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Frame 906 from the video to "Ain't No Grave," by Johnny Cash
I have a long commute and spend some of my time listening to podcasts, including TED Talks. At times I get a little exasperated with the gee whiz technoinfatuation that TED seems to purvey, but for once, a few weeks ago, I listened to digital artist Aaron Koblin talk about his crowd-sourced projects, including The Johnny Cash Project. His talk about "massive data sets" mixing with the personal, entitled Artfully Visualizing our Humanity, is well worth a listen.

More below the pretzel about Cash's crowd-sourced video.

Ain't No Grave

Johnny Cash recorded this song shortly before his death, and video director Chris Milk put together a bunch of old footage from Cash's self-mythologizing years; you've all seen it before. Heavy with trains, personal history and religious imagery, the clips are edited into the perfect accompaniment for the dirgelike song. The video consists of over 1,300 frames. This is the skeleton, the template for the crowd.

The idea is that each frame of the video will be drawn by a volunteer, in monochrome, using an on-line tool that makes Photoshop 2.0 seem loaded. The original image serves as a template, so, at the very least, the volunteer artist may paint by numbers, but there is plenty of room for embellishment.

Each frame may have many versions. Once the artist has finished the frame, he labels it as "abstract," "realistic," "pointillistic," or "sketchy." That ensures that the video produced has numerous, ever-changing versions. Under the "Explore" tab on the Cash Project web site, there are also data-drawn versions, such as "highest-rated," (users may rate frames) "most brush strokes," "most recent," and "random." There is also a director-curated version. The video below displays the director version as of last fall, along with background on the project.

Another fascinating facet of the site is that you can inspect any frame, see who drew it, how long it took, how many brush strokes, and even replay the drawing process in Flash.

Gonna Hold My Body Down

I checked it out and am having more fun than kittens cranking out some impressionistic stuff. I'll show you a few frames I captured.

Frame 215

Frame 980

Frame 723

My husband says if I do one more, he'll divorce me.

What you got?

So, have fun with The Johnny Cash Project. Rummage around in there, and when you're ready, draw a frame. And then post it here for everyone to see!


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