Lifehack, Update, Cool Things

Sometimes you find really cool things on ebay.

And I mean, really cool things.

Custom IC

I remember thinking when I saw the custom ICs in Udvar-Hazy that it would probably be a long shot for me to ever get my hands on such things, but just randomly the other day, this popped up on my ebay feed. It was an instant purchase. Here’s an up-close shot of the silicon chips. I have no idea what this thing did or who made it, but I thought it was really cool that it came in it’s original plastic carrier. The seller had pried the top off the package, but was also careful not to damage the insides.

Custom IC

The temperatures are finally starting to feel more spring-like, including in the higher elevations. Went hiking weekend before last up in Virginia. Everything was still gray and brown, but the sun felt nice. Soon now the buds will be out. The best part is, though while I may be sleepy from daylight savings, I am also starting to get my energy back.

Virginia Mountains

Having a major debate with myself over my film, and seriously considering turning it into a series. I’ve pretty much decided that I could do the first 10 minutes of it as an episode, and just go ahead and get it released. Still would have a lot of work to do to get there, but thinking that will make it easier to get the ball rolling and to start developing a viewership.

I also was recently talking with a good buddy of mine about motivation and just getting shit done, and he is in the same boat I am, so we decided to do some funny animated shorts, really simple things that would be really quick to do and just get out on the net. Going to try and get one of those done really soon, and will post it here! Stay tuned.

Voice Acting, Projects, Props (What to do Next?)

RECORDING:

So I got my Shure PG42 USB mic, a stand for it, a pop filter, and some cabling to hook it up to my laptop (which runs very quiet compared to my noisy workstation). So far I’m very impressed with what it can do!

Shure PG42 USB

I got some really good advice from a buddy of mine (Fire_Starter) on not recording too hot. I had been recording with the gain all the way up, and the pad not enabled, and still felt that what was coming out of the mic was not loud enough. He clued me in however, that recording hot is very similar to overexposing a photograph. If you underexpose a photograph by a little, you have more headroom, more dynamic range to correct color and levels in post. The rule of thumb is to peak between -20db and -12db. I’ll apply this rule to my pocket recorder and see if that will get similar results. The same is true of audio. Now I just need to master my “badguy” character voice. And maybe some “movie announcer guy” stuff.

One thing is for certain, I will need to treat my room somehow. I’m considering making some cheap sound breaks using fiberglass insulation and some framing. I even had the idea for some kind of portable recording booth that I could fold up and put in my car, but that would be a bit overkill at this point. More to come on that.

THE REMIX CULTURE:

I got into the remix culture almost 10 years ago now, having registered on animemusicvideos.org, a community for remixing anime music videos. Often I wonder if I had started my own independent work that long ago, what I would have to show for it now, but at the same time, if I look at what I’ve accomplished in those 10 years, all the friends I’ve made, I regret none of it. My only regret is that I didn’t create more projects during that time. I spent a lot of last summer working on a “capstone” project, and so far I think it’s coming along really well. There’s still a lot more of it to do, but it will be awesome once I finish it up.

2014-02-09 daydream

I still have some time before AWA Masters 2015 yet, so I’m going to polish it a bit before then.

PROPS:

I routinely buy circuit boards. Not just any circuit boards will do, they have to match a certain visual aesthetic. One of my scripts is what I would consider my “magnum opus” project. It’s a huge project, live action. Lots of very subtle and clever CG use, and lots of use of physical props. It’s a mad science story, it needs lots of circuit boards. These are pretty amazing, they’re traced in gold, and date from the 70′s. I find the engineering and artistry simply amazing. Sadly, this grade of board are becoming more and more rare, as the “new gold rush” has people recycling them by the ton to reclaim the gold and rare-earth materials. I buy them when I can, because I want to make a visually stunning tribute in my film. I want to show the world how I see them.

Circuit Boards

As far as the script for this story goes, it’s massive, but I’m unapologetic about that. This is a story and a film that I want to shoot on my own terms, and will likely be at least 2 hours long. For those few that will get it, it’ll become life changing, I hope.

