Visual Science of Art Conference 2019

Written by Jacob Cheeseman

As someone who considers himself a scientist first, and an artist second, I came to the Visual Science of Art Conference (VSAC) 2019 with keen interest. The meeting aims to enhance our scientific understanding of how visual artists depict the world, and to further communication between fields that, while traditionally divided within academia, share a passion for seeing.
This year we were gathered in Leuven, Belgium, a city that could well have the perfect balance of culture and functionality. And the opening reception was held at the Stadhuis, an absolutely gorgeous example of 15th-century gothic architecture. Our group was welcomed in this grand hall by no less than the mayor of Leuven, Mohamed Ridouani, whose presence signified how this alliance of art and science has strengthened both communities.

Stadhuis van Leuven

The content of the meeting spanned a range of diverse topics, including the visual perception of material properties, empirical aesthetics, and historical studies of rendering techniques. There was also no shortage of visual art—the work of Maaike Schoorel being a notable example. Working from reference photographs of real scenes, she paints a kind of phantasmic representation of the original image, accentuating only the critical lines and shading that suggest the underlying forms. The effect is to break any photographic constraints on interpretation, and to allow each viewer to project their own imagery onto the canvas.

Maaike Schoorel, Oranje Boterbloemen (Orange Buttercups), oil on canvas, 2011

The work I presented at the conference also deals with visual ambiguity, specifically the kind that depends on how we estimate distances in photographs. In everyday circumstances, our ability to identify surface material properties is effortless and automatic, but occasionally this ability can be challenged, especially when the visual pattern impedes a reliable estimation of distance. This can be seen in aerial photographs of planted fields, which can appear strikingly similar to woven fabric or textile. The pattern of light does not specify which interpretation is correct, and so our interpretations reveal what distances we have learned to associate with such images.

Jacob R. Cheeseman, Hunting for Ambiguity, photograph, 2018

In Jan Koenderink’s latest book, The Way of The Eye, he frames visual perception as a process of continually questioning our interpretations of images. Our first impression of what we are looking at is usually quite convincing, but if we relax our focus, other impressions enter into view. Surrealist painters like Dali seem to possess a supernatural talent for imagining multiple interpretations simultaneously, but how to compose photographs with this property strikes me as a slightly different, and perhaps more difficult task. When I asked Dr. Koenderink how one could compose such images, he suggested that it was a matter of attentional training.

To this end, I once spent a sunny afternoon in Giessen wandering around with my camera, hunting for ambiguous scenes. Although my perception of each scene was stable, by meditating on the question, “What else could this be?”, I began to see hints of possibility. By the end of that day I had hundreds of images, but not a clue whether any of them had captured what I had seen, or whether others would agree with my interpretations. One of my basic goals at VSAC was therefore to discuss this way of seeing with visual artists who play with ambiguity.

My line of questioning went something like this: “How does one compose images with multiple interpretations? While creating visual art, are you trying to reduce disparity between a mental image and a perceived image? Does one interpretation serve as the foundation for subsequent layers?” The answers I received to these questions were also rather ambiguous, which could mean that these are not the right questions, or that I am not ready for the answers. Maybe by the time this discussion resumes at next year’s meeting, I will be.

World Haptics Conference 2019

Written by Muge Cavdan

World Haptics Conference 2019 (WHC) was the first major conference that I attend to in haptics. I was super excited to see all other works in my field. Since it is not only research but also applied field-oriented conference, I saw a lot of applications of the pure research.

First day of WHC 2019’s schedule is only included workshops. A total of 5 workshops held on current topics in haptics. I had a chance to attend “Softness Perception” which is directly related to my work. My supervisor Prof. Dr. Knut Drewing also had a talk entitled “Different Dimensions of Softness and Their Associated Exploratory Procedures” in this session.

Prof. Knut Drewing giving his talk about Different Dimensions of Softness and Their Associated Exploratory Procedures.

On the other days, talks, demonstrations, posters, & discussion sessions took place. There was a great environment in which you could have the opportunity to get involve in demonstrations and talk to people from different companies and universities during breaks or discussion sessions.

Demonstration session from 3rd day

All in all, throughout my Tokyo visit I got involved in a very different culture, met a lot of people from both industry and research, and most importantly learned how limitless what I can do in research. I would like to thank my supervisors Prof. Dr. Knut Drewing & Dr. Katja Doerschner for their support during my WHC 2019 paper submission and talk preparation.

The daily life of museum secondment – part 1

Written by Ellen De Korte

It is two more weeks until the Bradford Science Festival. My collection of objects is now complete and the preparation of my text and study material is almost done. In the meantime, I have also become a STEM-ambassador. STEM is an acronym for the combined subjects of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics. A STEM-ambassador is a volunteer who promotes those subjects in various ways. This can include demonstrations at schools, but it means you can also work with teachers in promoting STEM in schools.

