The MIDI Thing has a simple but useful job: I can now drive my modular synth from my computer’s sequencer like any other external or virtual instrument, allowing finely controlled Nikmis-style baroque electronica… or whatever, I just link to Nikmis whenever I can.
The Graphic VCO is a multiple wavetable oscillator which allows etch-a-sketch style wave-cycle editing from the module itself. Its sound hearkens back to the gritty lo-fi digital scratch of Waldorf’s PPG Wave synths from the 1980s. Here’s a little sample with notes and modulation data coming from the TiNRS Tuesday.
After buying yet another set of dud bucket brigade delay chips off the interweb, I’ve abandoned the 106 Chorus build again. There’s too much counterfeit crap out there and I don’t want that chorus enough to keep buying duds. Yet.
For now I want to keep upskilling with CGC’s awesome animation courses, then see how I go with texturing and painting. When Blender 2.8 is stable and feature-complete enough to make a short movie with, I’ll hop back into Fishtank and use it as a way of familiarising myself with this new version.
Also I drew a random monster bandicoot in gumboots thing. Maybe he’d be a good character build. What do you think?
I’m a couple of exercises shy of finishing CG Cookie’s Animation Bootcamp course. Here’s my exercise submissions for this month, starting with hand-animated physics to develop timing and spacing, then bringing in squash & stretch, drag/overlap and even some character animation!
The bowling ball here is OK but the other balls… eh…
This one is technically good but a little unexciting. It’s surprisingly fiddly to make a ball roll believably over a sharp point. Really proud I pulled it off.
Squash and stretch comes in here and I’m still a bit green with keeping it consistent.
These motion graphics are a little rough on the settle and lack a bit of whoosh on the zoom.
This is the first bit of character animation we got to do in the course. Pretty happy with how it turned out!
This exercise was about hand-animating drag and follow-through into the antenna. We got given a swoop motion to start with but I redid it. The anticipation came out a little bit “square” and the settle needs work, but the antenna work is pretty good!
The last two assignments are both walk cycles. I wanted to have them finished by the end of the month, but the day job is getting more intense and walk cycles are kind of hard.
Thanks for catching up with me. If you’ve got questions or comments, feel free to fire them at me on Mastodon or Twitter. 🙂
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.
The ribbon controller I got this month lets me have that some of that same expressiveness, and by expressiveness I mean hitting the wrong note a lot and having to cover it up with vibrato. Practice makes perfect!
Stuff I built
This is what I soldered together this month just gone.
Ornament and Crime polymorphic digital swiss army knife type thingy (3-5 January 2018) [modulargrid]
Music Thing Modular Magnetophon cassette tape head (16 January 2018) [modulargrid]
RYO 3xVCA triple voltage controlled amplifier (18 January 2018) [modulargrid]
RYO 2xVCX dual voltage controlled amplifier/crossfader and four quadrant multiplier (29 January 2018) [modulargrid]
The Feedback 106 Chorus build was a bit of a disaster. It uses period vintage chips to get the genuine sound of a Juno 106’s chorus effect. When it works, it sounds bloody fantastic. When it works.
Usually I don’t bother with actual vintage stuff. For all the romance of vintage electronics, the reality is that they’re rare, expensive, unreliable, susceptible to failure, and even being counterfeited in the case of MN3009 chips. This chorus did sound fab so I at least wanted to have a punt at making one, but if the vintage bits turned out to be duds, I resolved to put the whole thing aside and cut my losses there and then. And that is pretty much how it went.
Unlike the 106 Chorus, I got the polymorphic digital module Ornament & Crime working after three nights of building and troubleshooting. This module of legend should keep me occupied for months while I discover everything it can do, let alone how to use that as part of a whole system. Here’s an early test of the o_C in “Harrington 1200” mode sequencing some pleasant Boards of Canada-esque chords.
A pleasant surprise this month is the RYO & Kymatica 2xVCX, a dual voltage controlled crossfader. Fading back and forth between two signals at audio rates creates all kinds of fun timbres, sort of like ring modulation (which the 2xVCX can also do). Here’s a little test I recorded which goes all the way from grimy analogue noise to happy little chords!
