Blender

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!

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!

There goes May 2018

Summary: I made an animation tools plug-in for Blender 2.8 and I’m still working through body mechanics and lip sync animation courses for now.

Hello from May 2018. This month, Blender Animation Studio packed up and moved to the new HQ in Amsterdam North and to my south Margaret River tragically became famous for something other than surfing. The Hawai’ian volcano Kilauea started tearing up its neighbours and there was some royal wedding that people made a fuss about. And oh that torrent of never-ending GDPR emails, many from companies we look forward to never hearing a peep out of again..

Personally I spent most of the month battling one illness or another as the cold started settling in here.

There was a little pear animation I made. It uses shape keys and the Laplacian Deform modifier. Here’s the .blend file if you want a closer look. It was made for Blender 2.79a but it’s munty in the current 2.8 preview.

Speaking of Blender 2.8, I set up a Windows build environment this month when Blender’s nightly builds stopped during their office move. If you’ve ever wanted to try out unbuilt branches (like greasepencil-object) or code changes as they get committed, this is not super difficult to do and absolutely worth it!

I even did a little coding myself. Now that armature-driven animation is possible in Blender 2.8 again, I wrote a little add-on to put back the old 2.7-series keyframing tools on the toolbar exactly how they were before.

And of course there’s the fun of loading up old files in the 2.8 preview to see how well they work. Here’s an abandoned animation test from A moment in the sun rendered in 2.8’s Eevee renderer (currently a work-in-progress). None of the materials have been tweaked to work in Eevee – it’s doing a pretty good job reproducing the Cycles materials, I reckon!

 

I kept going with the Animation Body Mechanics course. I submitted this polished jump for exercise 2. (Character rig is from CG Cookie.)

 

It only had to be a simple jump across a gap, but I got fancy – that’s how this four seconds of animation is the end result of nearly 26 hours of blocking, splining and polishing over an entire month.

I’ve been encouraged to stick closer to the assigned work in future without creating momentum-crippling challenges for myself. I think this is sound advice. 🙂

For something a little easier, I started the Demystifying Lip Sync Animation course too. My linguistics training helps me get good mouth shapes at speed. Here’s my submission for exercise 2 of the course. (Character and sound from CG Cookie.)

 

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading and I hope you have a great June. 🙂

April 2018 retrospective

So that was April 2018. When a Toronto cop showed the world how it’s done. When the Koreas finally started talking about ending their war. When the Australian financial sector’s dodgy behaviour was finally exposed for all to see. When.. uh… something of significance happened in Perth probably, not sure what.

I got a couple of new synthesiser bits this month, including the venerable complex LFO TINRS Wobbler and a portable enclosure with a built-in power supply. The week that the enclosure began its journey over from Melbourne, my car decided once and for all that my modular synthesiser was getting far too much attention. There soon came an ominous and expensive rattling noise from the engine…

If my chances of making it to Blender Conference 2018 were slim before, my car’s repair bills have now nailed that particular coffin shut, set it ablaze and launched it into the sun. Foo.

Blendery things

The Blender Institute began their super duper code sprint up in Amsterdam and the daily builds of Blender 2.8 are getting super duper interesting as a result! I’ll hold off from making any remarks because it’s all very much a work in progress, but there’s some promising developments.. as well as a reignition of the old LMB/RMB select debate.. ah well, may as well take the good with the bad!

Animation Bootcamp

I finished up CG Cookie’s Animation Bootcamp this month. This was my first submission for Exercise 11, the first walk cycle of the course!

I got some feedback from Instructor Wayne on this submission and had another crack at it.

Not great, true, but not awful either. The second full-body walk cycle was a little better.

It needs some polish but my peers at CG Cookie decided it was good enough to pass as is. I’ll come back to both of these another day.

I went on to the next CG Cookie animation course, Animation Workflow and Body Mechanics, and now that I’ve got a better eye for when something looks off it’s taking much longer to get my exercises to the point where I’m happy to submit them. Knowing when something’s off is easy, knowing how it’s off and how to fix it efficiently is what I’ve yet to learn. Better stick with it!

A pig

Out of the blue one Friday, I decided to challenge myself to realise a character design because it’s been a while since I tried. I did up this orthographic reference in Krita.

A flat pig

Then I tried to sculpt it. It came out looking different but so much better:

Oh hi!

Here, Mr Pig is an unretopologised sculpture. The animation is done by shape-keying a deforming lattice (head and cheeks) and the sculpted mesh (eyebrows). The freckle texture is done with vertex painting. The animation is extremely limited – he can’t open his mouth or blink yet, for instance. Still, cute pig!

The miracle of lattices!

I’m retopologising the sculpture to a mesh so that I can use it to practice UV unwrapping and surfacing, specifically texture painting. And maybe a little bit of animation too. We’ll see!

That’s all for April. If you’ve got any comments or questions or just want to rap, you can reply to this post’s toots/tweets on Mastodon or Twitter.