In terms of actually finishing the script, I have a lot to do. I’ve written an almost full draft. I know what will happen, how it ends, but I’m not sure where all the pieces go just yet, and which of them are not necessary, and which of them I can turn into more interesting visual metaphors, and which of them are just plain cheesy.

So far this has been the most fun to write, but it will probably also be the most difficult to create. So, I’m stockpiling anything and everything I now that I’ll need when I can find it here and there. Like Stanley Kubrick and his boxes.

WHAT NEXT?

I’m an INFJ, or so the Myers Briggs personality test tells me. Unfortunately that means I can’t make up my damn mind half of the time when it comes to creative work, so I’m constantly working on many things, and it takes me awhile to finish just one. A goal of mine in 2014 is to most definitely focus on just one. It’s also difficult working a full time job, then coming home and putting in another 6 hours, but I’ve gotten back into doing it. Updates soon.

Musings on a Friday

So I have a couple of thoughts.

One is that I just bought a Shure PG42 USB microphone. It’s long overdue that I start working on voice acting stuff. Since I’m new to it, I figure the PG42 should give me everything I need at least for my first production, some voice over freelance work, and probably a webseries or two. Looking forward to getting it and doing some testing and stuff. Perhaps I’ll record something and post it here.

The second thing is a much more complex subject. Akazawa is my first feature length film idea, but I’m also having second thoughts about the validity of a feature length project, and due to the recent success of certain short serials on sites like Youtube and Vimeo, I’m wondering if I shouldn’t break up my feature script into a series of some kind. The only problem would be, I have to rewrite a feature script into episodes, figure out a story arc for each episode, and still create a hell of a lot of stuff to even begin working on the first episode. There are many pros and cons. Right now I’m continuing work on a “press package” type of thing to show to potential voice actors. I’m hoping that’ll be done soon.

Once I get the mic, I’m going to play around for a few weeks and determine whether I can voice my secondary character. I think I’m up to the task, but I don’t know if my style fits the specific character. We’ll see. Unboxing and all that stuff when it arrives on Wednesday!

I’m Not Dead, I Swear!

So while I eat dinner, I’m going to sum up all that has happened in the last few months, and then in an attempt to get back on track with posting to this blog, give some updates on Akazawa and other projects.

SEPTEMBER:

“Masterpiece” AMV. Over the summer, I worked towards making the AMV to end all AMVs, but did not finish. I was actually highly productive, so I am proud of what I was able to accomplish, but it will still take quite a bit of work to complete. Since the contest I want to put it into happens only once every two years, I now have two years to finish it out, so I’ve shelved it for now.

Spent a lot of time writing. I’ve had the idea to do a grandiose fantasy novel trilogy for quite awhile, but recently I discovered that people are writing novella length e-books! I thought to myself “Hey, I can do that too! And not only that, I could go from a novel trilogy into a novella series, and get to spend more time with these characters and world!” So that led to a whole lot of world building. Wrote 28 pages of world building, another 15 of character development.

Went and saw Muse with a good friend. They were fucking awesome.

2014-01-22 muse

Went to Udvar Hazy Aerospace Museum. It was also fucking awesome. Got to see this thing in person. It gave me cold chills. The only markings on it were a small cartoon skunk on the tail, for Lockheed Skunkworks.

2014-01-22 BlackbirdI’m a huge fan of space age tech, especially the early stuff, and the engineering behind it, specifically the electronics. I was quite surprised and pleased to find a nice collection of avionics and custom microprocessor samples on display. The one below in particular caught my attention. Yep, those are multiple silicon chips on the same substrate. Encased in gold.

2014-01-22 custom icOCTOBER:

Went to Anime Weekend Atlanta, it was good times.
Camping trip in the mountains with the parents.
Wrote a whole lot, started work on a couple of new scripts.

