12 October 2017

New Science animation - Back Pain


The latest science video fro Body of Evidence and Dr. Christopher Labos. They seem to have gone from simple cut out animations to al out fully 3D character animations somehow. Teddy is the Doctor's sidekick of sorts for the podcast and now he has presence in the short films!

14th Another Hole in the Head film festival



The 14th Another Hole in the Head film festival will be held in San Fransisco October 25th - November 8. My two recent films, Staley Fleming's Hallucination and The Oval Portrait will be shown, but so far no times have been published. If you are in the San Fran area... please go and gush over my work and make sure everyone sees you!

Dates and places for the shows!  Click to see where and when.

Staley Fleming's Hallucination

The Oval Portrait

Watch this post for updates!

03 October 2017

Teddy - new 3D cartoon character


Teddy will be added to the science series I occasionally animate for Doctor Christopher Labos at "The Body of Evidence" podcast. He will join the doctor character and a slew of others I've made but haven't put in projects yet. The shorts are only about 1 ½ - 2 minutes long but have quite a bit of movement in them. While Teddy is a bit different from the rest, being a toy bear and fuzzy we are hoping he will fit right in and become the doctor's main companion in the coming animations. The series started out using limited 2D animations of illustrations but we never seemed able to get artists to stay long enough to get more than one short done with them... if even that! So last time out I decided to use my 3d skills, and make a cast of characters I could reuse and animate in a limited but consistent way.

Technically speaking, he is better modelled than most of my earlier efforts at cartoon characters and done from scratch. This images him is his neutral pose as he isn't rigged for movement yet. My next personal film with Mike Luce involves a very cartoon-y character so I am hoping this is a sign that it will go even better as it will be much, much more complicated to pull off.

UPDATE:
ready to start animating!

30 September 2017

What am I waiting to be released?


Affinity products have a lot on the horizon, some things are closer than others for release. Updates to Photo and Designer could come out at any time as the beta versions have been through a few iterations already. As the year come closer to an end though, I am very anxious to see some sign of their new Digital Asset Manager and I am really hoping for the promised reveal of their Publisher program that could finally be competition for Indesign. Affinity does not hide its development which has 2 results on it's users... 1) you feel in the loop and can plan for what is coming and 2) the ultimate frustrations of waiting for the crushing amount of time it takes to get a program right before release. They are pretty good at squashing bugs and releasing very usable apps so it's worth the agony of waiting, it's just not easy! hey are not promising a ton of new features in the next update but what they are promising I am looking forward to using - such as the drawing tool and font menu improvements.


The Room 4 will be released this fall... sometime. I really love the earlier games and so far each one has been different and challenging in different ways from those before it. I re-played all three previous games this summer and still loved them all.


MAC OS High Sierra has been released - sort of. It was released with no support for fusion drives and apparently has some issues with Indesign, which I still use so I won't be updating until I am sure those issues and some Metal 2 bugs I've heard about are handled.


X-Particles 4 : the Cinema 4D plugin has become an essential part of my work and this new update looks amazing. When they introduced fire and smoke a while back, the effects were underwhelming. This new release integrates a new fire/smoke simulation system from a company they bought out and it might decrease or end my dependence on Turbulence FD for this effects. Right now I have to use X-particles and Turbulence together to get decent results.  I would prefer it all in one package and it looks like I'm getting just that!


Pixelmator Pro has been announced for this fall, again... sometime. While I won't use it for photos, the little I saw of it's new drawing and painting tools might lure me away from Sketch, which Autodesk has put into the hell that is the Adobe pay us every month subscription "service". So my version will eventually stop working and I won't subscribe so I will need a replacement for my preferred drawing app. If Affinity Photo was more advanced intros area I would be happy to stay there, but I don't think drawing is priority in their future plans.

