The Opel Blitz

Posted Sunday, May 31, 2009, 8:50 PM

I was supposed to be doing some other kind of work this weekend, I promised someone I'd finish something up for them.

But though I did do a little bit on it, I instead got carried away with something else that I wasn't even supposed to do for weeks yet.

And why have I blogged this admission to slack off proper promised work, and instead to bugger about unnecessarily? Because this is the fastest CG model I've ever built. In only two days, technically around 8 or 10 hours work, off an on, I made this model of a German WWII Truck, the Opel Blitz.

I've always been fast, mostly because I cut corners. People are often surprised that I can come up with something to show them in only a few hours from when we spoke of it.

Though then when I promise to finish something, I start, then rapidly tail off, and then very slackly never get things finished. Unless I am paid to, and there's a specified timeframe.

Anyway, back to the CG model I made:

It's still incomplete, and has no textures yet, but the broad details are all there. I am really happy with it so far. It's arguably the best model I've ever done, especially as vehicles can be so fiddly.

This one will be going on my showreel, that's for sure.


A couple of days have passed, and I've applied textures. I think it's all done now, except for a driver, but I've rigged the wheels to steer, and now all I need to do is the actual final animation and composite that it was built for.


Here's a lighting test, in the actual location (matte painting) that the truck will be driving down in the finished shot.

Pigs May Flu

Posted Friday, May 29, 2009, 3:51 PM

I do not have the Flu. I have never had influenza, as far as I can recall. The worst I've had is a severe feverish cold for a couple of days. Some people call that level of affliction "flu" but it's not consistent with the symptoms of true influenza, so I don't believe that it was.

Many people get a dose of flu shots, which I believe are free, in the impression that will help them not catch the flu. Maybe that's true, though they often seem to suffer a week of squirty aches and pains each year anyway, so I'm not so certain it really helps them. As far as I can tell the shots only cover the "current strain" of the flu, so if it has mutated by the time it hits you, you're out of luck.

People can die of influenza. Tens of thousands do so every year, even in first world countries. This isn't a rare and exotic, tropically based, racially targeted, ancient disease that has a 100% cure rate; it's still a serious danger to our lives. But you very rarely hear much about that, unlike cancer, or HIV, or Parkinson's Disease, it seems to be a quiet killer. Mostly that's because it's not the influenza itself that kills you, but the resultant effect it has on other weaknesses of the body you may already suffer from, such as pneumonia, heart troubles, or asthma.

Until, that is, the scientific and medical world goes a little bit bananas and causes a worldwide panic over something that really shouldn't be a big deal, by crying wolf over a Swine Flu pandemic.

If we were never told about Swine Flu, which is equally as curable as any other flu virus, and people just figured they were experiencing regular influenza, then life would go on as normal. There is no logical reason for the specifics, or the word "pandemic", to confuse and worry the population at large.

Causing worldwide panic is not helping. Raising the level of "severity" of the pandemic has particularly confused people. Firstly, do you know what the difference is between a pandemic, and an epidemic? An epidemic is spread through a smaller populated area, while a pandemic is spread across the world. The "severity" of a pandemic is not because the disease is getting any worse, it's because it has spread wider across the world.

Here's the thing: If you are unwell, don't panic. Visit your local Doctor or Emergency Room, and they will prescribe a treatment. It doesn't matter what exotic strain of influenza it turns out to be, there will be a vaccine made available, and it will more than likely successfully treat the illness.

Now will you please shut up about it so I can go back to ignoring the daily News.

Geeks Rule TV

Posted Monday, May 18, 2009, 6:31 PM

The general principle you should expect the world of TV to run by is if it's your favourite show of the new season, it will be cancelled after half a season, and never tie up the loose ends.

Mostly because the current crop of TV Execs and Producers are of my generation, the first to have been brought up with Star Wars as a primary influence, and with fond memories of the action and SF shows and movies of the 70s and 80s, there has been a neverending onslaught of geek concept shows.