NOVEMBER:

Basically, most of November was work travel. Three weeks of it, and then Thanksgiving week, so I didn’t get much done creatively. I tried to write in the hotel a bit, but that didn’t work, and I ended up spending time on the beach instead, which was really awesome, a nice little perk. I used this as time to rest and daydream about stuff.

DECEMBER:

Usually December is kinda rough, the weather turns, and you have to get ready for Christmas and all that. Not to mention the stresses of work. The company I work for (that sent me on the trips in November) is merging with our biggest competitor, and I got tapped on the shoulder to be on one of the teams to help facilitate that. (good thing.) As a result, I’ve not had the energy to devote to creative stuff as much as I’d like, but I’ve still made slow progress. Fortunately, travel should be over (good thing), and I’m transitioning into my new role (good but stressful thing), and stuff is starting to settle down. Christmas was great, spent it with the family. Had a quiet New Year’s.

JANUARY:

Thought I was done with flying, but not so! Went on another trip for a week for the merger stuff. Sounds like that’ll be the last of it, however, in the future I’ll have to help with some testing cases, but I can do that from my home office. And here we are currently, and during the last week, I dove back into Akazawa with a vengeance.

WHAT NEXT?

I’m so far behind with Akazawa it’s ridiculous, but I will see it done! I think one of my biggest pitfalls is that I’m the kind of person that has too many interests. I’m always doing something, but as a result I end up with tons of stuff going on in parallel. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, unless you want to be a filmmaker and get movies out. I’ve also decided to change my philosophy a bit, and try and show some progress. I think if I continually try and have at least something to show, I’ll try and hold myself accountable to update once a week or so. Even if it’s something unrelated to my main project.

LIFEHACKS:

Vitamin D, seriously. Freaking seriously. Winter weather always gets me down, and it never really occurred to me that it might be my lack of vitamin D, so I’ve been taking 1000mg with breakfast and dinner, and I feel wonderful. I still don’t like the cold weather, but I have my motivation back.

Fortunately during my travels, I was able to avoid fast food and junk food for the most part, the place I was staying had a cheap salad bar! I basically got to eat what I usually would, and in the right amounts (300 cal oatmeal for breakfast, 500 cal salad for lunch, 700 cal salad + daily proteins for dinner), leaving 500 cal for any snacks/beer. So even with the holidays, my weight has held steady. I’m down to right around 200lbs, my goal is to be back at 180. I think that’ll be pretty easy, it’s just braving the cold to run that’s the crappy part. But I’ll do it, makes me feel like a million bucks, especially with the addition of the vitamin D.

So there, I hope that’s a significant update for the new year to get things kicked off again. Working on modeling out the Akazawa characters now, I want to put together a “sales pitch” kind of package to lure in some top voice talent and musical skills. Have money saved up to pay them too!

 

Yikes.

Has it really been like almost 4 months since my last post? Damn. Ok. I’m really not dead, really.
I promise things have been going well, and I have been quite productive.
Things I’ve been doing:

-Writing another script for anime stuffs
-Working on novel series development
-Ideas for a live action film coming together, will write script for that soon
-Acquiring parts and creating some practical props (as seen below)

Gold Trace PCB

-Working on an AMV for Anime Weekend Atlanta Master’s AMV competition.

So, I decided quite awhile ago to not do any more derivative work and focus solely on my independent work, which I have been doing for the most part, but there was one unfinished thing that had to be done. Had to.

Normally I also don’t really care about winning AMV contests, but there is also a fairly coveted award, the Master’s green jacket, which I don’t yet own. An opportunity presented itself, and I am taking it. I had a nice concept, and a few 3D models, so I’m making a thing. For Master’s. Can’t say anything more about it until AWA.

What I will say is that it has been pretty good for working through some 3D modeling problems I was having, as well as some rigging issues, and it feels good to just make a thing without any concern for perfection. It’s taught me a lot, and I’ve had a hell of a lot of fun making it. I plan on going forward in my indie work the same way, I think I’ve finally learned to quit fearing and picking at stuff and just start doing, and it’s amazing to see results. Sadly none of those are here yet…but soon.

