30 May 2012, 18:28

Google Doodles raise awareness, Museums go 3D

Google Doodles raise awareness, Museums go 3D
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Hey, let's talk about culture some more! When you think of "Russia" and "Culture", chances are you're thinking something along the lines of ballet, balalaikas, nesting dolls and Fabergé eggs.

Hey, let's talk about culture some more! When you think of "Russia" and "Culture", chances are you're thinking something along the lines of ballet, balalaikas, nesting dolls and Fabergé eggs. Well, May 30th is the birthday of Carl Fabergé - with a name like that, one wouldn't necessarily think that he's Russian, but he is - he was born Saint Petersburg May 30th, 1846. He has inherited the family jeweler business from his father, Gustav Fabergé, but it was Carl who came up with the idea of the bejeweled egg - the first masterpiece was created in 1885. Although the actual idea was not his, probably - the egg was commissioned by Russian emperor Alexander the Third for his wife as an Easter present. The first egg was covered with white enamel to give it an 'authentic' look. The egg opened and inside was a golden hen. The hen itself housed a ruby crown - so it's done kind of in the same vein as the famous nesting dolls. By the way, the rise of Russian nesting dolls is believed to start only in 1890s - after the first Faberge egg was created - but that's beside the point, really. In turn, these eggs were inspired by and XVIII century Austrian bejeweled egg of similar design. Long story short, the imperial present was a huge success and since then Fabergé jewelry started creating such luxurious items of similar design, using precious metals and gemstones. So why am I talking about fancy eggs here? Just open Google - their famous "Google Doodle" that celebrates various holidays and famous dates this year decided to celebrate Fabergé's birthday by hiding the letters inside these bejeweled eggs. Personally, I like the idea of their doodles - there are some annual ones that simply help people get into the holiday spirit, but then there are those that may seem obscure from first glance. From second glance, they compel users to click on the logo and look up the subject the doodle is celebrating. For example, just a week ago, On May 23rd, a stylized Moog synthesizer was featured as a Google Doodle honoring Dr. Robert Moog's 78th birthday – he created the famous eponymous synthesizer brand. I personally am not a very musical person and have never owned a synthesizer, but I clicked the doodle and read about Moog and his company. His novel devices can actually be credited with helping create and popularize the whole electronic music genre. And I learned that through someone's arbitrary decision to feature the aforementioned doodle.

     What's the history of the Google doodle, anyway? Turns out, like most traditions are, it was somewhat of a random thing in the beginning. According to Google's own statement, first doodle was designed to indicate that the founders were “out of office.” While the first doodle was relatively simple, the idea of decorating the company logo to celebrate notable events was well received by the users. A stick figure drawing was placed behind the 2nd "o" in the name of the company - meaning that Larry Page and Sergey Brin were attending the Burning Man festival. Like the first Faberge egg that was designed to be a one-time thing, but skyrocketed to world fame the first doodle was received by Google users so well that the company decided to use the idea to celebrate various holidays. The second doodle was presented in 2000. Company founders asked current Google webmaster Dennis Hwang, an intern at the time, to produce a doodle for Bastille Day. This came out pretty well, so Dennis was then appointed Google’s chief doodler - a very serious position, as you can understand. Since then doodles became a regular occurrence on the Google homepage. In the beginning, the doodles tended to celebrate widely known holidays and were global; these days doodles represent a wide array of events and anniversaries and can either be global or limited to a certain region - for example, last September 1st Russian users could see the "Education Day" doodle, the day when schoolchildren traditionally start studying. As this is more or less a strictly national tradition, global users could be confused. The aforementioned Moog birthday doodle was, on the other hand, global - come on, everyone loves synthesizers! Currently Google employs a whole team of doodlers - 5 people total. According to the section of Google's website dedicated solely to doodles, the team has created over 300 doodles for Google.com in the United States and over 700 internationally. If you're familiar with brand management, you're probably outraged right now - after all, one of the primal principles of handling corporate logos is that to never ever allow any sort of modifications - such frivolity reduces brand equity. But while that may be true for some brands that have to worry about being forgotten, Google time and time again demonstrates that their overwhelming identity can challenge stereotypes and come out the winner.