There’s enough space left for two more modules, both of which I’ve already picked out, but more about that next month! 🙂
Let’s talk Blender! And movies! And spaceships!
The secret project I mentioned back in November was some album artwork for the Alien Force EP. I did a big write-up on it which appeared on BlenderNation. The feedback has been a little sparse but generally positive!
But that’s old news. Have some new news!
A moment in the sun
I am back in the sun (kind of)! Yay! (Kind of!)
At the beginning of the year I decided I liked the story mostly where it was. It’s the tale of a random labourer helping introduce a laser-obsessed geek to the Ultimate Laser Robot of his dreams. The current plan is to take the last scene of the story all the way through production as a pilot for the rest of the film, which means all I have to worry about for now is one single scene. My attention is contained to that one spot. Hooray!
I’ve been working on Scene 5’s art direction by rendering existing elements out from Blender, turning them into multi-layer images in Krita, then doing quick paint-overs to test out ideas.
Splitting up render layers to import them into Krita
To do this I render two EXR files – a multi-layer version with transparency and all render layers turned on to get each element isolated on its own layer, and a single layer non-transparent version which gives me the sky background.
Here’s the rendered layers fresh out of Blender, looking fairly pristine…
From there I applied filters and painted over the separate elements to test ideas out.
…and here is the same scene altered to get everything looking more decrepit.
In the repainted version the air is hazier, the route marker is crooked, the bus stop is falling apart and the road is sun-bleached. The scene’s still undercooked but this much better than trying to get my thoughts down purely in 2D or 3D. Yay for hybrid approaches!
Character-wise, I’ve been redesigning Pointy to make the character look and feel more like he actually is – a bit happier and younger and goofier.
Many Pointies. The one in the lower right is the current front-runner.
Gronky isn’t in Scene 5, but he’ll be getting an ill-fitting hi-viz jacket when he does finally appear.
Alas, I got bogged down in story decisions around tone and character again. I’ve got some storyboards for that scene but without pinning down how I want to approach it all, I’m stuck. Bah!
I read somewhere that it’s better to have another thing to switch over to than beating one’s head against a single project, so I found one. I work on AMITS until I get frustrated, then switch over to this other thing until I miss working on AMITS too much.
The other thing: Fishtank
An ex-animator friend and I dreamt up an aquatic animated sketch-comedy series many years ago, something that might get picked up and lead to bigger things. We gave it the working title “Fishtank” and brainstormed a few ideas, but we didn’t follow through so it fizzled….
One of my ideas saw a little fish laying a massive guilt trip on its potential predators for daring to eat something so cute and helpless.
My key image, where Shark feels very conflicted about eating Little Fish..
A rough exploratory sculpt of the little fish with the big eyes
The predator in question is a great white shark who’s a bit of a softy and slow on the uptake.
An exploratory rough sculpt of the shark. Not quite there yet, but getting closer!
Will the little fish end up a snack, or will the shark get more than he bargained for? Yes.
“Fishtank” is a much smaller project than AMITS, and definitely better sized for one person to work on. I might not finish AMITS this year, but this one I could conceivably get done by the end of the year.
I’ve got the story thumbnailed out already. Here’s the second of five pages of story scribbles which I drew on actual paper in biro then scanned into Krita.
Shark tries to get a chomp in but Little Fish isn’t having it!
I’m really looking forward to writing the music for this as well. It’s going to be an utter hoot writing completely overwrought tragically sad music, like that 1960s library music which Ren and Stimpy used to superb effect.
Despite both projects being comedies, Fishtank is more classic slapstick and AMITS is more inspired by 1950s Looney Tunes which is as indebted to radio comedy as the silents, so they complement one another pretty well.
See you next month with more fish, more sun and the final pieces of DASYRAC! 🙂
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.
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!
Seasons Greetings! Although we are still a whole day and a bit away from the end of December, here’s a recap of what I’ve been up to this month.
A moment in the sun!
I last worked on our old friends Pointy and Gronky properly back in May. At the time I felt like I left the story in the best possible place. Pointy’s now a happy little nerd with a laser fixation instead of a simmering angry idiot who wants to get home. Gronky is still a big guy who buries things in the desert.
