All posts by quollism

About quollism

A creator of quollity stuff.

I was a spider!

I recently did some voice acting work for animator Jeannot Landry (Blender Pirate). He wanted an Australian male voice for Roby, a cute peacock spider in his short “The Last Dance?”

In addition to voicing the character, I rewrote and extended Jeannot’s script to push the comedy some more and make the dialogue feel more authentically Aussie as requested. I was also a second set of eyes during animation blocking.

Hope you enjoy it! (A note to arachnophobes and people who are uneasy about spiders: Roby is a relatively naturalistic jumping spider in terms of the way he looks and moves. He also gets pretty close to the POV by the end of the movie. Hopefully the cute factor helps!)

Check out the Blender Pirate’s YouTube channel for more of Jeannot’s work!

Japanese for sumo fans

Part of the reason I started learning Japanese again was because I started following Grand Sumo. New sumo fans are confronted with a lot of untranslated terminology which takes a good while to get up to speed on. After a scant ten months of sumo fandom, I can tell makushita (third division) from makunouchi (top division) and oshidashi (shovey-outy) from oshitaoshi (shovey-downy).

Is any of this Japanese terminology useful in the context of learning Japanese though? I wanted to know if common sumo terms like ashitori, tsukebito, oshidashi or shitatenage could give me a leg-up on my vocab and grammar. It turns out the answer is yes – if you break them up a bit and do your homework. This is what I hope to show you how to do.

The basics

If you’re completely new to Japanese, read on. If not, feel free to skip to the next section.

Japanese has a couple of gotchas we need to be aware of before we turn jargon into useful language. Fortunately it’s also an extremely regular language compared to English with all its exceptions.. well, regular except in the way it’s written. More on that later.

Sound groups

The sounds of Japanese group together a little bit differently than in English. Mostly it’s like ka-ki-ku-ke-ko or na-ni-nu-ne-no, but sometimes you get ta-chi-tsu-te-to, sa-shi-su-se-so or ha-hi-fu-he-ho. While we’d say that the sound at the beginning of “tea” and “turtle” are the same, the sounds at the beginning of “cheese” and “turtle” are different. In Japanese, they’re variations of the same sound. The same goes for “sap” and “sheep”. To spell a sound like at the beginning of “sharp” they smoosh “shi” together with “ya”.

Sound changes

The Japanese word for person is hito. When it’s compounded with certain words, it becomes -bito. This change happens all over and it’s the bane of every novice Japanese learner. The Japanese call it rendaku (“sequential voicing”). All you need to remember is that in some names and compound words, k becomes g (mae + kashira = maegashira), t becomes d, h becomes b (kin + hoshi = kinboshi), s becomes z (oo + seki = oozeki), ts can also become z (yoko + tsuna = yokozuna) and ch becomes j.

Kanji and kana

Japanese has three distinct writing systems on top of the ones you already know. (Japanese uses Roman letters like the ones you’re reading and Arabic numbers like 234.)

The two phonetic (what-you-write-is-what-it-sounds-like) writing systems are called kana, both with about 50 letters which each represent a phonetic unit called a mora (“syllable-but-not-quite”). There’s hiragana which is used for native words and katakana which is often used to spell out abstract noises and foreign words.

The two kana systems are pretty easy to tell apart. This is cursive round squishy hiragana: これがひらがな。This is angular sharp stabby katakana: アフリカパソコン。

Japanese also uses a complicated system of characters called kanji. There’s maybe about 50,000 kanji characters, but people are only expected to know a couple of thousand of them by the time they finish school. Kanji are relevant to learning Japanese with sumo because the names of the rikishi and stables are all spelt almost entirely using kanji.

Kanji are however slippery because they often sound different depending on which word they’re being used in. Even just looking in top division sumo, we can find the kanji 大, meaning “big” or “great”, realised as three different sounds: Chiyotairyu 千代大龍, Daieisho 大栄翔 and the rank of oozeki 大関. (Sidenote: Chiyotairyu’s name means “Eternal Great Dragon” and that’s pretty awesome.)

I mention the different kinds of writing because they have helpful clues.

Mining sumo jargon for verbs

Kimarite are sumo’s winning techniques. Each of them has a name like oshidashi, abisetaoshi, uwatenage, yorikiri and so on. Sumo fans learn the more common ones by heart.

