Blender

February 2018 in effect!

Here’s my February 2018. Let’s get into it.

Synthemabits

This month’s new Eurorack modules include

  • Music Thing Modular Chord Organ (kit, 1 February 2018) [modulargrid]
  • Joranalogue Compare 2 dual window comparator/logic module (12 February 2018) [modulargrid]

The Chord Organ I wrote a post about jazzy chords I’m trying with the Chord Organ, including a configuration to copy and paste.

The Compare 2 is a smartly implemented window comparator system that also makes a cute little robot face when doing its thing.

compare 2 has a face and that face is :E

A post shared by S J Bennett (@quollism) on

I experimentally tried streaming my patching sessions too. This is a 44 minute jam which starts off a bit slowly but it finds some nice little moments!

Movies and animation

Fishtank is parked because I’ve decided there’s something I need to deal with first.

Since I set myself the goal of becoming someone who makes animated movies, I’ve spent a lot of time learning about and getting practical experience in the pre-production bits. When it comes to outlines, thumbnails, storyboards, animatics and even 3D layout, I’m confident. But I’m too comfortable there to draw a line and move on from it.

At the beginning of this year, I resolved to work on smaller self-contained projects and exercises without extra strings attached. The effervescent Looch Muñoz posted an animation which brought home that I’d never looked into literal animation to any practical extent. So this month I dusted off my old CG Cookie account and got started on their Animation Bootcamp course.

For a few days, my spare time was all about the balls.

At the same time as I was learning how to see timing and spacing and how to manipulate them into illusions of mass and force, I felt like I was rediscovering my tenacity too. I was sticking with it. I was pushing through. I was learning.

I did four exercises over four days. I had a head of steam up. When it came time for exercise five and comparative ball bounces (basketball versus tennis ball versus bowling ball), my frustration got the better of me. I knew enough to know that I wasn’t getting as close as I ought to. My intuitions had outpaced my abilities.

This resulted in some impressively dedicated procrastination where I spent several nights in a row getting 24,000 words into an urban fantasy novella before writing myself into a corner and getting mired in rewrite hell. I’ve got it out of my system now, though. Sort of. (Not really.)

Animation-wise, I want to finish the rest of Animation Bootcamp as a priority. Having someone check my work and provide crit is invaluable. Beyond that I also want to tackle Wayne’s other animation courses at CGC to get my eye and confidence up many notches to where the prospect of animating doesn’t put me off so much any more.

And maybe in the process I’ll rediscover my tenacity again. That would be great too.

Alien Force artwork breakdown

The secret project I’ve been hinting at since late 2017 was a sci-fi album cover for the trance musician Alien Force. It was completed back in November last year and has been waiting for a distribution slot since… until now!

Back in October 2017, Alien Force told me to make an album cover for him on the basis that I knew how to use 3D software. It would be unpaid work, but I took it anyway because it was something that would take me well out of my comfort zone. I appreciated that he asked me to produce something without seeing anything like a portfolio.

The brief was to capture something of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar but “menacing and awesome” too. After a month of back and forth outside of the day job, we settled on this:

Whoosh!

After slogging through one too many full 3D re-renders, I learnt the value of being able to iterate as rapidly and painlessly as possible. I broke the scene up into layers which would only come together at composite time. Each element (the background star field with nebula, the swirly orange clouds, the black hole and the spaceship with its jets) was rendered separately as multilayer OpenEXR and composited together.

The background nebula and stars are done procedurally, pretty much as Aidy Burrows and Gleb Alexandrov teach it in their excellent Space VFX Elements course for Blender. The swirly orange bits are from failing to make Gleb’s accretion disk shader to work but getting something usable anyway. If any of this stuff interests you at all, check out that course!

Don’t get too close!

The blown-out glow of the black hole was one of the key bits of Interstellar’s look which Alien Force wanted to keep. I used a super bright emission shader, Blur, Sun Beams and Glow filter to blow the glow out from a line a couple of pixels wide to something which better sells how bright it is.

