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.
This month mainly I’ve mainly been studying Japanese. Or should I say Kongetsu ni watashi wa omoninihongo 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!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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…
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.
October is Blender Conference month. Did you miss it? You can catch the presentations on this handy YouTube playlist where you will find the likes of Captain Disillusion, Tangent Animation (makers of the Netflix movie Next Gen), Goya-winner Daniel Martinez Lara, and many more! The streams were a bit rubbish this year so I’m hoping to make it back up to Amsterdam next year. (Yes, malfunctioning streams and a slow internet connection were annoying enough in 2013 to get me physically up to Amsterdam in 2014.)
The biggest news I’ve got for you this month is that I’m going in for some keyhole surgery later this week to remove my gall bladder. I’m told the recovery process for this surgery is basically a mixture of lying down and pottering around on my feet as much as I can stand. Desk work is not recommended, and the recovery time is a week or two. Wish me luck!
Now, what did I get up to this month? I didn’t actually animate anything. Honestly, I’m still kind of avoiding that soccer ball body mechanics shot I’ve been stuck on for a while.
How to not animate a body mechanics shot, part 1
Apparently I will write an entire novella to avoid working through that shot. Which I did, because suddenly I wanted to get a NaNoWriMo-style story in. In retrospect it’s interesting how much time I can spend writing versus how much time I can spend animating. I have a clearer sense of what to tackle and when in the writing process which I’ve yet to learn in animation.
It was also interesting having a creative charge-discharge cycle bouncing between work and home. I could load up with ideas at work when I couldn’t execute them, then I’d come home (still excited to work on stuff) and execute. Pretty handy!
It was also interesting how themes from working on AMITS began creeping into it. Which makes sense because another thing happened in October: apparently I will also restart “A moment in the sun” to avoid that body mechanics shot.
AMITS: Hello! (aka HTNAABMS part 2)
I finally got a good story together which comes in at under 90 seconds, something I haven’t really had since 30 April 2014 when I first devised this project. I also have a scratch track, some thumbnails and some new character designs to sift through.
I don’t know how many shots I want yet, but I do know there’s nine major assets I need to make, including three characters, and some sub-assets to take care of like little stones and stuff. I estimate about 130 hours of work to realise those assets from start to finish. Roughly.
Then let’s say anywhere from a few hours to many hours per shot for the animation. The lighting and render work should be pretty quick to turn out because I’ll be using Blender 2.8 and Eevee and not doing anything super-complicated.
Is it doable? Anything is doable! Will it be doable without significant input from other people though? Based on how my day job is tracking, I suspect the answer will be no, and honestly I’ve stopped caring if I do this all on my own steam or not. It doesn’t matter.
And of course I’m looking for shortcuts where I can find them. As a rigging trick I was trying to get “sticky arms” working, where I could just get an arm to suction cup itself to the body geometry and tweak the normals to suit, but it didn’t seem to work as well as I’d liked.
I don’t want to give away too much about the story for “Hello!”, other than there’s a good reason it’s called “Hello!”: it’s easily the most frequent word in the script.
Hope to see you all without my dumb achy gallstones shortly! Good thing too because I’m almost out of Buscopan…
Edit 6 November: The operation was a complete success and one of my gallstones was a big black monster of a thing! More about that next month..
For me, September is a transitional season – warming weather and slowly emerging from the fog of late winter. Let’s recap!
I’ve stalled with the animation courses a bit. Partly the slow progress is from being ill at the beginning of the month, and partly because the day job ramped up again after I recovered. Most of the last fortnight has been pretty mind-numbing and exhausting, but at least this time it’s just made me brain-tired without robbing me of sleep.
Also animation is hard so I’ve been procrastinating like crazy. 🙂
For this exercise, I’ve ramped up the difficulty a bit on my own initiative. I’m consciously pushing myself to break away from naturalism to attempt something more stylised. Ultimately, that’s what I want my animation to move like because it’s much more fun to watch than naturalistic animation. Here’s one small step in that direction!
Back to the kick. At this point, I have.. something, I guess? What you see below is recognisably a robot kicking a soccer ball but I don’t want to submit this. There’s a lot that isn’t working and I can definitely do better!
Another blocker has been my inexperience with using video reference. This inexperience was the reason I put down the lipsync course and started the body mechanics course. I shot reference but I couldn’t make sense of it. How do I find usable stuff like keys in this impenetrable tangle of overlapping action and acting beats? Gah! (Maybe something simpler, like body mechanics… ?)