The long goodbyes:
I might be deleting a few programs as well. Flash is already gone and when I update to High Sierra eventually, Final Cut Studio will go as mentioned las post. There are a few others that I might just give up on. Dreamweaver I haven't touched in 2 years, Hype 3, and great app for html 5 animations I haven't used since I started with Sparkle web design. I still have 21 Adobe products sitting on my disk I almost never touch... some I've never used even once. Titanium Toast, DVD creator, Disk Cover... will I really use these once essential programs again? I like to keep my system free of apps that just sit there, taking up space.

12 September 2017

Final goodbye to Final Cut Studio and Flash


Not a surprise to anyone, but Adobe is pulling the plug on Flash, the animation turned practically independent OS application originally developed by Macromedia. I have along history with Flash, and loved using it under Macromedia. When Adobe bought Macromedia, it was almost exclusively for obtaining Flash which it saw as the future standard of the internet and aggressively pushed it way beyond it's limits and original functions into a space no one asked for. They also pretty much abandoned all the other great Macromedia products, including Dreamweaver which had become the best WYSIWYG html editor around.

At first, mostly because of the advantages for flash video, the newer version caught on but quickly the hack-ability and lack of stability became apparent to anyone opening a Flash file. Steve Jobs notoriously banned the format from Apple's mobile devices and the long, slow death knell began to sound. HTML 5 and other new internet advances soon took over most of the functions only Flash could offer and to be frank, I haven't opened the program in about 5 years.


Sadder for me is the knowledge that the next Mac OS update will kill Final Cut Studio for once for all. I actually used it just last week to export a video in a format for Amazon Video Direct that Final Cut X can not do... for reasons I'll never understand and Amazon refuses to explain. The Final Cut debacle is well known and hate for the Final Cut Studio replacement isn't unfounded, or wasn't unfounded at the time. The application has changed a lot, bringing back old functionality and new better workflow over a slow development period but without demanding an upgrade fee in all that time. I still use some of the suite as well. While programs like the DVD creator and Colour have been obsolete for a long time now, Sound track Pro still has been very useful to me time to time. I have the new Motion X and it's a slight improvement over the studio version (why won't Apple give that software some real love?) but I haven't bought the new Compressor which exports to different formats... and I might have now that the old Final Cut will be no more. Adobe's premier Pro has become what Final Cut likely would have been in some respects but it's also stuck in older ideas about editing and part of the heinous Adobe Creative Cloud ripoff, so I won't be using that and keeping Final Cut X at the top of my video editing list for now.

05 September 2017

Recent photography work


I was recently in Colorado taking photos and the photo above shows the massive difference working in RAW can have on a final photo. The amount of detail that was extracted turned a nothing, dark boring image into something much more interesting.


One of the feature in Affinity Photo is the de-hazing filter and it's pretty amazing. Since I was running around taking photos of distant vistas, haze can be an asset but also a problem. This show the difference that filter can make. There is a lot of control over the strength  and look of it so it's up to you as to how much or little haze you want to get rid of.


I was also, with my brother's advice, able to finally crack the problems I was having with night shots. I was WAY overthinking what I needed to do and he had a simple solution for my most vexing problem - focusing at infinity and keeping it there when you can't see a thing because... well, because it's dark outside.

12 August 2017

The Oval Portrait



My first attempt at Edgar Allen Poe. This was challenging on several levels, mostly getting it done in a much quicker pace than I normally would so it could be presented to the "Another Hole in the Head" film festival before I leave for a photo voyage soon.

The original story is short and pretty basic, perfect for animation but it was pretty flowery in prose as a lot of Poe is so some of that had to be cut down and worked into something where the text isn't competing with the visuals to the point of being distracting.

This marks the 5th gothic horror animated short in a row that I've done and unless I can somehow start getting paid for them, I would like to switch to something more cartoon-y next as a break. I have plenty of other horror stories lined up so I doubt this will be the last but it's good to shake things up a bit!

08 August 2017

Boston Icons

One more for practice. These are sort of fun to do so expect more in future. 

