Frustrating Geometry

When I first started doing art seriously in “3D” you had to feel around space with your head and once you dropped in the points, edges and polys they were THERE.  Editing geometry was hard enough, getting to actually DO what YOU WANT IT TO was, well that was something for the future when we would make phone calls on 3D watches and fly to work in airborne CAMAROS.

Well we are still waiting for the flying cars but 3D art has come a LOOOOONG way since, well, when I was talking about.  Now rather then working with LEGO bricks you can dip your fingers into virtual clay and make that ashtray you wanted to make in pre-school (but your little vienna sausage fingers wouldn’t let you) Yes siree boys and goils, it’s clay with an UNDO KEY.

The trouble is that to do that you have to uses a lot of polys to get the exact shape ya want and I mean a lot! We are talking A LOT in same way Kitten Natividad was BIG! Thsi causes problems though if you, say, want to do anything useful with the object you built other than dropping it on a turntable, editing it in iMovie and posting it to your website. What you gotta do is RETOPOLOGIZE, meaning “once you made it you gotta make it AGAIN, only smaller”.

So right now I am doing that on some models for SKY PIRATES and buddy, let me tell you…it is about as much fun as yanking your eyes out with a melon baller!

The morning after

…harkening back to working on C128 games. Pixel size is to scale

I was amazed last night at how quickly the block got quiet.  In years past it was gunpowder fueled chaos until all hours, last night not so much.  In fact the whole day today has been very quiet leading me to believe people bought less boom stuff and used it all up when they were suppose to.

For me though there were firework of another kind as I discovered a veritable treasure trove of tools and tutorial on a site recommended to me by an illustrator pal. Just now I am too tired to go into it but I;ll touch on it more tomorrow.


A quiet 4th of July

Wel…not really.  Outside right now it sounds like an episode of FRONTLINE set in the Middle East, but quiet because for another year the “kids” (I use the term loosely) are absent from the house.  The street in front, once festooned with pyrotechnics is dark and quiet.  Just because I accept that things change doesn’t mean I have to like it.

What I DID like today though was my first day following up on that whole

“I like your stuff, especially the early MECH stuff!”

So starting after breakfast I started in going through my archives looking for unfinished steampunk mech that I liked and doing a bit of virtual kit bashing. Everything I did was comfortable mechanical, in more ways than one. It felt so comfortable to be thinking like an engineer again, it was delightfully mechanical to move down my pipeline and see the results starting to come together.  It was kind of exciting to see the texturing cometogether, something I had not been doing as I was working on the early pieces for SKY PIRATES.

Tomorrow I will finished this up (I got an extra day off, WOOT!) and will start working on some more serious steampunk mech.  I like this piece but it has too many wing and looks like it will work.  Steampunk is about faniful aircraft that hang in the air in the same way bricks don’t and bring to mind dreams of times that never were…


zPlot thickens

A lot more of my day has been eaten up with zBrush R8, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  There are some changes to the program that I can truly see as being game changers for how I work.  This sort of thing does not happen often so when it does it is cause for some level of excitement.

Can you tell? This is me being excited. Yay.

Goochy, goochy goo

So this is the first test of the animated edge lines, achieved using noise layers on the inner and outer edge of the line.  The animation is too subtle here as I di not follow “Turner’s Law of Animation”:

Think of what you want to do and double it, in animation everything is bigger than life!

Additionally the shader is a simple gooch tone NPR shader which I experimenting with because the project I am currently working on centers around the 1960s and 1970s…gooch be psychedelic DUDE!

To Do list for June 30

Well I have a lot on my plate today, all very cool stuff!  so I best make a list, yes?

