Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The First Short...

Well, okay. It wasn’t exactly designed to be 'a short' and it hardly amounts to much. I just fiddled with the footage from an exercise in using normal maps.

The footage is the first animation I’ve done with the new Miliband body after I ditched the previous effort yesterday afternoon. It’s been another hard lesson learned: you can’t simply design a character and expect it to rig well without careful planning. I begin to see why animations often have such stylised characters with thin arms and legs, far bodies... This time, I created a body whose arms and legs aren't going to get tangled and are separated from the main body by a good amount. It’s probably a good thing. I should start to think about the style of these animated characters and stop giving them typical human proportions. I’ve also gone back to using a single mesh for the body. I read on the web that other people have trouble with clothes overlapping and there’s no simple solution except to try to make everything a single mesh where possible. So bang goes my hope to have one body I could keep reusing, simply layering clothes over it.

Now the Miliband is finished, I really want to get back to work on the longer animation I’ve been working on for weeks. My second big lesson is to get animations right before I render them. The above has too many little problems caused because I didn’t do a quick test before I rendered. I’m beginning to learn that there’s a limit to how much stuff you can fix with video editing software. I just wish my PC wasn’t struggling so much…

Monday, 30 July 2012

The Silly Walk

I’m still finding the technical side of animating in Blender a very steep slope to climb for the first time. This weekend saw very few successes. I’m having real difficultly taking the figures I’m modeling outside Blender and importing them in a way that makes it an easy process to then connect them to the armature (the bones) that will give them character movement.

I’ve also changed my approach. Here, I’ve modeled separate the clothes – jacket, trousers, shirt, tie – from the body. It’s probably the way I need to work but, as you can see, I’m struggling to stop the underlying meshes from poking through when the figure is walking. I’ve made the jacket red so I can see problems with the surface mesh, particular on the right where I’ve not distributed the influence (or weight) that each bone has as it deforms the overlying surface. It’s precisely the sort of problem that keeps cropping up and are making it hard for me to produce anything of particular merit.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Ed's 'Ed

Just a quick preview render of a mesh I'm currently working on. Not sure about the topology on this one -- the polygons follow the mouth but the rest of the head isn't particular economical. It's packed with far too much detail. However, I really don't want to spend too much time on the modelling whilst I'm trying to learn Blender. I'll just have to see if it's workable when I attach it to a body and try to animate the face.

Now He Waves... And There Is A Point To All This...

Only after I'd rendered this brief walk cycle did I realise that there's a problem with his left arm not returning to the walk pattern after the wave. It's a small thing but exactly the kind of detail that annoys me. I'll probably be stuck the rest of the afternoon trying to fix this.

However, I'm beginning to get to the point where I can begin to animate the second scene for the animation. The first is done but I won't post it until it's part of the completed 'thing'. It sounds pretentious to call it a 'film' and equally arrogant to assume it's an 'animated short'. I think of it as just the thing I'm doing as a way of learning these new skills. My ultimate goal is to have the facilities to drop skins onto animated skeletons which I can then quickly turn into finished films... Oops. I said 'films'. I mean 'things'.

I also said quickly though I would expect each one to take at least a week but, again, perhaps I'm being naive in my estimations. At the moment, it's hard to know how long any of this will take. The above animation took this morning to make, including about an hour of rendering time. However, the time it took me to create the rig (the skin, the bones that move the skin) runs into hundred of hours. I just hope it won't be wasted hours and that I can realise the finished script I see in my mind's eye.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Banana Test

Too much specularity and there's a seam showing on the banana. However, it is my first walk cycle and I'm moderately pleased that an IK rig is beginning to show what it can do.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

A Blender Newbie’s Guide to 42 Things about Blender 2.63 A Blender Newbie Wishes He'd Known Three Weeks Ago

I now have no idea how many weeks I’ve been teaching myself 3D animation. The days are merging together and I seem to be obsessing about the strangest things, such as UV maps and sub-surface scattering. I’ve also nothing new to show for my efforts, though the first scene for my next ‘short’ is rendering as I type. It will take about two hours before it’s done and then it won’t be any way finished since I’m not rendering it with ray tracing enabled. That's not work for daylight hours. My PC will be working through the night.