03 August 2017


Some progress on my next animation - The Oval Portrait - based on the story by Edgar Allen Poe. I rendered the wife with an alpha channel and the painted in Affinity and Photoshop layers of the painting in progress, almost to completion. This will be projected on to the canvas as the artist works to give the impression time is passing.

01 August 2017

Iconic Montreal & Provincetown designs





Again, more practice in Affinity Designer and trying to keep my skills up until business picks up again! 

12 July 2017

Affinity Designer - practice projects

I have been trying to get more deeply into Affinity Designer lately. I started with a quick project for a friend. he wanted very clean illustrations based on crop circles which presented some challenging elements but also taught me some important new tools in the software.

Drawing and particularly using the pen tool in AD is so much easier than in Illustrator! While Ad still lacks in some areas.. no spiral tool or warping tools - to name a couple examples - the ease of drawing almost made up for their absence in most cases.

Next I decided to re-create a friend's tattoo and my own as I didn't have any drawings of them oddly, just photos with them visible in them. The only image I had of mine was from a 20 year old photo website of mine in .SWF format (Flash)!

The biggest challenge was my friend's tattoo. There are not very clear photos, its complicated (an adaption of a voodoo vévé) and even the actual tattoo has faded and blurred to the extent that many details were lost. I do love vévé drawings, however and it might not be 100% accurate but it has a hand drawn look i did not expect from a vector drawing program. I am actually thinking if incorporating a vévé design into my tattoo at some point now.


30 June 2017

Obduction - game review


Obduction is a game I have been waiting for years to come out. made by Cyan, the same people who gave us the original Myst games, games I love to this day and replay now and then, I was really looking forward to it and playing a game with no violence and allowed me to explore a place at my own pace.

So the game finally has arrived and it's pretty wonderful. While some people complain about stuttering or bugs I haven't really experienced much of that, or maybe I haven't experienced more of of it than I see with most games I play.

Visually and storewide it doesn't disappoint and was well worth the wait. The renderings and landscapes are breathtaking, artistic and beg to be explored. The interactions with the residents of the world are limited mostly to video clips which is fine, though I know some people wished there would be more character interaction - it's not something I want from a Myst-like game.


Speaking of Myst-like like. this game does not loo like the games from the series or follow the plot or have any thematic connection to them. It is very much it's own thing and I applaud the makers for that. Where it resembles that previous franchise is in the gameplay and feeling of the environments. Like those past  project, Obduction has many puzzles to solves and nooks and crannies to explore but follows it's own rules and aesthetics.

To be 100% honest, I am reviewing this game without finishing playing it. The reason why is the one thing I find wrong with this new adventure. Some of the puzzles involve math, literally they do and that's not my strong point, but you can find solutions online and hints and get past them easy enough and continue to explore. I have reached one area, the "maze" which embodies the worst tendencies that Cyan games puts into some of it's puzzles. It's pretty much impossible to solve even with cheating, especially if you missed a step. If you do manage to figure it out, it involves so much back tracking and repetitive action that's it is just a total gamer killer in terms of enjoyment.

So I am now re-starting the game from the beginning, following a guide to get past the log-jam of the "maze" so I can actually finish the game. Disappointing to be sure but I would still say on balance it's well worth getting and playing. I am not unhappy with my purchase, just this one part of it that really goes too far in terms of difficulty. I am sure there are those that find this sort of thing the reason to play, but I am just as sure that most of Cyan's fans are more like me, liking the puzzles but loving the exploration more.



I know there are two endings and I hope they are better than the tow endings of Quern I recently finished, where both basically took you to the same place. I also hope that, like the original Myst, I can walk around and see some thing is might have missed after the game is over.

UPDATE:
I am finally out of the maze! The guide I used wasn't totally clear but I managed to follow it enough to get it set up so the maze would take me to all the locations and i went beyond that, but not to the end of the game - yet. I also discovered in a comment that ALL the bridges can be activated using the the same code which saved a lot of time trying to match each bridge to a different code.