Star Trek: The Next Generation and X-Files found the formula for success in the 90s, and they've been trying to re-create that magic bullet ever since. The first to achieve that for a while was the re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica, a show nobody expected to work at all, and yet was a runaway hit and a fantastic adventure. It completed its four season run earlier this year, and was quite an influence on many other attempts at re-imagining.

Lost, and Heroes, are SF concept shows with an epic outlook. Lost has managed to secure itself a definite ending, which has increased the pace of the story, and heightened its energy.

Whereas Heroes is floundering. After one of its better writers left the show to create his own, it immediately lost focus, and now he's back it may be too late to find its feet again. They do have at least one more season to come, so if they can figure things out and get back on track, it may be worth continuing to watch, but right now I wouldn't miss it if it ended.

Then there are the myriad of smaller geek shows, like Eureka (a new season is imminent), Reaper, Sarah Connor Chronicles, Life On Mars (all recently cancelled), and the UK shows like Primeval, Ashes To Ashes, and Doctor Who (all are going well, but are lower budget and much shorter than any US show).

And then there's the action shows with no significant SF element: Numb3rs, Castle, NCIS, The Mentalist, Lie To Me, Fringe, Eleventh Hour, which are cop shows but with rather unlikely methodology or technologies, therefore stretching credibility, unless you accept that TV always has a sprinkling of fantasy by definition. They all seem to be healthy, especially The Mentalist which has rapidly become one of the highest rating new shows of the year.

I am not an obsessive fan of any show, and never really have been, but my favourite new show of the last couple of years is Chuck, a great show about a geek who has a supercomputer implanted into his brain, which he uses to help the CIA in their spy missions. The problem is it's really popular amongst the geeks, but not actually getting the ratings. They're downloading it and swapping it, or watching it online or on DVR and Tivo, instead of actually watching it live, so the ratings are being hit.

But I'm lucky, as it's been renewed despite this. The only reason it's been saved each year is because the Execs seem to love it, the same aforementioned Execs who are of my generation and were brought up on shows just like it.

Chuck was renewed today. It will be some time before it returns to our screens, as the cast will be all off doing their own thing for a while (Yvonne Strahovski, for example, is here in Melbourne making a comedy movie), then they have to go back into production sometime in July, ready for the new season debut in September.

I can't wait.

Star Trekkin' Across The Universe

Posted Thursday, May 14, 2009, 9:21 PM

I am not a Trekker. Or a Trekkie. Or a particular fan of Star Trek. I don't really like the original TV series from the 60s because the dated production values just bother me too much. I'm a bit of a snob about that kind of thing, to my detriment, cf. Doctor Who.

I enjoyed a few of the movies. And Star Trek: The Next Generation was really quite fun, now that the production values and effects technology had caught up with the stories. Deep Space Nine was great, but I thought Voyager was awful. Enterprise completely missed the boat and failed to live up to its considerable potential.

However, the trailers for the new movie, simply called Star Trek, a reboot by TV show creator JJ Abrams, excited me. It managed to take the familiar elements and reinvent them without losing their essence, and it was obvious he'd found the perfect middle ground. The fans just hoped that the movie would follow through with the promise.

I saw the movie on cheapo Tuesday. And it was outstanding fun!

The plot is a time travel romp, which explains the change in actors, and sets up a whole new potential future to develop new stories that can ride rampant over the established canon, effectively allowing it to invent new canon of its own. And more than that, it has the single most epic and dramatic disaster in Trek's televised history.

The key was to accept the new actors playing familiar roles. For the most part their skills outweighed any need for doing an impression of the original actors. Karl Urban's is the closest attempt at copying DeForest Kelly's intonations, but even then he didn't do a complete copy. And Zachary Quinto had a tough job when he was playing against Leonard Nimoy directly, and yet didn't do a Nimoy impression in any way. However, I did think that Chris Pine slipped into a Shatner-esque pattern of speech when he was being casually dismissive with his apple during the Kobayashi Maru test.

