I’ve spent the past few hours reading the blogs of some very creative people in the Machinima niche. People that are extremely talented and as far from mainstream as it comes. Their ideas are quirky, way out there and entertaining… at least to some of us. But I also notice one common factor. One over-riding theme.
They are all angry. Very angry.
So I have to wonder… is anger what drives them or it is a result of what drives them? All voiced some sort of frustration over not being at a certain place in their life… generally a better place than they are now. Some were angry that no one leaves comments. Other were angry at some of the comments that were left. Some were angry that critics exist at all and that has to be a tough one since we are all a critic at one time or another.
To the last one they were all mad that their creative works weren’t embraced by enough people or that financial success was eluding them. The lack of financial success has so many factors it really can’t be intelligently discussed but for the sake of this article let’s boil it down to a simplistic concept. If the work is quirky… the audience will be quirky and all that comes along with that plus more often than not it will be a very small audience.
Being labeled as Machinima to me is neither here nor there as most casual viewers have never heard of the term. However factor in all the years they’ve spent watching high quality MAINSTREAM work in animated cartoons and movies then you can start to see the uphill battle Machinima faces. While it’s very admirable for a single person or small team to put together a great piece of work it will need the proper software and thousands of hours of work to even come close to grabbing and holding the attention of the general viewing audience.
You can have the best story that ever existed and not make a dent in the viewing public with it because of poor production methods. Most of these things are obvious to readers of this blog so it shouldn’t come as a shock when that epic you just produced only gets hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of views.
My stepson can fire up his pickup and record himself sitting there racking the pipes and draw more Youtube views than most of my videos combined. It is irritating? Sorta… does it make me mad? No. It’s the way things are and easily understandable.
I’m not a lover of commentary game machinima but it has a large audience that is loyal. I do not begrudge the Youtuber that makes good money on commentary or critiquing other people’s work because that is the wonderful part of the Youtube platform… people watch what they want to watch instead of what is spoon fed to them and content producers benefit financially.
If you can’t get enough views because of the quirky nature of your work then getting mad and writing a missive about a misguided viewing public isn’t going to gather many more views and may in fact alienate some existing viewers.
Maybe one day that big break will come and someone with decision making authority will see your work. You just have to hope they have viewing standards that fit your niche… and considering the cost of production for broadcast or cinematic release… those odds aren’t good.
To the everyday reader a place to write may not seem that important. As long as you can get access to your laptop, pen/paper, tree bark or whatever your media of choice is you should be able to write… right? Well.. it’s not that easy for some of us and while most of us can indeed write anywhere, anytime having the right atmosphere and particularly in the right place can be a huge creative bonus that cannot be appreciated by most readers.
A case in point, and what triggered this post, was attempting to kick off a review with that all important first sentence and paragraph.. the hook that either reels us in or sends us running to another article. To say I was struggling was an understatement and I do admit to not really struggling much when it comes to writing. While I have suffered the dreaded “writer’s block” it’s been rare and in most cases my problem is cutting down on the verbiage so I can turn in a word count that won’t seem like pulling teeth to read. This time was different though. The app being reviewed was great… no problems there… but how to start… what to say. I sat in my studio at my work desk and played with the words like a kid picking through an unwanted meal. There was a lot of sighing and probably some weeping and gnashing of teeth so I grabbed my laptop and went outside.
Low and behold it was the hottest time of the day but I had just the spot. Under a huge tree where the shade was thinning the grass out we built two decks, inserted a bridge and added walkways to break up the yard. Bear with me… I have a reason for this detour. It’s not finished as we still have a dry stream bed to build around the tree and under the bridge. As a temporary measure I put two old but comfortable wicker chairs there with a little table and went on about finishing other projects. Today was the perfect time to try it out so with my laptop, a glass of iced tea and… of course… my tunes I sat down and attempted to get started on the piece that was vexing me so much.
Amazingly… twenty to thirty minutes later I had the first four paragraphs written and the rest of article laid out in terms of how to produce it. For me it was simply the change in atmosphere that triggered my creative juices… or at least I think it was. All I know is I was struggling to get the first sentence written inside my studio but outside (in a different atmosphere) the words flowed like water and once again I was typing like Mark Twain on meth based steroids struggling to cut back the words so they wouldn’t hurt anyone’s head.