I also need to post some random sketches, I was going back through things I made as a kid and was laughing at them hardcore. Some of it could be great stuff for a Youtube short series or something like that.

But, until September 6th, it’s nose to the grindstone, let’s get this AMV done.

Bento

Bento Box

This is what I’ve been eating for lunch pretty much daily for the last couple of weeks. Pretty amazing stuff. It’s just the right amount of food to keep me energetic, yet maintain my weight. It’s also really freaking delicious :O

Cranking away on the film. Pretty soon I will need to prototype some models, I’m working on topology now. I want to have something nice to show at my AWA panel this year, and it will soon be time to be seeking voice talents! I’m so freaking nervous. I guess I have this idea in my head of how my characters should be, exactly, that I’m having trouble with the idea of turning them over to other people. But, I know with some work I am sure I can locate some very talented and passionate individuals who can lend their amazing voices to the movie.

Quick update to let anyone who reads this know I’m not dead. Yup.

In The Way…

For the last couple of weekends I’ve been trying to work on my film AND get some spring cleaning done. Neither of those things have been going very well. So, since I had all this other life crap that needed doing, I decided to knock it out this weekend to the best of my ability so I can dive back in headlong on Monday after work.

I realized I had entirely too much crap. Things I don’t use, or things I was going to use for some art project or sculpture down the road, the ideas in mind for some of those things are just too blurry right now. I’ll create those things when I get to those things. So, in the meantime, I’m trying something new. I’m selling my distractions online. Not only will they now be out of my way, but some of the “junk” I had laying around I had been meaning to sell for quite awhile.

I’ve already made a couple hundred dollars, and so I’m going to do what any good one-man-movie-studio would do with that spare money, use it for the film. I’m banking it because I’ve reached this standstill where I’m going to need some voice talent pretty soon, and I’m going to need some decent reference monitors, and I’m going to need some cash for a DIY room treatment for sound editing. Those things aren’t cheap, but now at least they’re significantly cheaper due to the money I’ve made so far.

And in the future, I think I’d rather go on the adventure of acquiring new materials for sculptures anyway, that’s part of where the fun in making them is, right?

I’m going to try and update more often, I’ve been still trying to shake off the cold of the winter still, even though we have nice temperatures now, I spent a week in Colorado on business where it snowed the whole time. On the plus side, I have a new companion, so I began working out my rendering pipeline as well as a few other workflows while I was there in the hotel. Every little bit of time you have can be used to knock out something, at least.

2013-04-21

One of the big things I’ve been doing lately is studying topology, and looking at a method for creating face “masks” for characters that can be both very articulate and very easy to set up. This ensures that any 5poles in my geometry are in the places they need to be, so that the face smooths out and deforms nicely when animated, every time. Then, once I have the “Ideal Face” geometry set up, I can take it, adapt it, per character with fairly minimal work, and then use a script to set up the exact same facial rig which will be based off the locations of the 5poles and other facial landmarks. This means that even minute characters can have the same emotive rig that the “main star” characters can have, with a few clicks of the mouse.

I’m also looking at building a body rigging script that does much the same thing using landmark objects. It’s a big pain right now, but once I have it figured out, I should be able to use and adapt it for multiple films. Exciting stuff!

Special Place

I grew up in a tiny town in the heart of the Appalachian mountains. From a very early age my brother and I were explorers. We had a TV, but we didn’t have cable, or a VCR for a long time, or game consoles for even longer, so we spent a lot of time outside. Every mundane place became a place to play, a place where imagination could take over. My favorite place, in the whole world, were the cornfields up the street from our house.

As I got a little older, I became more of an introvert, and for me, the woods and fields were a place to go and be alone. They were a retreat. They were special, because they were mine. I used to sneak out at night super late, get my “sword,” which was an oak plank that had been roughly carved by pocketĀ  knife, and go up into the cornfields under a full moon at midnight to fight armies of zombies. I remember those battles well.

