Tag Archives: development

January 2018 recap

Welcome to my January 2018 recap!

Other Perth folk will probably remember this fire..

the Tinies watch the #perthfire smoke drift over

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

And of course we all remember the eclipse..

..but what did I get up to this month? Read on!

Synthesisery bits

I got a ribbon controller this month! It’s pretty cool!

I’ve loved the sound of the ondes Martenot ever since I heard it for the first time in the original “Ghostbusters” movie (pretty much the first thing in the movie you hear!). The ondes has a continuous controller called a “ruban” (as well as a keyboard), which is how it achieves those sweeping quivering notes.

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]
  • Feedback 106 Chorus (30 January 2018) [modulargrid]
  • Music Thing Modular Chord Organ (1 February 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!

3D stuff

Alien Force

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!

Spaceship!

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! 🙂

And so it came to pass that 13 to 19 March 2016. I’m back into story and development again.

Back
in December, the story hinged on a rogue sombrero which shakes Pointy
around and smashes him into the ground because it doesn’t understand his
accent – a common problem that Australians face with voice activated
devices.

image

The
sombrero has stuck around but gag has evolved. The sombrero has gone
from hovering (and violently malfunctioning) to making the wearer dance
involuntarily (as a prank) to playing music by remote control (as an
annoyance) to having a novelty walkie talkie receiver inside it (as an
even greater annoyance).

To stop myself from straying too far
again into development limbo (again), I wrote some guidelines on what
drives the characters, what they can and can’t do, etc. Things like:

  • Pointy
    can’t stay out in the sun. It makes him floppy and sad. But there is no
    shade except a) Gronky’s shadow, b) whatever shade Pointy gets from the
    things Gronky digs up. Hence, Pointy needs Gronky despite loathing him.
  • Gronky
    never gets angry at Pointy. Gronky is fond of Pointy and wants to help
    him. Gronky is also utterly incapable of assisting Pointy no matter what
    he tries.
  • Pointy’s undoing is inevitably a result of his own
    hubris, impatience, anger, failings of character, etc. Gronky may load
    the metaphorical pistol but it’s Pointy that ultimately fires it.
  • Pointy can never get away from Gronky (or the game/joke is over).

So the stage is set for a sort of purgatorial comedy – not unlike the Coyote and Road Runner cartoons which had a similar set of rules.

image

Over
the course of the week I bridged my intro/premise (sun too bright, hat
fixes sun but hat annoying) and resolution (Pointy loses his cool and
suffers) with a good escalation. I tightened the story up, printed out a
synopsis and scribbled thumbnails all over it, did some audio tests,
cobbled together old bits of layout with newer tweaked ones, created a
new prop, did more thumbnailing to flesh things out.. generally getting
my ducks in a row for Easter when I’ll have a few days straight to go
hammer and tongs at layout.

Also this week, I tried out Jacques Lucke’s Animation Nodes plugin for Blender. It’s been getting a lot of attention and signal
boost lately – turns out that it’s useful, powerful and lots of fun.
Check out a demoreel here. or have a look at Jacques’s own tutorials here.

Also this week I saw Zootopia and started inventing an experimental artificial language which uses only verbs, anaphora and particles. As you do.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading!

Recording more scratch and finding the characters

So this is a somewhat unique project language-wise, which makes it somewhat unique production-wise. I’m doing vocal passes in English to get the emotion and timing about right, then dropping in replacements in the main character’s native language.

With only some of the phrases recorded in dialect, the characters jump in and out of English. The effect is kind of cool, a bit Hunt For Red October even. Writing-wise there’s a bit of pre-written stuff and a bit of improvisation which gets written down afterwards. The usual.

The opening scene involves the main character feeling nervous before a mysterious appointment at “Central Assessment”. He watches a news report from his home planet. I recorded two slightly different middle versions to see how they sit.

In the “spicy” version, he ends up ranting at the TV, forgetting his nervousness entirely. Watching the report gets him pissed off enough to get over his nerves. The anger makes him feel like he’s on a righteous crusade. He’s young and driven. But.. the idea of keeping that kind of character consistent episode after episode is a bit exhausting.

In the “less spicy” version, he’s fired up in a more subtle way, reminded of the reason he’s actually around, and there’s more backstory in the universe too. He’s got more of a wry, reserved confidence, out-thinking the forces of oppression instead of shouting at them. He watches his energy and channels his discontent into sheer determination. More mature. More believable. I like this guy better to be honest.