24 June 2017

Working with Lovecraft’s racism and gothic sexism




One of the difficult things with adapting other people’s stories for films is the baggage that comes with some of them. Many times it’s just odd plot machinations or maybe older references modern people have completely forgotten. Sometimes, it's much more delicate. 

H.P. Lovecraft was notoriously racist. There isn’t much of a debate about that. He wasn’t pulling an Eminem, saying he was just writing characters who happened to be racists. He was saying Italians are a filthy race living in squalor (as just one example) in stories, correspondences and personal interactions. I would argue it’s much less present in his literary work than his personal life and some of the offensive stuff in his writing might be us putting our modern sensibilities over those of a time where  racism was open and common - but I wouldn't argue it’s not in there or acceptable.  

Gothic horror stories and many stories from that period in general, including Lovecraft’s, have an inherent sexism as well. The protagonists are almost always male, and often there are no women at all! When women are present they are often victims, or sickly or at the mercy of some guy she married. To be fair, that was the case for many women at the time so it’s no surprise that’s how they were represented in fiction. 

So, why would I choose to make films from such problematic source material? For one thing, the stories themselves are fun, amazing, scary and have attracted me since I first learned to read. They are not about being racist or sexist, they are just trained by those elements. Since the authors are dead and the stories are for the most part in public domain, they are a rich source of ideas a poor filmmaker like me can actually make use of. As time goes by and immortal corporations have begun to own everything for forever and a day, making freely adaptable material more and more rare. 

In the case of my Lovecraft films, I easily can cut the stuff I like out. In fact, it never has anything really to do with the basic story so it’s never missed. I am also not lining the pockets of some bigot with cash in order to make them. Despite his influence on the horror genre, he is still relatively unknown in the world at large and, face it my little films won’t change that. His stories are also simple enough at their root to cut down to 2-4 characters and a few settings. This is vitally important when you are a one man show making an animated film by yourself with no budget. 

Sexism in gothic horror in general is little harder to get around and I haven’t been able to do what I would like to change them in a way I think would work. I have exchanged some men’s parts for women but then I can’t get a woman voice actor to record the part. The doctor in Cool Air would have been a woman if I could have found someone is one example. I added a mention of a sister in Staley Fleming’s Hallucination just to have the mention of a women, even though in that mention she is the grieving fiancé. 


In conclusion, I guess I still have some way to go to combat the problems in the stories of others I am telling. like many things, some of it because of budget, resources etc is beyond my control - but I do try. 

16 June 2017

The Oval Portrait






My next project will be Edgar Allen Poe's The Oval Portrait. 

I have to make three characters but I might modify one from a Lovecraft animation to save time. No synchronized dialogue in this one but 4 set pieces I will try to make a little less detailed and easier to render. It does take place an a recently abandoned manor afterall. There won't be tons of furniture etc to make. The will be a female in a large dress as  challenge and I might try some more advanced texture painting on the people.

Of course first I have to get the narration recorded and work out more of the details with lighting and mood. So here are a few images of the sets so far. There will be the long shots of the manor (maybe a tower as well), the hallway of paintings, the bedroom that contains the titular oval portrait and the artist's studio in the tower.

Clicking on the images will bring up larger version for anyone interested. 




10 June 2017

Staley Fleming's Hallucination - animated short




My adaption of the short Ambrose Bierce story done in Cinema 4d with the voice talent of Mike Luce as the doctor. 

Unlike the Lovecraft shorts I've done, this one needed some addition plot points to give the characters motivation and help it work as a short film. The written piece is very short and light on background details. Ambrose Bierce was not on my radar for this series of animation until he was mentioned by my friend Arthur Dion of gallery NAGA in Boston and I might take up another of his stories in future. 

I think I continue to refine my animation and rigging techniques with this project. I also delved little more deeply into effects work with the spectral hound and the fireplace details. I also discovered limitations to C4D i wasn't aware of.. like simulated hair doesn't show up in operate passes, like the depth pass, making it difficult to add focusing effects in post.  