Anyway, I’m writing this blog post for the Google Bots. I want to add my knowledge to everything that Google knows about Blender in the hope that something here might help somebody out there if they happen to be learning to use Blender and making all the mistakes I’ve been making regularly. Very very regularly. It’s been a strange satisfying hell for two weeks, just learning how to the basics, and the results will be neither spectacular nor pretty. However, I think I have facial animation worked out. I can get expressions on a face, linked to controls that work the face, all sitting on a body that can move in vaguely human ways. My next stage is to work on the second scene in the short which involves walking. I haven’t even explored the problems of getting my rig to walk…

All that said, Blender is an amazing pierce of software. It’s possibly the most impressive piece of software I’ve ever attempted to use, made even more impressive when you consider that it’s completely free. However, it does have some quirks and these are my tips for Blender newbies like myself. Some of these tips are the result of my spending many hours fixing the hundreds (if not thousands) of mistakes I’ve made in my rendering adventures thus far…

  1. First of all: use the web to answer your questions. Make use of online resources. Youtube is excellent but nothing really beats blenderguru.com.

  2. Speaking of tutorials... In my experience, there are three guarantees of a great Youtube Blender tutorial. One is if it’s hosted by an English guy, usually called Nigel. The second is if it’s hosted by a smart West Coast American who you imagine has thick but trendy glasses and all year round wears a woolen hat around and has a great job in San Francisco and spends most of his day in a coffee shop. The third is if it’s hosted by a guy chewing on chewing tobacco, who is probably called ‘Gater’ or ‘Tripwire’ and sounds like he’s only helping you because it’s too cold to go out and wrestle with his hogs. Never listen to pubescent teenagers who claim to know everything.

  3. Learn the basic skills early: how to merge vertices, cut loops...

  4. Learn to switch between Vertices, Edges, and Face modes using ‘Alt Tab’ in Edit mode.

  5. Learn to distinguish your axes. Easy way to remember them is that they follow the colour mnemonic for ‘RGB’. Red is the X axis. Green is the Y axis. And Blue is the Z axis. Scaling and rotating becomes far easier if you can spot which axis you’re dealing with.

  6. Learn to move the screens around. Slide from edges to split viewports. Right click on the join and select Join Area’ to merge together to windows (an arrow appears, click on the screen you want closing).

  7. Blender works great with two (or, I suppose, three or more) monitors. Hold Shift and left click and drag on the textured trianglar area in the top right of the viewport to open a new window you can carry to your second screen. Great for having a view dedicated to the camera view.

  8. The numpad ‘.’ is the most used key on the keyboard once you realize that it will center your view on the selected object. (Took me two weeks to discover this because I don’t have a numpad on my keyboard.) In fact, learn the key shortcuts. Mirroring an object is far easier when you can just hit ‘S X -1 Enter’…

  9. Get a four button mouse. Don’t be arsing around with holding the mouse wheel down to rotate the view. (Also remember to charge it when you go to sleep at 3AM.)

  10. Don’t fanny around trying to export a video file of your animation. Export a directory of .TIFF files. Open the first file (it will end with 001) in VirtualDub and it loads the lot. Then ‘Save as AVI’. This allows you to resume a render if it fails part way since frames rendered prior to the stoppage will have been saved.

  11. One great shortcut is ‘Alt+RMB’. It can select a whole edge loop. (Also learn the phrases such as ‘edge-loop’).

  12. If you’re struggling with weight painting, it’s probably because you have poor mesh topology.

  13. If you’re struggling to texture a model, it’s probably because you have poor mesh topology.

  14. If you’re struggling to pose a model or face, it’s probably because you have poor mesh topology. You can construct your model with huge polygons over the body, legs, and arms, but remember to pack them in densely around the face and also around elbows and knees.

  15. Learn about ‘pivot points’. Blender isn’t like other 3D packages and you will find yourself trying to rotate something that won’t rotate (and I say this as somebody who still doesn’t fully understand bloody pivot points).

  16. Learn to use the Layers early. They’re MUCH easier to use than you probably think they are. I ignored them for a week before I realized my mistake. ('M' to move objects to other layers. Shift+LMB on the layers buttons, two groups of 10 squares on your lower bar, to enable or disable them.)

  17. Don't be ashamed to press numpad 5 to turn the view from perspective to orthographic. Then do your rotating. It might not seem like a big thing but you can get much closer to individual vertices and also rotate your view so you’re looking from within the model. This allows you to work on parts of the model that probably cause you the most trouble.

  18. Modifiers are amazing. Learn how to use them.

  19. Whilst modifiers are amazing, don’t add 'subdivision surface' to everything in your scene, unless you want long long LONG render times.

