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hello, 2010

At least I’m still working at a post a month, ish. I was worried that I hadn’t used this blog at all in December.

A lot happened in December, but it was mostly work-related. Projects have picked up at March, and the project I wanted to work at March to work on is now in full swing. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s tentatively titled Yoko, Mo, and Me, and if you saw the designs you’d be as excited to work on the show as I am. It’s 26×24′, and while it’s geared at young girls it should have enough fun and action to appeal to anyone.

I finally passed a first hump with Live. I actually sat and read through most of the manual. The funny thing is, all the difficulty I was having with it was because I was looking for complexity where there was none. It astounds me how well Ableton has made Live’s workflow so quick and easy to use. You can open the program, load up an instrument or two, and have a song going in minutes. Minutes! Maybe it’s just how my head works but I don’t think GarageBand is this easy. Anyway, my next trick will be figuring out drum loops. I’ve sorted through Live’s Drum Kits and a lot of the samples that came with Live Suite, but I need to decide which ones will be in “my” kit. I’ve been reading a lot on sites like [xxxxxx], and I saw this one bit of really good advice: Choose all your samples and sounds to start with, and then see how you can use them in multiple ways. Good advice, especially when you’re trying to maintain a kind of acoustic consistency between tracks.

As far as 2010 goes, I went to a Christmas party in December where everyone wrote down their goals for 2010. I guess they were supposed to be private but I’m going to post them anyway. I have no doubt I’ll only be able to accomplish a few, what with how busy I’ve been, but having the goals is important.

  • Find a better balance between work and life.
  • Write at least three songs.
  • Make soap in Toronto. (Need to find a good place to get the supplies at a fair price.)
  • Get the book for my TV show idea off the ground.
  • Find a drawing teacher or a music teacher.
  • Write one new story or more chapters of my book.
  • Have a masquerade ball for my 30th birthday.
  • Make at least one game on my own.

Funny thing is, I wrote all that down before I started watching Bones and before I had a few conversations about technology, and suddenly I’m not so sure what my goals should be for 2010.

Bones and I had a rocky start. Part of it was Emily Deschanel; I had a hard time with the fact that Zooey Deschanel had a sister who wasn’t either Katy Perry or Emily Blunt. I also wasn’t ready to get in bed with a David Boreanaz who was both religious and not a vampire. But a few weeks ago I left it on in the background while I was working one night and really enjoyed the episode. (Coincidentally it was the one with Zooey on it.) I’ve since watched every episode from season one onwards, DVD by DVD to on-demand.

It’s funny; I’m not usually drawn to science-oriented shows. Science Fiction, sure, but pure science? Bones tends more towards real science than shows like CSI. (Warning: Spoilers follow.) Part of it is the characters’ connections to each other. Temperance and Booth evolve together almost as a single character over the five seasons. The addition of Cam in season two added a much-needed mother figure to the cast, strengthened by the addition of a ward in season four. And the burden of comic relief gets put on Brennen’s interns, meaning the main characters feel like they’ve grown, become older (although Hodgins is still attempting to blow things up).

The thing that’s struck me the most about the show, however, is the idea of forensic anthropology. Every episode that goes by, I find myself less and less shocked by the gore and more interested in the ways they keep identifying the bodies. Granted, the show is full of Hollywood flair and the plots are very neatly set up, but they’ve made a serious effort to keep the science as close as possible to real life without alienating a lay audience, and I find the science fascinating.

In fact, I found it fascinating enough to order a book on the topic and I’m considering classes in biology, osteology, or forensics if I get to the end of the book and find I still like the topic.

It’s been a while since a new topic lit a fire under my imagination like this. I love my job, and I love reading papers on code / rigging / rendering techniques, but this is different. This is far outside my field(s), and yet, my mind keeps wandering to it. So I have to add a new item to my list of goals: figure out what I like so much about this topic, and see how far my interest takes me.

I’d like to write more on it but I should have been in bed an hour ago already, and I have to hop on a plane tomorrow. Animation Mentor graduation: it’s time to take California.

our dvd was reviewed in wired!

How awesome is this: the DVD we made at work that was just published got a great review in Wired magazine. Check it out, and check out the link to buy a copy on Amazon so that we can keep making them. 🙂

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this week in meetings

Work has been topsy-turvy; this week our partner company on one of the current projects is here from Germany so that certain ideas (both technical and otherwise) can be sorted out. It’s been a lot of fun, especially since one of the visitors represents the merchandising part of the project.