Many of these terms are actually compound verbs in “stem” form. One giveaway for this is if you see kanji intermixed with kana: 押 (oshidashi), 浴 (abisetaoshi), 上手投 (uwatenage – one kana still counts) and 寄 (yorikiri). The other giveaway is the sound: notice how there’s a lot of something-y-something-y? That’s the telltale sound of Japan’s doing words having little word parties, that is.

How can we use this though? Japanese has two (and a bit) groups of verb. There’s Group I which has a stem form ending in -i, and Group II where the stem form might end in -e or -i. If you want to extract verbs from kimarite names, you can start by splitting them up where a -i or -e occurs. This might net you two verb stems. It might not. The two irregular verbs aren’t worth mentioning here.

To get a “plain form” verb which you can use in sentences and look up in dictionaries, you can change the final -i to an -u (remembering that -chi becomes -tsu and -shi becomes -su). For Group II verbs, you add -ru if the stem ends in -e. Some stems ending in -i are actually Group II which means having to add -ru to them. You can try one if you get no luck with the other.

And no matter what, you can take the stem form, whack -masu on the end and have a ready to go polite verb.

Let’s give it a whirl!

First, let’s try oshidashi. Split the word up to get oshi 押し and dashi 出し. Change from stem to plain form to get osu 押す and dasu 出す. Wouldn’t you know it: osu means “push” or “overwhelm” and dasu means “put out”. To overwhelm and put out.

Let’s see what we can do with 浴せ倒し – abisetaoshi! Split it up to get abise 浴せ and taoshi 倒し. Abise ends in -e which means it might be a Group II verb, so we add a whole -ru to the end and look for abiseru 浴せる. The other half taoshi becomes taosu 倒す. Again we’re in luck: abiseru means “pour something on” and taosu means “knock down”. Oh the words we already know.

Kimarite are not always verb stems, however. My absolute favourite kimarite is ashitori 足取り where one rikishi picks up the other rikishi’s leg and hops them out backwards. This looks like it’s spelled a bit different to the first two examples though. There’s no kana dividing the two characters. We can find toru 取る meaning “pick up”, but we won’t find asu because the word we’re after is actually ashi 足 meaning “leg” or “foot”. The lack of kana is the big clue there. (If we look for a verb like 足す we’ll find the word “to add”. And it’s pronounced tasu.)

There’s a similar thing waiting for us with uwatenage 上手投げ. Are we looking for uwateru and nageru? Not quite. Again, the relative lack of kana in the spelling is the clue here. While nageru 投げる definitely means “to throw” (also “to launch”), uwateru isn’t a word. Looking for just uwate turns up “over-arm grip”. When you see -te- 手 in the name of a kimarite, it often refers to an action of the arm or hand – te 手 means hand or arm. And the character 上 has the implication of above or over. Literally: over-arm throw.

Wait on, there’s a -te at the end of kimarite. And there’s a lot of kana in its Japanese spelling: 決まり手. So is kimaru a verb too? Yep! It means “to be decided” or “to be settled” – as in, settling a match. One of the many meanings of te is “technique”. Kimarite literally means “deciding technique”. Nice!

Finally, let’s look at yorikiri 寄り切り – the standard issue frontal force-out beloved of top division’s belt-focussed wrestlers. Using the methods above, we get yoru 寄る and kiru 切る. Yoru means “get up close” (among other things) and kiru means.. “cut”? Sort of. As the second part of a compound verb, kiru acts as an auxilliary verb. (English auxiliary verbs include ought and must along with go when it’s used in sentences like “go suck eggs”.) So instead of “cut”, kiru means “to finish and complete”. That means in the word yorikiri we have the notion of getting up close to someone with an implication that something is completed.. like shoving them out of a ring! 🙂

Of course, if you’re more of a foodie than a sumo fan, perhaps you’d prefer to break up words like teriyaki 照り焼き – you’ll soon discover teru 照る (to shine) and yaku 焼く (to barbecue) lurking within. It works for yakitori as well.

I hope you enjoyed this peek into vocabulary building and that I’ve inspired you to find out more. Thanks for reading and here’s to a great 2019 January Basho! (魁聖関、頑張れ!)


So that was 2018…

It’s 1 January 2019 as I write this, so Happy New Year!