As my research topic is part of psychology, it may seem a bit odd that I have become a STEM-ambassador. Yet, there is quite a bit of STEM involved in my job. For example, if I set up a typical experiment, I have to display the materials I want to show on a computer. Not only is the computer itself an obvious piece of STEM, but the images of materials involve quite a bit of mathematics. For a computer an image is a big table of numbers that represent image colours. Unfortunately, computer monitors do not always display the right colour if you give them a specific number. This means that I have to check the colours that my monitor displays with a special device. On top of that, I have to pay attention to the lighting of the materials I use, because this influences the look of materials as well. These little things involve physics and mathematics (light and the transformation of numbers in light to get colours) and this is not even the data collection and analysis yet (there is a lot of mathematics involved in the latter).

I will not bother you any further with the biology that is involved in my subject, because I have to understand the workings of the eye and the brain as well. Or how our research findings might be used for design of materials (engineering). All I hope, is that it has become clear that STEM is a big part of my job and our daily lives.  

A Study in Gloss

Secondment review by Sina Mehraeen

One’s ideas must be as broad as Nature if they are to interpret Nature
                                                                                     ― Arthur Conan Doyle

Here are the chronicles of my adventures during my secondment at the Department of Psychology, University of Southampton, under the supervision of Prof. Wendy Adams and Prof. Marc Ernst.

The Objectives of the trip:

  1. Gain an understanding of the interaction between illumination and material perception, including analysis of spherical high dynamic range natural illumination environments.
  2. Gain experience of working in a Psychology department in another EU country.

To begin at the beginning, I was excited to work with Wendy and to be exposed to the cool research she does on material perception, illumination environments and rendering virtual objects.  I had also never been to the UK, and was eager to get a glimpse of that part of the world.

The plan was twofold; first, I would conduct a pilot study on the interaction between illumination and gloss and how gloss might affect the way we manipulate a physical object. At the same time, I would try to learn as much as possible on rendering virtual objects in natural illumination environments and learn the statistics involved.

Sample HDR illumination environment sourced from the Southampton-York Natural Scenes (SYNS) Dataset. The SYNS dataset is a collection of high definition images (and their relevant metadata) from around 100 rural and urban locations.

After a short trip to a metal supermarket, we got some nice aluminum box pipes which we would use as our physical stimuli. The main question we were seeking to address with these physical objects is whether their glossiness affects the way people handle them. This is in line with previous studies looking at the relationship between gloss and touch (Kerrigan, Adams, & Graf, 2010 ; Adams, Kerrigan & Graf, 2016).

Aluminum box pipe

Once the objects were cleaned and nicely polished, we started testing out a suitable experimental setup. This proved more challenging than expected due to the unpredictable nature of natural lighting. In order to get the desired outcome, we really had to control the angle and intensity of illumination so using natural lighting was out of the question. We also tested various coatings to get the objects to be as glossy as possible. Currently, we have made some tweaks to the set up and we are in the process of data collection; so more info coming soon.

On the side and as a secondary objective, I began learning the basics of Blender to generate virtual objects and to import them as .obj files into Octane Render. Octane is fast rendering engine which allows for easy manipulation of minute elements which make up a scene, e.g. material qualities an object might possess and how those certain qualities (e.g. surface reflectance) interact with light. Once we had set those parameters, we placed them in a natural illumination environment and got something that looked like this:

A virtual object placed in a natural illumination environment

To conclude, I’d like to thank Wendy, Marc and Erich for their continuous support during my stay and also Davide and Paul for helping me with the setup. I’d also like to say a big thanks to everyone I had the good fortune of meeting at the Department of Psychology in Soton; for showing me around town and volunteering to participate in the experiment. Looking forward to seeing you all again soon.

Cheerio!

Secondment at the Science and Media Museum

Secondment at the Science and Media Museum

By Ellen De Korte

It has been four weeks since I started my museum secondment at the National Science and Media Museum and there are three more weeks to go until the Bradford Science Festival. I am busy preparing all text and materials for my study. However, the most exciting bit is that I am now testing objects that I have collected from charity shops and colleagues. This resulted in interesting responses. Also, the visitors are happy to try the task that is part of my activity. The next stage is to get everything ready, test the entire activity and pilot data collection.

How do I feel about public engagement? I found that it is one thing to learn to do science and an entirely different thing to communicate about it. Explainers in the museum seem to do it with ease. However, when I tried to do it myself, I found that it is a lot harder than it looks. For example, you have to learn how to get people interested in what you are doing. Moreover, you need to constantly switch gears, because you encounter people from different backgrounds.

Nevertheless, if you manage to draw people in and interact with them, it is a rewarding experience. People are willing to listen and take a little piece of information with them. Also, the skills you learn when doing science communication can be transferred to communicating your work to a specialist audience. Communication to a non-specialist audience teaches you how to quickly pitch and sell your work in simple wording. The pitching and selling skills are very useful for presentations, for example at a conference, too, because this also requires you to shortly pitch your work to people passing by.

All in all, my museum secondment is an entirely different experience. However, it is also an interesting challenge, from which I will have learnt a lot at the end.