Stuff I made

Things I’ve made – music I’ve composed, photos I’ve taken, animation I’ve made, stories I’ve written, etc.

Dance cocky dance!

It’s been 6 to 12 August 2017. I made some progress on Shot 3 and cocky is now dancing!

In my head this sounds like “AAAAAA-ZWHOOSH FWSHwhshwhsh. (beat) .. AAAAA! woobh-woobh-woobh-woobh..”

In terms of timing and action beats, this shot feels good to me. I’ll polish up the animation and maybe fiddle with the materials a bit more before I render it out, and then it’s onto shot 4.

This is my phone background now. It can be yours too!

I wanted to produce AAAAAAAAA on a two week schedule per shot, but that momentum is hard to maintain alongside the modular synthesiser stuff, getting an adequate amount of downtime from the day job, etc. I’m still doing a ton of things by hand though – rigging/skinning, materials, modelling, etc. There’s almost certainly some workflow wins to be had by using resources that already exist. Rigging and materials in particular come to mind – it’s not like I haven’t got Blenrig and Cycles Material Vault sitting there idle. Something to look into!

That’s all from the world of AAAAAAAAAAAAAA this week. (Truly, any amount of As more than eight is fine.) For synthesiser-related bits, stay tuned! 🙂

Hello cocky!

It’s been 30 July to 5 August 2017. I took this week away from the day job to relax and recharge, catch up on some movies, maybe get Shot 3 of AAAAAAAAA done. but mostly I wanted to get on top of an impending backlog of soldering.

The soldering I managed, and I made at least some progress on the middle goal too!

Do you think their arms get tired while they’re in T-pose?

This cute little cockatoo will be riding the cactus in Shot 3. I want to have it rigged and ready to animate tomorrow. Since I have no more synthesiser kits to build, that could very possibly actually happen…

On Monday I’m back at the day job next week and I’ll be hitting the ground running, so we shall see whether this cocky gets to dance or not. Hope so!

Succulents and synthesisers

It’s been 23 to 29 July 2017. I’ve got a week of leave booked for the week coming during a lull in the big day job project – and it looks like the weather will be nice and clear! Yay!

I made some progress on Shot 3 of AAAAAAAAAAAAAA last week – I modelled and rigged a cactus, and I got started making a bird. I’m aiming to finish off Shot 3 in the next couple of days by modelling, rigging and texturing the bird then animating and rendering it all  After that, I can start thinking about Shot 4 and maybe even do some preliminary sound mix between tossing around scene ideas.

¡HOLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

In bleepier news, my modular synthesiser (DASYRAC) is nearly out of capacity. Both of the power supplies are getting close to their limits, and the physical racks are so full of modules that I’ll be pulling older/redundant modules out to make room for more useful ones. There’s a lot of sourcing parts, waiting for postal services and soldering in my future, but it’s nice that I’m hitting a natural stopping point.

Thing is, I haven’t really talked very much about DASYRAC or the whole modular synthesiser bit in this blog aside from mentioning dead op amps and soldering burns from time to time. It’s a huge thread of my creative efforts that’s been all but invisible here, and that’s a bit weird because I’ve spent way more time creating voltages than pixels lately. There’s really no good reason not to mix it up a bit in the blog too.

That said, modular synthesisers are esoteric little beasts that take a fair bit of introducing to the layperson. It’s probably worth doing a blog entry about all by itself..

Plans meet reality, reality eats plans

Editorial note: This entry was originally way more downbeat than it is now, so I decided to rewrite it to help consider my situation in a different light. Sorry for the wordiness.

It’s been 16 to 22 July 2017 and what a week I’ve had: a 2:15am finish on Thursday night; the emergency phase of this high-visibility high-priority project that I’m technical lead on got extended for an extra week; trying to get fit enough to do an hour of exercise a day, doctor’s orders.

End result? My sleep is super out of whack and I’ve been too tired to unleash whimsical mayhem on my grey cyclorama world. I honestly thought going into AAAAAAAAAAAA that I’d have the capacity to come up with a new scene every two weeks, but for reasons both within and beyond my control I’ve lost my focus and it hasn’t worked out that way.

