The workshop itself was set up by Peggy at East Kent Live Lit, funded by the Kent Arts Council, and she was graceful enough to let a non-Kent-resident such as me sit in. Most of the attendees were not necessarily new to digital fiction, but new to building it. They were writers, musicians, installation artists, and sometimes a combination of the above. Almost everyone save me and one other had been able to make the Friday evening session, which was an overview of digital fiction and some of Andy’s background.
The morning session covered a few examples of dig-fic (from the Poole Literary Festival New Media Prize), recommended software (more on this in a minute), and resources for media files (more…). The afternoon session was more hands-on building of digital interfaces.
There were quite a few I was familiar with (Flash, Photoshop, Audacity, Notepad++), and a few that I haven’t needed because I have alternative software, but I thought I’d list a few here that look totally rad to me for various reasons:
Flash alternatives – Swish and WIX (an online WYSIWYG)
Artrage – a drawing program that mimics natural art textures like painting
Miro Video Converter
AVS Media programs, including Document Converter and Video Converter
Lightworks Video Editing Suite
Coppercube for 3D world building – I have one piece at the moment that takes place in a Snow Crash-type environment (more Neuromancer than Second Life), and I’ve been actively not thinking about how to build it. This is absolutely the perfect solution for me here. Just goes to show that if you wait for it, it will come (thank you Heinz 57 for that valuable life lesson).
Essentially, the tip here is to subscribe to art, video, and photography sites like artbeats.com, istockphoto.com, detonationfilms.com, and as a subscriber you will frequently be given free video, photos, and sound files to use as you like. Bonus. Also, purchase magazines like Digital Arts and Web Designer every so often – they often include download codes for media. Expands my options for images beyond flickr.com quite significantly.
As no one in the room either had Flash installed on their laptops or had Flash at all in most cases, the afternoon session was spent focusing on building open source pieces. I’m actually pretty grateful for this. Flash makes me twitchy. It’s an awesome tool – it can do so many cool things, and is so customizable and slick, that I can’t help but want to pet the shiny shiny toy all the time. BUT…it’s a proprietary software. It’s such an expensive proprietary software that it definitely creates a barrier between people who are so committed to building digital pieces they’ll drain their bank account, and people who’d like to try it, but aren’t certain – the latter making up about 99% of people who might be interested. And then there’s the T-Rex fight between Adobe and Apple, which means no one will play in anyone else’s sandbox (I’m getting twitchy about Apple products for the same reason – as I type on my MacBook Pro with my iPhone next to me – as they are shiny and work really well, but Apple are d-bags for the most part). Long story short, it was really great to see how someone else approaches this problem, and get a leg up on it.
The boilerplate brings me to the best aspect of the workshop: the materials Andy gave us, free, no strings, just for being there and being willing to try writing digital fiction. Here’s an entire DVD which includes his Resource Pack (available on his site, which I’d gotten from him a while back before getting bogged in a teaching semester), a few source files of his projects, images, sounds, videos, Flash components, and the jQuery boilerplate. With this, and enough time to explore it all, you can build some pretty stellar digital fictions. If you’re at all interested in playing with digital fiction, check out the Dreaming Methods Labs, where Andy generously offers similar source code and resources.
I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do this. After all, technology and scripts and coding isn’t (or at least, shouldn’t be, IMO) proprietary. Content often is, sure, but the code to make text draggable and fadable? What’s the point in keeping that a secret, when a sufficient time/effort training will lead anyone else to the exact same thing? No one will ever recreate Hamlet’s language and content – why do we then hold the technological equivalent of pages sewn together secret from everyone else? I love that Andy wants to share this with other digital writers, to welcome newcomers to the art, to encourage more of it so that publishers and readers and authors will start to notice that this stuff isn’t going away. We discussed this briefly at the end of the session, as well as a hope for some sort of digital writer resource center/community to make these technology more transparent and open source. Maybe it’s a project for me in the future…when I’m done with all my current craziness.
Overall, it was a most excellent day – the first time I’ve gotten to actually sit down with anyone else who writes this stuff from story to code, and see how they work and what they like to use. It’s good to know that for the most part I’m on the right track with my tools and strategies, and being able to learn from what he’s already figured out will be enormously valuable to my current project. These kinds of workshops need to happen WAY more often.