Spaceship! The pink bits are sharp marks, the nicer way to get sharp edges while doing subdivision modelling.The grey texture map is used for displacement.

The spaceship is a relatively simple model which uses the “Follow Active Quads” UV unwrapping trick along with some 32-bit textures to greeble it up. This technique was the centre of a five year old thread on BlenderArtists called “Sculpting with UVs and displacements”. Definitely worth checking out if you ever need to build a detailed-looking spaceship quick!

Spaceship! With UV-mapped greebles…

The subtle outer glow of the spaceship was added in composite, something to make the silhouette pop against the nebula and stars. The green glow within the silhouette of the ship was a happy accident – I rendered out every single pass for the spaceship and stumbled on a mysterious pass called “DenoisingNormalVariance”. It made the end result look cooler, so that’s good enough for me.

The composite was put through Troy Sobotka’s awesome filmic LUTs. This let me work confidently with a high dynamic ranges, knowing that the LUTs would bring out the missing dynamic range instead of clipping it or losing it altogether.

Default LUT in top left, filmic LUT at lower right.

Here’s a comparison between Blender’s default internal look and Filmic to finish off with. The biggest difference is visible in the spaceship. With the default LUT, the exhaust is blown out and the contrast on the ship itself is less. The Filmic LUT preserves more detail in the exhaust and brings out extra contrast in the surface details on the ship itself.

If you want to hear the Alien Force EP itself, you can have a listen on Beatport. It looks like in the process of slapping the logo on the black hole they also cranked up the saturation hard, but that’s showbiz. 🙂

Thanks for reading and I hope you liked this breakdown.

What I did in 2017

2017 was a rough year for me and seemingly a lot of other people. Here’s a recap of what I got up to.

Back in April I made RYGCBMK◯, a project which was weirdly central to a lot of what I got up to this year. Here it is if you want a refresher.

I’d wanted to try an abstract short set to music since I went to the Melbourne International Animation Festival in 2015. RYGCBMK◯ was my driver to learn procedural animation with Jacques Lucke’s powerful Animation Nodes system for Blender. I specifically wanted to synchronise abstract animation to a rhythm because I love that kind of synaesthetic stuff and I knew it would keep me going through an emotionally brutal bit of the year.

The end result was not perfect, but I got a high enough average score during the voting process for the Suzanne Awards 2017 to encourage me to try some more in the future. The important part was that there was an end result to speak of. It got done.

And it got done.. with nodes!

Working on RYGCBMK◯ also helped me tune into my artistic sensibilities. Given just shapes and sound to play with, the project took me away from complicated stuff like characters and dialogue to something which let me get a strong feel for the kind of work I want to put into the world.

I made important if not voluminous progress with “A moment in the sun” in its third year of development. I put together a new story reel in January and February, and a short stretch of that is good to go as is even with the big rewrite in May. Flipping Pointy from irascible and foolish to geeking-out cute was a decision that very much happened in the wake of RYGCBMK◯ too.

There was that secret project I can’t show off yet which happened in October-November. Here’s a concept which we abandoned.

The one we actually went with is way cooler.

I learnt Retopoflow this year as well – anyone doing modelling in Blender should grab it. Hard Ops is next on my list of useful plugins to get to grips with.

There was of course AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA which started strong but fizzled. AMITS now has a sweet cockatoo. Here’s AAAAAAAAAAA’s final resting point.

And then there was my first run at Inktober. I started practising with my brush pen and now my inking’s gone from “rubbish” to “slightly-less-rubbish”. This snail got the most likes on Instagram.

#inktober #inktober2017 22. Trail. A snail leaves a trail without fail!

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There wasn’t that much time for art or animation though. RYGCBMK◯’s soundtrack was part of a big jump back into music for me, something I did because I wanted a creative outlet but job stress was (temporarily) making the animation hobby unthinkable. Then it took over.

