NEoN No More..

On the final day of ‘North East Of North’ 2010 a young twitterer commented that he’d ‘learned more in the final two days than in 2 years of school‘!

Whether that was a personal comment on the ineffectiveness of the local Education authority i’m not sure but what I can confirm is how fantastic NEoN was this year. From Superfly’s perspective not only was there a great balance of art and technology but the speakers regularly went beyond the aesthetic and into the psychology of our relationship, as the audience, as players, and as designers, with narrative. How should that narrative be constructed and presented and what responsibility does that bring..?

So there were big questions being discussed and answers came from many view points.. not always in agreement with each other.. so it’s down to us as individuals to decide where we sit on that spectrum of thought.

App Jam Conference
Monday – Wednesday of last week was the inaugural NEoN App Jam. Part conference, part competition, and absolutely no sleep for the teams who had 48 hours to build an App. SuperFly was pre-occupied with getting NEoN Knights off the ground but feed back from those who attended the conference was extremely positive. The location of Discovery Point seemed to work well and I can definitely vouch for the food. spot on! ;)

Above – Discovery Point – home to the App Jam
Below – Jamie Shek of ‘I Give A Damn’ Winning team of App Jam Dundee 2010

NEoN Conference
Thursday and Friday was the NEoN conference based at Abertay’s Centre for Excellence. Another great venue and more great food. :)

Dino Dini kicked off on Thursday morning with his own brand of philosophy. As someone who was more caught up with ‘Gridrunner’ than ‘Football Manager’ I wasn’t that familiar with Dini or his work but he really got the ball rolling in terms of why it is we engage with all this ‘fake stuff’ on screen. He also made the point (with which I wholeheartedly agree) that ‘excessive narrative reduces player experience‘. He gave a fantastic example through his experience with the vintage space pilot classic ‘Elite’ (a favourite of mine in the 80’s). The game provided a world but the story and experience was entirely immersive and of your own making. He took this a step further by suggesting that assisting the player in their own stories helps them to ‘understand and develop themselves’.

Pictoplasma (with a few of their furry buddies) were up next and gave a great overview of the evolution of character – ‘Character’ being the theme of the conference. While Dini seemed to focus on ‘us’ as the character, Pictoplasma come from a completely different angle. They compile exhibitions and books of illustrations – again, in many ways the narrative is down to the viewer. While the emphasis is on design and illustration they also made the connection between ‘avatars’ and ‘death masks’ and the freedom to be someone  – or someTHING – else!

Above – Pictoplasma character suit and their ‘character scale’

In the afternoon I attended a workshop presentation by James Alliban of Skive (London). He was demonstrating his work in Augmented Reality and, again, narrative took up a reasonable slice of his presentation. He quoted an Indian proverb that says, “Tell me a fact and I will learn. Tell me a truth and I will believe. Tell me a story & it will stay in my heart forever.” This resonated with me as I’ve long recognised storytelling as a significant medium for learning (it’s as old as time!) and yet, these days, it seems to be relatively untapped and it’s cetainly an area that I’m interested in pursuing. (Only this week a documentary on the BBC demonstrated how storytelling is being used to assist sufferers of Dyslexia to learn!)

Another interesting point (crucial, I would suggest..) that Alliban made was that while digital interfaces for experiencing new media, (from spellcheckers to Virtual Reality, etc..) can create valuable extensions to our lives they can also make ‘significant amputations‘. Again, this highlights the responsibility associated with creating such applications.

You can follow his blog here.

Above – Ian Anderson (r) and Lyall Bruce of Sooper Double D

We could be Heroes..
It was also a year, it would seem, for my design heroes to turn up in Dundee. First up was Ian Livingstone, co-creator of Games Workshop, Warhammer and (more significantly for me) Fighting Fantasy. He gave a great overview of gaming from traditional board games, through Dungeons and Dragons and Warhammer, and then his ‘second life’ in the realm of digital games and in particular Tomb Raider who, his publishing company, Eidos was responsible for bringing to our attention. I had the opportunity to speak to him during an early lunch on Thursday (you can see my signed The Warlock of Firetop Mountain here) and he showed me the draft layout for a new Fighting Fantasy book that he’s in the process of writing!
On Friday it was ‘graphic design hero’ Ian Anderson, designer behind the mighty the Designers Republic (I <3 my DR)! I was going to ask him to sign my tDR Angry Man poster but in the end I decided that, being Ian Anderson, it was more appropriate for him to sign the tube (don’t want to spoil the poster ;)) and he graciously (though reluctantly “..the work is the signature..”) agreed, complete with Angry Man doodle. (And it’s not going on eBay!)
He did a great Q&A with Lyall Bruce of Sooper DD and then happily sat and chatted with myself, Sooper DD and Tartanbaffies in the Hannah McClure Gallery for an hour or so.

Above – Lyall Bruce (Sooper DD), Ian Anderson (tDR) and John Patterson (Tartan Baffies) Hannah McClure Gallery

I’m conscious that this is an Epic post so i’m going to wrap up..!

Other highlights through the two days were designer/illustrator/artist Akinori Oishi who collaborated with UK character design giants TADO on a poster design for the NEoN programme and also has a solo show in Abertay’s Hannah McClure Gallery until January. He captured everybody’s hearts and imaginations with his (frustratingly) simple designs and humble personality; and not least by his assertion that ‘I just love to draw, it’s my hobby-job‘! ;)

There’s also the potential for a ‘Law hill’ character vinyl toy!

Above – detail from Akinori Oishi exhibition
Below – Aki’s ‘Abertay Student centre’ and ‘Law Hill’ characters

Oscar winning Ken Perlin (TRON) was also fantastic in his demonstration of his work in visual effects and animation. I loved how he explained that the real person he had modelled his ‘face demo‘ on had a ‘significantly higher polygon count‘. He also has his own 3D printer at home ;)

Industry Panel – Friday
The final hour of Friday was taken up by a Q&A of what was designated an Industry Panel of Pat Kane, Simon Meek, Fraser McClean and Tim Pritlove. Google each and every one and you’ll get a glimpse at the level of experience and expertise which was on hand at this years NEoN.

Many areas were covered in the Q&A from DRM and Copyright through to ‘what’s next?’ for digital industries.. What I took from the questions on DRM and attention spans was that if something is ‘good’ and/or ‘valuable’ then it WILL find an audience willing to invest their time (attention) and their money! (ie pay for it and not pinch it)

To summarise i’d say that while last years NEoN was a step forward for Dundee and the local creative community – NEoN 2010 was worthy of any major city in the world. Maybe now the powers-that-be in Dundee will finally sit up and take notice and realise that while there is real talent and interest locally that will organise, curate and sustain this kind of event, unless it is nurtured and encouraged (and employed) that same talent won’t hang around if they are wanted/needed elsewhere.

November 15th, 2010  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  2 Comments


  1. donna holford-lovell says:

    November 15th, 2010 at 10:48 pm (#)

    thanks so much! it warms the heart to hear your enthusiasm, heres to 2011 !

  2. Timmmmmmm says:

    November 16th, 2010 at 12:35 am (#)

    Great final word. I hope it is noted! Seems to be evermore the case around here and in this economic climate. The world NEEDS designers and creative thinkers but we cannot work for peanuts. Peanuts do not a balanced diet make!

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