The project is so different from what I had in mind at end of August, mid-September, even the beginning of October before I decided to make a series. But I like where it’s going. Over 145+ hours of writing, drawing, voice acting and everything else over the last two months, it’s taking shape nicely.

I’m taking a short break from writing the story treatment. I’m having a play with rendering techniques instead, getting into some light pre-production to see what’s out there.

I think the story treatment is done enough for me to hammer the rest out when I hit storyboarding. I read the treatment now and I don’t know what to make of it anymore. I think I like it. I think. I’m giving it to friends to read to see what they make of it.

This is no longer a small thing. The story is a miniature sci-fi epic now. The main character doesn’t bounce between work and home getting more and more frustrated until he snaps but really he’s actually a good person, just a bit insular. No. In the newest treatment, the main character gets something very important taken away from him by a force so big that it barely acknowledges what it’s done, let alone why it happened.

There was a reason I left the big yellow wall easy to get to when I moved in: I wanted a story wall. Today I’m using it to suss out this story once and for all.

So. This is the story as it currently stands. I’ve got a more or less complete story up on the wall but I’m not happy with it yet. Next time someone says I’ve got a great idea for a story, I plan to say well I had 126 ideas for a story on my third go at writing it and it still wasn’t enough.

This is a kickarse way of building a story from freewritten points. It’s awesome for random-access checking because it’s all laid out in front of you, it’s easy to change stuff around if it doesn’t work – just replace the card. And best of all, it doesn’t require a working internet connection, let alone a quick one. So that’s nice.

 

Development and redevelopment and metadevelopment

Note: I’ve started to notice in retrospect that these late night posts are not particularly sensible beasts in the cold light of day. Please pardon the occasional lapse into obscure parenthetical metaphor.

Between the last post and this one, the story kind of disintegrated. This is almost to be expected. I’m discovering my development workflow as much as I’m developing, this first time around.

Still, it’s off-putting to watch all the bits of a month’s worth of work floating as dissociated crumbs on a soup of thoughts, unable to reconstitute the whole slice of toast you swear you almost had.

I had no idea what to do next, so I watched and took notes on the 2-volume Pixar shorts set. Watching someone else’s stuff can help focus my thinking a bit.

My story didn’t feel at all like their stories – to be honest I feel like I’m being worryingly ambitious. It’d be nice to have better vocabulary to describe the twists and turns of the story as well. Like a good word for that moment where tension peaks and you’re not quite sure where the story’s going to go. High potential, low kinesis. I dunno. I wanted to call it the hang of the story, like someone on a bike or skate halfpipe hanging in the air before coming down onto the ramp again again.

The shorts.. well.. far be it from me to rag on the most successful and acclaimed CG animation company in history as someone who’s stuck in development purgatory on their first animated short film project. Suffice it to say I much preferred the student shorts at the end of Disc 2. I liked Andrew Stanton’s student films a lot; especially that second one. The utter anarchy appealed to me greatly.

Once that was all over, I felt a need to flee word processors and spreadsheets and computers in general for a while. I got out of the house in search of a nice cafe to lurk in. I did the old onion rings and burger trick, writing down ideas in exchange for allowing myself to eat food. Nothing was crossed out. Nothing was judged unworthy. I switched to a chocolateria after a quick walk and kept writing.

By the time I’d left I had six pages of ideas for what could happen. Ideas, of course, are cheap.

I could have started fleshing the idea out this way back at the beginning of the month instead of writing entire treatments first: it’s not like I’d never seen such a technique before. As part of the Double Fine Adventure! documentary series (available to DFA backers only otherwise I’d link it), Double Fine’s Tim Schafer talked about how he uses a technique called free writing as an idea generator. Basically, spew ideas, don’t make corrections, don’t cross anything out. Mark anything cool with an asterisk at some point so it’s easier to get back to.

I guess it’s a classic newbie habit of wanting to jump ahead in the process to get that sense of progression without actually having done the foundation work for the previous stage or stages. To an extent the creativity can follow a causally fuzzy timeline – I’ve been drawing preliminary character and concept art just to get visual ideas down as they come to me, even though the concept art stage doesn’t properly kick in until pre-production once I have a story to make – but the creative process follows a particular workflow for a reason.