Just over eleven months after I impulse-bought that ARP Odyssey back in January as a shiny new toy to keep myself distracted, I’m now the owner of a 475HP Eurorack modular synthesiser which I mostly soldered together myself. I don’t need to look at a computer screen to make electronic music anymore (though the PC does come in very handy for recording) and the sound is even produced by old-school electronic components instead of simulated versions thereof. In playing around with it I’ve learnt a lot about how to patch and which modules are for what, but no doubt I’ve only just scratched the surface of what this thing can do.

To me DASYRAC looks sad and naked and unfulfilled without patch cables, but at least this way you can see the actual modules.

This krautrocky jam from early December is one of my favourite tracks I did this year.

I didn’t even know how to solder before I started putting DASYRAC together, but I noticed the kit builds were a lot cheaper so I gave it a try. Now I’m actually happier owning synthesiser modules which I put together myself than modules I bought pre-made, because I’m comfortable fixing my own work when it breaks. Most times when I sit down to prod a busted circuit with a multimeter and pore over a circuit schematic, I learn something new and interesting.

This is the schematic for Music Thing Modular’s Simple EQ with my troubleshooting notes. Looks like I forgot to solder one of the pins on an op amp.

So that’s what I learnt and did in 2017. (Mostly synthesiser stuff, to be honest.) This is what I’m taking away from all that for 2018 and beyond.

In terms of the modular synthesiser and music stuff, the build is almost complete. Once that’s done it’s all about learning my gear better and maybe getting some tunes released on Bandcamp. There’s one or two easy modules I want to have a crack at building for myself too, but that’ll need a little bit of extra equipment – it can wait.

A pyramid monk from AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.

In terms of Blender stuff, I want to jump into some short, focussed and contained exercises – animation, modelling, or otherwise. If it’s animation, I source the soundtrack and character rigs from somewhere else. If it’s modelling, I source a design from somewhere else. I go with pre-made assets wherever possible. The key is not giving myself too broad a set of creative decisions to make at once so that I don’t get lost.

By pushing beyond my own creative sphere and not trying to do all the things, it’ll save me time, help me focus on specific tasks, broader my artistic horizons, get me analysing work by other people and build up my confidence and patience again with some experience. With less to do, I can hopefully finish more stuff and get it in front of people to start that all-important feedback loop.

Meanwhile, in the Sun…

As for Gronky and Pointy, I feel like I’ve lived with AMITS long enough that there’s no big surprises left – just a lot to execute on. If I can stay organised and find a good chunk of time every week to work on it (five hours a week minimum is a good pace), it’ll get done. It’ll probably be not the best, but at least it’ll be finished.

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.

Happy New Year for 2018, and I hope the coming year treats you all well!

Inktober, week 4!

It’s been 22 to 28 October 2017 and Blender Conference 2017 is in full swing! If you couldn’t make it either, there’s live streams from the venue and a Twitter hashtag for livetweeting. There’s a handy schedule of presentations on the website too.

Friday’s presentation highlights for me included:

RYGCBMKO didn’t make it to the conference film festival selection in the end, but it scored better than I thought it would!

Here’s this week’s Inktober sketches.

#inktober #inktober2017 22. Trail. A snail leaves a trail without fail!

A post shared by S J Bennett (@quollism) on

#inktober #inktober2017 23. Juicy! Go away, silly rotten banana!

A post shared by S J Bennett (@quollism) on

#inktober #inktober2017 25. Ship! An airship in this case, with a lazy passenger.

A post shared by S J Bennett (@quollism) on

#inktober #inktober2017 26. Squeak! An elephant fails to take notice of what's underfoot…

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#inktober #inktober2017 27. Climb. A little tardigrade climbs a gigantic hair follicle.

A post shared by S J Bennett (@quollism) on

#inktober #inktober2017 28. Fall. It's got a different name in Australia. 🙂

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See you next week for the last of Inktober!