     Doodles not only give the brand a playful and trendy image, but also, as I've said, hopefully helps people learn new things. Don't know about you, but I've wondered - who is it that decides which dates will be celebrated this way. Here's a quote from their website: " A group of Googlers regularly get together to decide the events and holidays that will receive doodles. The ideas for the doodles themselves are gathered from numerous sources including Googlers and the general public. The doodle selection process aims to celebrate interesting events and anniversaries that reflect Google's personality and love for innovation. We are aware that the list of doodles is not exhaustive, but we try to select doodles that show creativity and innovation."

     By the way, you can already find the doodle for May 31st on Google's website. Unfortunately, it's limited to Russian users, but still, it's worth mentioning - after all, it celebrates 100th Anniversary of the Pushkin Museum. Wow, that's 2 cultural doodles in a row. As long as we're talking about culture here, there are a few projects I haven't mentioned yesterday. We will come back to Russia, St. Petersburg, specifically, but first, let's talk a bit about The Smithsonian. Remember I mentioned that the Institute is extensively using technology to improve their museum experience, attract new visitors and engage existing audiences? Well, soon, they may take it to a whole new level. A pair of model makers, Vincent Rossi and Adam Metallo, decided to shoot for the stars – and by stars I mean Smithsonian Institute’s 137 million-piece collection. What they want to do is to scan each exhibit and digitize it. After that they will   be able to use 3D printers in order to reproduce any exhibit anywhere at any time in any quantity. Basically, that’s the real world version of the control+c control+v combo. Of course, such a grandiose task requires not only cooperation from the institute and a whole lot of patience, but also some serious technology. Existing 3D scanners and printers are not really that accurate. They’re good for creating production models or toys and relatively simple sculptures, I guess, but at this time they can’t successfully replicate the intricate handiwork of renowned artists or Mother Nature. By the way, this task is not just a folly, a publicity stunt and a ‘modern art’ installation – the immense number of exhibits in possession of the Smithsonian as you might guess translate into a lot of space. The Smithsonian has a few exhibit locations and collaborates with third-party museums, but still, at any given time only 2% of the collection can be displayed to the public. But if their exhibits are scanned and recreated as 3D models in the cyberspace, the entire collection will need only digital storage and computing power to become accessible to everyone – and this is much cheaper and actually easier to accomplish, than finding places to display them in the real world.

     While the process is still complex and expensive, it’s already been successfully performed. A printed replica of Thomas Jefferson’s sculpture, the one on display at the National Museum of African American History in Washington D.C. was the first of hopefully many to be translated into bits and bytes and recreated using (literally) cutting-edge technology. The sculpture became the largest 3D printed museum quality historical replica on Earth, if we are to believe the Smithsonian Institute. So how did they accomplish it? The Smithsonian team collaborated with a company called Studio EIS to generate Jefferson’s 3D model. Mashable.com has also covered the story and provided the video of the result – while I personally cannot judge the quality from a low-res video seen online, the article states that the model “was pretty spot on”. The model makers slash artists Rossi and Metallo, however, admit that there be no absolutely accurate replicas until software is available to re-create geometrics of certain shapes. The process of 3D printing is basically creating a sectional layer of material in a certain shape. Then another one is created on top of that, and another and so on and so forth. Think of it as a huge number of two-dimensional cross-sections stuck into one 3-dimensional object. This technology is the best one do at the time and, obviously, has some limitations – complex objects have to be created in parts and some pieces cannot be created at all – either due to physical challenges or, like the artists highlight, inability of the software to break-down a shape into a set of instructions fed to the printer. The duo is speaking from experience - in 2010, they documented finds at a prehistoric whale graveyard in Chile. 3D replicas of 5-million year old whale fossils were scanned scaled down to a fraction of the actual size and then printed using the aforementioned technology.

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