  20. Constraints are probably even more powerful than Modifiers. Learn to use them but not to overuse them. ‘Limit roation’ is great for stopping fingers bending the wrong way when you’re rigging a model in pose mode.

  21. Don’t get too excited by Blender’s hair system. It looks great, if fun to play with, but do you really want to spend hours combing the bloody stuff?

  22. One of the most useful shortcuts is ‘Shift S’ which allows you to center the axis on the object you’re working on.

  23. Learn the difference between materials and textures and how one material can contain many textures…

  24. Disable ‘ray tracing’ in your render options until your final render. It will, at the very least, cut down your render times by half.

  25. Low poly models with displacement maps are the way to go. You model at very high resolutions so the detail can be picked up and put in the displacement map. The actual model you use in Blender, will be in the thousands and tens of the thousands of polys, not hundreds of thousands or even millions.

  26. Speaking of low poly models, learn to bring in a displacement map. It’s not at all intuitive since you do it using the ‘Displace’ modifier.

  27. X-Mirroring does work in every situation in 2.63.

  28. Don’t worry too much about triangles. Yes, they’re bad but every model has then and the newest Blender allows them. Just try to work with polygons 99% of the time.

  29. To select all the vertices in part of your model, use the box select (press B) and drag out the box. However, to ensure you catch the hidden vertices, go into wireframe mode first.

  30. Always turn down your speculatity. It generally looks awful. In fact, makes me wonder why it doesn’t default to something lower.

  31. Don’t spend hours building your own armature. Use Rigify (defaulted to off in plugin options). Enable it and it builds the basic rig. Don’t think you’re cheating. This is just saving you for the very hard work.

  32. You really have to learn to UV map properly. Go into edit mode, select everything by pressing ‘a’ a few times. Then press ‘U’ and Smart Unwrap. Split the screen, open the UV editor, export your UV which you can then paint in Photoshop. Easiest way to texture non-critical objects. For important objects use a sculpting package.

  33. Don’t be too quick to bind your mesh to your armature. Before you do so, go into your mesh in edit mode and select ‘Recalculate’.

  34. When modeling, put a natural bend in your model’s knees and arms. This will help later on when you add bones. The IK will naturally bend it in the right direction.

  35. The best way to work is to model your basic shape in Blender, using good topology around the mouth and eyes, and only then using a more comprehensive sculpting package. This ensures that you probably won’t have to retopologise your mesh since the polys will already flow the right way around the mouth and eyes.

  36. Adding constraints to bones is very useful but make sure you learn about your local and world axes.

  37. Try to let Blender do the weight painting for you. It will make mistakes but it’s easier than doing everything by hand.

  38. The Boolean operations (under modifiers) is really handy when you want to sculpt shapes using other shapes or merging two primitives.

  39. If your textures disappear in Texture mode but still appear in your renders, make sure you’re in GLSL mode, not Multitexture. In 3D view, press N and scroll down to display. Check the Shader option. (I wasted two whole days figuring this out…)

  40. Make use of the little (+) button the save dialog box. It will keep incremental copies of your work. You will make big mistake sand need to go back. Very very often.

  41. Don’t get distracted by the Cycles Renderer. It’s amazing but don’t bother with it unless you have a great graphics card with 100s of GPU shader units. Stick with the Blenders render unless you really want something photorealistic and still or you are happy to leave you PC working for a week as it takes half an hour to render each frame.

  42. Linking resources really screws up a scene… Or I think it does. For example, you can’t access Shape Keys from a linked rig unless you’ve connected those shape keys to drivers. (Even then, I’m not sure linking works… This morning, I got up to open my scene from last night to find the armature had become disconnected from my mesh and was standing on the other side of the room I’d previously had it lying in.)

And, finally, two Blender tips I’ll probably wish I knew I week from today...

A render farm probably isn’t work setting up for just one laptop.

Getting a realistic walk cycle is harder than it looks but if you do X, Y and Z it’s really easy.

Okay, I’m off to figure out that X, Y, and Z as well as to model a dancing banana with human legs…


Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Fifty Shades of Funk

Yes, a dancing David Cameron. The result of all this work is a dancing David Cameron... What can I say? It's hardly the heights of satire but in my defence, I only put the dance together to see how the rig is working. So far, it’s not bad, though I'm suffering from the slow render times. I haven't time today to fix the obvious glitches in the above video. However, some things are working well. The various constraints I've set on how joints move seem to be doing what they need to be doing but there are still a few problems, mainly to do with ‘weight painting’, which is the process by which you literally paint onto model some colours that represent how much influence the underlying bones should have on the mesh.