How to Blender Conference: Quollism Bumper Edition!

Hi all! I’m not going to Blender Conference this year but I attended Blender Conference in 2014, 2015 and 2016. After reading Looch’s great article, I remembered I was planning to chuck in my own two cents on how to bconf!

Well, ok, more than just two cents. Here’s what’s helpful to know..

My first Blender Conference in 2014. Banner by Andy Goralczyk.

Blender Conference

The Blender Conference is scheduled to run Friday-Saturday-Sunday. This is just the presentations: in terms of hanging out with fellow Blenderheads, it’s potentially a Thursday night to Monday night kind of a deal. If you head over to De Balie on Thursday night, it’s almost guaranteed there will be a few earlybirds already there having drinks and being sociable. 🙂

By the way – if you have a project or other work to show off, keep it on you! I was working on a movie during the conferences I attended; I had a tablet and headphones so I could show a work-in-progress version and get valuable feedback on it from my fellow attendees.

Also If you’re stuck for a way to start a conversation with someone at the conference (e.g. on Friday morning while waiting for De Balie to open), ask them “So, what do you with Blender?”. Easiest ice-breaker in the world!

If you’re on Twitter, your official conference hashtag is

Events

On registering, you’ll be given a badge and a schedule, plus some other goodies. If you signed up for the Saturday dinner, your ticket for that will be included too. Don’t lose it!

As Looch said, once you get the conference program it’s good to plan out where you want to be. I like to circle my picks on the schedule with a pen and keep it in my pocket. 🙂

Ton Roosendaal giving the 2016 keynote.

The keynote and farewell with Ton are no-brainers – get a seat early if possible.

Definitely go to the Suzanne Awards on Friday night. Some films are in contention for an award, and some of them are secret exclusives just for conference attendees. There’s an early and a late screening. I’d recommend the late screening instead because the audience is a bit drunk/stoned and that’s more fun. Don’t forget to vote afterwards!

Definitely go to the lightning talks on Saturday evening. (If you’re giving a lightning talk, try not to go over five minutes!) Do not believe anyone who says they’ll definitely finish their single-person movie project in time for next year’s Suzanne Awards because they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

Aside from that, don’t feel compelled to be at a presentation for every single moment of the conference – the bonus of actually being at the conference is the opportunity to hang around and chat outside or upstairs. (Also, free sandwiches!)

The real conference happens outside..

Definitely try to make it to a presentation that’s about something completely different from how you use Blender yourself. The lightning talks are good for that, but the more in-depth presentations are eye-opening as well. Blender gets used for all kinds of cool stuff you might not even know about!

Do be prepared to occasionally sit through a talk you’re not that interested in to make sure you’ve got a good seat for a popular talk that you _are_ interested in. Hjalti’s animation talk is often standing-room-only. 🙂

Definitely drop in for the Blender Insititute Open Day as well, even if you’re just popping in for a look. The conference is officially over by then so the Blender Institute folks are much more relaxed instead of running around making sure everything’s running smoothly.

You may even run into this guy!

Transport

Negotiating the airport

Those flying in internationally through Schiphol may benefit from the following info.

Schiphol is big. There might be a long hike between your arrival gate and customs. If this is your first international flight, I suggest legging it to immigration as quick as your feet will let you. Have your passport ready and waiting. Fortunately, the Dutch immigration people are pretty cheerful and are the nicest first impression of any country I’ve ever had.

Once you get through immigration and customs, you’ll probably have people walking up to you and offering a taxi service. Brush them off, no matter how official their gear is. The proper taxis are outside at the taxi cab rank.

Windmill break! This is the windmill at Brouwerij ‘t IJ, much favoured by Blender Institute employees.

Also right outside immigration at customs, you can pick up a local pre-paid SIM with Lebara. They can pop out your old SIM and activate your new one on the spot. This is worth doing if you’re going to be out and about with Google/Apple Maps or using social media to coordinate meet-ups. Even if you’ve got international roaming on your phone, this might work out a lot cheaper depending on your carrier. Something to keep in mind!

