WarLord's WarBlog

Your Patience Please

by on Jun.05, 2014, under Uncategorized

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!

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The Backyard Studio – Part 4

by on Apr.06, 2014, under Uncategorized

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:

  1. Digital Workstation/Audio Mixing Area
  2. Guitar/Camera Workbench
  3. Guitar Corner for Practice, Filming and Recording
  4. Drum Corner for Practice, Filming and Recording.
  5. 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.

Main audio/digital work area.

Main audio/digital work area.

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 (Front)

The Drum Corner (Front)

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.

 

My favorite space... Guitar Corner.

My favorite space… Guitar Corner.

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).

Back corner cleared out for a quick green screen test.

Back corner cleared out for a quick green screen test.

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.

Finally... what drives me.

Finally… what drives me.

 

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.

Time to Get Back to Work

Time to Get Back to Work

Now it’s time to roll up the digital sleeves and get back to work.

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The Backyard Studio Project – Part 3

by on Mar.14, 2014, under Uncategorized

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!

The Electrical Service

Hooked Up… but not operational yet.

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.

Pine and rope trim work.

Pine and rope trim work.

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!

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The Backyard Studio Project – Part 2

by on Mar.04, 2014, under Uncategorized

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.

CONTRACTOR:
Cruz Management
Contact: cruzmgt@aol.com

Construction Help:
Zac Ward

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Backyard Studio Project

by on Feb.25, 2014, under Uncategorized

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.

It's Here!

It’s Here!

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.

Interior Construction

Interior Construction

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

Wiring

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.

Mass Loaded Vinyl

1 LB. Mass Loaded Vinyl (soundproofing)

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.

Tongue and Groove

Tongue and Groove Woodwork Started

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.

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Drop-in Crowds

by on Nov.06, 2013, under Uncategorized

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.

G1, G2 and G3 Peeps

G1, G2 and G3 Peeps

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.

Peeps in Action

G3 and G1 Peeps

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.

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Lights Out!

by on Jul.10, 2013, under Uncategorized

Last night was a typical work night as I was putting together a character demo reel. I was very happy to be working on my own stuff when the lights went out. Literally. All over town.

My work office is windowless so it was past dark thirty in it but having been a boy scout ( a lousy one I admit) I was prepared as I had a flashlight on my desk just off to the right of my monitors. Why??? Because I’m incredibly prepared and foresee these things??? Because I can model one in 3D and make it work but I gotta have power! No… because its dark under my desk and I have so many usb items even with hubs I have to occasionally plug something into the front of one and the flashlight just makes it easy.

But… I found out one interesting thing about my battery backup configuration (which worked) and that was the simple fact my powered KVM switch was plugged into the cold side of the UPS instead of the battery side when power is out. It took me a minute to figure that out as my monitors were powered up but no signal… then I spied the dead KVM switch! AH HA! Springing to action I managed to plug that into the hot side of the UPS and all was well. I had attempted to shut down both pc’s with the power button and one pc did shut down. Probably had no apps open but my main unit was hung on the screen that asks me if I would like to shut down the eleven applications I had open at the time.

Being as both were on Windows 7 I wasn’t too worried but you never know with a power outage. My secondary pc was dark and quiet. Shut down with the power button while I switched over to my main unit and started shutting down apps then powered down.

With trusty flashlight in hand I made through the hallway into the main part of the building that was lit up by monitors and I could hear the UPS at each station beeping as they were in the process of auto shutdown using the software and usb connection that comes with each unit. NICE FEATURE! The office started getting darker and darker as each PC shut down and the light from its monitor was lost.

By this time I was at the main entrance to the building and locking up. Our local police force was already out… which is commendable as most had been on duty all day… and to my knowledge there were no problems as this town is a survival town. No real wealth in town and most households living paycheck to paycheck. You steal in this town… you certainly wouldn’t want to get caught by anyone BUT the police.  Hard working people value what they have… value their neighbors too and watch out for each other.

So… the night of the blackout is over and no problems on my end or anywhere in our office this morning. With modern operating systems like Win 7 and up it seems we don’t have to worry so much about abrupt shutdowns but any shutdown with open applications could cause problems so I’m glad for improvements in the operating system.

More importantly… I’m glad for the light the monitors cast in each area. It was strange watching them shut down one by one… almost surreal but my God the stars were BRIGHT that night when I stepped outside! Sometimes we forget how much man made lighting changes our environment until its gone.

Who would have thought a random blackout would be so inspiring but those stars were just awesome!

 

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New Adobe Premiere CS6 Book

by on May.30, 2013, under Uncategorized

I have had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Paul Ekert’s newest “How To” book,  Mastering Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 – HotShot, which is an amazing collection of learning projects that open up the sometimes mysterious workflow of the application to new users. The project based approach is a great learning experience with immediate real world applications.

This book cuts through the fog and clutter to get you up to speed on using this fantastic video editing application through practical, well thought out projects that demonstrate the possibilities of this editing program.

My review at Amazon was as follows:

If you have ever struggled with Premier or want to get on the fast track to learning the application then Paul Ekert’s newest book, Mastering Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 Hotshot, is the book for you. This is a project based learning experience with plenty of help from the author. I have always been a fan of project based instruction as there is little substitute for hands on experience. Paul is also an experienced author with several titles under his belt as well an advanced user of video editing applications.

Paul’s combined experience as an author and an editor is readily apparent as he guides you through the various projects to completion. Paul will lead you through the fog thereby greatly decreasing the learning curve and get you quickly into productive and satisfying territory.

This book can be valuable to experienced users as well as novices. The technical expertise and tips shared in post production alone are worth the purchase plus you will be exposed to some industry jargon and methods that will improve your workflow and final render.