At the changing of the years, I like to go back over the previous twelve months, and think about what I want do over the next year. I did a similar thing in 2017, and looking over it this sentence in particular struck me:

The day job may have other things to say about all of this, especially if I score the promotion I’ve been working towards and people keep departing, but we’ll see.


– me, 12 months ago

The day (and often late night) job

I got the promotion. Yay! But the other thing happened too. Boy did it ever.

Before the year’s end, all but one other person in my team of six (not counting the new hire) had been poached by another (much better paying) company across town. Two levels of management above my team had already gone the same way, and one of those managers had taken over from another poached manager. My team in particular has domain knowledge the poachy company wants and so every single one of us was approached, me included. Only one of us flat turned them down.

When they approached me, I said “not yet”. At the time I didn’t want that kind of distraction hanging over a big unfinished project when it was so very close to done.

The project’s done now. It’s an enterprise search system. People tell me it works better than Google’s did.

This year’s big project

A search engine is sort of a specialised database. You feed documents into it to create an index, then you run queries on the index to retrieve information. The way it retrieves that information is calculating lots of points in N-dimensional space representing its documents, then figuring out how close those points are to the point which represents the thing you asked for. A well-configured search engine also transforms its index and query data to allow for more intuitive results. (If you search for cat you probably want cats as well. If you search for qoull, of course you meant to type quoll.) There’s quite a lot of domain knowledge involved in information retrieval but that’s honestly a series of blog posts all on its own.

The company’s Google enterprise search hardware was due to go out of licence in July, after which it would stop working. I couldn’t spend any actual money buying a replacement, but I had to come up with something all the same.

After months of working almost entirely solo, I put together a search service based on the open source search engine Apache Solr and it’s been received extremely well. Maybe it’s because the interface also shows a cat emoji if someone’s search contains the word “cat”. Or possibly because it authenticates people invisibly and actually finds things, something the Google one had no end of trouble with.

I’m really proud of what I achieved with it, but my creative momentum and mental health definitely suffered. That’s why I mention it.

Meanwhile, in Blender…

If there’s been an overarching theme to this year creatively, it’s been stepping back from big complicated things and working simpler and smaller.

…the Sun shines brightly!

This year AMITS stopped being the focal point for my creativity. I’m no longer under any illusion that it’s possible to learn animation from the context of making an animated movie. Animation is way too complicated to figure out as I go along, and I haven’t got enough practical experience to build on. Fair enough, though: I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

As a result, “A moment in the sun” was mostly back-burnered, although it continued to simmer. Then suddenly in October, there came a burst of inspiration: a story rewrite, a scratch audio track, thumbnail sketches and a story reel! Gosh! It’s now in its best ever state story-wise – short (90 seconds), dense, unambitious, silly and fun. All I had to do was stop working on it entirely for a few months and it came good. Yay.

I’m not holding myself to a deadline or a schedule on AMITS anymore. I want to work on it as time and energy allow – a proper crafty hobby project.

Little things (for the fun of it)

I wanted to become more confident and competent with animating anyway, so back in February, I started some self-paced courses in animation over at CG Cookie. I’m a long way from where I was a year ago, although I still have a long way to go again before I’m where I want to be. I know much more of what I don’t know.

My main blocker has been learning to use reference effectively. Stepping back from animation and understanding how I use reference in general has helped there too. In short, I let the reference dictate its own ideas instead of using it to inform my own ideas. It’s something I want to work on.

Beyond finally knocking half a dozen animation exercises over, I want to do more “little things for the fun of it” in 2019. I want to do more work on visible things which I can share instead of being stuck doing invisible things for months on end.

Keyframe Tools

Friendly animator Looch badgered me into porting a couple of tools from his favourite Maya plugin animBot into Blender 2.79. This became the Keyframe Tools add-on. The tools are functional right now but neither numerous nor super-polished. It’s still in a state of “feel free to use it but don’t expect much” (pre-alpha).

I want to get it working in 2.80 but beyond that, I have no big plans. I have more than enough software to support at my day job to want to support software outside of my day job, and Blender’s API for F-Curves is still too messy to want to deal with in my spare time.

Other things

Whatever happened to the synthesiser… ?

The interest in Eurorack petered out in 2018. The last thing I bought was the mighty Intellijel Metropolis stage sequencer – a reward after completing a release milestone for the search service.

I’m happy to report I haven’t spent a cent on any new music gear since August. (Yay. I’m cured.)