It’s interesting to catch even these small glimpses of how toys, characters, and story have to play symbiotic roles for a project to be successful. This is my first real exposure to such things, so I’ve mostly kept my head down and just listened.

But I have better news than what’s going on at work: I finally have my Permanent Resident card for Canada! I’ve been a permanent resident since 1990, well before the cards were used, and the road to getting a card has been a trial, so I’m ecstatic that it’s all done. The benefit is that I can finally leave the country and return without having to carry a million and one documents proving that I who I say I am. I also don’t have to waste hours on returning, explaining to someone with no sense of humor why I don’t have my card.

I sense a New York shopping spree in my future, after Animation Mentor graduation in January.

looking for new goals

It’s not official yet, but I handed in my last assignment at Animation Mentor and I should be able to access the Alumni server in a few weeks barring a failure in the final minutes. (I don’t think that’ll happen, though.)

I feel elated.

I’m not happy with my final short film. The basic problem was too many cooks in the kitchen. I couldn’t stick with my original idea, and what my ideas turned into was so far removed that I wasn’t clear on where the film was supposed to be going when I began Class 6. My mentor for Class 6 did a good job of helping me wrestle the short together, but I never lost the sense that I was doing an assignment instead of working towards something I wanted to say.

So here I am, at the end of it. I probably learned as much during Classes 5 and 6 as I did throughout the first four AM classes; Cal’s lectures in Class 5, where he supplimented our video lessons with experiences and notes of his own, were my favorite classes. I want to go over those notes again, because I think I want to get into Story as a discipline.

I’m feeling good. I’m thinking I’ll take some time off from animating in my own time, for at least a few weeks. Then, who knows?


I’ve never really taken vacations. There were a few done with the family as a kid, but we all know how those are– it’s not the same as when you choose destinations for yourself.

About a month and a half ago Trez asked if I could pop out to join her and her family for a vacation to Jasper. I had planned on being in Calgary for my birthday but she had other plans, so I made arrangements. I can’t express how glad I am that I did.

Part of it is that I haven’t really gotten to see Trez outside of weddings we were both attending or Kilbourne-related outings; while I enjoy both, neither are conducive to chatting with your best friend for a real length of time. This was different; all of us went for bike rides, swimming, and even managed a canoe row on Lac Moraine. I finally got to hang out with Franni’s hubby, and Trez and Franni’s parents, and felt the whole time like part of the family.

But that’s not all of it. I’ve been back to Alberta a few times now since returning from Japan. It’s different, don’t get me wrong — Calgary’s C-Train goes all the way past Crowfoot now, for frack’s sake — but I get there and feel the prairie wind on my face and the sun on my arms and see my darling Rockies to the West and I wonder how anyone lives anywhere else.

On Sunday afternoon while we were grabbing supplies for soap making, half the sky went dark and those large drops of rain you don’t get outside the prairies came down, fat and cold and lazy-slow. I swear it smells different out there, the rain, dustier and sharper than what we get in Toronto. Or maybe it’s just that my allergies never flared up despite how green everything was. Maybe it’s all in my head. In my head or not, it was like slipping into a warm bath after a long day. I chased the sun westward for three and a half hours and ended up the only place I’ve ever felt home.

So as I started typing this I was on the plane back to Toronto and I, yet again, wondered why I’m living in the East. Sure there are a lot of animation and game studios in Toronto and Montréal. Sure there are those who say that going back would be like living backwards, like regressing. Maybe they’re right. Thing is, as smart as living in Toronto is for me right now, smart hasn’t been winning out in my mind.

Okay, enough with all that. How about pictures? They’ll be up on my Flickr account soon enough; I had to edit through pics from Jamie’s wedding first. I’m actually two sets of photos behind now, with the shots from my and Cory’s birthdays.

it's official

Yes, you read it folks, right here. Erica Durance is now officially the best Lois Lane in the history of all women who’ve played Lois, and that’s saying something. I’m not ashamed to say I grew up watching Teri Hatcher attempt to woo Dean Cain, or that I had a crush on Margot Kidder when I was eight. (She’s the original Alive-Again Avenger, if you count her return after ol’ Supes spun time backwards.) Sorry ladies — Erica Durance could spank you like stepchildren. Doesn’t hurt that she’s a Calgarian.