The main problem with the original movies and TV series is they wanted to be hugely epic and impressive, but had a budget of $2.50, and cardboard and string technology. The budget for this new film was a somewhat excessive $150,000,000, and every dollar of it is on the screen.

As an effects aficionado, sometimes I'll wince at an otherwise wonderful movie when a poorly completed effects shot comes on screen. This still happens, even on the biggest budget films. I could rant about those instances for days, it's so disappointing. But there wasn't a single instance of that in this film. I didn't notice a poorly executed effect once, they were all perfect, seamless, and spectacular.

I can't say I was enamoured by the shaky camera and the constant lens flares as a stylistic choice, though. They were distracting and brought me out of the movie on occasion. And some of the plot and set pieces strained credulity, and wouldn't have taken much work to pull into a more believable shape, but that's just action movie shorthand, I guess.

A great movie. A lot of fun, a lot of clever in-jokes and references back to familiar canon, and a lot of spectacle and adventure. If this is the future of Star Trek, indeed the future of movies, then it's going to be a wild ride.

Can't Say No

Posted Monday, May 11, 2009, 8:54 PM

There have been times in my life when I have no work to do. My free time is left wide open, and I am a little bit lost for some way to occupy myself.

But to be honest, I cannot remember the last time that occurred.

I've always had arty, creative friends throughout my life, but the current crop are the most creative, energised bunch I've ever known. There's always some new project bubbling under, or actively happening, and I am happy to see it so. I also love to be involved.

I'm lucky enough to have a skill that is sought after. Though there have been others with my skills in our team's past, those people have mostly moved onto other things, leaving the way open for me to muscle in where they once trod.

I think I've made an impact, though, as now they won't leave me alone.

I am loving doing the work for Rob's film, Checkpoint. It's one I've chronicled a lot on my Blog, and hopefully it's come across as enthusiastic, because there's so much new and different stuff to do on it. I'm learning new skills at every turn, and if the challenges weren't there I'd not be having half as much fun. And it's typical of us to see that we've almost completed the work involved only to subsequently pile on more. But it's getting there - even now as I write this, my other computer is rendering out a sequence of frames.

I also need money coming in, so I have committed myself to doing a website for my friend Anna. She's a musician, and she wants a site up showcasing her music and gigs. We've figured out a nice, clean, simple design for it, and if all went to plan she will have taken a load of promotional photos over the weekend, which will be used on the site. The actual assembly of the site won't take too long to do, once I get back into it, and it will net me some extra money and future work, so I can't complain, but I must say that at times my heart isn't in it, and I'm finding it hard to engender any enthusiasm for it. I expect that will change once I have more stuff to actually work with, but until then it's a struggle.

Anna also suggested an amazing idea, that she would like to publish some of the stories she has written, as a series of children's books, and she needs an illustrator, and she asked if I'd be interested. Well, I would indeed! Especially if I could use 3D characters to do it. I think it could look really amazing!

This may never eventuate, but it's something that continues to bubble under in my brain, nevertheless.

And now another friend has asked me, once again, to re-design his characters for the superhero TV show, the one he's been almost starting to make for five or six years now. It's a complex tale he has wrought, one that requires an enormous budget and a raft of talented people, neither of which we currently have (we are a small, highly talented crew, of limited skill and no money).

And though making these character models doesn't take too much time, I'd feel better if this production had an end goal in sight. But it's something that's always been at the earliest stages, with the goalposts constantly shifting, and I don't think will ever get past step one.

And of course, there are my own projects, the most visible one being writing the Viking movie script. For the last fortnight I've been concentrating so much on all these other projects, I've not written a word on it. But I hope to get back onto that very soon, as I was thinking about it today, and made a plot decision that I need to write down. I expect that once I do that I'll probably go off on a burst of scriptwriting again.

So there's where I'm at. I'm happy doing Checkpoint and I'm happy doing the web site design paid work, and I am very happy writing. But what I really should learn to do is say "No" to things that clearly have no future or money in it.