It turns out that using video reference also takes lots of practice. I made the rookie mistake of starting relatively cold and hoping the reference would tell me everything I needed to know, and as a result the reference was nigh impossible to make sense of.
It helped me a lot to have specific questions for the footage to answer, questions like “how does this motion work, mechanically speaking?”, “where are the shifts in weight and momentum?”, “what striking poses/shapes are there?” and “what secondary actions are there?”. Even with more specific questions like these, the answers still take diligent work to find out. Animation is hard!
For instance, the body’s forward momentum in this kick was a mystery until I finally caught the kicking leg planting the body’s momentum hard into the ground about 1/4 sec after the kick. Because this epiphany came so late in the month, I’ve yet to turn it into anything except some thumbnails and these words.
A moment in the sun
I don’t want to say anything concrete and definite about AMITS for now, but I’m back to giving it some thought again. Many moons ago, Beorn Leonard of “Glass Half” suggested trying little sketches featuring Gronky and Pointy before attempting an entire short movie on my first trip out. That makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?
Blender 2.8 is also close enough to beta that it would be crazy not to take advantage of Eevee. Initially I wanted to use Cycles for AMITS to get a more physical look, but that feels like something better left for a longer short.
That’s about everything for now. See you at the end of October!
Welcome welcome! August will probably be remembered best in Australia for when yet another prime minister got knifed by wreckers in his own party, more notably this time because said wreckers had two goes in a single week and didn’t even get their guy in. My country is evidently being run by evil clowns.
Fun with animation
I handed in another animation exercise on the CG Cookie course, this time the splined and polished version of the robot jump. Here’s a fully rendered version which I probably shouldn’t have rendered because there’s a ton of stuff I ought to fix. Ah, here it is anyway. (Animation is mine; Rivet character supplied by CG Cookie.)
Later on in the month I came down with a cold. I tried to power through the fatigue and snot to make a start on the next animation exercise, but.. well..
Definitely going back to the drawing board to give that another try.
Fun with beeps
Speaking of robots, some more beepy things arrived this month. Here’s a trancey techno jam.
I also finally replaced a dud trimpot in my trapezoid through-zero quadrature VCO and got it working properly! Here is some filthy modular techno to celebrate.
Fun with Twitter
Right at the end of the month, I RTed this tweet from Oscar-winning animation director Brad Bird who was complaining about same-day cinema and streaming releases:
And with it will disappear showmanship: a filmmakers last bit of control over how their work is seen (an audience, in a dark room, huge screen, sound at reference level, no phone calls, dog barks or PAUSE button, no skipping ahead, no replaying the cool thing that just happened). https://t.co/imbANEyazN
for years now studios have been checking their music through a little tinny mono speaker to make sure it still sounds good when people listen to it on cheap crap. filmmakers would be wise to take a leaf out of that book and make sure their movie still plays ok on a smartphone! https://t.co/ZSyKDNj7A1
Not exactly what I said but let’s assume he was being a bit sarcastic. 🙂
I then received many direct and indirect responses to the effect of “you’re wrong”, the famous video where David Lynch gives his opinion about watching movies on phones, “David Lynch would straight up kill you for saying this” (which turned into a thread about how David Lynch would make his move and who would try to kill me in the sequel), and a news story about Darren Aronofsky mixing his sound so it plays OK on iPhones and how Quentin Tarantino found this depressing.
I used a smartphone as an example because it’s small and unflattering, but the smartphone thing seems to upset the cinephile set who see smartphones as the Devil, the Anti-Christ of cinema! David Lynch didn’t complain about back-of-airplane-seat screens – he complained about smartphones, damnit!
So what would possess me to opine something so sacreligious to the idea of cinema? Well, here it is: if a movie still connects with the viewer powerfully on the display equivalent of Auratones, if it manages to cut through on an unforgivingly small screen with crappy headphones without the grand sensory experience of a cinema screen and sound system for support, it’s probably a pretty good movie! That’s all I meant.
(That and if studios sell movies on VOD, I shouldn’t struggle to read any narratively important information off diegetic screens. Looking at you, Blade Runner 2097…)
Brad Bird is a top-flight filmmaker and I’m sure his movies would pass a “smartphone” test whether he made explicitly sure they did or otherwise. I’m more baffled that he chose to RT me. Snarking on the quaint opinion of one lowly random to 132K followers isn’t really a fair fight. Thankfully there’s been no threats of death or rape yet so apparently Brad Bird’s fans are relatively level-headed, but I’ll keep everyone posted if it turns out there’s some cinephile psycho killer whose favourite movie was The Iron Giant.
See you in September, assuming David Lynch doesn’t come and deal with me first.