One more thing I cannot stress too much is the calming effect of running water which is why I have two ponds each with a waterfall. Both are homemade projects and nothing fancy but they allow me to hear flowing water almost everywhere in my backyard. For me that’s real relaxation for others it might be other items like a contemplative sand garden or vegetable garden to enhance the view and stimulate the senses a bit.
I have more than one place to write in my backyard… a cabana, an outdoor table area on the studio front deck and even in the little greenhouse if need be. This particular little spot made a real difference for this writer so those of you that think we’re odd, and we’ll give you that as we are odd, because we need special place(s) to do our thing just back off and deal with it otherwise we might go all Cujo on you!
I’ve accepted a position on the writing staff at Renderosity.com. Most of you that read this blog know about Renderosity and for those that don’t… it one of the major 3D websites for news, reviews and great 3D assests by leading developers. Ricky Grove has moved up to Managing Editor and I’m taking Ricky’s place doing software, hardware reviews and other articles. I was very surprised to be recruited for the position and very greatful for the opportunity to write once again.
A long time ago in a place far, far away I was an outdoor writer published in regional and national outdoor publications. I’ve written several whitepapers for Reallusion a few years back for their developer center and was fortunate enough to have PACKT Publishing publish my iClone Beginners Guide back in 2011. Since then I’ve had little to no time for writing even though I’ve cut back on my freelance workload to create more time… or at least I tried too but the work keeps coming in and I have a hard time saying no unless I’m just overloaded.
Writing for me… like a lot of others… is therapy, relaxation and fun. So far… even with deadlines… it has never become WORK to me. It has always been a pleasure to sit down to the keyboard and just get after it. Words come easy to me… I’ve never struggled to put them on paper at least not in my adult life. In fact my problem with word limits on a piece is trying to stay under the mark… not struggle to reach it.
Now… if I can just manage to not bore my readers I’ll be a happy camper. In fact… I’ll be happy if I HAVE readers as each and everyone is greatly appreciated. To those that visit this infrequently published blog… I thank you and invite you to join me over at Renderosity.
My first assignment is putting a Lenovo workstation through it’s paces. Going to load that puppy up with 3D apps like Max, Vue, zBrush and others. My test will be my daily work using it crunching buildings, blowing up aliens or other such “work”.
Hey… someone has to do it.
It’s that time of year again. For some it’s a wonderful time that brings joyous news, new animation toys and new ideas. For others… it’s a time of weeping, gnashing of teeth and other such maladies. What is this you ask? The eternal fight between heaven and hell… good and evil… the free world against… well… the free world?
No… it’s just another release of iClone. Version 6 to be exact and with all Reallusion updates it is a MASSIVE overhaul moving from DX9 to DX11 as a realtime platform. Throw in the move to 64 bit and you have quite a change. Plus the fact that a platform move means a hardware upgrade for a lot of users.
What is Reallusion to do? Stay stagnant for it’s older hardware users or continue to improve? Tough call but most of us opt for the new overhaul and the changes it brings. Which are aplenty!
The upgrade to DX11 is requiring many existing users to upgrade and that is regrettable… particularly with software previously geared towards the home animator but I seriously doubt Reallusion made this decision without a lot of thought. In fact… I bet there were many brainstorming sessions that produced it’s own weeping and gnashing of teeth.
As an old guard at using software I’ve come to work within the limitations of that software… accept it for what it is and move on. What works for me doesn’t always work for others but I really like the new interface… the new gui.
It can be customized to a large degree and the lack of colors just doesn’t mean anything to users like myself. We use the software… we don’t let it use us. As ridiculous as that sounds it seems some users just can’t accept change yet they want the product to continue to improve. This must really stifle their creativity too. Again… that is regrettable but unavoidable.
CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG???
Quite frankly…no. Not in the internet age where we can say what we want… when we want. There is little or no room for compromise and anyone creating a product just accepts the fact that a certain number of users will hate it and some will hate it to the point of making themselves miserable which seems extremely self defeating to a simple old country boy like myself.
TO MAKE A LONG STORY SHORT
Do your homework. Check your computer specs. Make sure it can take the upgrade. Ask questions… write to users on the forum and not just users that will give a favorable review but a sampling that will cover a lot of bases. The opinion of haters is just as important and relevant as any… even though it’s supercharged with an agenda (but then what opinions aren’t).
DON’T LOOK FOR AN EASY BUTTON
It’s not there. You won’t find it but you will find some great animation tools that are worth the time it takes to learn them… which isn’t that much time in the long run.