To elucidate further: animation demands focus and patience and confidence. If I go in tired then I can’t think straight, I’m put off by the thought of sustained mental effort, and I can’t even decide whether I like an idea because I don’t have the presence of mind to give it lucid consideration. The extra hours of screen-staring are not great for my neck or back either. So the project waits for when I’m feeling up to it, whenever that is. If at all.

Accordingly, it’s been yet another slow-going seven days for poor old Shot 3. I’ve got a shot plan and character designs which were OK last I checked, so I’m theoretically ready to wrestle a happy little bird and/or a cactus out of Blender tomorrow. I might even get far enough to animate something.

Lately though I’ve been giving much more attention to music-related stuff than animation. Maybe it’s just the novelty of getting to be creative without a computer being intimately involved, maybe it’s just a relief to follow a procedure to get a working module instead of having to make creative decisions, maybe it’s because I’m learning interesting things in a new field, maybe it’s because I’m compulsively buying these kits and haven’t begun to deal with it like the expensive addiction it is, maybe it’s because playing with a synthesiser is something I can do while I’m tired and animation really isn’t.

If I’m being super honest, music is OK but I get a lot more out of unleashing whimsical mayhem than I do from soldering together linear shift register based clap modules or patching up envelope-controlled through-zero frequency modulation. It’s not like waveforms have silly muppet eyes, though sometimes my patches make cool shapes in a phase scope.

This is the aforementioned thru-zero frequency modulation on a quadrature sine oscillator. It’s all spinny and stuff.

So even though I’m a bit stalled, I still want to keep going with AAAAAAAAAA at whatever pace I can manage because I need that kind of giddy absurd childish fun in my life and I want to build my animation-making skills up without intensive pre-production. I won’t always be able to knock out a new scene every two weeks, and that’s an annoyance because if I get stuck with an idea for too long I can’t help but tinker with it as it gets stale for me, but I’m sure I’ll suss it out if I can just switch off my soldering iron for a bit and show my animation some love again.

Zip it good!

It’s been 9 to 15 July 2017. I don’t have anything close to a preview of Shot 3 yet – it’s been a week of lost evenings, product releases at the day job, visits from interstate and a pressing need for rest. Shot 3 and its bird/cactus japery is just going to take a while longer and that’s that.

Someone asked how I did the “zip” (smear) effect in Shot 2 and whether I used motion blur. I didn’t! It’s just extreme scaling on a few single frames.

Here’s the shot in motion (again):

ALL HAIL THE PYRAMID (again)

And here’s stills of the smear frames where the head monk appears.

Frame 73 – monk enters

Frame 74 – monk ascends

Here’s a screengrab from Blender:

The highlighted bone is the base bone. It is quite stretched.

The X and Z scale values are both 0.142 because I built the base character much bigger than it ended up being in the final scene, so I had to scale it down. The Y scale value is 1.492, over ten times the value of X and Z. This distorts the rig considerably along the length of the base bone.

This means the character covers a lot of the screen, and in a single frame I can draw the attention of the audience to what this little purple guy is up to. It ups the cartooniness, it strengthens the staging, and as long as the zip frames are spaced so that they have obvious visual continuity (i.e. no large spatial gap from one frame to the next), it’s a lot of impact for not very much time spent.

If I’d had more time, I’d have added a frame where the monk is distorted in more of a curve to follow the contour of the ground rising up into the pyramid, but it’s fine without it. (Next time for sure!)

There can be no discussion of smears and zips and such without linking a certain Chuck Jones short which is chock full of great smear effects. Who needs motion blur?

See you next week!

Shot 2 is done!

It’s been 1 to 8 July 2017. As hoped, I have a shot! Hurray!

ALL HAIL THE PYRAMID

As you can see, the animation is steppy instead of smooth and interpolated. This is a deliberate choice – I want to focus on the editing/writing/directing part more than finessing F-Curves. Even with less polished animation, everything still has to be  staged and timed, making sure there’s only one thing to focus on at once, etc.