All this week I’ve been burning the candle at both ends trying to get out the latest version of tradigiTOOLS. I hear that Maya 2009 support is going to make an appearance. (I can neither confirm nor deny those rumors.) I will say this: nothing makes me miss gcc like programming for Windows. I hate Visual Studio. I think I’d be okay with it if it stuck to just being an IDE / code editor for writing software — as an editor it excels. The code prediction is nice and it mostly stays out of my way; if I could find an ActionScript 3 language syntax highlighter, I might even consider doing more Flash development on my Vista 64 box. (Although, FlashDevelop is sexy enough on its own.) But man, if this whole “solution” versus “project” thing doesn’t cause issues. I had to rebuild all the project files the old programmer left for me, for a number of reasons, and for whatever reason VC thinks that opening a project file means it should open a solution that lives on a drive that doesn’t exist. Stranger still, there’s no mention of this .sln file inside the .vcproj file. Madness. Give me makefiles or give me death!

I actually tried a bunch of different methods for doing cross-platform compilation, but none of them satisfy me. CMake is woefully lacking in how it handles building Mac Universal Binaries. Regular makefiles don’t really have the syntactical sugar needed to easily process the files in the directory structure that was set up. I suppose I’m going to be looking at Scons next, but in the end on the Mac side of things I broke down and just wrote out a full makefile by hand, then used it as a template to make all five builds of tradigiTOOLS on Mac. (Which is actually more than five, since 8.5 and 2008 have PPC and Intel versions that require special handling.) I think once all this is finished and the new version of tradigiTOOLs is out of beta, I’m going to write a post on how to build Maya plugins from the command line on both Windows and Mac. You’d think it’s one of those things that would have extensive documentation online, and yet, all anyone ever says is “use the IDE.” It’s like Children of the Corn.

Now I have to ask you (yes, you) a very important question: have you played Braid? I’ve been following indie game development more and more lately, mostly because it seems that only solitary coders in their garages are able to produce anything genuinely surprising. I suppose that’s sprinkled with a bit of nostalgia as well. Braid is an excellent example of both game design and workflow. Every puzzle is different, even the ones that at first look the same. There are five worlds (marked Two through Six, with something at the top of some tower I haven’t yet reached — I’m only halfway through world six). There’s a really interesting, minimalist story going on the background. Every world has a different element of time manipulation, starting with just rewinding (a la that Prince of Persia game, or Blinx the Time Cat) and moving to other stuff that’s cool enough for me not to spoil. Bottom line: it’s $15, it starts up quick, and you can play it for only five minutes a day if you really want to. Oh, and it works with the 360 controller for Windows. Just don’t install it when your system locale is set to Japanese.

If I survive tomorrow, a new suit is my reward on Saturday. I should also finish off: Dimos rocks my world. You know, in a manly way.

Wait, that sounded bad.

random updates

The WordPress app on my iPhone seems to be well and truly dead ever since I upgraded it– it just sits in an endless loop, attempting to contact my blog. Apparently this is a known issue. As much as I move around, this has made it harder again for me to keep posting. Luckily the Evernote app was also recently upgraded, and now has the ability to create and save new text notes right in the phone. (This filled my need for a syncable text editor that is free and doesn’t suck, a need that should not have been so hard to fill.) So for now it appears that mobile blogging will have a few steps added to the process. At least it’s still doable. I need something to do on my commute in between episodes of the Stanford iPhone programming podcast.

It’s been two weeks for me at March Entertainment now, and I’m having a great time. It’s nice to actually be able to animate, to apply what I’ve spent the last year and a bit learning at Animation Mentor. Things aren’t quite settled there yet– we had hardware upgrades done on Friday– so next week is when things will likely hop into full gear. We did get to see the latest cut of the movie this week, so everyone has a better idea of how our work fits into the whole.

Outside of work I’ve actually managed to sleep, a bit. I keep having wickedly strange dreams, some of which have guest-starred people I haven’t thought about or talked to in years. The one about the truck-sized turkey still takes the cake, but there’ve been others that came close. I think that as much as I say I don’t get stressed, I’m only able to dream when work gets out of my subconscious’ way. I guess that means I’m feeling pretty relaxed right now.

Oh, I wanted to mention the latest album by The Dears, Missiles. There’s a song on it, Crisis 1&2, that I heard on the CBC Radio 3 podcast. Soon after it finished I rewound and played the song over again about a dozen times. It’s been a while since I was hit that hard by a single piece of music. I highly recommend you head out and find it. The rest of the CD isn’t bad, but that one song is transcendant.