I’ve started looking for ways to bring the pace of the story up and creatively solve some limitations. So now Gronky digs things out of the ground lightning fast. We never see him do this directly, however – it’s always off-screen. He also buries things glacially slow, just for contrast. This helpfully marks the passing of time as Pointy interrogates the robot.
The line-up, as seen previously..
Speaking of Pointy, I’m revisiting his character design so it fits his new bubbly personality better. On the very first day of December, I rendered Gronky and Pointy together with the bird from AAAAAAAAAAAAAA out of curiosity. Two soft round characters next to an angular character made me realise how Pointy’s sharp edges didn’t feel right anymore. He’s still ultimately a 2D design in a 3D world, but now the spiky sharp angular edges are friendlier-looking flowing curves.
Choosing a design and realising it in 3D is January’s problem.
Other animated things
Other ideas included robot creatures who make weird and fun noises into a microphone while doing strange things. I’ve collected enough strange and delightful noises from the analogue synth which suggest whimsical robots. The working title is “Noisies”. Here’s a slightly hyperactive animation test in Blender Grease Pencil featuring a roboty thing who is definitely not Gir from Invader Zim beatboxing to the introduction of “One Note Samba” by Perrey and Kingsley.
I don’t think the timing is right to start on it yet, but it could be a fun little project one day.
Electronics and music
I expanded DASYRAC by quite a few modules this month, with three pre-mades and five kit builds! (It would have been six kit builds but no such luck.) The last couple of modules are waiting on parts or availability.
Polaxis Talko (kit). Talko uses old-school linear prediction coding (remember the Speak’N’Spell from “E.T.”?) to say preset numbers and words.. or for robotic burbles and growls.
Fonitronik Cascade (kit). A cascading attenuverter for sourcing, attenuating, inverting and offsetting voltages.
Befaco A*B+C (kit). A dual quadrature VCA for attenuverting and offsetting signals under voltage control. This is my second one of these!
Bastl Instruments Tromsø (kit). This is a triangle oscillator which feeds into a comparator which in turn feeds into a sample and hold circuit, good for analogue “ratecrushing” to add some (fake) lo-fi digital grit over hi-fi sounds.
Doepfer A-152 Addressed Track and Hold/Switch. This is a combination of an eight-way switch, an eight-way track and hold and an eight-stage trigger out. Uses I’ve already found for this include a pitch CV distributor and something that allows “hocketing” (switching between oscillators from note to note).
Doepfer A-110-6 TTZQ VCLFO. The A-110-6 is a through-zero trapezoid-core oscillator. Normal oscillators stop oscillating when their oscillation voltage drops to 0 or below, but a through-zero oscillator treats a negative oscillation voltage as a mirror of a positive oscillation voltage – a negative voltage just means “oscillate in reverse”. You can use this to create otherwise unachievable frequency modulation sounds. Here it is in action.
I’m at a point now with the modular synth where I’m recreating particular synthesiser topologies or experimenting with techniques as learning and familiarisation exercises instead of adding more stuff to what I have. With a modular synthesiser it’s hard to know precisely what I’ve got, because different modules connect to one another in different ways.
I still want to try to build my own simple modules to fill a couple of gaps. I wouldn’t hate to have another buffered mult or a window comparator, for instance, and both of those things are relatively easy to put together from op amps.
I impulse-bought a theremin kit at the local electronics store. It was a bit disappointing. People go on about how cool theremins are but I find them forbiddingly fiddly and I much prefer the sound of the ondes Martenot.
Greetings, interweb. Here’s what I got up to in November 2017, starting with…
A secret project!
Can’t say much about this yet. It was a freebie album cover which I took on for the experience and to stretch my abilities beyond my comfort zone. I relied heavily on a certain Space VFX series and a classic thread on BlenderArtists for inspiration and techniques.
Once the associated project is out, I’ll show it off. 🙂
Animation and other Blendery stuff
The speedy green antics of AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA have been shelved for the foreseeable future. My heart’s not in it, but at least it yielded a great little cockatoo rig who also fits into the visual style of AMITS. Maybe he can hang out with Gronky and Pointy…
Does the cockatoo need big thick eyebrows as well? Answers in the comments.