This took about 24 hours to render using a nightly build of Blender 2.79 with the new denoising feature. Blender 2.79 is going to be a massive release by the way – aforementioned render denoising, Troy Sobotka’s awesome filmic look-up-tables and the new principled ubershader are all looking awesome.

I have my next shot idea – there’s a bird in a tree – but nothing to show off yet. Please enjoy this video of musician and sound designer Oskar Sala playing his Trautonium in the meantime. (Sorry, can’t embed.) The thing with the dial on it is an analogue frequency shifter.

See you next week!

Big week, little progress

That was 25 June to 1 July 2017.

As feared, this week completely wiped me out and left little time for making the funnies. To top it all off, it’s very cold and rainy this weekend.

But I got a little bit done. Here’s a work in progress pyramid worshipper. This little person is a replacement for the stick figure from the original part of the shot. (I think I might have another shot at making the triangle.)

“Hello. Do you know where there’s a pyramid around here I can worship?”

Next week should be less hectic and see the completion of Shot 2. See you then!

You spin me right round, AAAAA, right round…

Welcome to what was 18 to 24 June 2017. Scene 2 has begun in earnest. This scene establishes level of general silliness.

AAAAA runs past a mild-mannered cube with such force that the cube gets violently lathed into a pyramid. The pyramid is roused from its dizziness by a pyramid worshipper that’s arrived from nowhere. The pyramid does not know what to think about this.

Here’s the first attempt:

This pyramid has so many questions…

It’s a beginning, but there’s definitely room for improvement. (Mainly I’m thinking “How would this scene unfold if Terry Gilliam were directing it?”)

The little worshipper doesn’t instantly read as a worshipper. The audience needs to be able to recognise the character instantly for the shot to work because everything happens so quickly. I showed it to a workmate and they confused the worshipper for AAAAA himself!

To fix this, I’m going to switch the stick figure out for a small group of monk-like characters instead. Monks are obviously there to worship something, moreso if they have little pyramids on their robes and if they’re wearing pyramid hats so it’s obvious that they’re pyramid monks. Sound will definitely help with making the gag work too.

Meanwhile, the day job is ramping up again for an emergency project and I just took delivery of four DIY synthesiser kits from Befaco which I’m itching to put together. If I still deliver this shot despite all that, I’d consider that quite the win!

If you’ve got any other feedback on this shot, please do me the honour of leaving a comment. 🙂

The rules of the game

It’s been 11 to 17 June 2017. It’s been a soldering-heavy week! In fact, I burnt my finger doing some soldering last night so typing is an annoyance.

But here all the same is shot 1 of the new short in all its goofy glory.

There he goes. A high-powered prototype never intended for mass production.

Here’s my draft “constitution” for this project:

The basics

  • The goal is to produce a comedic narrative animated short.
  • The narrative commences with a vaguely A-shaped creature (the AAAAA) going AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA while running.
  • The narrative shall be constructed of reactions and consequences of AAAAA running around going AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.
    • AAAAA’s running/going AAAAAAAAAAAAA should not be explained or rationalised. It is not something mundane like a prickle in his foot. AAAAA does not stop running or going AAAAAAAAAAAAAA because it is AAAAA’s intent to do it as long as AAAAA can. Think of it as an endurance exercise that AAAAA is the champion of the universe at.
  • The project begins on the weekend of WA Day and ends on the Queens Birthday weekend (2 October).
  • The expected running time is.. not very long. Three minutes would probably be pushing it considering someone will be going AAAAAAAAAA although who knows what that could precipitate.
  • This project is intended as a learning experience and ultimately a stepping stone towards finishing larger more complex projects.