When I became an adult, I started putting those experiences to work for me in my writing. Most of the creative work I compiled as a kid dealt directly with my adventures, and only later did I realize that I could use it for something more than just my own amusement. The cornfields became a good place for a long walk, still a haven to be alone and contemplate.

2013-03-27 death valley

But it couldn’t last forever, I guess. Now I live about four hours away from my hometown, but my parents still live there, in the same house. I got an email recently that they had heard that someone was talking about buying up that land, those cornfields, and building a subdivision on them. Even though I don’t own that land, and even though it is just a couple of acres of weeds and dirt, still it feels like I’ve lost something I can never replace.

There is only talk now, so it may not even happen, but I was surprised at my own reaction to the news. It made sense to me too that because that place had given me so much, and was so very special to me, that I would need to do it justice. Akazawa is certainly inspired by the haggard dark imagery typical of that place in the winter. I’ll make sure I do it justice.

2013-03-27 emory colorgrade

 

Quick update, more to come soon!

Just a quick update. About to pass out for the evening. Been exercising a lot lately, feels great to have good weather back, but now it is going to get cold again. Meh. Went on another footage gathering trip, will post about that soon. My skype headset died. Meh. Recording some temp audio for my dialogue for timing out the storyboards. This should help me get some stuff done faster and better timed where there are dialogue heavy scenes.

zZz…

Monitor Capacitor Repair

I currently have two Samsung 22″ 226BW monitors which are around five years old. I’ve really wanted to get a monitor that is better capable of displaying the entire sRGB colorspace accurately, so I’ve been eyeing the large format Dell monitors, but they are very expensive, and if I were to get one, I would want to be sure I could use it for at least a couple of films. I almost took the dive and bought one, but I had to remind myself that I won’t actually need the color accuracy until I start texturing and color grading work.

Then, one 226bw decided it would die. The LED on the front would come on, but the monitor wouldn’t power up, so I took it apart.

2013-03-11 monitor1

Almost immediately, my suspicions were confirmed. The electrolytic capacitors on the power supply board had gone bad and were bulging out on the top. This is a pretty common thing with these kinds of capacitors, depending on the quality. The cylindrical things are the capacitors:

2013-03-11 monitor2

WARNING: if you have never worked with electronics before, I would highly advise taking a class or reading up on high voltages, capacitors, transformers, and mains power to avoid killing yourself. You never want to have the item you are working on hooked up while working on it obviously, BUT EVEN SO, capacitors and other components will hold power for hours, and can give you a nasty shock OR KILL YOU even with the board disconnected. (There, you’ve been warned.)

To replace these, you just need to find new capacitors with the same ratings, and close to the same size (so they’ll fit back in the casing of the monitor!). In this case, the taller ones are 820uf @ 25v, and the smaller one to the right is 330uf @25v. The great big one in the background was not bulging at all, so I checked it with a multimeter, and it checked out fine. Below, the replacement capacitors from Mouser (I ordered a bunch in case I need to do my other monitor too):

2013-03-11 monitor3

The tools you will need for such a project are a de-soldering bulb, a low wattage (15w in this case) soldering iron, some rosin core solder, and your other materials. You’ll also want a ventilated area to work in.

2013-03-11 monitor4

After you desolder the old capacitors, you can clean the holes for the new ones by sucking up the excess solder with the bulb. Then, make sure you have matched up your polarity (these capacitors have a positive and a negative side, like a battery, and the board and capacitors are marked to show you which lead goes where). Solder in the new, and we’re ready to trim the excess.

2013-03-11 monitor5

New caps in place and ready to go!

2013-03-11 monitor6

And viola, the monitor powers up just fine.

2013-03-11 monitor7

I’ll run it for several hours, watch some movies or something, and do some storyboard work to break it in and make sure everything is alright. So far so good! Now I can avoid having to replace this monitor, and I know these capacitors should be good for at least another 5 years.

Then, eventually, maybe when the price comes down a little, I can look at a nicer IPS monitor with sRGB coverage to worry about my textures and color grading.