An excellent resource by all accounts.

I came to know Paul as he was exploring writing this book with PACKT Publishing and was inquiring as to my experience with them.  Paul is not just a crackerjack editor and “How To” writer but is the complete package when it comes to practical use of an application like Premiere. Its always great to know how the pros do it.

If you are new to Premiere or an experienced user I believe this book will greatly benefit you and help your skills mature as an editor.

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Flooded with Email!

by on Apr.09, 2013, under Uncategorized

This is just a quick post to let everyone know that has contacted me by email that I am getting to it… I’m just inundated with questions right now. For sometime I have only been able to allow about an hour to an hour and a half a day to answer my iClone, Max, Vue and now zBrush questions. I’m certainly not an expert in zBrush and seem to be learning as much or more from these exchanges as the writers.

I do try to answer simple questions as they come in but it seems I’m getting more and more complex actions that require me to work through some steps before I answer and I don’t want to give anyone erroneous information.

I very much appreciate the email. Every contact is a new person to learn from as it seems I learn quite a bit myself about how people use iClone and that is a tremendous boost to my skill set.

Once again… thanks to everyone that writes me… I will write you back just please have patience. I don’t mind the email if you don’t mind waiting till I can get to it and I very much appreciate anyone that takes the time out of their day to email me.

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The Magic Camera

by on Mar.20, 2013, under Production

The “Magic Camera” is not a joke… it’s not a hope… it’s not a failure to work hard but instead it is a tool like any other when used properly eliminates the need to do those pesky everyday animations and motions that when done poorly kills the scene and loses focus.

Where is this application? Is it open source? Where do I get it? Well… if you are an animator then you already have it. The camera system that comes with your flavor of 3D software can and “WILL” be your magic camera and best friend. It will step you around minor and in some cases major animation obstacles with uncanny ease.  All it requires is a deft touch. Don’t let the “deft touch” thing scare you either… because all you have to do is not overuse it or abuse it and you find yourself completing scenes you used to loathe and possibly even enjoying it along the way.

More than anything what I’m talking about is something we all know about but tend to forget in the animation stage… camera cuts. That’s right… simple little camera cuts.

In my world some of the hardest animations to key frame (thank God for mocap in most cases) are everyday things… and in particular… setting down at a desk or table. Then there is picking up a pen and possibly a drinking motion or opening a door and walking through it. Some animators can do these in their sleep but I’m not one of them and poorly animated versions of these motions can lead to disaster in terms of viewer focus and quality of the production. I used to hate seeing these everyday motions in the scripts I would be get but everyday motions are what fleshes out an animation and makes it fuller unless you are a minimalist.

The Magic Camera has saved my butt more times than I can say and all it really takes is a common sense approach to the camera angle when setting up the cut shot.

Example:

  • A man gets up from the kitchen table…
  • grabs his keys and coat…
  • walks out the door…
  • gets in the car and drives off.

For some of us the inclination to show this entire sequence of events IN FULL is too strong to resist. Some of us don’t consider an alternative and by animating the entire action we actually pushed ourselves off an animation cliff. Some of you reading this are already thinking of animating the entire sequence, you aren’t alone until you get a little more time under your belt. Most of us fall prey to this tendency.

I’ll tell you how I’d break this sequence down and this is just my method… there are many ways to accomplish the same thing but in a nutshell we are going to turn our camera into a Magic Camera and let it do the heavy lifting with the implying of an action rather than actually animating the action.

Getting up from a table can be as problematic as sitting down. Its a difficult job to do it smoothly. Curves in the timeline help but the more key frames we add the more convoluted it can become if those key frames aren’t managed. Part of that management is when to key frame it and when to camera cut and imply the action instead of showing it.

Wide View:
Man at table

Closeup:
Usually from the waist up showing the man straightening up… a few seconds of him going from a slightly seated position to slightly standing with a tight frame for the shot. Linked to the camera for smoothness of movement. All I have to do now is animate a few seconds of a partial motion. Camera framing makes or breaks it. We are at the precipice of the cliff but haven’t stepped off.

Wide View or Medium:
Man walking toward door… in this case to exterior door so we don’t have to do any more interior shots if possible. We backed away further from that animation cliff and we can use this as an opportunity for an “establishing” shot showing our door, wall, table, key rack or whatever is called for.

Closeup:
Hand reaching for keys on wall or door side table or whatever. Do NOT animate picking up the keys… that’s over the edge of the cliff at terminal velocity for most of us even with a provided motion.

Closeup:
Hand/arm reaching for coat hanging on coat rack or laying on a table. We are now getting comfortably away from the cliff edge and are starting to enjoy the view. This ain’t so bad after all!

Wide or Medium:
Man walking through open door framed in a manner that hides the door opening side of the body and arm. Shield it from view and leave it alone. You have just ordered your favorite adult beverage and starting to relax. The cliff isn’t even in site anymore.

Closeup:
The car door opening. Notice I said nothing about the character opening the car door. Use camera angle even an interior view if necessary to shield the hand and that portion of the door. This way you only have to make a little arm movement to look like they are closing the door without attachment to the door and that is only if you can’t mask it entirely with the camera angle. We may have just looked up from our comfortable position and glimpsed a view of the cliff… but we didn’t advance towards it.

What do we have left to do? Leaving… kiss my butt we don’t even have to think about that… wide… medium… close…. a shot of the car leaving, backing out, going down the street… whatever your preference is and you are done!

The Magic Camera just saved our butt. Machinima tools still lack fluid animation and anything we can do to eliminate animating it at all will be one less problem to contend with. Keep it simple… real simple.

Now write or interpret that freaking script like you CAN instead of “OMG… how will I do this!.

 

 

 

 

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