Penny Nii

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Penny  Nii

Penny Nii

Penny Nii Biography

Penny Nii, a computer science researcher in artificial intelligence at Stanford University and is a book artist and an amateur eclipse-chaser.

Mohammed Allababidi, 3D Game Developer, Animator and a professor of Digital Arts at Stanford University created the Augmented Reality art that illustrate the 3D geometry of the eclipse of the sun, its view from earth and the historical stories artwork about eclipses.

Penny Nii Description

Totality is a Digital Over Analog (D/A) Book created in collaboration between Penny Nii, a book artist, and Mohammed Allababidi and Enrique Godivia, game animators and App developers. D/A Books straddle the world of the book (analog) and e-readers (digital).

Totality, the first D/A book, consists of a letterpressed and screen-printed book and an Augmented Reality App incorporating animations, still images, music and readings. It integrates the arts and crafts of the book with digital technology.

Totality is a stand-alone book containing a narrative about a total eclipse of the sun and myths about eclipses from around the world passed down for the past four millenniums. The primary goal of using digital augmentation is to enhance the contents beyond what can be accomplished by words on paper without overwhelming them visually.

Unity, a game engine that incorporates Qualcomm Augmented Reality plug in, was used as the primary tool. With it we were able to overlay dynamic 3D models of the solar eclipse onto the pages of the book alongside the text. The same model was used to explain the geometry of the sun, the earth and the moon that make viewing a total eclipse from the earth possible. We used music fused with sound recording of planets to create a mood of foreboding that many observers, past and present, feel as totality approaches. And finally, we incorporated a reading of a passage from Shakespeare’s Hamlet describing the effect of this melancholic experience, that makes the poetry come to life.

Penny Nii Statement

On Developing a Book Augmented by Digital Experience
By Penny Nii

The book is a work of wonder. It is a miracle we take for granted. The book, as we know it today, evolved over many millennia of discoveries, technological innovations and adaptations. And it is still evolving.

Narrative carried our stories, and the invention of writing allowed us to preserve and to propagate them in our culture. The inventions of paper in China and of moveable type by Gutenberg made possible mass distribution of codified knowledge. Until then, knowledge was the domain of the privileged and the wealthy few.

From the beginning, artists and craftsmen labored to make books object of beauty. We all love beautiful things: the design of fonts, the layout of the pages, the proportion of text to sizes of margins, color application. The making of books became an art form. We judge the content of a book as we read it, but it is human nature also to judge its success or failure as a visual artifact.

The late 20th Century brought us a new miracle, the digital codification of knowledge -- think of the book as an analog codification. As it was in the time of Gutenberg, new technology opens new paths. Today, it is not whether to copy by hand or to copy by machine, but whether to transmit knowledge through an analog media (books) or through a digital medium (e-reader).

It is possible that some time in the future paper books will become rare, objects for the privileged and the wealthy, as were illuminated manuscripts. But we are not there yet. Throughout the history of the book, new inventions and technologies were incorporated into the book to enrich it. But, paper has limitations. It cannot play music or show moving pictures. It is heavy, making it difficult to carry more than a few books at a time. On the other hand, I have never heard a person say when he pulls out an e-book, “I love the smell and the feel of this book.” Why can’t we have it all?

Today, in early 21st century, many authors and publishers are taking advantage of the general-purpose nature of e-readers to enhance the reading experience. But these early efforts merely mimic the paper book. In the Digital Over Analog (D/A) Book, we are experimenting with using digital media to enhance the contents of a book, much as footnotes do. But, D/A is much more.

D/A Book combines a traditional, fine book with digital augmentations. The augmentations can be through music, images, voice and animation. D/A Book requires both a physical book and a digital viewing medium. The basic idea is that although the book is stand-alone, viewing the book pages through an App greatly expands and enriches the contents.

Our first D/A book is about total eclipses of the sun. It is a two-sides accordion book; one side is a book about my feelings and observations on watching a total eclipse from a high desert in the Bolivian Andes. The other side is a chronologically arranged stories related to eclipses over the past four millennia. I wrote and made an artists book on the same subject ten years ago. It was totally inadequate. Why?

First, my words were inadequate. But I feel any words are inadequate to describe the feelings that arise while watching an eclipse to anyone who has not had the same experience. What is the feeling that made emperors execute astronomers, generals sign truces, kings relinquish empires, people hide in terror? Second, how do you explain to people who are not familiar with geometry, the coincidental arrangement of the sun, the moon, and the earth that gives rise to this incredible phenomenon? Third, what were the historical contexts in which the myths arose?

For the past three to four years, ever since Apps for creating contents became possible, I have been thinking about how to make a ‘digital’ book out of my book on total eclipses. But I felt that whatever I could do in this medium could be better done as a video or a movie. What’s the role of written narrative? Where’s the book? A few months ago there came a moment of discovery. I was introduced to the technology of Augmented Reality. The software can view, through a camera, physical markings that trigger other software. That software can play music or show animation. This was the ‘aha’ moment that led to the Digital Over Analog Book. With music I can create the mood and the feelings I experienced; I can explain the geometry through video -- I can ‘show’ the experience.

D/A Book is only an experiment, an idea. I would feel wildly successful, if it can be considered a part of a bigger experiment that is the evolution of the book.

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