So. Spewing ideas onto paper – just ideas, not ordered story beats – works. But it works now that I’ve reinvented the bloody thing for the third time. Would it work from square one? Probably. I’ll let you know for sure the next time I develop something.

So. In amongst the six pages of ideas I think I have everything I need to connect together for a story. I think. There’s an end – a few endings to choose from, actually. There’s a beginning. There’s a quest. Suddenly the comedy is taking on darkly absurdist tones. Some of the ideas are decidedly Gilliamesque and that feels like the right place to be.

Is it another rewrite? Well.. like I was saying to a friend this evening, it’s not rewriting from scratch. Not exactly. Every previous iteration of the story is still floating around in the mental soup in crumb form after each successive disintegration. Some crumbs keep floating up again and again. Sure, the story’s very different to what it was earlier on, but only because I’ve thought about what’ll make for an interesting story and only because it just wasn’t working before because the foundations weren’t laid. On the second iteration, the rot wasn’t obvious and I was confident that this version was the one, when in reality I just wasn’t looking hard enough for holes. Experience has thus taught me not to take it for granted that plot holes and other assorted writing problems can be neatly fixed in the advanced stages of development.

Suddenly I want to rip out another six pages of ideas before I get too attached to the ones I already have. The ideas as they are form something of a quantum maze of uncollapsed waveforms – some are mutually exclusive. I have to choose. I can’t decide right now whether it’s procrastination to want to blast out more ideas or whether there’s potentially better twists in the tale to be discovered, but then again it’s two in the morning as I’m typing this. It is not the ideal time for coherent and lucid forward planning.

Footnotes:

– I was sitting writing at an outside table. While I was scrawling down ideas, some drunk dickheads in a second-storey apartment kicked a football (specifically an Aussie Rules football) onto the roof of the abandoned shopping pavilion across the street. They did this twice. The first time, the ball bounced off and landed on the road. After unsuccessfully petitioning passing members of the public to kick the ball back up to them with loud incoherent eyymaaaates, they sent down a female member of their party who managed to kick it back up to the apartment balcony with the wobbliest drunk girl kick of a footy I’ve ever seen. It was a thing of joy and wonder. All who saw it rejoiced. The second time, they kicked it onto the roof of the pavilion and it didn’t bounce back down. Good.

– For what it’s worth, Lifted is my favourite Pixar short and Ratatouille is still my favourite Pixar movie. (And yes I have seen Video Brinquedo’s infamous cash-in Ratatoing. Ouch.)

Rewriting. Again.

I’ve got “something viral” according to my doctor. I’ve been throwing Tex Avery cartoons, “Whose Line Is It Anyway” and lots of drugs at the symptoms. Of course, the writing must go on. 🙂

So last night I printed the treatment out and took to it with a red pen. I discovered the last half just doesn’t gel at all. The developments and turns of the story seem kind of retrofitted, artificial, untrue… they read like ideas thrown at the wall, still. I haven’t hit that killer story flow yet where everything follows character, coheres nicely, feels believable and makes sense in and of itself.

And man does it have problems with tonal consistency. Ugh. It started as a sci-fi thriller and in trying to turn it into into a sci-fi comedy I ended up with a sci-fi comic drama. But I wanted a sci-fi comedy, damnit! Something piss-funny as we say in these parts. Heartwarming? Stuff heartwarming. I want funny. This halfway-there treatment will not stand.

I think I can see a path out of the story quagmire from here towards where I want to go though. It means carving away one of the sub-plots that isn’t pulling its weight, shifting the events of the story around, tweaking the characters just a leetle bit to make the sparks fly a little bit more naturally.. but that’s what it’ll take.

Now to lie down and watch all these characters in action on the back of my eyelids for a bit.

Rewriting with extreme prejudice

So after a night to think about it, and realising that I couldn’t tell my own story off the top of my head, I took the step of nuking most of what I had to take it in another simpler and funnier direction.

On Thursday I sat down at my favourite burger place, ordered my favourite burger and wrote down what I wanted to accomplish with the story on one side of my project sketchbook. I wasn’t allowed to eat the burger until I’d written the story beats I needed on the facing page.

Food – withholding it – is powerfully good motivation.

So. I’ve been rewriting things again from story beats up since the day after I posted the last thing. One of the main characters got cut. There are now rhythms and patterns. Everything is better, tighter, funnier.