  1. zBrush R8 – While I am typing this the latest version of zBrush4 is downloading which promises a lot of new functionality.  I have owned zBrush since zBrush2 but it is only in the last two years have I spent any real time with it.  Now it is partially integrated into my pipeline and I am working to make it a more active part.  At major animation studios they use MAQUETTES of the toon characters to do storyboarding and concept design, and that is where I figures it will fit in for me.
  2. MODO NPR – In the end I always want my work to look hand drawn to some extent, even when it is generated.  In my modeling/animating tool, MODO, I use a set of tools called the NPR Kit.  No, it doesn’t play ALL THINGS CONSIDERED while I bash out a spaceship, rather NPR stand for Non Photo Realistic.  The first time I saw this sort of thing done was in the eighties in the Filmation version of FLASH GORDON and from that point I was hooked.  This is another case where I have had the tools for awhile but have not given myself leave to play with them and see what they can really do. Today I want to try out a shader I have never touched and fiddle with animating outline shape and animation.
  3. KSAN – I am about 1/4 of the way through the animatics on the SLA piece for the documentary but my partner, Jesse Bloch, is off to Austria with his family for two weeks so I have time.  Still the sooner I get the animatic done the sooner I can get to work on the final animation, which will be 2 minutes long.  Items 1&2 have a lot to do with this in their own way so although it may seem scattered there is a binding thread through all this.

So everything is downloaded, time to get to work.  I’ll post results later.

Star Wars Gen 1

So Everyone was talking about STAR WARS yesterday but I was on the road with the family so I couldn’t. Anyone who knows me knows STAR WARS was a big part of my life so here goes.
I didn’t go see STAR WARS on opening day, but in January of 1977 I was working as an usher at CENTURY 21 Theatres. It was a typical Saturday, the day when couriers from the film distributors dropped on new films and previews in re-enforced masonite boxes wrapped in straps. That Saturday we got a box from FOX labeled STAR WARS. That, of course, peaked my interest as I was a SF fan (note, NOTE SciFi). I took it to the projection booth and Gary, the projectionist, threaded it up and we watched it, just the two of us in the darkened theatre.
We watched it twice.
The Gary said: “This is either going to be really great or it is going to SUCK”
Original X-Wing box cover. The first Digtal Box art Lucasfilm ever accepted. Composited in prit resolution on a MAC II (16 mhz) with 8 Megabites of RAM

That summer I was recovering from a bad accident, oddly enough that happened the week after the film arrived. That accident put me in the hospital for two weeks, lost me my job and still effects me to this day. It was also during the time I was actually thinking I had a chance of ever going pro as a racer so all my money was spent on tires and entry fees.  Even though I had been making movies since I was about 8 they were not a priority.

I finally went to see STAR WARS at a matinee at that same Century 21 theatre. Gary let me in for free, I bought popcorn and a Dr/ Pepper and settled into an almost empty theatre.
I watched it three times and the story and the effects changed my life forever.
Racing was going nowhere so I sold my car and went back to school to study video and film. Also I met my future wife and an array of friend who are, well, still my friends and began doing convention art shows.  My art was passible and I met a lot of great other artists.  ILM was now a goal for me as the people who worked there showed up at cons in their silver bomber jackets and talked about stuff that I did think was magic.  I wanted to earn one of those jackets but never did.
After a time spent in Los Angeles trying to get into animation (I finally left after a friend told me that I would NEVR make it there with my skills and like a fool I believed him) I moved back to Nor Cal, got married and…well started working at lucasfilm games.
The edges of this fact are hazy but the possibility does exist that I was the first 3D artist (aside form John Whitney and Gary Demos) to build an X-wing Fighter, which was for the game X-Wing.  It was a long way from that empty theatre to then.
So happy birthday STAR WARS, and thanks for the life.


Yesterday ended with a flurry of voices in my brain box telling me that I had “lost it” and “was too old” and so on.  I am used to this greek chorus, every artist I know has it chortling in the background as they work, but this time I didn’t so much listen to it so much as to notice they were back.  The last two weeks I have been wrestling with zBrush stuff and trying to get new characters rigged while Bob works on the second rewrite of the main story.  Until that is done I cannot really work on the illustrations so I am left pretty much to my own devices.

Which leads to me rattling around in my head, which is never a good thing (that is the voice of experience). It is in times like these that I get lost in the technique and lose the joy of creation.  It becomes all rigging and linking and expression as the like.  Working like that for too long is like trying to swim in tapioca, although possible it is taxing and eventually you will take one to the balls (sorry).

As I was laying in bed it was simple to conclude what was going on, I wasn’t enjoying what I was working on, the project that has jump started my artistic genes had turned into a job…and not a very good one. The kind of job where you have to go into darkened stalls and clean out fluids you cannot say for sure where they came from…barefoot. Time to take another road.