I recorded some nice whooshing noises from the modular all the same and put them up on Bandcamp. I also re-released an old album of loud ambient music called Music for Open Plan Offices. I haven’t had much use for it at the day job since everyone quit.

Writing novels

I don’t really talk about my writing much either, except in the context of “I’m writing to procrastinate animation”. But since this is a recap of the year, this is what I wrote.

I got through writing most of a first draft of a novel in February. It was about a cut-throat society of vermin living in a sort of midway universe between Mundane Reality and Deep Magic, and the chaos that ensues when someone indefatigably pleasant finds their way into a scheming nest of bastards who all want him for themselves. I put it down because it was too complicated to work out the middle and I didn’t like it enough to go to the effort of finishing it.

Before the cholecystectomy in late October, I decided to bust out a novel NaNoWriMo-style for the hell of it. Two weeks and 63,000 odd words later, I’d drafted a story about a gifted magical being more concerned with lording his talents over the easily impressed than doing anything useful. This arrogance winds up getting him exiled into the human world where he has to fit in for a whole month or face a terrifying forfeit. It’s a sweet little story with some fun characters.

I mention these only to see if anyone will ask about reading them.

Japanese

I started learning Chinese in November 2017 when Duolingo released their Chinese course, but this year Japanese was coming up a lot more in my day-to-day life (following sumo, mainly). I don’t have much use for Chinese other than saying dissidenty-type things at my Chinese-made mobile phone.

Recently I’ve kicked it up a notch and got into spaced repetition systems to boost my vocab and grammar. It’s intense but it’s definitely delivering results. I feel it turning into one of those things where the challenge, frustration and reward make it fantastically addictive – except instead of having spent loads of cash and time with electronics, I spend less cash overall and understand a whole other language. Bonus!

The future of the blog

I started keeping this journal back in 2012 on Tumblr. Back when AMITS was really roaring along, I posted something every weekend as a show and tell. The idea was to represent the passing of time as the project got made so that when someone goes back and reads it, they get a sense for the tempo of the project.

AMITS’s tempo subsequently dropped and the weekly updates became monthly. I got interested in other things again and the monthly recaps got much less focussed on animation.

My engagement levels from here are pretty close to zero as well. I would love to say that I’m not fussed about engagement but even I’m at the point now where I want to re-think what purpose this blog even serves. Regular posts feel more out of habit than for having something interesting to say.

I’m going to just get on with my 2019 and if Something Happens, I’ll make a concerted effort to be interesting about it. Very possibly I’ll blog about Japanese.

For now, that’s it. Have a great 2019!

December 2018 retro

December 2018! Western quolls at the Arid Recovery desert site appear to be doing well, and (as feared) all but one of the team-mates at work has resigned. Also I have a new-fangled block-based editor to play with for this blog. Gosh.

The sun and moments therein

I finished a cut of the AMITS: Hello! story reel at the beginning of the month. It’s just shy of 90 seconds which is a nice compact running time. And here it is! (Spoiler warning, obviously.)

After literally years of struggling to write a story with these two characters, this story reel is a quietly magnificent relief.

I modelled and rigged the Hellobot in the Blender 2.80 beta. It’s a simple rounded cylinder, with the eyes rigged to change colour and shape. It should be more than enough to get me through layout. Here is a short demo. (Very slight spoiler warning.)

There are now eight assets left to build, including scenery, a few props and two characters. Producing AMITS to any kind of deadline or schedule is completely unthinkable at the moment, unfortunately.

Blender 2.80 beta is coming along nicely but I haven’t made any updates to Keyframe Tools just yet. Hopefully the API to access keyframe data is not as convoluted as it is in the 2.7x series.

今日は、日本語!

This month mainly I’ve mainly been studying Japanese. Or should I say Kongetsu ni watashi wa omoni nihongo wo benkyou shite-ita. Or should I say 今月に私は主に日本語を勉強しいた。I can do that now. 今は出来るよ。OK, I’ll stop.

I’ve shifted gear from five minutes a day farting around on Duolingo to at least an hour a day learning Japanese characters, vocabulary and grammar. It’s really worth a blog post of its own. IOU!

That’s about it for December. I’ve got a yearly recap blog pencilled in for New Year’s Day or thereabouts, so expect that soon!

November 2018 recap

That was November! California was on fire and Queensland is now also on fire. Also there was a giant cow called Knickers and Blender 2.80 finally went into beta.