01 June 2017

Edgar Allen Poe project - The Raven



I was up for a TV job that I did not get and decided that the cartoon raven is made for it, with a few modifications, would work for an animated version of the poem, The Raven. I reworked the CGI puppet and set up this little test which shows potential. I think.

This won't be done until next year I'm guessing as I am almost done with my Ambrose Bierce animation but have already started work on Poe's The Oval Portrait.

My idea is to have a series of gothic horror shorts that are not all Lovecraft and maybe tell a few more obscure stories in the genre. The Raven is far from obscure but since I seemed to be part of the way there - why not?

In case anyone is interested, here is an image of the original model which is certainly more child friendly. 

25 May 2017

Hutch - new drawing


I have not been inspired to draw much lately. It feels stale to me for some reason and unless I get some really interesting shots of acrobats this summer I might put that project to bed for awhile. I did draw to dogs from the neighbourhood this week that I have wanted to do for a while. Hutch, this one I think is the one I like more as a drawing. I put a tiny bit of colour in the small flap of extra tissue under his right eye as it's something that makes Hutch, Hutch. 

11 May 2017

Picktorial - DAM and image editor


In my quest to rid myself of Adobe products I have discovered something I hope to replace Adobe Bridge with. I mostly use Bridge to look through my images (photos illustrations files etc) and not to edit them but this new software offers a nice range of editing tools so I might just try them out. 

The app is called Pictorial and I immediately liked the interface and speed the images loaded. I did notice a couple hick-ups for my workflow, however. 

Since I use Affinity Designer and Photo over Photoshop and Illustrator now, I noticed those files simply were not visible in the Pictorial window. A huge disappointment. Affinity is working on it's own DAM software, but when that will get released is anyone's guess, could be as far as a year off or more. I contacted Pictorial to ask if at least seeing the preview images was in the roadmap and it wasn't... until I asked. Within a day they sent me a test version with the ability to see small .aphoto previews in the viewer! That is service! They also explained clearly what the problems were in getting larger images and that seeing eps, illustrator and other files in the viewer would be possible but isn't immediately available and why that was. 

So while this isn't the perfect replacement for me, it's the one I am using exclusively on my laptop and more and more on my desktop. I don't think it will be long before it does everything I need. 

27 April 2017

Blast from the past - my old training logo


This was the logo I designed for my years as a personal trainer in the 80s. I still like it today even if it is a little dated. I put it in the workbooks I gave my clients, t-shirts and in ads I put in the newspapers.


I created it in Pagestream on my Amiga, an early page layout program that had added vector drawing (limited but still innovative at the time) to it's list of features. It's still for sale! If I had 100$ or so lying about I would seriously consider trying it out again. It was way ahead of it's time but unfortunately the Amgia basically died out and I had to start with pagemaker and then to Indesign with brief times of using Quark.

09 April 2017

Staley Fleming's Hallucination by Ambrose Bierce : New Animation Preview

My new personal project is Staley Fleming's Hallucination by Ambrose Bierce and  I am far enough into it to give little preview no one asked to see.


I think this will be better in set design design than my previous projects, partly because I have a better grasp on what I want and mostly because there are only 2 (really 1 ½). I am using a mix of stuff I make myself, free models already made and modified models to fit the needs of the shot.


If you have read the short story, you'll know there are only 2 characters and ghost dog. The titular character is haunted by a spectral hound hallucinations each night and he has called in the the village doctor to rid him of them. I had to modify the text little and added some Lovecraftian details (Bierce and Lovecraft were friends) and so far have decided to use the same title design as the Lovecraft films so they will look part of the same series of gothic horror animations. (I plan to work on a Poe story next).


As I make the characters, I have seemingly worked out most of the technical problems a hell hound brings with it and how to have a fire in the fireplace flickering light into the room. So I am on my way to having this done by fall - I hope.

05 April 2017

Over the internet?