Speaking of those two, I patched a nice zappy electricity arc sound for the robot in AMITS. This is a random five second excerpt from that session. (Warning: loud.)
Electronics and other beepbooping
Through the magic of soldering, I’ve added distortion, another audio mixer and another sequencer to DASYRAC’s arsenal of goodies. Here’s the distortion, featuring its quirky LED limiter section.
I also bought a drum machine because I got tired of patching together basic drum sounds every time I want a beat. I’ve started looking into Arduino to see what I can do to trigger it from the patchbay instead of needing to rely on MIDI.
I started doing write-ups on all the modules in DASYRAC too. There’s about fifty of them so I’ll still be doing write-ups a year from now if I can’t get through more than one per week.
It’s been 5 to 11 November 2017 and it’s been an extremely synthesiser-centric week!
Beepity boop boops
Sunday was showing a friend around my modular synth to show her Eurorack in the flesh and get her pumped for her upcoming electronic engineering degree. That seems to have set the tone for the whole week.
On Monday evening, I got my parcel of DIY kits from Thonk and soldered together a Horstronic Arcade Button…
…then on Wednesday evening, I spent time testing out said modules which I had no time left for on Tuesday, resulting in this strangely pleasant noise..
On Thursday evening I spent putting together a particularly big order to Thonk, and on Friday evening I was testing out sample playback on the Disting Mk 4 and creating lovely crunchy triplet beats.
And finally today (Saturday) I started mindmapping an overview of analogue vs digital voltage control sequencers to see if it’s worth following up. There’s a surprising amount to talk about for little circuits that just eat pips and spit out voltages.
What’s behind the dots? Wouldn’t you like to know…
So that’s pretty much been my week, which leads neatly into..
The last of the weeklies
After 3 1/2 years of weekly blogs (since May 2014 when I started “A moment in the sun”), I’m going back to a less frequent posting schedule again. Without a consistently active production to talk about, touching base every single week has begun to feel strange and perfunctory. There’ll be posts here in the future, but only when I have something worth saying. 🙂
It’s goodbye then to “see you next week” – so see you ’round! 🙂
It was a challenge to work with physical media for a bit, but I’m glad it got me learning how to work with the brush pen. I’ve carried around that pen with me every day for two years so it’s about time I got some use out of it.
It’s been good to pick up a slightly larger following on Instagram as well and see what people are up to over there. It’s definitely not just for selfies, though there are a lot of those too.
The return of AAAAAAAAAAAAAA
I’ve got a quick and dirty “mouth foley” soundtrack happening for AAAAAAAAAAAAAA, finally. Like many 1980s kids, I thought Michael Winslow’s character from Police Academy was awesome and tried to copy what he did.. and I’ve never really stopped making weird noises with my face since! 🙂 It’s certainly a helpful skill to have for stubbing out funny sound effects quickly…
The soundtrack is a little bare right now but I wanted to share it anyway because I really like how those monks sound. The pyramid shot’s working nicely now that it has sound.
Happy little beeps
To finish off this week, here’s a few happy little beepboops from DASYRAC. The rack is getting pretty close to full up now which means having to make decisions about how to use the space I’ve got, and whether I want to free up existing space to put something else in. There’s also a couple of misbehaving modules which could use some troubleshooting, but I don’t want to make too many more changes. They get kind of expensive!
Here’s a lovely sound I got out of DASYRAC last night. It uses the hard sync on the Befaco EvenVCO driven by another oscillator sitting at a constant pitch to turn a little pentatonic melody into an Underworldy drone. I like it. 🙂
Speaking of Blender Conference, I’ve entered RYGCBMKO into the Suzanne Awards which are voted on at the conference. The selection is narrowed down by internet polling so please go and vote!
Also this week, I’ve picked up an unpaid-but-going-to-give-it-a-shot-anyway-type commission as well. I can’t say too much about it except that it’s the polar opposite of the low key cute quirky stuff that I usually do. Should be quite the challenge!
I’ve been cutting back on Twitter this week too and it’s been like taking a big pointy stone out of my shoe. I’m still popping by once a day to skim through notifications and signal boost stuff about quolls and Blender, but it’s not on my mobile devices anymore and it’s honestly quite the relief!