funhouse and the big top

As I type this I’m over at FUNHouse central with Dimos. It’s been a while since we were able to work on things together, in person. Usually we work a lot over email and lunchtime talks; it’ll be good to sit and jam together.

It’s been an interesting week. I’ve been tasked with doing research on cloth simming, or rather not simming, which is about all I can say. However, I can say that it’s been an interesting challenge and has helped me to better understand some of the more esoteric corners of Maya Dynamics.

Work aside, the G20 meet up has the entire city by the balls. The trains are shutting down due to bomb threats, and a number of people at the office have been ID’d on the way in by the some of the hundreds of cops patrolling the downtown core. The whole thing is a mess. Lots of downtown businesses are losing money because of forced shutdowns. Even my office is shutting for friday because the building is getting boarded up.

It’s strange to me… I can’t quite follow the logic on violent protests for something like this. Regardless of what’s being discussed, I can’t imagine any topics are worthy of that kind of response.

Anyway, to work with us!

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iPad madness

Well, I went and did it. Today at lunch I bought the 32GB wifi iPad.

I initially meant to ignore the iPad entirely, then only gave it passing thoughts as a possible development target for games and products. (I have a really great app idea for photography that I may still attempt seeing as nobody else on the app store has released anything in the category of note!) But I didn’t see myself using one, or even really wanting one. I already have an iPhone; why would I need a bigger one?

What changed is that one of the other gear heads at work, Jordan, not only had the audacity to go out and buy one, but also let me touch it. You hear a lot of talk about how once you’ve held the iPad things are different, but you really can’t appreciate that fact until you’ve held one for yourself. Jobs said that the development of the iPhone was just a stepping stone on the way to this, and seeing the differences between the two platforms I completely understand why this was the end game and not the phone.

For starters, even knowing the dimensions I was surprised at how small it is. I’d been expecting something much more massive; the ads on busses and billboards make it look like its the size of a fat magazine, so regardless of knowing that it has a ten inch screen I still thought it would be too large to be useful. Boy was I wrong. Maybe it’s that I have big hands, but I don’t think I’ve ever owned another device that was so comfortable. Even typing on it is great in landscape mode (this post coming to you from the WordPress iPad app). It took me a minute to find the right spot for it to sit (which seems to be balanced on my lap despite the perfectly good desk in front of me), but because the keyboard and system are just an extension of the iOS and since I’ve been an iPhone user for nearly two years, there was almost no learning curve. Although, I do like that there’s an actual undo key. I will admit I shook the pad a few times before I found it.

Right now the only thing I’m missing is WriteRoom. I hope that iPad app comes out soon. The prices on a lot of the “HD” versions of apps I use are pretty up there (Cultured Code must be insane if they think I’m giving them another $20 on top of what I’ve already paid them for Things and Things iPhone), but enough of my backup apps have become universal that I don’t think I’ll miss them all that much.

Maybe I’ll do another writeup in a month or so, but as of this minute, a few hours in, I have to say I am absolutely in love with this piece of kit. Next stop: Ableton Live + Touch OSC?


lots of stuff

Geekery: The open source community received a few nice promises over the past few weeks. How on the heels of the Humble Indy Bundle experiment (pay-what-you-will MacHeist-style bundle of games from indepedent developers), the creators of the games in the bundle have said they’ll be open sourcing their games. The two that interest me are Gish and Aquaria. Aquaria has been very open to the modding community, allowing much of the game to be completely redone by enterprising fans. I hope the source for it gets released soon; I’m particularly interested in their editors.

The other good news was that the Lightworks NLE software package, promised to go open source after it’s parent company’s acquisition, will actually be released this fall. It sounds a little too good to be true, and is all about interoperability with other editing suites. I know people mention projects like Cinelerra when asked about open-source video editing, but having a real editor that’s been put through its paces on real films (Lightworks was apparently used on The Hurt Locker) will be great for the community.