In summary…

  • I’ve been recovering from having my gall bladder removed
  • I released some sleep-aiding whooshy noises on Bandcamp
  • AMITS: Hello! got a first pass of storyboards on index cards
  • The robot has not kicked the soccer ball yet.
  • I helped out with a compilation error in Blender
  • I’m learning Japanese!

Please read on for specifics…

Surgery!

I had my gall bladder out at the end of October and I’ve been in recovery mode since. Fronting up to work in tracksuit pants is fun.

The gall bladder recovery meant roughly a week of not being able to sit up without extreme discomfort – I was either lying in bed or standing up. I watched a lot of movies, including the restoration of Abel Gance’s epic 5 1/2 hour silent film “Napoleon”. Honestly I don’t remember a lot about those two weeks aside from that they were slow and full of nourishing home-made stew. I blame the anaesthetic.

My top tips for people about to have a laparoscopic cholecystectomy (keyhole gallbladder removal):

  • Stock up on oversized t-shirts and soft pants with drawstrings.
  • Work on your upper body strength and leg strength, especially squats. It will hurt like hell to bend over for a week or two.
  • Take a book to hospital which is capable of distracting you. I took “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and it was a perfect companion for walking off the CO2 bubbles.
  • Don’t plan on sitting up at a table or desk for a while after surgery. For me it was about a week and a half before sitting at a desk for longer than a few minutes was comfortable. Even four weeks later I’m taking extra doses of painkillers to manage the discomfort.
  • It hurts to laugh for a week or so. Aim for viewing material which is fascinating enough to pass the time without being laugh-out-loud funny.

Noises to sleep to

I live near a main road so having a neutral sound playing helps me sleep. I’ve been using a white noise app for years but lately my Bluetooth has been cutting out. Even worse, when it cuts out it cheerfully announces that it’s in pairing mode. Bah.

Fortunately the speakers can take audio over cables too, but my phone’s headphone jack doesn’t really grip anymore. Double bah!

Not to be defeated, I’ve patched up my modular synth to function as a white noise machine. There’s a video on the way going through the patch for the curious. I’ll update the blog post with a link once I’ve cut it together and uploaded it.

If you find yourself needing whooshy noises yourself, you can grab a 36-minute recording of these whooshy noises for a whole fifty cents over at Bandcamp. I’d offer it free but frankly I need to pay for this modular synth somehow.

A moment in the sun

In short: it’s on again!

Back on 8 November I finished up the first pass of rough storyboards for AMITS: Hello!

There are over seventy index cards – I used actual physical index cards because I could hold them in my hand as I was drawing them without needing to sit down. Sitting down hurt a lot at the time because I was full of holes.

Gronky lays down the law

Pointy has a moan with his new cuter look

Working smarter, not harder

Today I scanned in the index cards three at a time with a different chunk of the storyboard running at the top, middle and bottom. The Blender video sequence editor lets me crop video elements, so the idea was to run the sequence of scanned images three times with a different crop for each repetition.

Start at the top, middle in the middle, end at the bottom..

You can watch the entire sequence of scans below. The index cards are even thick enough to maintain their registration – at least, it’s close enough for rough storyboarding purposes.

If you can follow this after it loads, you’re an alien.

Batching the images up this way makes digitisation super quick – after half an hour of scanning and getting the right crop values, I have individual images of my index cards. Now I can import the images back into the video sequence editor and time them out to my audio scratch to see what I’ve got. Yay!

But has the robot kicked the ball yet?

Not really. I loaded the file up one night with no intention but to mess around and got a nice twisting faceplant happening in blocking. (Note: the first part of this isn’t timed out properly yet.)

This is how I feel about this exercise now.

Time away from animating has helped me realise something hugely important about where I’m going wrong: I’ve been taking reference pretty much as gospel instead of using it as a leaping-off point for my own ideas. It’s been screwing my creative process up a lot and it’s a thinking pattern I really must fix…

Other stuff

I helped troubleshoot a Blender compilation bug. It’s not much but I’m pleased to have found a temporary workaround nonetheless. 🙂

Between following sumo and getting back into Japanese animation, I find myself with a mighty strong urge to learn Japanese again. I’m trying out the site WaniKani to boost my vocabulary. So far WK is both challenging, aggravating and rewarding enough that I’m hooked.

That’s all for this month!