Leaving the airport

Keep walking and you’ll eventually come to the entry hall. There you have the choice of turning left to go to the train station or turning right to find a cab. You should be able to see an automatic kiosk which will let you purchase an OV-kaart (a rechargeable Dutch public transport pass). If you’re going to be doing any sightseeing in Amsterdam or you need to use the trams or trains to get around, you want one of these. Cash or card is fine and you can flip the machine over to English if need be.

If you want to catch the train to Amsterdam Centraal, you’ll need at least twenty euro on your OV-kaart unless you’re paying for a one-off ticket.

There’s also an airport shuttle bus for 5 euros which might go past your hotel. Check ahead of time.

This is Dubai. Dubai is about eight hours from Amsterdam, just over halfway from home for me.

If you want to taxi it up to Amsterdam, you’re looking at around a 50 euro fare or thereabouts. (The way I see it: if you’re at the tail end of twenty hours of travelling and fighting off delirium, getting someone to drive you directly to the front door of your hotel is probably a good idea.) Shuffle past yet more dodgy taxi hawkers with your luggage and veer right to head outside. Follow the directions to the taxi cab rank. I like the Tesla taxis the best because they’re zippy as heck and can even use tram tracks as required. Noice!

Local transport

An amsterdam of bikes.

Amsterdam is a fantastic walking city and an even more fantastic bike city, but it can be a lot to take in at first! If you’re on foot, make sure you’re not accidentally standing in a bike lane like a tourist. Always keep an eye out for bikes, trams and cars. And take care not to fall into the canals!

If you’re doing some sightseeing and bikes are not for you, I highly recommend availing yourself of Amsterdam’s excellent tram system by getting the aforementioned OV-kaart and installing 9292.nl on your smartphone. The trams need you to have at least 5 euros of credit left on your card to use them. Heavy rail between cities requires 20 euros of credit.

Leidseplein by night.

De Balie is just around the corner from a square called Leidseplein. The trams that run through Leidseplein are 1, 2, 5, 7 and 10. The 1, 2 and 5 all terminate north at Amsterdam Central Station, while the 7 and 10 run more east-west.

The Blender Institute building is on Entrepotdok. You can get from De Balie to the Institute a couple of ways. You can catch the number 10 tram directly from the Leidseplein stop, get off at Hoogte Kadijk, wave hello to the Windmill, backtrack the way you came past the service station, walk through the trees and head westwards up Entrepotdok until you see the Blender Institute logo.

You are here!

And since you’re in Amsterdam, you may as well know that the filming location for “Tears of Steel” is the northernmost bridge of Reguliersgracht where it intesects with Prinsengracht. Just don’t freak anyone out with your robot hand if you do go there. It might not end well. (The Oude Kerk where the movie “takes place” is up in the famous Red Light District, but that’s pretty easy to find.)

2015: Tiny Numbat is awesome in space!

Food and drink

First off: there’s coffee, tea and water at the conference. There’s also sandwiches for lunch. Yay, free stuff!

Leidseplein itself is an entertainment district with lots of restaurants, most of which are overpriced tourist traps. On any night of the conference, people peel off in packs to grab dinner. It’s good to follow the lead of people who know the area and therefore know which places are good to eat at. Expect to be constantly invited in by hawkers/spruikers, and don’t feel bad about brushing them off.

A cheap option: vlaamse frites! (Flemish chips) – and yes, that is dipping mayonnaise just like “Pulp Fiction” said.

Dinnerwise, have maybe twenty euro in bills and change to pitch in for the cost of your meal. Tipping is optional. If you’re short on cash, there’s a blue ATM/cashpoint which accepts credit cards on Leidsestraat across from the newsagent.

Said newsagent is also the closest source of cheap-ish Red Bull that I’ve found to De Balie. It also has an OV-kaart recharger in the back. The closest really good coffee I’ve found is at a place called “Sweet Cup”, down Lange Leidsedwarstraat.

