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Audubon goes animated

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John James Audubon's book, "The Birds of America" was published in the early 1800s, and has become one of the most recognizable titles in the history of publishing. A four-volume set measuring 29 by 40 inches, and taking 12 years to complete, Birds cost $1,000 at time of publication, and in March of 2000, a copy sold at auction for $8.8 million. And yet, in all the years since publication, and in all the ways the book and its contents have been reproduced for public consumption, Audubon's birds have never been presented like this. Harmonie/Harmony brings animation to Audubon's avifauna.

Created as companion to a 2002 exhibit at Canada's Museum of Civilization in Quebec, this bilingual exhibit (hence, Harmonie/Harmony) takes a handful of Audubon's engravings and uses Flash to bring them together with music and verse. The entire 435-image collection is also available in its traditional format, but the animations are what will draw visitors in (and, no doubt, drive some away).

Harmony's menu page presents an attractive, but not exceptionally unusual example of Web design. A composite of several engravings fills the frame and offers visitors a dozen links further into the site. These links aren't visible unless you move your mouse over a hotspot, so there's a bit of searching to be done, but when found, each link reveals, well...an egg - with the title of the presentation behind it. (Titles cover themes like Frailty, Lovers, and Dreaming.) Above the main image, a series of small boxes illuminates in accordance with the presentation being selected below. (You can't actually link to the animations from these boxes, but they do let the first-time visitor know how many links to look for.)

Select a theme, and things really get interesting. Each link opens into its own window and uses one or more of Audubon's original illustrations to create a short multimedia production - difficult to describe, but for fans of Monty Python, imagine a more respectful - though certainly not stuffy - version of Terry Gilliam's cutout animations. Each animation is also accompanied by music (owls bobbing their heads to some soft jazz, a harp playing as a trumpeter swan cuts through the water, a solo voice lamenting extinct species), and a selected piece of poetry. (In most cases, there are parallel English and French poems, in some, translated versions of the same piece.)

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