Hmm… One more thing. Anybody know of a good, easy-to-understand tutorial on Direct X shader programming? I have a feeling I’m going to need it soon.

stuff and things

I’ve seen a bit of complaining about Dollhouse. I think people are expecting Joss to play by regular Joss rules, while Joss is going in a new direction. I’m totally enjoying the show. It’s not Firefly or Buffy, and I think that’s a good thing. While Joss’ fans have always been rabid, myself included, I think Dollhouse is more accessible to the general public. Also, the second episode opened a lot of plot doors. I’m excited I see where this show goes, and that’s not something I can often say.

I’m back on Twitter with a bit more consistency now, thanks to Tweetdeck. If you haven’t tried it you should– it’s the only client I’ve tried so far that does everything I want. I’m not into paying for Twitterific since most free AIR-based clients have similar or better features, but even free clients had me looking around for something better. Just wish AIR could publish iPhone apps.

This week I move from a “finished” storyboard into layout on my short film at Animation Mentor. This is currently frightening because I don’t have one of my characters modeled and neither ares fully rigged. 🙂 I have a feeling it’s going to be a long weekend, and for me lately that’s saying something.

I did buy that book on doing short films in Blender, so I’ve been reading it as time allows for info specific to Blender and managing data flow. The first shock I had was that “library data” (Blender’s name for references / XRefs) is not editable. You can easily set up library data for animation, but there are different ways of doing so and which way you use depends on the asset. I like the system, though– it means that unlike Maya, nothing I do in my animation scene files can corrupt what I’ve set up in my library assets. Shibby!

Okay. Today my list says: write emails (check!), blog (check!), research that thing Cory Doctorow uses for backups with Git, prototype some face rig ideas, and do some Python scripting research. I need to think through some workflow issues and whether or not scripting solutions will save me time in the long run. (Surprisingly, for the rigs it will not.) Speaking of which, if you’re not a usual follower of Jason Schleifer’s Justin Barrett’s blog (Jason, Justin, you can understand why I was confused), I highly recommend his articles on Lambda functions. Maya UI coders, take note!



I’m finally downloading the Windows 7 Beta right now. I tried a few times yesterday under Vista, as my desktop is only booted into XP when I have a straggling program that won’t run in the newer OS, and as I’ve said before on my blogs I quite like Vista. Every time I tried to download the beta, however, the ActiveX component I needed to get it going wouldn’t install.

So I booted into XP and the download is now running happily. I guess Microsoft still has a few things to work out.

After the last MacBook Pro fiasco and reinstalling from my Time Machine backup, Mail decided to fail on me. Again. It acted like I was a new user and lost all my old messages. Thankfully I haven’t deleted messages from my account on the server in a long time, so I can just re-download them, but this is a serious problem with the way Mail works that has bugged me for years. I switched this morning to Thunderbird, which I’ve gotten used to at work and which, while not pretty or as feature-rich as Mail, should suffice.

Wonder what that’s going to do to my iPhone syncing, but I suppose that’s a problem for another day. For now, back to work.

a whole new year

I dropped off my MacBook Pro — again — for, hopefully, a fix and an end to my issues with the graphics card. They also fixed my iPhone, or rather, replaced it with a new unit and swapped out the sim card.

I’d forgotten how nice a fully functional iPhone is. Mine’s been busted for so long I’d gotten used to the lack of my ringer off switch.

My sister flies out tomorrow. We got her to watch Ms. Pettigrew Lives For A Day (one of those lovely movies you have to see if you haven’t, the kind you keep on hand in case of rainy days, bad news, or emotional meltdowns), and that got us on the topic of Lee Pace and how much we’re mourning The Piemaker, which got us on the topic of Bryan Fuller. She’s an IMDB nut, not unlike our father, so we now know that Fuller’s had his hands in a lot of shows we’ve both enjoyed, like Star Trek Voyager and Dead Like Me. Much as I enjoy Heroes, I find it odd that it survives and the more interesting shows he’s worked on over the years have, not failed, but been killed off.

Makes me wonder when the entertainment sea-change the Internet was supposed to bring about will actually arrive. I feel at times that we’re close; The Guild and Pure Pwnage prove that smaller narratives can be possible on tight budgets. Sanctuary must have been successful in order to spawn the Sci-fi channel series. But when will we get that truly break-out bit of entertainment from an indie studio? Something everyone tunes in to watch through their browsers, because it’s as good or better than what’s on TV?

There have been a lot of shows in England that started with only a six-show season. Maybe that’s not a bad target for a compelling, 22-minute Internet series. Now’s about the time for this to hit, with all the good shows getting taken off the air in lieu of reality programs and Howie Do It.

Just need someone like Felicia Day of Joss Whedon to lead the charge.