Blurring The Motion

Posted Sunday, May 10, 2009, 4:16 PM

I use Lightwave for my 3D graphics. It's not a very popular program in the Professional Industry, unfortunately, except in certain branches. It's used a lot in commercials, children's animation, and previsualisation (which is rough animatics for movies, like 3D storyboarding). But it's rare for the movie industry to use it in their visual effects (instead they use apps like Maya or Softimage), or the video game industry to use it for their cut-scenes or in-game models (they use Maya and 3D Studio Max).

So what that means for Lightwave is that it's not developed at quite the level it needs to be to keep up with the Pro applications, and some of the features are less than perfectly optimised, and often the plug-ins are not updated from their first versions. It's quite a shame.

And also what it means for me as a 3D artist is I can't apply for Pro jobs if they're looking for people experienced in Maya. I am fine for a startup company with no preferences, though. Probably.

Anyhoo, I am putting together the backgrounds for the pickup shots for Checkpoint. Rather optimistically, and somewhat foolishly, I suggested we have shots of the characters interacting with the trains, running between them and planting a bomb. I figured that as I already had made the model, it wouldn't be too hard for me to adapt the shots to suit. I was fairly certain I had the skills, and the methodology.

Surprisingly I was right, and I did know how to do it. So far everything I've tried has worked wonderfully, sometimes incredibly well. It's almost seamlessly realistic, if I do say so myself.

But I have encountered a problem.

Render times for these scenes for just one frame, with HDR lighting and fresnel reflections switched on, is around 45 minutes per frame (two trains next to each other mean lots of back-and-forth reflections to calculate). That means a 150-frame sequence is several days worth of render time.

But then there's the motion blur. To get that looking as realistic as possible, each frame is rendered five times and then blended together into one. Five times! That makes four hours per frame! A month of render time, just for one sequence! And I have several sequences requiring this method.

If Lightwave was just that little bit more optimised and better built, it would have alternatives or better rendering speeds, I'm sure. But I'm stuck with its limitations. I had to find some kind of shortcut to solve my problem.

I tried a few new ways of applying textures to avoid some of the heaviest hits, like faking the reflections, or removing them altogether, but they weren't very successful at all.

However, as I was experimenting with a ridiculous idea that I thought would never work, I finally figured it out. If I first render the sequence without motion blur, then apply that sequence as a front-projected texture on the model, I can then render the motion blur on what has become a less complex scene, saving myself a ton of render time!

Front-projection is when you apply a texture from the point of view of the camera, as opposed to the X- Y- or Z-axis of the model (or the scene). That means you can create a 2D image, perhaps from photographs, and apply it to a 3D model, and then do a small amount of movement, and it will 3d-ify the photograph. In this case I will be reapplying an already rendered sequence back onto the same model, using the same motion, all matched frame-to-frame, so the blend will be seamless, only this time I'll be rendering the motion blur along with it. The end result is a much faster render, but the exact same result as if I had done it with every setting switched on.

I am a genius.

Spiced Ham

Posted Friday, May 8, 2009, 5:43 PM

The internet should be exclusively an information and entertainment resource. Unfortunately, that's an unrealistic hope. Not only does it cost money for upkeep and maintenance, but there are too many opportunities for advertising to expect them not to be tapped. And now that the internet is starting to supersede magazines and newspapers, advertising needs to abandon them and swamp the Web.

But Spam, on the other hand, is nothing but useless irritating wastes of bandwidth. Every so often, as I am not averse to buying items online occasionally, I have clicked on a banner ad to see where it led, and even subsequently purchased something. But I have never received a spam email that contained a trustworthy word. Every one of them is not only a poorly spelled irritation, but they are selling dodgy, possibly illegal, crap, that nobody in their right mind could or should ever need, let alone purchase via such an intrusive and questionable method.

The perpetrators of Spam are solely responsible for ruining what could have been a fine and convenient way to purchase genuine and trustworthy products and services. Instead they have soiled themselves with the Viagra, cheap watches, diplomas, and other illegal and dangerous nonsense.