Production stipulations

  • The film is to be produced from start to finish in running order, aside from titles which are fine to put in during post-production.
  • Music and sound can also be retouched in post-production.
  • The narrative shall be entirely improvised during production:
    • Planning ahead before the current scene is completed is forbidden.
    • Planning ahead further than one scene is utterly forbidden.
  • Any attempt to brainstorm in advance how the movie ends before the actual final scene begins its planning phase will result in the instant forfeit and blacklist of that idea.
    • The blacklisted conclusions currently include a resolution where the AAAAA trips over, notices their group of followers, encourages them to continue after him like some sort of single file AAAAArmy.
  • Absolutely no 2D animatics – this is explicitly not that kind of project.
  • Limit the use of planning tools like storyboards except where they do double-duty as character and scenery design.
  • Going back and redoing footage is forbidden except to fix technical errors which cannot be fixed at composite time (animation glitches, etc).
  • Scenes should be simple enough to complete in two weeks alongside rest and relaxation, etc.
    • Time spent should be logged.
    • Late nights are strongly discouraged even on weekends.
    • Production pace can be slowed in case of mitigating factors like injury, fatigue, day job being extra-demanding, etc.

Scene guidelines

  • Scenes should contain no more than three shots – action, reaction, another reaction. Hopfrog‘s minimalism is a good guide here.
  • As per all narrative movies, scenes should continue on from one another logically. Scenes may refer to previous scenes.
  • Each new scene should introduce a new place, character and/or action.
  • Any single scene should present a single idea or gag. Scenes can carry ideas and gags from previous scenes but only secondary to the scene’s own gag.
  • Each scene should also contain a surprise.
  • The film will contain no dialogue or written material. Where words are expected to appear visually, e.g. the title of a book, a nonsense script should be substituted. Where dialogue would be expected, substitute lively gibberish or suitable sound effects.

Design and tone guidelines

  • The general tone should be giddy and fun, for kids of all ages. This is a happy place.
  • Given that this is a sweet and merry little refuge, it’s fine for characters to disapprove of AAAAA but it’s not fine for them to get furiously angry or terribly sad or agonisingly hurt. The standard-issue supporting character is friendly and calm and approachable.
    • Sad characters are ok but cheer them up!
  • It’s fine for the humour to be a little bit naughty but not outright rude. Again, consult Hopfrog.
  • Characters/scenery should be unlikely in some way or another.
  • Keep the designs colourful and fun to look at, and don’t make them too detailed. Go easy on stuff like greebles and cracks.
  • No need to do everything in geo! Non-pixellated textures are fine but keep the surfaces simple.
  • At least one character has to have fur at some point.
  • Design-wise, sharp angles are fine this time but tend towards roundness. Try for a general stumpiness, stockiness and broadness in the proportions of the designs. Allow for some contrast too.

Technical guidelines

 

  • If Eevee gets production-ready, use Eevee. Otherwise, use Cycles.
  • Using DASYRAC for the sound and music is strongly encouraged. There is no explicit budget for extra Eurorack modules though.
  • Use of third party time-and-effort saving plug-ins (e.g. automatic rigging systems) and other resources is absolutely mandatory. Use them! They good!

That’s it for now, so thanks for reading and I hope to see you with something new next week!

 

With the cold comes a small green shouty thing

It’s been 4 to 10 June 2017. Things have turned chilly here. We were forecast for 9 degrees overnight on Friday morning and got 1.6C instead because the rain we were expecting didn’t pan out. Brrr! Still, Perth winters are pretty bearable once the overnight cold goes away. Like the sound of 25 degree fine winter days? Perth has you covered.[1]

Perth: Where winter typically only happens at night. (Source: bom.gov.au)

Meanwhile, the new movie project has something to look at. Last weekend was a three dayer so I rigged the title character and sketched out some animation. Here’s “Take 1” of shot 01, featuring the central anarchist of the piece:

 

Best title shot ever?

It’s promising but a long way from where I want it to be. I wonder if it all goes by a little bit too quick, not letting the character’s weird/cheeky nature shine through enough. There’s some undeniably good stuff in there too – the goofy run at the end feels spot on. Then there’s points of ambivalence – maybe the zippier pacing is what I should aim for? And should I stick with the snappy stepped animation?

I’ve got some of my own notes to work through and I’ll see where I end up by the end of next week. But what do YOU think, dear reader? 🙂

[1] Of course the flipside of this year-round sunny weather is being short on water. The Water Corporation both desalinates the Indian Ocean and recycles our sewage into drinkable water because there’s nowhere near enough rain to fill our dams anymore. Yay.