frame) or half frame (widescreen). That means you get somewhere between 36 or 72 shots per roll depending on your setting choice. The Diana Mini only develops half of the frame on half frame mode, giving you two prints on one full square of film.

Lomography offers everything from pinhole cameras to 360degree rotating cameras for expansive panoramic photos. Most of their products are available for under $150. The most expensive package, The World Bundle Bag - Megalomaniac, is $1742 and that includes every camera they make plus film stock. This is budget art photography for the home user. It opens up a difficult to achieve style for budget artists.

The second big piece of technology is the MakerBot Thing-O-Matic. Makerbot's Thing-O-Matic is a 3D plastic printer designed for the home consumer. You create your design using 3D imaging software--it even accepts Google Sketch Up--and upload it into the printer. You then feed in a one kilogram bundle of ABS plastic coil into the machine and watch it go.

The Thing-O-Matic takes the design from the computer and begins building the plastic figure on the spot. If you aren't comfortable with design, they have an ever-expanding library of pre-designed figures for you to try out.

The cost of the Thing-O-Matic is prohibitive when viewed in a vacuum. A fully manufactured printer will cost $2500 and takes about a month to build and deliver. Here's the thing: $2500 is the equivalent of the budget Diana Mini in the world of 3D printers. This is an expensive technology that will take a very long time to come down below a thousand dollars. It requires more wires and circuits than a traditional 2D printer to work. There are safety concerns to handle when dealing with plastic as a printing medium.

If, for example, you had an idea for a series of toys. Thing-O-Matic could print them as solid plastic in your own home. You would control the manufacturing. You wouldn't have to keep tacking on shipping and handling costs to the final price. You could customize the final details by hand after the solid colored piece was finished. You could use it to make promotional toys for a web comic, scale models for an art project, or to produce one of a kind plastic sculptures for a gallery display. The booth at NYCC was even demonstrating an RC car they made with the Thing-O-Matic, including gears and axles made by the printer.

What these two booths managed to do at NYCC was rather impressive. There seemed to always be a crowd at the booths. The staff were knowledgeable and friendly, presenting the products and companies in the best light possible. More importantly than that, they presented products that clearly had crossover appeal into the larger geek culture celebration surrounding them.

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