Not that I suppose anybody is interested in this stuff. Perhaps I should talk about ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ instead. Actually, I won’t, though the audiobook read by Gilbert Goffried remains my internet pick of the year thus far.

What I was going to talk about was fifty shades of brown. Or a light creamy brown, to be precise.

I was shopping this morning for paint. Not much paint but just enough to fix some marks where some woodwork had got damaged due to my clumsiness with a stepladder and a claw hammer. I’d previous sent for a Dulux colour card, which arrived with the morning most. I used it per instructions, photographed it next to the wall, uploaded the image and was told the exact shade of paint I needed. ‘Jungle Fever 2’ is the name. It’s basically an off green.

So off I peddled, up town, to see if I could find it among the variety of test pots stocked at the local DIY store. Naturally, they didn’t have it. In fact, they had very few shades of green, which confirmed my suspicions that shops have things too well organized. They know which colours sell and sell only the colours that sell. For instance, judging from the shelves this morning, creamy shades of brown are popular. But, their popularity means than everybody tends to buy the same creamy shades of brown on offer, which causes the shops to stock more creamy shades of brown and limit the availability of every other colour that isn’t a creamy shade of brown.  The process continues, stock levels are refined, and in time, we find ourselves living in a world dominated by creamy shades of brown, patio decking, solar lamps in the garden, and wind chimes all tuned to exactly the same note of annoying.

The same processes are at work in the bookshops, where we’re now going to be fed a constant diet of greyness. TV is dominated by grotesquely pink talent shows and the mantra ‘give them what they want’ has never been so slavishly adhered to. The world becomes increasingly homogenious and diversity and personal individuality frowned upon. I go into a shop and ask for anything out of the ordinary and I’m looked upon as a freak. And I don’t mean that I’ve walked in and asked for hats to suit a troupe of nanuses bound for the orient. I mean things as ridiculously mundane as lead for a propelling pencil, a handle for a dip pen, or even, as happened a month or so ago, a length of wood to make a birdbox.

Diversity in anything is important but tastes are so heavily fashioned by a dominant media that, really, it feels like our options are narrowing all the time. The more choice we are told that we have, the more in truth we are limited in what we can or cannot do. Or perhaps it was ever thus. As Henry Ford once said of the Model T: any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.

Monday, 16 July 2012

The Sound of One Hand Clapping

Absent from the blog this weekend but back to work bright and early this morning to find over 100 emails waiting to be trashed. Most were eager to tell me that there are now ways to make me ‘smell from fragrant below the belt’, though what’s wrong with my habit of keeping a car freshener shaped like a pine tree down there, I really don’t know. The rest were the usual admonitions about the dangers of not giving a woman satisfaction, which doesn’t so much take the romance out of sex as make it sound like an Asda price promise. Hidden among the SPAM, there was one invitation for Richard & Judy to attend at TV-themed quiz night in a Cornish pub. Naturally, I must reply with my list of demands before we attend, including a barrel of ale for Judy and an ermine lined throne for Richard.

I will spare you the boring details of my animation work, except to say that I’ve hit a ceiling where my PC specifications run out. I quickly made this David
Cameron animation to test a hand rig I’d set up overnight. It took about an hour to render on my PC which is suffering from having a very old graphics card. I really need one of those lovely Nvidia cards with CUDA which add 300+ processing threads and produce almost real time rendering for this level of detail. However, after the expense of my new hard drive, I think I’m going to have to work around this problem, perhaps only rendering the finished animations overnight. Though, if it takes an hour to render a few seconds of a simple scene, I hate to think how long it will need for what I have planned.

Other than that: this animation has convinced me that I need to take more time on my modeling. The body looks horrible and the head doesn’t work (though I haven’t yet rigged the eyes). When I move beyond these tests, I might adopt a simplified cartoon style, rather than a more photorealistic effect I’ve taken here.

Friday, 13 July 2012

This Is Probably How Disney Started...

Okay, it’s not the new ‘Monsters Inc.’ or even the new ‘Up’, unless the new up is ‘Down’, in which case I might it might be able to help them. Whatever it is, it’s my first animated face in 3D and it took many hours for every second it’s on screen, especially since I cheated here and play the same clip twice, once backwards.