I don’t drink so I have no idea where there’s a good pub. I also don’t smoke cannabis so I don’t have any recommendations for a nice gezellig coffeeshop either. 🙂

Local tasty things to eat include stroopwafels and poffertjes.

Be on the lookout for small plastic marsupials when enjoying poffertjes..

Language

English. Seriously. Everyone in Amsterdam speaks English.

Careful of those horens!

The only reason to actually learn Dutch as a tourist is to eavesdrop on people or for pronouncing placenames. “Oe” is pronounced “oo”, “oo” is pronounced like “aww”, “ij” and “ei” are pronounced something like “eye” or “ay” depending on your accent, “ui” is pronounced something like “ow”, “r” is pronounced “GHHHH” and “g” is pronounced something like “KHHHHHHH”. Don’t try to pronounce “Ruigoord” without adult supervision.

“Alstublieft” means either “please” (e.g. “spa rood, alstublieft”) or is said when handing something over. “Dank u wel” means “thank you very much” to someone you don’t know; “dank je wel” is for someone you’re more familiar with.

If you really want to learn Dutch for some reason, Duolingo has a Dutch course.

Literal non-obvious translations from top to bottom: pouch-devil, ant-hedgehog, tree-kangaroo, pouch-marten, bird-beak-animal.

That’s it

May the 2017 Blender Conference is the best one yet and hopefully I’ll be up there again myself again before too long! Tot ziens!

Hurry up and wait, it’s rendering time!

It’s been 13 to 19 August 2017. The animation for Shot 3 is done and I’m midway through 36 hours of rendering as I type this. There’s 286 frames to render in total with each 16-bit 1920*1080 OpenEXR frame rendering in 11 minutes on my desktop and in 19 minutes on my laptop. As of right this minute, there’s about 37 frames left to do. It’s all looking fine so far with nothing obvious to fix up in composite.

No need to wait for this though – here’s a boomsmash of the final (unrendered) animation, based on last week’s blocking. I might tweak a few frames in final edit, but it’s render-ready. 🙂

 

Not all cactuses levitate when you scream at them, but you should always try it just in case.

Instead of hopping directly into Shot 4 once Shot 3 is rendered, I want to jump over to sound editing for the existing shots so I don’t get too backlogged there. Also I just took delivery of a nifty frequency shifter which should be super helpful for creating the hum of a levitating cactus…

Speaking of Blender 2.79 though, it’s going to be a big release: I’m already using the new render denoising and filmic colour LUTs for AAAAAAAAAA; surface deform will likely come in very handy down the track; and Blender users have been patiently awaiting a principled shader and shadow catcher for literally years. Also the simplifications to the video encoder panel are awesome. If you’re a Blenderhead, go grab the release candidate, read the release notes on what’s changed and report any bugs you find! 🙂

See you next week!

Blender script – output markers and frames to CSV

I wrote a quickie script which exports timeline markers in a scene to a CSV folder along with their frame positions. My markers are named after shots, e.g. 04_04_C or 01_02_A2. I wanted to know how long the shots go for, but I didn’t want to figure it out by hand because that’s not how programmers roll.

import bpy
import csv
import os

C = bpy.context
markers = {}

for m in C.scene.timeline_markers:
    markers[m.frame] = m.name

k = list(markers.keys())
k.sort()
frameinfo = []

for frame in k:
    frameinfo.append( [markers[frame], frame] )

with open(os.path.splitext(bpy.data.filepath)[0]+'_frames.csv', 'w', newline='') as f:
    writer = csv.writer(f)
    writer.writerow( [ "Marker", "Frame" ] )
    for row in frameinfo:
        writer.writerow(row)

print("All done!")

You can copypaste this script straight into Blender’s text editor and hit “Run Script” to output filename_frames.csv in the directory right next to your currently open file. Yay!