After another 17 hours of writing (yes I’m counting), I now have a 5,500 word treatment about a determined and curmudgeonly alien inventor who’s forced out of his shell but finds a way to stay true to who he is and what he knows all the same. (Beforehand, it was about a timid inventor who nearly got beaten up by an escaped psycho. Not as much fun. At least, not for me.)

Much has changed. The protagonist used to be vulnerable because of his isolation and timidness; now he pretends not to be vulnerable. He doesn’t even want to admit his vulnerability until someone wiser than he is picks at a badly hidden stitch and tears his insecurity open. The protagonist is much more interesting like this, and much funnier too. I’ve done a couple of comedy and character passes on the treatment and everyone’s really coming to life.

Some bits stayed the same. The ending is much the same. One character is almost exactly the same but he was always kind of great.

I threw out more than 10,000 words of work because it wasn’t what I wanted. I’m glad I could do that and I’m glad I did: I like these characters in this world undergoing this story in a way I didn’t this time last week. I want to spend time with them. I want to bring them to life and tell their story.

And since that’s how I feel, it’s time to move this project from development (concept and writing) to pre-production (design, storyboard and planning). (EDIT: This is not what happened at all.)

There will be much research and much drawing of concept art to begin with. I’ve already got some sketches of props and characters but nothing that really excites me the way this treatment does. Not yet.

The inner game of rewriting

Yesterday I hated the draft scriptment but I kept working at it. Today I realised one of the major story threads isn’t working and it’ll need rewriting – but I’m excited. It’s going to be great. I’m actually going to like the story more because the change makes the character so much clearer. It’s more archetypal and relatable. The list of stuff to fix is short but has wide-reaching ramifications.

The treatment’s around 10,700 words so far. That’s thirty-one pages double spaced. Production-wise, there’s about six different locations, maybe ten characters to build (five major, the rest are minor), forty-three scenes in total without a number of shots determined.

Do I need all of them to tell the story? Maybe. Even in this short film there’s two story threads colliding, with interesting associated themes coming along for the ride.

It’s definitely shaping up though – the draft is blossoming into something I can definitely work with. If I can get started boarding it by next week, I’ll be pretty happy with that indeed.

I was looking up what pi is in different bases today on the way home. It’s research. Honest.

And yet.. I’m starting to have second thoughts about the change now. I know the original isn’t great but thinking about it the new idea seems.. I dunno.. too obvious. A cliche? Maybe.

That’s the inner game of rewriting in progress, right there.

The first draft of the treatment is written

The Quiet One now has a 10,000 word treatment. The second half of the movie came out in a flood of ideas today.

Naturally, bits of it suck and bits of it I’m suspicious of but it’s a first draft. First drafts are meant to be suspect and unsatisfying. It can and will be improved. I’m too tired to try to begin fixing it today, but it’s mediocre enough in places that it’s not too daunting to have to improve upon.

Now it’s time to ask what if.. why doesn’t.. isn’t it strange that.. all those fun questions. Rethinking and rewriting, and not letting go of it until it’s as wonderful and true and vital as it needs to be for me to commit the hours to bringing it into the world.

I mean there’s concept art, storyboarding, production spreadsheets with assets to build, animatics with music and scratch voices, a few artlangs of various depth to create.. and that’s just pre-production. The linguistics stuff could anchor me to pre-production for a bloody long time. Even these blog posts take their sweet time to come up with.

So. I accept that I will be at this for a while. I’d like it to be over and done with before Australia goes to its next election in 2016 or whenever.

I also accept that I’ll be flying blind and that I don’t know how to do a lot of this stuff yet. Like the character in the story, I have to dive in with a whole lot of faith that I’ll work out the technology and craft of how to do it and give it everything I’ve got no matter what’s trying to stop me. (Within reason, in my case – still need that day job to pay the bills.)

If you asked me what the movie was about, the way the guy asked me on Friday evening, I’d say: it’s the story of a guy who just wants some peace and quiet to get on with his invigoratingly difficult life’s work, but the universe has other ideas. No mention of the actual sci-fi conveyances of the story. It’s a situation many of us of a particular temperament can relate to though, if not everyone.

In other news, I spent 44 minutes watching Ratatoing on the weekend. I hope my movie looks better than that when it’s done.