(Just random thoughts/ miscellaneous rant)

I use the internet  quite a bit, mostly for work - researching techniques or finding information or images for project and clients. I also get much of my news through RSS feeds in my iPad mini. I have noticed that, maybe inevitably, I am not really finding anything new to do online. In a way it is similar to my experience with app stores. At first the app store seemed to offer unlimited ways to improve my workflow, fun etc etc but soon you are not finding anything really helpful or new…just alternate versions of things already there.

I’m not saying the internet isn’t expanding and spreading out more every instant, but I am wondering if, while there is more of everything already there. 

More ways than I realized at the start, the world wide web has exceeded it’s expectations. I remember when there wasn’t any browsers or search engines. As those things were developed the web grew and my interest grew and I was soon downloading programs, sending email to the 5 people I could persuade to use it. I was fascinated by the expanding access to information and ability to get software, and images without leaving my house. 

As time goes on I use the internet more than ever but like the app store, its more and more to do the same sort of stuff and there doesn’t seem to be anything really new out there anymore. It’s become like a fridge, you can get one with a screen on it or can make calls or whatever, but face it the function of a fridge is only to store food cold. Seems like the internet is being pushed into doing stuff it really isn’t needed for or I’m just not interested in the new stuff.


I guess I am sort wondering if all that cool stuff at the start of being online was really more of less the limit of what its best to use it for? At the moment, the compulsion to connect everything to the world wide web has far too many downsides. I would rather have the house controlled by my home computer than by someplace/somewhere on the internet. I also don’t really do any social media and that is a more recent addition along with true online shopping(which I do use) that really did bring new functionality online. It’s probably just a lack of imagination on my part but I just don’t see where something new will come from. I am not saying the internet is useless or will become obsolete. I am saying there we might be reaching the limits of what is really good for - at least for now. 

31 March 2017

Mobius Meadows Farmstead website


It's literally been years since I have designed a website. (Other than my own that is).  One the last year my good good friend Art Klossner has decided to sell some of the products he makes on his farm in Vermont and wanted to help out so I volunteered to design the site.  Now it's finally up and running. 

Mobius Meadows Farmstead website


I also design the original logos, but in the end he decided to use one from someone else who incorporated a little ball of yarn into it and its quite nice. My first thoughts were to do something classy that included a mobius loop which was the logo for almost right up until the site went live. He was feeling not great about ti so I made another more fun and light. Honestly I like them both and designing logos while frustrating at point can be fun. I guess the same can be said of websites, though I enjoyed this one much more than those in the past because I stopped using Dreamweaver and switched to Sparkle which is much more like a page layout program and doesn't even allow you to code. The closest is comes to that is letting you embed things but even that is very visually done.



So I'm glad to too this on and glad it's finally online! Not sure I'll be doing more sites in future as that market share has been mostly eaten up by do it yourself/design in your browser companies that set up for free and make their money by selling you the domain and renting the server space. 



This is the logo decided on in the end by Tim Palin.  

21 March 2017

New(ish) Macbook Pro (2015)


My old MacBook Pro had been showing serious signs of decay over the last few years, not a surprise since it was over 6 years old and well used. It took 5 - 10 minutes just to fully turn on. I was becoming unusable for my work so I started looking into new laptops to replace it. Luckily, my brother had bought a MacBook Pro less than a tear before and wanted to sell it so while it’s used, it’s practically new - to me anyway. 

This past weekend I transferred my old files and programs to the new computer. I used Apples Migration software and it was going pretty poorly. I was using wifi for the transfer and it just wouldn’t work. To top it off, the new machine did not have an ethernet port, the way I usually transfer from one computer to another. In the end I had to buy a Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt cord and the transfer flew by with no more issues. The next day, I tried to wipe and re-install the OS on my former machine so I could sell it - dead… it couldn’t do anything. I guess I waited until the very last moment to make my upgrade. 