Most of yesterday was wiped out because of a problem with my PC. A new firewall had effectively crippled my machine. Now that problem’s resolved, I’m hoping to make more progress today. The problem I’m facing is learning a technique to animate lips which I can then lip sync to dialogue. The method I’ve used here of animating between morph maps might not be the answer. It feels too unwieldy. I’m beginning to think I might have to create a rig, an easy to deform model which I can pose in the 3D animation software… I don’t know. I might not have the software to do this. It might not be the right method.

On a totally different subject, I had an email this morning from ‘a fan’. It really cheered me up. ‘I laughed so hard at your book… Please write more’ she wrote. She then started to complement me for having my mother’s eyes. I thought it strange but touching. How could she know what I look like? I have never had my photo taken for a book. I don’t put my photo online. Did she know my mother? Then she told me I had to stick with my brother because he’ll always look out for me. I don’t have a brother. I then realized she was responding to the small ebook I’d stuck on Amazon called ‘Prince Harry’s Guide to the Royal Wedding’. She thought I was Prince Harry. It’s so depressing. I’ve written one moderately successful blog for which Richard Madeley gets all the credit, Twittered once quite successfully for which Richard Madeley gets all the credit, had a book published under the name of Stan Madeley, for which Richard Madeley probably gets all the credit (if there was any credit to be had), and stuck a book on eBay ostensibly written by the Red Tuft, for which Prince Harry now gets all the credit. I know it’s my own stupid fault but I can’t help but feeling a little aggrieved. I’m just glad that it’s Smooch Papandreas who gets most of the vitriol directed towards him for my ‘Damn United: 101 Reasons Not To Support Manchester United’.

Okay. Back to the coal face, though I have no idea what I’m going to do next except I have to give my poor animated old bugger a body and some clothes.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Other Side of Retopology

Two days later and I think I’ve cracked it. I created the model on the left, not quite sure what I was doing but, now it’s retopologised into the monstrosity on the right, I have an idea I’d like to try should I figure out the animation stage. However, the big achievement for me is that I’ve successful retopologised a mesh. I struggled because of a combination of trying to make life too easy (wasting an afternoon on automatic retopology tools) and too difficult (making the polygons I was drawing too small). In the end, I did it all by hand and made slightly larger polygons. The result is okay, I figure, but I won’t be showing it to any professionals.

The next stage is to extract the different maps – basically the texture, colour, bumpiness of the original model – and then take the whole lot into something like Blender to see if I can start animating the retopologised mesh. My big challenge is to get the lips moving. I have an idea how it’s done but when I tried previously, the PC threw a fit. With a much smaller mesh, I hope to have more success.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Retopology Hell

Since the blog is slowly turning into my diary of successes and failures of learning to animate in 3D, I might as well write an update so I can look back on this at some later date when I can feel superior to this current version of me who is utterly lost…

At the moment, I see triangles when I sleep. I’ve come to hate triangles. I despite their three-sided nature, their pointedness, and the fact that they’ve almost impossible to transform into one of those nice calming shapes with four sides.

The animation self-learner course continues with my making some major mistakes along the way. Yesterday, I modelled and textured a head and it looked pretty good. I then tried to animate the mouth and hit all kinds of trouble, which is pretty much where I’m now stuck. I’d ignored the advice of the professionals and hadn’t ‘retopologized’ my model.

Basically (if I have this right), when you model a character, it can have any number of polygons inside it. Some get up into the multiple millions, which look impressive in the modelling software but are completely impractical when it comes to trying to animate them on a home PC. So what you do is draw a very low resolution net of squares all over your original model, trying to avoid triangles when you can (though this is more difficult than it sounds) and following the general contours of your model.

Then using some magic (black cats, vole eardrums, a bottle of distilled spirit), you combine this low density model with your previous high density mesh and the result is something with polygons in the mere thousands, rather than the millions, you should be able to animate.

