topical media & game development

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book proposal (30/12/2001)

title: A (not so) gentle introduction to multimedia

author: A. Eliëns
status: first draft

previous titles of the author:

brief history:

I started developing the course notes in the beginning of 2000. I used Principles of Multimedia Databases then as a book. But I was dissatisfied with the course, and decided to develop my own material. After presenting that in class, I decided to write the book, since the idea of it had grown over a period of almost two years. Instead of writing a proposal, I wrote a preface first, which I will include in the proposal.

(research) experience of the author:

I have been doing research in multimedia information retrieval and virtual environments (partly as a guest at the dutch research institute CWI), for a period of over three years. This research is reflected in the book, notably chapter 7 and in some of the 'research directions' parts in the other chapters.

courses taught by the author:

  • Introduction to Multimedia (*)
  • Multimedia Authoring I -- Web3D/VRML
  • Multimedia Authoring II -- Virtual Environments
  • Object Oriented Software Development
  • in the past: Formal Methods

the market for the book:

As the title indicates, the book is meant as an introduction to multimedia, see (*) above. More specifically, as an introduction to multimedia for first year Computer Science and Information Science students. When setting up the course, I discussed the topics and issues to be dealt with with collegues of the CWI, and we came up with a general description of the course. Then I selected the Principles of Multimedia Database Systems book (discussed in more detail below) and started the course. The course didn't work well. The topics seemed to be too limited, and although the book chosen is of high academic standards, it did not appeal to the students, due partly to the fact that is was too database-oriented. It also appeared that many students did not buy and read the book, but took the exam just by reading my course notes. They were assisted in this, I must admit, by the fact that I formulated a fixed set of questions, and provided backlinks from the questions to the course notes in the online version. For the time they had for it, I do consider that an adequate strategy. Since no other book seemed to meet my demands, I decided to take the existing course notes and extend them with material that I considered relevant and interesting. More in particular, also interesting for students. First year students are easily bored. The themes I organized the book around may be summarized as
  • digital convergence
  • broadband communication
  • multimedia information retrieval
These themes allowed me to pay attention to a variety of subjects, popular trends in digital entertainment, but also standards in development such as MPEG-4, compression and multimedia information retrieval. In other words, I tried to find a balance between interesting material and academically relevant subjects. Although other books may be liked by students, such as for example 'Dust or Magic' or 'Multimedia -- Making It Work', I did not consider these books to be acceptable from an academic point of view (although I know the latter is used for a Multimedia course at the Univesity of Amsterdam.)

Using my experience in writing the OO book, I again adopted the so-called 'slides' as a means to take text from the book for presentation. Let me explain that in somewhat more detail: a slide is a piece of text, a list, table or figure, that (using some tools) is taken out of the text and presented. The advantage of this approach is that the relation between slides and the text is immediate, which is not the case with other presentation formats. In contrast with the OO book, however, where the slides were made explicit by boxes in the text, I now use an implicit slide mode, to allow for more continuous text. The use of slides is, however, reflected in the text by what may be called a graphical or short hand style, using layout and brief bulleted phrases instead of long passages of text.

Another distinct advantage of the book, over the competition, is that it is short. The text will not exceed 100 pages. Any of the other books is 400-500 pages, at least. In my experience, no student has the patience (nor the ability) to read that all.

Although the book is meant for first year students, it is not limited to that audience. The level of the students is of more importance when considering how to take the exam. The text contains sufficient references to other material to be user for higher level students, or even research students and professionals. To assist the instructor, a number of questions are included (organised wrt. insight, conceptual knowledge, and detailed knowledge of technology and facts). There is also a sample of lectures, with abrief explanation.

Since the course, as I taught it also included a practical assignment, the online version contains a manual for Macromedia Director, in the same format as the text. It is open for discussion to include that manual as an appendix in the book version.

the competition:

Let me, before continuing my discussion of the qualities of my book, discuss the other books in the field, that might qualify as a book for the kind of course my book is intended for. Some of the comments, which are all in shorthand, have been given already above. (The complete references are given at the end.)