How is the new MacBook Pro?
This is the pro before the new miniscreen on the keyboard that takes place of the F keys and gives more functionality to certain programs. I was interested in having that but the price to get a new  MacBook with it was too high. There were other reasons to reject that newer model, however. The new models have one port… one! This MacBook has USB, A flash card port for my camera, 2 thunderbolt ports, hdmi port… all of which are useful to me and I really did not want a portable that needed 100 widgets to connect things. 

There is a vast improvement to the screen, I can now do colour corrections and work on my photos with less worry it won’t look the way I want on my bigger home system. The updated graphics card and 16 gigs of RAM really make it a real alternative for my 3D work and should help me with rendering complicated projects. The i7 processor and flash drive boot it up in seconds and all my software just flies on it. No more beachball of death as I try and save a photo or Indesign file.  It is also thinner and lighter, features that don’t really impress me much but are nice to have  just not essential from my point of view. 

Conclusion

This was a great purchase for me. It’s fast, practical and should service my needs for at least another 5 years. It will have to, my lack of actual paid contracts and home renovations this year with cripple my finances for years to come. At least now I can continue to work no matter where I am. 

As an aside, I also stripped the application folder to the bare minimum of software, which means only the Adobe program I can't replace with something else. (Namely Indesign and After Effects). This, I think should save me from running low on RAM as much and frankly, the Affinity products I am using are much faster and practical on the laptop. 

13 March 2017

Auto portraits 2017


So every ten or so years I do a profile portrait to embarrass myself. I guess it is good thing to do, especially now since I really don't get photograph people much anymore.


Since I had to set everything up in my studio, I took a variety of portraits, including some with "my hair up". It looks like this when I wake up so I'm sort of natural punk rocker. When I was younger it was more Ziggy Stardust-like, it just stood straight out (and was often orange, red, or... well name  a colour).


Since going to digital, the voice of doing colour or black and white can be put off until you are processing the photo instead of having to start off with that choice already made for the next 36 photos. I tend to go b&w in the end but here is a comparison of my choice with one of the photos.


I am actually always embarrassed by how I look and very private so it is always odd for me to put images of myself out there. I had to set up the backdrop and camera and be on my knees to keep in the frame for these so it felt a little silly. Luckily I have a remote to set off the shutter or I would have to set a time delay and run into position before it goes off! 

10 March 2017

Learning Blender 3D



As the price of Cinema 4D has jumped astronomically over the years with less and less improvements and new features to pay for that extra cost, it has become apparent that unless I get a hell of lot more work that pays a hell of a lot more money, eventually my current version will run out of steam and be unusable. Already, I am trying to adapt to the untimely death of Cactus Dan whose plugins are essential to rigging in C4D (In my opinion) and are no longer being updated.


To start finding alternatives, I decided to learn Blender, a free program that has been used for some amazing animations and has ALL the features and more of C4D and frankly just about any other software out there. Of course being free software it has its pluses and minuses , a big minus being not many places use it professionally.

Just Starting to Learn

Blender is a very deep program to learn. I decided to start very simply as I had tried to learn it unsuccessfully  in the past. Despite having used a number of software over the last few decades, I couldn’t even place a cube into the scene or render anything. It was frustrating and I have to say, it still is. The interface is pretty terrible from an end user’s point of view. Like much of the freeware out there made by programmers, it is set up more to a programmer’s set of needs. Blender requires that you learn a huge amount of keyboard shortcuts in conjunction with a 3 button mouse just to navigate in it’s windows. Many of the shortcuts are non standard so it can be like learning a new language just to do the most basic of tasks. It’s a well known issue in the Blender community and there is an ongoing debate from what I read on various forums on what to do, if anything, about that problem. It IS a problem, despite the alleged benefits of typing in values by hand for some people, it simply isn’t how we work these days and limits drastically the reach of this fairly amazing effort. Many of the arguments for keeping as it is are reminiscent of those when computer went from DOS commands to a graphic interface and I would argue that argument was lost a long time ago.