The reason I’m stuck is finding an easy way to do the retoplogy work. It isn’t helped by a PC which keeps crashing, losing my topology work…

It’s hell. Just hell. And if the version of me in the future could only get in touch and tell me where I’m going wrong, I (I say I but I suppose I mean we) will and would be very grateful.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

More Finger

It’s never a good start to the day waking up singing ‘choo choo choo doo doo doo The Trainline choo choo choo etc…’ However, I’ve managed to cut through the nauseating feeling of chipperness that this jingle induces to upload the results of yesterday’s work. It’s nothing impressive and anybody with experience of this sort of thing will recognize its sheer amateurishness, but I’m happy to have finally figured out a workflow that can take me from idea, to model creation, rigging, animation and then video editing. Now the hard work start trying to create some 3D models of humans I might be able to use…

Monday, 9 July 2012

The Finger

Three days work and I've finally invented the finger. This isn't impressive but trying to teach myself 3D animation is really testing my abilities learning different software packages to model, texture, and then render objects. Next will be animate...

The Reason For My Madness

The newly reformatted PC and big hard drive have opened up to possibilities. I just wish I could expand the capacity of my brain to help me make those possibilities a reality. I mean, does anybody out there know any good ways of learning to model and animate in 3D that doesn't end up with my barking at the moon? My mind is spinning with information overload: facts about how to sculpt a 3D mesh, then (apparently) I have to do some ‘retopology’, which involves drawing a new mesh over the old mesh and then doing something mystical (waves fingers vaguely) before I import that mesh into a package from which I can then rig the mesh and animate it. And who knew that everything had to be made from ‘quads’ not ‘tris’? I'm used to thinking about shapes with ten or fewer sides. Not 1.4 million. Even the simple action of adding a fourth side to a triangle is driving me crazy. I watch the videos on Youtube it looks so easy yet it feels like, everywhere I turn, there isn’t enough information to help me. I’m beginning to think that simply walking through the door will be too much for me. My capacity to understand things seems to be regressing with every new detail I learn about 3D animation.

In theory is all sounds so easy. The reality is that I can’t ever model my own finger… Yes, that’s what I’ve been doing this weekend. Trying to model my finger. I thought about doing a head, realized how difficult it was and gradually reduced my ambitions to animating a single joint in a single finger.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

On The Other Side of a Reformat

Testing. Testing. One. Two. Three. [Blows into microphone]

I’m back. Or I think I’m back. I have a word-processor installed and I can access the internet with sound. I know… With sound! Send the lad to the butcher’s shop with thruppence. We’re eating best snout tonight! By that time, I might even have some graphics software installed so I can starting working again. I quiver with excitement at the possibilities...

Long story abbreviated: I had to reformat my PC and buy a new hard drive, which I did via my new favourite online store, www.aria.co.uk (thanks Zebra!). Wish I’d been paid for that ad but I snagged a huge hard drive for not much more than price I'd been quoted locally for one much much smaller. I now have a vast desert of empty disc space ahead of me, more than a man could ever imagine filling. Though I’m sure I said that back when I bought my first 100Mb hard drive.

This experience has taught me a few things but my main realisation was that I don’t like the direction that computing is heading. I’ve spent so many wasted hours trying to remember passwords for online accounts that Windows 8 frightened me by the extent to which we’re all meant to be connected 24/7. Frankly, I find social networking boring, can live without the trivial rubbish that’s sold in the various App stores, and can really do without knowing the latest celebrity news. Being connected isn’t something that I aspire towards and, in fact, as I’ve grown older, I find myself increasingly disconnecting myself from the media.

That said: one movie recommendation. ‘Get the Gringo’ is Mel Gibson’s best film in years and possibly – just possibly – the best of his career, if you don’t go in for the anti-English rhetoric of ‘Braveheart’. He's old, craggy, and simply brilliant in a film set inside a Mexican prison.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Dear Microsoft

If I had any shares in Microsoft, I think I'd sell them now. One hour into trying the preview build of Windows 8 and it's a nightmare *JUST DOING THE SIMPLE THINGS*. Such as finding out how to restart the machine. Such as trying to get things to work that worked so well under Windows 7. And it's very annoying having to pretend that my monitors are sitting on my lap because I have to physically swipe at/throw windows with the mouse to close them. I'm on a PC not a bloody tablet so stop making me get trendy with my mouse, swiping things hither and sodding thither.

I like the colours, though but not sure if I can live in this new environment.