Music: I’ve met a number of like-minded people lately who’ve turned me onto some new artists (or at least, new to me). Lykke Li’s debut has found a permanent place on my iPods. I knew it was a winner when a friend at work told me over messenger to listen to her song Little Bit, because she was listening to it right then and enjoying the heck out of it; my reply was that I was listening to it at the same moment.

I also picked up The Postal Service’s debut, Give Up. It’s an “oldie” but holds up well even now. The sound they created is very popular now, almost like they’ve managed to find a timelessness despite being an electronic band. I’m not one for Death Cab for Cutie, not usually, but side projects of lead singers often surprise. (See: Lotte Kestner, The Soft Skeleton.)

Work: I probably shouldn’t say anything but I’m too excited to stay quiet! The other night we rendered out poses for the characters on Yoko, Mo, and Me. We’ve recently hired on an experienced texture artist, and between him and the tireless efforts of the other talented folks at March, the look blew me away and the assets aren’t even final!

There are two times when I remember why I got into CG. One is when you get a face rig, even a temporary one, onto a character. Until that point the character is just a lifeless statue, but raise an eyebrow or put a mouth into a moue and suddenly they’re a person. The second time is when the flat lambert of OpenGL displays turn into the beautiful shades and hues of a final render. Last night’s images were good reminders of why I do what I do.

Life: Getting the Epic Flu a few weeks back made me re-evaluate how I spend my off time. That, and a Tarot reading warning me to stop putting all my energies into things for other people. Sunday, I rode my bike up to the local EB and picked up a copy of Super Mario Galaxy 2.

Holy crap.

See, I only finished Galaxy a few months back, me being a late Wii-bloomer. (Still have yet to play Twilight Princess.) I thought it was brilliant both in terms of design and in how they used the Wiimote to interact with the world; for the most part you could trust your jumps and the cameras, which was totally unlike Super Mario Sunshine. Galaxy 2 seems to have fixed every complaint about Galaxy I didn’t know I had. For example, having to traipse through that space ship back to the galaxy entrance you wanted after collecting every star is gone. In it’s place is a New Super Mario Brothers-style world map, along which your ship snaps from level to level. So far there’s also a lot more variety– no levels have more than two visible stars to collect, so you finish them off quickly and move on. I don’t find myself getting bored while clearing stars out of a single map.

I think that’s enough for now… Good thing I can do drafts on my phone or I’d never have the time to blog any more!


I had to make a difficult decision today: Looks like I’ll be returning my New Core i7 MacBook Pro.

I bought the in-store antiglare model because the antiglare screen was the only thing not on the standard build that I wanted, and I thought it was amazing to finally be able to pick it up in-store after the one month wait on my last laptop. But the current generation of laptops only offer the antiglare option on the higher-resolution screen.

At first I thought it wouldn’t be an issue, that I’d appreciate the extra screen real estate. But a week of using the machine has led me to the conclusion that the higher resolution screen at 15″ is too much of a strain on the eyes. At least, on my eyes.

I watched video tutorials all day today and it got to the point where I couldn’t focus on the windows on-screen. Three years on my previous laptop and I never had that problem; one week with the new one and I’m punch-drunk.

I argue all the time with people about why I get Mac laptops. I honestly do believe they’re of a higher calibre than their equivalently-priced PC counterparts, but between this issue, a bevy of issues I’ve had since iPhone OS update 3.1, and the fact that Apple still hasn’t gotten their shit together with regards to OpenGL standards on the Mac and I’m seriously considering a Windows laptop for my next work machine.

I wiped this one and I’m taking it back. I’ll replace it with a glossy-screen copy, and hopefully that helps my headaches. But I can’t help thinking that this could have been avoided had Apple offerred the antiglare option on the regular resolution screens, an option I’d have gotten had I bought a Dell.