Multimedia -- Making It Work

     +  used at Univ of Amsterdam
     -  unwieldy, colloquial, sub-academic
Dust or Magic
     +  nice, lot of feeling for the field
     -  chaotic, full of cheap advice to the 'talent', sub-academic
Principles of Multimedia Databases

     + excellent, highly academic, good ideas + formalization
     - too database oriented (SQL), too many technical details,
       too much irrelevant material
Understanding networked multimedia

     + broad coverage, well-structured, reasonably well written
     - too technical, too much material, slightly outdated
Handbook of Multimedia Information management

     + good material, in-depth
     - collection of articles, difficult to adapt for presentation
The Computer in the Visual Arts

     + well-written, from artist's viewpoint
     - too narrow, and too many details
Further, these are all 500 pages+ books. None, with the exception of Principles of Multimedia Databases has material for educational purposes.

In comparison, in the same brief way I could characterize my own book:

A (not so) gentle introduction to multimedia


    + concise, broad overview, excellent thematic focus
    - sometimes cryptic, requires study of reference 
with the additional remark that it is only about 100 pages, and contains all the material discussed in the book in a presentation ready format. (The teacher has the choice between HTML, VRML and Powerpoint)

intended audience

The course notes were explicitly written for first year Computer Science and Information Science students. (The Information Science students are expected to choose the specialisation Multimedia and Culture, a curriculum provide by the Division mathematics and Computer Science of the Faculty of Science of the Free Universityof Amsterdam).

The course has a practical part and a theoretical part. which in combination takes 2-4 weeks, full time study.

The book covers the theoretical part. The online version gives a skeleton assignment that may adapted by the one responsible for a similar course.

The online version contains all the material needed for presentation, including:

  • presentations for all chapters, including the preface in HTML, VRML and Powerpoint
  • a manual for Macromedia Director, also available in presentation format
  • presentable versions of the MPEG-4 standard, and other relevant material
  • possible exam questions, with back links into the text for quick learning and review
  • seven sample lectures, with additional explanation for the instructor

One additional remark may be made, it is (so to speak) 'a book with an attitude', it is slightly authorative and directive towards the students, telling them to learn the facts and 'do the exam'. Some students take refuge to learning the 'keywords and phrases'. They are even helped in this respect, since the text uses a 'graphic' layout to emphasize important point, and to allow for a quick recognition of chunks of relevant material.

Back to the potential category of users/buyers. How would they look at the book?


     + compact, quick overview, few irrelevant details
     + exam can be learned by clicking on questions in checklist
     - somewhat abstract, guidance or reference lookup is needed

     + concise, well-structured overview, in presentation-ready form
     + provides full course, and skeleton practical assigment
     + skeleton exams, with backlinks for review
     + additional references to other material
     - unusual style of formatting and presentation

     + quick overview + (online) references
     + material for making presentations
     - rather concise (slightly academic) style

     + easy to read overview
     - reference to (too) many fields of knowledge


What does the book offer? As remarked before the themes of the book may be summarized as:

     digital convergence
     broadband communication
     multimedia information retrieval  
The material is divided over 7 chapters, including a preface, afterthoughts and some appendices:

       1. digital convergence  
       2. information (hyper) spaces  
       3. codecs and standards  
       4. information retrieval  
       5. content annotation  
       6. information system architecture  
       7. virtual environments  
The book collects material from a variety of sources. The authors own research is only discussed in chapter 7, and some parts of chapter 6. Also included are a number of research directions sections, these provide suggestions for projects and future research.

The suggested lectures do not all follow the linear structure of the text, but may take parts at will. For example, with an eye on the practical assignments, section 2.3 will usually be dealt with before discussing chapters 1 or 2 in any detail.

In summary: The book offers a concise (max 100 pages) introduction to multimedia, a field that is gaining academic interest rapidly. It fills a gap in the existing literature, by giving a broad overview and references to research and development in the areas of interest. It provides online material (also on CDROM) to assist the instructor in presenting the course and allowing students to explore further references. It has a distinct style, that meets academic standards.


T. Vaughan, Multimedia -- Making It Work, Osborne/McGraw-Hill, 1998 4th edn
B. Hughes, Dust or Magic -- Secrets of Successful Multimedia Design, Addison-Wesley, 2000
V.S. Subrahmanian , Principles of Multimedia Databases, Morgan Kaufmann, 1998
F. Fluckiger, Understanding networked multimedia -- applications and technology, Prentice Hall, 1995
W. Grosky, R. Jain, R. Mehrotra (eds), The Handbook of Multimedia Information Management, Prentice Hall, 1997
A.M. Spalter, The Computer in the Visual Arts, Addison-Wesley, 1999

(C) Æliens 04/09/2009

You may not copy or print any of this material without explicit permission of the author or the publisher. In case of other copyright issues, contact the author.