And who the hell is buying all this stuff that keeps them in business? How can they fall for this blatant and obvious lying, cheating, stealing criminals? And when are we going to find a way to stop it all so my email bandwidth can get some peace?

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Posted Monday, May 4, 2009, 9:11 PM

I have a problem, and it's starting to interfere with my life.

About six or seven years ago, I started to have this issue that mystified and annoyed me. I don't eat a lot of stuff, especially healthy stuff, but I adore chicken. But when I ate chicken, it started to feel like it was stuck in my throat. In fact, I thought that was actually what was happening and I'd have to wait some moments, or even minutes, for the feeling to subside.

But soon it started to happen more frequently, and yet almost exclusively with chicken. I eventually got so frustrated with this, that I went to the Doctor to see what's up, in case it was a sign of throat cancer or something. I had a Barium Swallow X-Ray, where I took a dose of this thick creamy substance that tastes like plaster of paris, and which shows up on the X-Ray, giving them a clear view of my throat in action.

They found nothing wrong.

Years pass, and my chicken intake has been reduced to about once a month, and I am still suffering this problem. I look the symptoms up online, but there has rarely been help. GERD, or Gastroesophogeal Reflux Disease, has the closest match, but it's not quite right either. GERD's symptoms include heartburn and indigestion, which I don't get, but I do get a feeling of something stuck in the throat, an inability to burp, and a gurgling in the throat. That's enough to convince me it's my problem.

Here's what I think has actually been happening. Something about chicken, possibly its dry nature if it's overcooked, or maybe even from a full fledged allergy, causes muscles in my throat to constrict. I think the chicken as the common factor has to be relevant. I don't have a problem with other meats, or indeed any other food item at all. It's only been with chicken.

Usually I have suffered this in private, and I just need to wait a while (sometimes seconds, sometimes minutes, and on many occasions it's been hours), or in extreme discomfort cases go to the bathroom and induce vomiting, to sort my throat out. But today, for the first time, I felt the discomfort in the presence of my mate Rob, and it was a trifle embarrassing, as well as just being inconvenient, to have to abandon my meal in front of him.

By the way, I think the vomiting just spasms or expands the throat back to its normal state, rather than expelling any obstruction. Though to be perfectly honest I haven't a clue what's going on.

I am most disappointed in my stupid digestive system rebelling on me this way.

Railroaded On The Information Super-Highway

Posted Sunday, May 3, 2009, 12:28 PM

The last internet plan I had with my last ISP before I moved was very nice, and suited me well. I probably abused it by using it to capacity, but if you've got it, then why not? It was 25GB download during peak times, and another 40GB download during off-peak times. On top of that, my uploading was not metered.

Since moving to my new place, I no longer have access to ADSL, so cannot remain on that plan. Instead I have to use Cable Internet. But not anybody's Cable (and there are only two companies that provide Cable in Australia) because Bigpond Cable uses an underground cable that is not available in my suburb, but only Optus Cable, which uses an overhead cable system, connected to the power lines throughout the area.

That means I am forced to use one of the Optus plans. I have no choice whatsoever to go with the competition, it's simply not available to me. The closest plan I have to match my previous one, cost-wise, is 20GB download (including metered uploads), considerably less than the 65GB I am used to having at my disposal.

This is absurd - if one company can offer such a high rate of download, why can't they all? Why aren't they being realistically competitive?

And here's the thing - though I was a high user, relatively, with the 65GB downloading each month, I am now just using the internet in a very low key way, and I'm already going over my daily limit (which adds up to around 600Mb a day) just by browsing around, watching a couple of YouTube videos, and not doing too much. Admittedly I am probably over indulging right now to make up for my lack of connectivity last month, but even so I don't think I'm behaving unrealistically for casual use.

I am just frustrated by this imposed limit that I cannot control as a consumer. It's considerably unfair that my choice of living arrangements would put me in such a limited position.

This whinge is brought to you by the Whiny Privileged Who Don't Appreciate How Good They Actually Have It Society.