DON’T LOOK FOR NIRVANA EITHER
It doesn’t exist… at least on this plane but if you want to roll up your sleeves and take time learning the new, the bold, the not so bright and all the lumps in between then iClone 6 is worth a look.
It won’t clean house, cook breakfast or take out the dog but will take away a lot of the burden of animating so just about anyone with any common sense and computer ability can do it.
In closing I must also say that there are a lot of users very happy with the upgrade. The complainers (no matter how righteous) are a small number of the total users and tend to be very vocal but again… not to be dismissed… but to be listed to, filed for future use as their feedback is as valuable as any… even though some of us wish it could be stated in a more civilized manner.
Once again I am taking to the blog to ask patience from those that have contacted me via email with questions. I am terribly behind in answering due to the volume. While I’m not exactly getting buried in them the number is steady enough that what I can’t answer in the time allowed rolls over to next day putting everyone behind them off another day. I don’t like doing things this way but I do try to answer every email I get as I appreciate the interaction and I wouldn’t know as much about iClone if all these tips and tricks weren’t shared with me by email. Plus the added bonus of meeting some very cool people.
As I stated in an earlier post… I can only allow an hour or so in the mornings and again in the evenings to answer animation questions and still get my freelance work delivered on time. Every once in awhile I may find your email in my spam folder which I usually check before I delete and therefore makes the reply even longer till it’s received.
A few of you have gotten down right nasty about it but that’s your problem not mine. Life ain’t fair but know this… I will answer your question if I can and if you have the patience to wait till I can get to it.
And please keep in mind that I don’t want to give out bad information so I need to double check the answer before I reply. The last thing you need is for me to waste your time with bad advice that wasn’t double checked.
Once again… thanks to all for every single email just please be patient and give this old man time to answer!
It seems this project has taken forever when in fact in hasn’t taken that long at all. It’s now about 99 percent completed. All that is left are:
- Window Treatments – (Yes… I’ll miss the towels and aluminum foil)
- Acoustical Wall Treatments – Foam – (Will be hung on walls and windows when needed)
- Acoustical Blankets – (Will be hung on walls when needed)
- Acrylic Enclosure – Drums/Audio Mixing Area
In the final result there are 5 main areas to this little studio:
- Digital Workstation/Audio Mixing Area
- Guitar/Camera Workbench
- Guitar Corner for Practice, Filming and Recording
- Drum Corner for Practice, Filming and Recording.
- Loft for storage and eventually will hold the rendering computer rack from old downtown office.
The back area of the studio (under the loft) can be quickly cleared of all objects including signs, guitars, extra desk and chairs making it available for any type of filming. In particular this will be used to film interviews for an oral history project as different props and chairs can be used to set the mood. A large green screen can also be setup quickly across the back and floor if necessary placing the filmed object or person anywhere they need to be.
As you can see the main work area consists of desks created from solid pine tops and 3 draw file cabinets that are just the right height. There are two reasons for this: 1). I couldn’t find desks I wanted that didn’t take up too much space and 2). The desks can be quickly moved out of the way for filming and other uses if the space is needed. The building being only 12 X 24 means a lot of thought had to go into making it as efficient and useful as possile.
The Drum Corner is a throwback to my youth when I spent several hours each day practicing loud rock and roll while my mom and dad patiently tolerated it. The counter height workbench on the opposite side provides much needed flat space for “stuff” when not in use restringing my bass guitars or cleaning/servicing the cameras.
Guitar corner is my favorite space in the studio as far as aesthetics and the only space that even took aesthetics into consideration. The guitar hangers are both practical and decorative. The plan was to peruse eBay and other places for “wall hanger” guitars to use as decoration but I quickly found out that there were some tremendous bargains out there and ended with 7 very solid bass guitars including several Ibanez (200, 300, 400 and 2 – 700’s which were top of the line in their time) for next to nothing that are very sweet guitars. My only indulgence for a new bass was the Fender Jazz that is another favorite. On a side note… the thin bass hanging in the corner is an Ibanez 400 that is absolutely awesome in sound and playability while costing next to nothing. Another side note – the two guitars hanging on the back wall are signed by Dee Snider (Twisted Sister) and Gary Busey (Buddy Holly Story).
The next picture shows the backend partially cleared for greenscreen filming. The camera was almost to the front door on this shot. I use a tripod mounted 7 inch monitor with my Sony video camera facing the subject so the they can easily see themselves during the interview. Seems to relax most people. This sheet can be wrapped around the entire backend of the studio if necessary.