The weather remains frigid, which makes working in the studio problematic, so I took a step back.  As distraction I turned on CRUNCHYROLL and did some serious binge watching.

…what is there not to like about anime?

For some reason some years ago I stopped watching ANIME,  which is weird because for a very long time it was a great source of relaxation and inspiration.  It is not uncommon for me to have done this in the past, love something and then cut myself off from it for no apparent reason.  Probably can be written off to the depression monster, I dunno.  What I do know is that Nick has gotten me watching again and it is like reaching into the pocket of long unworn favorite jacket and finding a crisp twenty, especially today.

So if I am not enjoying it stop doing it.  Turn the Supertanker of yer ego around and head back to where the project started.

So I am

Merry Christmas everyone!

Lady Amy’s corset is not only stylish, it adds body armor and bandoliers!

Just winding down the end of a wonderful Christmas with the family.  Last night was spent at Nick’s girl friend, Devon’s, house where we broke bread…well pizza actually…and got to know each other better. Devon’s 92 year old grandmother was there ( who surprised us with boxes of M&Ms and stickers like we were five years old (still need to use my stickers up)  as well as her Mom (who is a artist in her own right) and her sister who regaled us with tales of far off San Francisco during the height of the Christmas shopping feeding frenzy. Much chortling ensued.

Today was the traditional trek to Sacto for dinner and for once traffic served a useful purpose.  It gave me a cjance to consult my most reliable confidants about the final direction for the first issues of SKY PIRATES in terms of style.  I have been working towards a more realistic  style (see above) but the idea of going back to more cartoony/stylized had started to creep back into my brain box. A couple of hours of discussion convinced me of te folly of my ways so once I get a break from the Day Job it will be back to finishing off Lady Amy and moving on to Reggie.

Nothing Earth shattering to anyone but me, but in my mind it was a big AND FINAL decision.  I will talk about it more in depth after I get some shut eye.

Ho, Ho, Ho all my invisible pals!

So how was YOUR week…

…like so many of the denizens of my echo chamber mine was not as positive as it might have been.  It was so disturbing in fact that for a brief time I thought about dropping all of my work on Sky Pirates and doing some Political cartoons.  You know the kind, satyrical and fighting…ink with TEETH that would bring about real, Positive CHANGE! A real digital Thomas Nast!

Yeah, I know, knee-jerk artistic bloviating at its finest.  There are lots of political cartoonists out there doing a FINE job on both sides of the aisle.  Best I stick to my strange Fantasy world and try and entertain people who find very little entertaining just now. The nation has it’s course and it will go there no matter what pontificating I throw at the helmsman.  At the same time I have my own course to steer and turning the helm hard-over will only lead to a rail in the water, spilled drinks and a petulant crew.

Right to Left: Lola, Roxanne and Laverne
Right to Left: Lola, Roxanne and Laverne

This is not the first strange thing that I have thought of late.  Just last week, as my work schedule at the shop expanded, I started thinking that now might be the time to start selling my camera gear and stabilizers and tripods and booms so I can get the bill collectors off my ass. You know, all that digital gear that I have spent the last 4 years slowly but surely accumulating .  The stuff that brought about the somewhat spotty, but well paying, gigs that I lived on before I got the part time gig at the shop.

Gads I thinks some stoopid crap at times! My pal Wade told me something a long time ago that has stuck with me always…DO NOT SELL YOUR TOOLS. Long ago I started out as a car mechanic and in that time I gathered together several large toolboxes full of all the ephemera needed to not only fix street cars but to restore older cars or even build racecars. After that I did wood working, building furniture, cabinets and boats.  Same story, a gathering of saws and chisels, files and planers.  In the last 16 years I have done little or no woodworking.  The last car I worked on was changing the main drive shaft support on my Touareg.  I still have all those tool though, all around me at this very moment.

So why was I thinking I should sell the tools that I used regularly only a few months ago?  Tools that had made me money.  Tools that I selected lovingly.  Tools that take me someplace other, someplace I have loved since before I was in high school.  Why sell those?  I suddenly smelled the dank musty livery of that Siren, Depression. All the negative crap on the airwaves, and thus in my ears had fertilized the soil of cerebellum and she was trying to gather me back into her comforting, clammy embrace. Luckily though  I recognized her spoor and the events this week made me realize that if I did not take action, and quickly, I would be plummeting down the half-pipe of a slippery slope back to Depression’s embrace.

