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.
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.
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! 🙂
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! 🙂
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?
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. 🙂
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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? 🙂
 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.