Just a little something to remind me that life is short so don’t take things too seriously. Digital work can be very pressure packed at times but it can also be some of the most fulfilling work I have ever experienced so it doesn’t take much to remain MOE-TIVATED. This studio building was kept small to keep it affordable and it is the culmination of many years of planning, working and dreaming.
As I sit in the studio writing this blog… looking around… I can’t help but realize how very fortunate I am to be able to build such a studio and do what I do on a daily basis. I also am very aware of how little of this project I could have accomplished without the support of my freelance employers, my customers that purchase my 3D animation assets and the iClone users that purchased my iClone book from PACKT Publishing along with all the users that subscribe to and watch my youtube tutorial channel.
And of course… last but not least Reallusion… In particular… Jason Lin, Bruce Wang and CEO and Founding Partner Charles Chen for his tireless support and writing the forward to my book plus the other Reallusion employees I’ve come to know. NONE of this would be possible without all of this support and I am very appreciative of it.
Now it’s time to roll up the digital sleeves and get back to work.
We finally ran into a bump in the road on this project when the electricians came back to rewire the electric service to my house and studio building. I had 100 amp service and was upgraded to 200 amp service with a new meter base where the service comes into my home and subsequently my breaker box. The new base was expected… the new lead into the home was not… and it was a problem.
The original lead was too short to fit into the new service and being as this was contructed and wired in the 1950’s it was also smaller than it should be. Another problem was the lead went straight through the wall into the house instead of through the roof to the attic and a common access point. In other words… it was bricked up!
Anyway… the crew at McArthur electric including the bossman got on the job and rewired the house through the roof and attic. In fact I have never seen that many electricians in one place at one time so I’m trying NOT to think about the added expense. It’s just one of those things and now instead of outdated boxes on the house I have some new (and shiny) hardware that looks great. Never thought I’d say that about an electrical hook-up but you should have seen the old one!
It really is nice to live in a rural part of the country and in particular in a small town where everyone from contractors to the electric company lineman try to do all they can to help a customer and do the job quickly instead of waiting weeks. When the power company lineman showed up he upgraded the service lines to the residence and hooked up the studio in no time. He did all he could to accommodate the electricians and power was restored to my home before dark. What was to be about a 3 hour job was probably closer to nine hours by the time it was all over.
My father and I (with help from Zac Ward) completed the trim work on the corners and under and around the loft. We also put up a nice piece of pine on the loft end and trimmed it out. As you would expect.. all the trim is pine except where the walls meet the first angle of the roof. Since this was a prefab building we had no control over it’s construction and the loft sloped a bit to one side at the bottom which forced the woodworkers to leave a small gap to line up the next board on top.
Being in Texas there is a quick solution to this problem. Rope… rope trim to be exact. Good, old fashioned hemp rope nailed to the wall along the seam. I’m not worried about dirt as the wall behind it is covered by the soundproof vinyl barrier so all I needed to do was a cosmetic fix. The floor of the loft is level even though the bottom isn’t. None of us are sure how the builders accomplished this but you work with what you have.
I believe we are in the home stretch now. Flooring is next and installation of the ductless heating and cooling split system. The heat/cooling is a picture frame unit in the room on which I can load digital images. That sounds cool.
As to the flooring… well… at this point it has been changed to hardwood instead of industrial carpet due to the fact the my building is not on a concrete slab. Having the cavity under it is like a sound stage and the carpet will deaden the high tones coming back up from the space or so I’ve been advised. With wood I have been told to use rugs if needed to deaden certain areas that may be harsh and in my mixing area.
So… it’s off to search and investigate wood flooring… which is what I wanted anyway. Onward through the fog!
The following video is a time lapse of the contractors installing the mass loaded vinyl (soundproofing) and tongue and groove woodwork in the backyard studio building. The contractors came from Colorado to Texas to do the job as they are some of the best at what they do. The job was completed in a little over four days during some very cold and inclement weather.
Check back for future developments as the backyard studio project progresses.
I am in the process of building a small backyard studio from a 12 X 24 portable building. This project has been in the planning stages for a long time. Living in a small town with older buildings and bad or inadequate wiring has it’s problems concerning digital production.This project will hopefully address those needs.
The basic ideas of the studio are:
- Audio/Video Recording area in back.
- Digital Audio/Video Editing and Animation area in front.