[UPDATE: I'm back on Windows 7. Is that a record for a person taking an instant dislike to an operating system? I once tried to work under Linux and lasted about a month before frustration kicked in. It's actually quite sad to see what Microsoft have done. They have no reason to feel ashamed of Windows 7. I've found it, bar the odd quirk, just about the perfect operating system. I'm ran my PC off an install of it for longer than any other. Yet here they come, feeling somehow that they need to follow Apple and make the foolish decision to make a version of Windows that operates across all devices. Perhaps I'm a dinosaur in wanting to use a desktop PC but, for me, I don't want, need, or appreciate the touch screen refinements, the 'I'm not a PC' makeover. Windows 8 is set up for people who don't want to use PCs. It's for people who probably shouldn't be let anywhere near a PC. Windows 8 is to operating systems what 'Fifty Shades of Grey' is to well written books. Windows 8 is definitely not for me in its current state, and. judging from what I'm reading, I doubt if I'll ever make the migration. It's a flashy, ever-so-trendy colour-coordinated monstrosity.]

Doom, Gloom, Dead Drives and Dogging

If I hadn’t been woken at 4AM this morning, I might have posted a cartoon today.

I was already having a fitful sleep. Late last night, I’d been trying to teach myself how to create a 3D model of a minor celebrity (for the quite innocent purpose of voodoo) and failing miserably. I went to bed and dreamt about polygons until I was woken by a tick tick tick whrrrr sound coming from my office/work den/the Well of Lost Souls. I followed the sound until I discovered my PC, which had woken itself in the night. One of the hard drives was having a fit: drive heads banging their way destructively through my files and motors wheezing their last. The bloody thing had failed, leaving me wide awake and wondering what the hell I could do. What was on the drive? Was it work? Was it my huge collection of Richard Madeley pictures I’ve amassed for the purposes of satire?

Thankfully, it wasn’t work, though it’s nearly every bit of software I need to do my work. I really need to buy a new drive but that will have to wait until I get that dreamed-of-job working in telesales, perhaps in some Manchester shithole where I can contemplate leaping from tall buildings every hour of the day. Until then, I’ll have to tighten my belt and try to work on with 400Gbs missing from my system.

Better news is that my animation is now up at the Film 4 Scenestealers website. I’m also now ranked Number 4 on Google for the phrase ‘Burtonwood dogging’, so all of you people arriving here looking for details of ‘Burtonwood dogging’ (and, yes, I’m looking at you in Kidlington, Oxfordshire), let me take this opportunity to tell you how much you disgust me. Oh, I could never say this to your face but isn’t the world bad enough without the likes of you going off down secluded country lanes to watch some puny window cleaner banging away at some elephantine play group assistant? Get a hobby! Man up!

On a more serious note, I’m really sad to see the passing of one of our few comedy greats. I have one of Eric Sykes’ novels sitting on my desk (next to the dead hard drive) as I type, as if to remind me of what a comedy machine he was. His eponymous TV series was probably his most mainstream but I think his greatest achievement was in bringing silent comedy back to the masses, making the word ‘rhubarb’ into byword for laughs. And so, another of the few people I would have liked to have met has gone but Lenny Henry, Graham Norton, David Williams, Matt Lucas, and Miranda Hart continue to get jobs at the BBC. My hard drive is dead. Doggers prevail. Dark days, my friends. Dark days…

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Diamond Geeza

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Before the story broke, I barely knew the meaning of Liber Rates. Now, deep into resignation country, where the titans of British banking are falling like… Well, I’d say dominoes but that doesn’t seem apt, unless they’re diamond encrusted dominoes, made from the rarest ivory taken from the last tusk of the hairy mammoth. Yet in whatever manner the fall, the most shocking aspect of this Libor fixing scandal is the extent to which people are shocked that the banks have been playing unfairly.

That’s the problem with thinking about banks. We retain the last vestiges of the Victorian sense of banking, where thickly bossed doors open onto marbled shrines to commerce, industry, and Empire. I think of old men with large chin whiskers, pulling at their fobs and checking their watches against the great golden clock in a lobby, populated by dozens of bank tellers, each one an identical copy of T.S. Eliot. Yet perhaps The City was already changing when he wrote his poetry from a bank. In The Waste Land, he writes of:
Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.

Such is London but such is The City, unreal and now always in fog. The problem of banking and bankers, is that it attracts too many men who fix their eyes only at their own feet.  The fronts of the buildings are now made entirely of glass but the business has become far less transparent. These are the bastards who arbitrarily impose fines on their customers on a whim and who are entirely without shame should the error occur on their side of the bullet proof glass. I wonder how Nat West and RBS would have responded had a customer explained that they couldn’t pay their bill because of a computer glitch. Would they perhaps waive bank charges during the delay? Or would they be rubbing their hands together and booking another holiday in the Seychelles?