Funnily enough I have a copy of Windows 7 Professional arriving in the mail in a week or two, so I’ll have plenty of time to get re-acclimated with that side of things if I do decide to make the switch back (after my 2001 switch to Mac). Really going to miss Quicksilver, though.

new paradigms

Part of working at anything, of being a craftsperson, is the constant search for new techniques that either aid you on your process or add something new to your process, making you better in the process.

Over the last few weeks I’ve heard about a number of rigging techniques that sounded counter-intuive at first, but the more I think about them the more interesting they become.

The one I’m most interested in trying out will be arriving soon as a very expensive DVD: the Mastering Maya: Developing Modular Rigging Systems with Python. The autorig itself is almost identical to something I’ve worked on in my spare time, but what’s crazy about it is that the autorigger works by layering on top of referenced FK skeletons in shot files.

I’ve never built a rig that was feature limited, or where an animator asked for something that I thought wouldn’t benefit everyone. (I do only IK limbs in my own work, but that’s a different story.) But before, the rig would be modified and the change would move downstream as part of the referencing system. The idea that you’d want to not reference characters as a whole, and allow animators to pick and choose their favorite controls, seemed ludicrous on first listen.

The pros are very compelling. You can always strip out the control rigs and put the keys on the FK rig; pure FK rigs are very compatible across all programs. Not to mention, feature-level control schemes could be applied to game characters as well (and moving forwards, I fully expect more and more projects in this industry to target all “three screens”). There’s also the ease of fixing issues on a single animator basis: once a fix is in the autorig, they can bake their keys down to the FK rig, remove the old controller, them reapply the rig in the scene with no need for the TD to come over and swap things around.

But what of multiple scenes? Does a script run on scene load and alert animators to updates controls as they become available? How are major changes propagated to all shots throughout the pipeline?

Right now the answer I’m coming up with is: the animators apply changes on their own. If they want the new rig with fixes, then they opt in by baking their keys to the base FK rig and blowing away the broken contol rig, replacing it with the fixed version. I can’t wait to see if that’s how the 3DBuzz tutorial solves this problem.

It also gets around a nasty issue: because broken rigs live in scene files, you don’t have to have multiple copies of fixed rigs that travel downstream for shots that used the respective broken rig iterations.

Then there’s the idea that this makes character referencing less important– in software that doesn’t support animated references like Lightwave and Cinema4D, you get the benefts of a tool that gets around the issues of rig updates. You still need to force tool updates on all artist machines, but that’s less of an problem for me.

Anyway, it’s been over a week and I’m still waiting on my purchase, so all I can do is speculate and look forward to what’s in store.

On the music front, I finally got something out of Live that did not suck. In fact, I just might like the drum beat. The weird part is that while nothing I have in my head comes out when I sit down to write music, what does come– however different it may be– still makes me happy.

fear of flying high (poly)

We’ve had a number of new hires recently at March. Our new Character Lead showed me something the other day that on the surface of it was so simple, but the application of it is likely to change the way I work entirely with regards to character workflow.

I’m not a bad modeler. (I’d prove it with some images, but all my coolest stuff is still under NDA.) I’ve spent the last year or so focusing on topology flow for animation, and until about a week ago I thought I was doing alright.

But yesterday I was watching the Character Lead remodel (or rather, reshape) a character on our show. The mesh is much more dense than I’d expected, and his technique for doing mass changes in large sections of verts is very interesting (similar to how I do retopology in Blender).

While the new application of that modeling technique is going to be very useful to me when I return to modeling, what really got me was when I asked him about workflow and on keeping triangles out of the mesh. His answer? Add edge loops / splits to the model and force the triangles into quads; don’t be afraid to make the mesh higher resolution.

