AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Away with you, September!

It’s been 24 to 30 September 2017. I’ve been sick all week. Again. Ugghh(cough-cough)gghhh! I’m back on antibiotics and bedrest again and hopefully that kills this stupid lurgi once and for all.

I want to apologise to all regular readers for being such a gloomy gus the last few weeks while I’ve been ill. It’s bad enough coughing constantly and feeling like hell, but not having the energy to work on stuff spirals me down into some pretty unhappy places on top of all of that. I lose the energy to work, then I don’t want to work, then I lose confidence in myself, then I get withdrawn and don’t want anything to do with anything – not even watching shorts which might pick my spirits up because I’m worried I’ll just feel bad that I haven’t worked on mine for a while.

Anyway. this week I’m less sure that abandoning all animation projects for crunching on portfolio stuffing makes a lot of sense right now. I put that decision down to the aforementioned withdrawnness. I want more characters and scenery to show off what I do, and AAAAAAAAAAAAAA will give me that, but I don’t want it to be a constraint on my creativity if I feel like doing something completely different…

…and this is all kind of moot for the next 31 days because I’m going to be trying my hand at Inktober for the first time. See you with drawing number one (Swift) tomorrow!

Giving up right

Preface: This post deserves some background. For the month leading up to this I’d been depressed, physically ill, getting switched around on projects at the day job and generally having a crappy time of things. My living routines were disrupted, the illness was making it hard to catch a whole night of sleep and things that were once possible seemed completely implausible. And through all this, I still had a journal to write…

It’s been 17 to 23 September 2017 but I’m posting this at dawn on Sunday the 24th. I can’t seem to shake this cough and I don’t think I’ve had a full night of sleep in a week. Tonight will probably be more of the same.

This would have been the weekend that AAAAAAAAAAA wrapped up, being as this is the Queens Birthday long weekend, but bouts of illness and dayjob stress all ground its precious momentum to a halt before it reached any kind of releasable state. There’s still no soundtrack and it’s still three shots long.

Truth is, I’m not inclined to pick it up and keep going with it, either. I’ve lost my taste for doing any animated film stuff, honestly. Doing the solo animated film thing isn’t viable for me right now anyway, so it makes sense to switch to something else.

Something like learning how to use all these nifty plug-ins I’ve bought (e.g. Retopoflow), or getting to grips with bits of Blender I avoid (e.g. hair system and physics), or just smashing through the model-rig-texture workflow over and over without trying to fit the result into an overall project. Something like honing skills and getting out there: entering competitions; drawing (or speedsculpting) during work breaks; identifying and filling skill gaps; generally keeping the juices flowing while banking a lot of short focussed work. I went through some of that process with music so I already know the value of it.

“I’m grinding” doesn’t sound as grandly impressive as “I’m making an animated film”, but I can live with that. My ambitions are more practical now.

Thanks for reading!

Afterword: Not much changed as a result of this resolution. I continued to cough and splutter my way through the week and feel out of sorts. Resolute blog posts change nothing.

Potato

It’s been 27 August to 2 September 2017.

Lately I’ve been hit with a mixture of bad sleep, mid-project boredom, dayjob stress and general restlessness. AAAAAAAAAAAAAA has stalled and I’m even finding it hard to get my head together to write a blog entry. This mental fuzz is truly brutal.

So let’s forget about all that stuff this week. Here’s the long version of Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” which I could happily listen to until the heat death of the universe.

I’ve also been watching a ton a YouTube puppet show called Glove and Boots. It’s a mix of comedy sketches, inept let’s plays and live streams. You may know them from their Vertical Video Syndrome PSA, their helpful product testing videos or their song parodies (from which I borrowed this week’s blog title). Lately they have also been doing a brisk trade in catchphrases:

I got super inspired by watching these jokers having too much fun, so I set up Open Broadcast Studio and figured out how to get my recording setup and modular synth streaming to YouTube. I also briefly fantasised about doing my own puppet show because I miss doing voice acting and animation is slow, but then I remembered I have too many hobbies as is.

Sorry for the abrupt ending but I’m about to be late for something and I’ve tried about thirty times to finish the blog properly. As promised, here’s an image of a potato which has nothing to do with anything other than the blog title. See you next week, hopefully with no need for a potato.

I hereby potato this blog entry for its own good. Potato potato.

The cactus speaks!

It’s been 20 to 26 August 2017. In short: I got the rest of the shot rendered, then I got sick.

Here’s an ungraded version of that render with a draft sound effect for the magic cactus. I don’t think it’s quiiiite there yet. See what you think!

 

I don’t have an idea for where to go with Shot 4 yet, except that there should be no more spinning for a bit. The last shot had spinning in it too. Enough spinning for now, I think.

Since I’m focusing on sound, some kind of sound-related gag would work. I don’t even have an actual “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA” sound recorded yet, just ideas. Having that sound could lead to all kinds of silly and fun places. I can certainly give that some thought while I’m back-filling the rest of the shots with sound design.

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!

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!

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!