- Live Studio Monitors (audio) and large screen TV for reviewing work.
- Man Cave anywhere it can be crammed in (the large screen TV is STRICTLY for work… ahem).
Different types of buildings were inspected for construction quality. The outside of portable buildings can look great… even alike… but the inside is another story. I found buildings that looked identical varied from 24 inch centers to 16 inch centers with various (sometimes questionable) quality of materials used.
In the end I decided upon a Graceland Lofted Barn building because of its solid construction. Now I’m not going to say it wasn’t thrown together with various flaws that could have made it much better than it is but overall still one of the best built I’ve looked at.
There were no structural flaws and the contractors I’m using… tongue and groove woodworking specialist Cruz Management (Cass Cruz & Ron Maldonado) from La Veta, Colorado are having no problems in coping with upgrading the building to a better level of construction with little added cost.
The construction consists of 2 X 4 wall studs on 16″ centers and 2X6 rafters on 24″ centers.
Everywhere a wall meets a rafter there is a double stud for the rafter to rest on.
The windows barely qualified as windows which is common to all the buildings I looked at so they were replaced with double pane vinyl windows. The West Texas dust is bad enough outside… really don’t need it inside.
Wiring and electrical work was completed by McArthur Electric which included installing a double box outlet on every other stud and a few in the loft. Number of outlets per breaker was limited so load would not be a problem and including the outlets on the underside of the loft ceiling a person should be able to stand anywhere in the room and plug into a wall outlet with solid, steady power. There are more breakers in the box of this 288 square foot building than in my entire house it sits behind.
My stepson Zac, his friend Fern and I insulated most of the interior of the building getting it ready for the contractors. This was fairly straight forward as all we had to do was cut for length and staple to the wall studs.
The guys at Cruz Management with help from Zac got started with the task of adding the Mass Loaded Vinyl (soundproofing) to the walls. This turned out to be quite a job as the material weighs 1 pound per square foot (the mass in mass loaded) making each roll around 100 pounds.
After a lot of research in soundproofing it seems the only sure way to stop sound is by mass. I will have drums and guitar amplifiers wailing away in here and don’t want to upset the neighbors.
At this point the tongue and groove pine work is started and this is where these contractors really shine in terms of quality and speed. The back wall was knocked out in no time. Starter boards were added to the long sides and the front interior wall is being completed as of this writing.
I will be back with more info on the project as it unfolds.
Since my introduction of crowd props to iClone with the Generation 1 Peeps I have been working on Generation 2 and Generation 3 Peeps ( both as yet unreleased) that have more detail but still allow for multi-duplicating small, medium and large crowds. This has evolved into the Total Crowd Solution series that will contain different generations of peeps for most camera shot needs.
Generation 1 – The Balloon Heads, as I refer to them, are extreme low poly (around 912k) which allows for thirty peeps to be placed in a scene with no more poly count than one standard (30K) iClone character. This doesn’t mean they will perform as one peep as it does carry the overhead of controlling say 30 characters onscreen instead of one but there is no problem with poly count and depending on your computer (and the project) you can place hundreds of these in a scene. This is a long distance or Depth of Field solution.
Generation 2 – Same body technique (character is extruded from a single box with stack modifiers) to keep polys low while a decimated higher poly head was grafted onto the peep body. These provide medium distance crowds.
Generation 3 – Created in zBrush in high poly form then decimated and reduced to the 3k to 4k poly range. This allows for up to ten G3’s to be on the screen for the same poly overhead as one standard iClone character. This gives us the ability to drop-in and duplicate several, more camera friendly, peeps to the scene.
With this technique you can mix in regular, high poly avatars as your main characters giving you four levels of detail from close to distant!
Below you will see my first Drop-In Crowd in action. This prop was needed for a freelance project and it is now available to iClone users in the Marketplace.
With the introduction of prop animation in version 5 these Peeps can be selected individually to be moved around and even reposed AFTER the initial group motion is applied. The group motion is built into the entire peep crowd and is triggered with a couple of clicks of the mouse. The group motion needs to be applied first or else the Peeps will return to their original position and pose if the motion is applied again.
This is just the beginning of several Drop-In Crowds and other crowd solutions that will be released in the coming months as testing is completed on each component of the TCS system.
My main goal, as always, is to provide simple drop-in assets that are pre-animated so any animator can use them, experienced or novice and to price them at levels that don’t break the bank.