To get over this hurdle, I bought a 600 page book The Complete Guide to Blender Graphics (3rd addition) by John M. Blain. I don’t find the writing style so easy to understand but it covers seemingly everything and should be a great reference source as I go on. Another thing I did was follow tutorials, a few about the basic interface which were somewhat helpful and a few at www.LittleWebHut.com which I am using as my work samples here because of the simplicity of the projects and the instructor never assumes you will remember the complex series of shortcuts and goes over each progression step by step which helps me to slowly memorize and adapt to the interface while creating something interesting. I picked two basic modelling projects, an animation that involved particles the node based cycles render engine and one that creates a robot dog and introduced me to the key frame and timeline system in Blender.



My Impressions So far

Having only scratched the surface, many of my opinions will surely change over time. I plan to keep at this another 3 months intensely, hopefully ending in doing a complete short animation in Blender from start to finish.

The modelling tools are interesting and while not intuitive, cover all the bases and have some interesting ideas behind them. You have to accept each change before moving on to to the next - this is pretty annoying and slow. The bones IK/FK system is clunky and something like setting up an IK chain (so far, there are certainly plenty of functions I have not been exposed to yet) is manually accomplished bone by bone while it’s a simple click in C4D and other programs. The particle system is pretty good from what I’ve experienced. Not as good as X-particles (which is an unfair comparison) but I found using them fairly easy. Rendering is a little complicated. The Blender engine is only barely serviceable and might be good as a test render while the Cycles engine is nodes based and manages to give flicker free animations using techniques that take longer and are not as usefully implemented as they could be. You have a lot less control in Blender in the final render from what I see and a lot more control in setting up the textures. The key framing is not great sorry to say. It’s hard to get a handle on and I found myself swearing quite a bit just moving a sphere from on spot to another.


Things I need to Learn for this to be Practical 

Compositing is a large part of my work flow, not just 3D into live action video but often separating  things like motion blur and depth of field to be adjusted in another program like After Effects or Motion to gain better control and save on rendering time. The capacity is here, I just have to learn how and if I can save different layers (like a shadow, z depth, motion vector or object layer) as separate files on export. Mograph-like clones and animation are the bread and butter of many 3D artists and Blender is lacking in this department but they update with new features regularly so who knows how long it will stay behind in this aspect. Blender has some pretty awesome character rigging tools, if you can learn to use them. I think I will gain some very much needed experience in more advanced rigging techniques as I go along.

Blenders Biggest Advantages

Being free is one, but not the most important as functionality and ease of use trumps free while doing serious work. Time is money and also the less aggravating something is to use, the more you will use it. Blender’s add-ons are nothing short of amazing and super useful. They provide easier and faster ways to do things you would pay tons of cash for on another platform and many are freely included. Some examples are an auto-rigger, a room builder and even a very adaptive character builder, something all high end 3D software should have as making characters is the biggest time killer and often the most discouraging aspect of 3D work fro many animators. I wish there was a clothing generator as well! Those working on this software update it quite often and it’s always improving. They seem very transparent and open to suggestions - something Maxon (C4D) has most definitely not been in recent years. While far to many features are hidden and hard to find, they are there and I was surprised to discover many features I paid for in C4D plugins were just sitting below the surface in Blender. It should be stated that overall, it is fairly stable and doesn’t crash often, but it does crash. It can be a little buggy as well. So like all complicated software, save often!



Conclusion So Far

I can’t say I love Blender or that it will come my main software anytime soon. I can say it’s got the potential to become those things. I also find that learning it has already opened possibilities I had not thought of in C4D in terms of workflow and other things but can be applied to it. I can also see using some of the features in Blender as a way to get around or create things that C4D does not offer or do well and importing them.

I have joined a forum for Blender that seems friendly and helpful, something that really pushed me into C4D was the C4d café forum, one of the best ever. I need to get more competent and comfortable with Blender before I post anything and start to interact. I am sure when I do, I will gain better appreciation for this software.