That is why on Wednesday after work I started compiling a spreadsheet of the assets I need to construct for the first two issues of SKY PIRATES.  Along with that I started gathering all of Bob’s writings and my notes into one Shrivener document (Patrons over at Patreon will soon get a look at this bit). That led to me looking at the long list of software I used regularly to do interactive design, special effects, web work etc to see what needed updating.  Basically all of it needed attention because, surprise, surprise, Adobe had just released the 2017 versions of all their software. I pushed the “UPDATE ALL” button.

While that was ticking away I gathered up my cameras, my girls, to see what they needed.  I call them “My Girls” because as the son of an old Bomber mechanic I know it is easier to retain knowledge of a name than a number. “Lola” is my Canon T5i, “Roxanne” (Roxy) is my GH4 and “Laverne” is the NIKON D700 I inherited for dear ole’ Jeff.  I had to order a new charger for Laverne (will be here tomorrow, thanks Amazon) and charge the batteries on the other two.  After that I updated the firmware on Roxy, which had previously been a trial but this time worked like a charm.

Quick Test using Substance Designer/Painter to see how assets will work Sky Pirate Shaders.
Quick Test using Substance Designer/Painter to see how assets will work Sky Pirate Shaders.

There was little work to do on a couple of nascent web projects (Hi Amber) and some phone call to be made to clients to reconnect. From the outside I must have looked like those films of the inside of the time traveler’s house as seen from the Time Machine.

Still, I did not want lose total contact with SKY PIRATES, and updating After Effects set my mind to wandering about how I can use it for the project. Additionally I also wanted to see what effect using Substance Designer/Painter on the model when I threw the stand Sky Pirates shader into the mix.  This thought led to a quickie project to blow the dust off of that part of my brainbox (How DO YOU get the Mesh into this damn thing again?). When I use it Substance Painter is one of the bestest toys I have, and I have a lot of cool toys. It took about two hours to get back up to speed but it was fun to do and I have a first test object to work with, next will come some actual Steamy/Punky sorta stuff.

While all of this is going on, the world sails on and the people in it will do and say what they will.  It became obvious to me some months ago that I get a helluva lot more done when I stay away from Social Media (except to post tidbits about my work and maybe “like” something my son posted).  Air-Gapping myself from the news media serves well to maintain my peace of mind as well, which is perhaps harder at times me then someone else.  Someone who hasn’t been a information junkie his entire adult life.

The one thing that I will say about the events of the last few months, the events that climaxed on Tuesday, is that the current state of media is horrific.  This goes for “Main Stream” and “Alternative” as well as all aspects of “Social Media” as well. All of it is woven through with the same sort of odiferous poison as the Siren of Depression brings to the table.  Some will say it is because there is so much MONEY involved in it, but it is more than that.  There is a huge helping of neurosis stirred in as well, seasoned with fear and anxiety.  People who are afraid are easier to influence.  Whether that influence is intended to control their opinions or sway the use of their disposable income the tools are all the same.

There can be conferences about “what do we do now with the media” filling every conference room of every Double Tree in the nation and it will not help. There can be dissertations on “The influence of mass media on the lizard brains of Bonobo Apes” until we run out of printer paper and that will change very little (except maybe get some Bonobos addicted to JUSTIFIED). I’ve thought about it a lot, while I was cleaning, and for myself I have come up with my own solution.

So I am unplugging, not completely but enough to maintain my own sanity. The platforms developed for Social Media were intended to be complements to our lives, not take them over.  The news was originally intended to help form the people into an “Informed Electorate”, not whip them into an angry mob. Too much of anything is bad, too much of other peoples opinions and analysis, especially when said same analysis has been proven to be so much horseshit (are you listening Nate Silver?), is much worse. So I am going to go to work, talk to real people and smile more than is necessary (below the creepy stage I mean). The people I love will hear from me and the invisible friends…not so much.

Jimmy Buffett said it best

If the Phone doesn’t ring, it’s me

If you want catch up with me though, stop by here, or over at Patreon, I will be glad to see you (excuse the creepy smile).