The joy of programming comes from the ability to create, and the best way to assess and enjoy your results is through a visual display. Animation adds a dimension that’s easily mined for education and entertainment.

I’ve experimented with animating using HTML5’s canvas element (Metro Distortion Map), and also KML via Google Earth (Animating Metro with KML and Google Earth). But for displaying static chronological information (like Capital Bikeshare’s open data), I wanted a way to build true movie files. I ended up working with Processing, which is both a programming language and a development environment. The language is basically Java, but designed specifically to make graphics easy, with built-in objects and functions.

Processing did indeed make it easy to get started, though getting a finished product took perseverance and detective work. The site’s reference section is incomplete and weakly documented. It would benefit from a better design, and a more thorough description of the syntax for each element. And I hate the name Processing, as it inevitably leads to confusion.

For videos, I used the MovieMaker library, which lets you assemble a collection of images into a movie, like a flip book.

The output format is a QuickTime “MOV” file. Because even short animation can quickly grow in size, I ended up deciding they’d be easier to share if I uploaded to my YouTube chanel, though it does downgrade the quality.

I faced a bigger challenge when a video got invited to an art show (“Zeitgeist III: Too Much Information?” at DCAC). The only display device I had available was an Archos 101 tablet, which runs Android and has a screen resolution of 1024×600. It does not play QuickTime movies, so I had to convert the format from my iMac.

I found a free file conversion utility called MPEG Streamclip from Squared 5. I also had to experiment with the various available codecs in the MovieMaker library, eventually finding success with the “Video” codec.

The first few movies I made have tapped into only a few features of Processing. It clearly has great potential.

Creating Animation with Processing

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