Bob Diamond was apparently one of the greats of modern banking. I’m not sure what this means, though it reminds me of that excellent film ‘Margin Call’. Bob Diamond, I would assume, would be in the Jeremy Irons role. It means that somebody, somewhere, Kevin Spacey is burying a dog this morning and weeping about the sorry state of a once great profession.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

In Bruges: An Animated Scenesteal

This is my entry for Film 4’s Scenestealers competition. The aim of the competition is to remake two minutes of a Film 4 movie, though based on the judging criteria, I realise I now have no chance of winning. They want a film that matches Film 4’s ethos, which probably means that they don’t want a broad comic take on ‘In Bruges’, transposing two of the characters for those that the leads played in Harry Potter. Some sombrely lit neo-realism piece is probably going to win. However, here it is my entry in its glory...

Humour is always a difficult thing to sell. It looks easy to the point that everybody might claim to be, at the very least, an amateur of the art. Everybody can be funny and, unless you have the context of a live audience and the reality of laughter or silence, there’s very little to differentiate one person’s attempts at humour from the rest. Then, of course, there are so many types of humour, that you can always be sure that if you play something broad, they wanted witty. If you give them dry and witty, they want you falling on your arse with a bucket of manure over your head.

I think I'm going to go do some cartoons. I've done so many drawings recently, too many of them rushed, meant to hide in the shadows, that I might as well post the one decent drawing I think I've done in the past two weeks. It took me an absolute eternity to get anything like a likeness, but knowing my luck recently, you're not thinking Colin Farrell...

So here it is. My caricature of Graham Norton/Ed Norton/Aung San Suu Kyi, or whoever you wish. I'm knackered...

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Monday, 2 July 2012


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I have an hour before my video finishes rendering, so I look up at the world after days of constant drawing (the above was another rushed doodle for this blog, so apologises for the quality). I also see that nothing has changed. Spain are still European Champions, rain is disrupting Wimbledon, and the banks are after our money with a sharp knife clamped between the salivating lips.

I’m beginning to have serious reservations about the amount of time I’m putting into learning the software required to create my opening scene. I’m hoping it will be a fly-through of a small town rendered in 3D I've created, a bit Tim Burtonesque if I pull it off right, though without the right music and artwork, that’s looking increasingly unlikely. The idea was a good one and the early renderings have looked quite good. Only, to get the town looking how I want it to look, I have to decorate the place. Hence the reason I spent Sunday drawing houses, fountains, statues, walls, bushes, trees, streetlamps, pedestrians, bikes, old men... The list goes on and I still find myself with gaps that need filling and require something more than yet another shrub or badly drawn house.

So, that’s what I’m about to do: go search the web for interesting pictures of things to stick in the centre of a town. Suggests that don’t include vomiting teenagers and urinating tramps are most welcome… Actually, the urinating tramp actually sounds quite good. I’ll go and start with that.


Sunday, 1 July 2012

One of Those Techno-Junkie Intermissions...

I am two fools, I know, for loving technology, and for saying so, in whining poetry…

So, okay, I also love the poetry of John Donne but not so much that I won’t butcher it for cheap effect this rainy Sunday at the beginning of July.

I finished my new animation yesterday. It’s been a labour of love but also I’ve put extra effort into finishing it because I want to enter it into a completion. I have no chance of winning – I don’t think I’ve won a bloody thing in my life and that includes three numbers of the national lottery* – but I like to give these things a shot.

So, animation finished, I looked at it yesterday and began to think about the opening. And at this point you might notice that there’s no animation accompanying this blog post… Well, as much as I looked at the opening, I thought to myself: it’s good and technically not bad but surely I can do better. So, I looked into ways of improving the opening 10 seconds (yes, just 10 seconds!) and I’m now up to my ears in technical PDFs explaining how to use 3D software, light scenes, create models from drawings, so I might create some staggering intro.

I probably won’t manage to pull it off and, in a day or two, I’ll sheepishly post the animation I finished a couple of days ago, with a small note: the 3D idea didn’t work because I don’t have a team of 50 animators and the budget of James Cameron.

However, for the rainy Sunday, at the beginning of July, I do love technology. And this explains why I’ve not posted anything deeply meaningful today and I don't have a cartoon. But, just wait for this intro... I'm telling you... It will knock your socks off.

* Just to show how unlucky in competitions I am: our family had a sweepstake and I picked out Italy for the Euros. Only, I then swapped it for Croatia…