I ended up thinking about that for the rest of the day. It echoes a conversation I had with Mike years ago when I was dithering over the purchase of my current MacBook Pro. He was pushing for me to get it because he thought my work was being limited too much by hardware considerations. At the time I hadn’t considered that I was doing more work than was necesssary on my 12″ Powerbook, building scenes with a lot of structure for keeping a limited number of polygons on screen to keep the interaction speed usable. When I moved to the new laptop and loaded the animation I was working on at the time, the difference was night and day: the file in which I was previously hiding so many things and using low-res proxies now ran at full speed with final geometry. I realized Mike had been right all along (as he is with many things), and that simple hardware change had a fundamental and lasting effect on how I work and how my work has developed.

However, that nagging sense that things can always be lighter, more efficient, has never really left. I model defensively for rigging– there are always exactly enough loops and lines for the shape I want, but no more. I try to keep poly count low so things like skin clusters and other deformers don’t work overtime, and so that weight painting isn’t painful. While these are valid concerns, the conversation I had yesterday made me realize that there’s a fine balance between keeping things light and having enough polys in there to make modeling and blend shape building easy.

I guess the point is, the next model I make is going to be significantly higher poly. And I need to always be aware of my old habits and whether or not they hold me back as I continue to hone my skills. When it comes to animation, don’t fear the poly!

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new yaaaawk, baybee!

Dimos and I headed out over the weekend to see Mike in New York. The title of this post is what Dimos screamed, cheerleader-on-prom-night-in-the-back-of-a-volkswagen style, every five minutes. Somehow it never got old.

There are amazing pictures taken by Mike of both Dimos and myself on Facebook; hopefully I’ll find some time this weekend to get the pics of my own camera and Flickrize them.

I might talk a bit more about the trip in a few days, but what I actually wanted to write is this:

To project a worldspace point into camera space, you need to multiply the camera’s view matrix by its projection matrix. The projection matrix is grabbable through the OpenMaya API (there’s a function for it on MFnCamera). The view matrix is simply the inverse of the worldspace transform matrix.

Needed to get that out of my head and into a place I wouldn’t lose it. If that makes no sense to you, just pretend it wasn’t there. 🙂


I’ve been out of sorts for the past month and a bit with a number of health issues. I saw a doctor about a week ago and, on top of being put on some headache meds that completely cut drinking out (and have caused some stupendously insane dreams), I was also instructed to cut coffee out of my diet.

I haven’t not had coffee on a morning since Tiny Toons was still airing. I started with a cup here and there to stay awake for late evening violin performances when I was eight, but I’ve been having proper cups on my own since I was twelve. As you can imagine, this has been a difficult transition for me.

Coffee has been my one last vice. When I turned 25, I made a conscious decision to cut out of my life as many things that are bad for me as possible. I went from two pots of coffee a day to one, to a pot of half-caf, to my would-be current: a large cup of half-caf followed by a large tea at work. I cut my sugar intake significantly; nowadays, if I put something sweet in it’s less than a teaspoon of honey. And as far as drinking goes, I’m very moderate now. There are whole months I take off.

But coffee… I feel how Jack felt before he met Tyler, now. And while I’m still getting my caffeine fix from tea (lucky that I cut back on caffeine, or that would be more difficult), I nearly ninja every cup of coffee my coworkers enjoy when I smell them passing by, all warm and alluring.

Pics of San Francisco are still coming. It’s been a busy few weeks on the TV show. That said, I had a look through the assets Friday night and man! This show is going to be made of awesome. Right now, I’m on my way to see Labyrinth on the big screen. Yes, the David Bowie + Henson + Jennifer Connoly film! February 2010 is being good to me.

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.

press releases!

There have been a number of nice press releases lately about my company, March Entertainment. You can’t tell as much from the main website, but March is into both show production and video games. Here are a few of the stories:

Dex Hamilton Gets Movie Prequel

March Entertainment Co-Produces Full 3D Interactive movies for Playmobil

M4E Greenlights Hybrid Toon (This is about Yoko, Mo, and Me)

What’s more, the first Playmobil DVD, The Secret of Pirate Island, just received a nice review at Give all the above links a read!