Thursday, March 28, 2013

Beautiful Technology, Beautiful Stars

Today I’ve got a couple of little updates on some topics that I’ve talked about many times over the years. One is about drawing, specifically modern animation, and the other is about astronomy.


This is a still of a professional animator—one of the lead character animators at DreamWorks—demonstrating a drawing:

Notice he isn’t working on paper. This is something I’ve thought about for years, and talked about in many posts. Digitizing tablets for artists.

Technology And The Magic Of Images

Don’t Look Now: Modern Pretty

The Quo Vadis? Question

Looking Back: The City Or The Monster

These days digitizing tablets are very good, very powerful and many (most?) professional artists work directly in the digital world rather than working with analog media and then scanning their work. Certainly not all professionals work directly onto tablets (for instance: Ending the year on a good note at Ward Jenkins’ blog), or work that way all the time, but my impression is that tablets have become established as the new normal.

I wonder if there will be esthetic consequences to this that will be hard to immediately assess? I don’t know. But that concern aside, digitizing tablets are wonderful tools and I suspect if I owned one I would do everything—I mean everything—on the tablet.

(There is one cultural issue that I guess should be remembered in this context. Quite separate from the technical issues, there is a long tradition in the West that paintings—physical paintings—can be rationally valued at many millions of dollars. There is no such tradition at all for digital works. Regardless of how beautiful a digital image may be, and regardless of how easily it may have been to construct, currently the big money in the world of art is still, of course, targeted at physical analog paintings. Just a thought.)

Here is an embedded video of that DreamWorks artist at work, drawing directly on the tablet. If you’ve never seen this stuff before, this is amazing (notice that he can turn over the digital stylus and “erase” with the other end as if it were a real pencil):


One of my favorite sights in the world of astronomy is the star Aldebaran, surrounded by the open star cluster the Hyades in the constellation Taurus. I’ve written about Aldebaran a lot, and I even did an oil pastel drawing of it once (the drawing is in the first link below):

Pumpkin Mars In The New Myth Sky

Cosmic Fireflies

I Think Stars Want Us

If you’ve never seen Aldebaran or the Hyades this is a particularly great time to take a look.

In the western sky after sunset and then for the next few hours (so there’s no rush) the brightest star visible isn’t a star at all but rather is the giant planet Jupiter, currently in Taurus. You can’t miss it. Jupiter is very bright.

And Jupiter right now is only about four degrees away from the beautiful scarlet star Aldebaran. So, when you find Jupiter, you’ve found Aldebaran, too, because the star is just “a little to the left, and a little down.” Again, you can’t miss it.

Even under bright urban night skies, if you look at Jupiter and Aldebaran through binoculars, I bet it is a sight you will never forget.

It is very beautiful.

I once characterized viewing the area around Aldebaran through binoculars as feeling like you’ve been transported up into a spaceship and viewing space from out in space itself. It really does look that beautiful. Aldebaran is a beautiful scarlet red color. The Hyades are bright white.

It’s one of the most beautiful sights in the sky and it is as simple, really, as an astronomical image can be—it is just a beautiful colorful red star set against a backdrop of simple white stars.

But when you see I bet you never forget it.

I can’t recommend it enough. Jupiter is very easy to find in the western sky after sunset, and visible for many hours. Aldebaran is just to the left and down a little. You can’t miss it. Many binoculars, in fact, will show Aldebaran, some of the Hyades, and Jupiter all in the same field of view. I saw that early this evening when I was checking up on Comet PanSTARRS much farther “to the right.”

Aldebaran, the Hyades and Jupiter all in the same binocular field. It’s like being in outer space looking out the portal of a spaceship. Great stuff, and very easy to find now. I recommend it.

And there are interesting facts about the Hyades and Aldebaran, too. They are—in an astronomical context—very close to our solar system. And humans have loved looking at them for thousands of years. Here is an info box about them, and a link to where I got it. (Notice that the info box mentions a second possibly related star cluster called the “Praesepe” cluster. This is just the technical name for the Beehive, in Cancer, that I talk about in the first link above. I’ve even done an oil pastel of the Beehive, too, in Mars Almost In The Beehive, and I talk about the cluster in Spring Planting And A Beehive Update. It’s beautiful, but can be hard to find.):

The Hyades — The Hyades are an open star cluster located in the constellation Taurus. The closest star cluster to Earth, it is centered some 151 light years away.

The brightest star in this direction is Aldebaran, but it is not a member of the cluster, being located at just over 40% of the distance. Not counting Aldebaran, approximately 300 stars are known or suspected to be members of the cluster; most are not visible to the naked eye.

The stars of the Hyades are associated with one another in the sense that they are all moving in approximately the same direction and at the same speed through the galaxy.

Plotting their movements backwards eventually brings them all to a more or less a single point about 600-800 million years ago, a fact explained by the theory that they all formed in the same stellar nursery. The stars of the Praesepe star cluster may also be related.

This common motion was only demonstrated in 1908 by astronomer Lewis Boss, but the Hyades have been known since antiquity. The name itself dates back at least as far as 1000 BC, when it is mentioned in various Greek sources.

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