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Tuesday, November 20th, 2007 - 7:38 PM

"Computer Backup Drawing"

The Grey Ellipse
The Grey Ellipse

It has been way too long since I did a computer backup. I started burning important files to DVD last night. What prompted me to do this was a notice of low hard drive space. It turns out I had about 30MB left! Wow, haven't been that low in a long time. It's because of all these video projects; they eat up hard drive space like crazy. I'm hoping to finish off some of those video projects and make DVDs out of them so I can clean up my hard drive. If I get it clean enough, I might even format the hard drive. I used to do that occasionally and really like the feel of a clean computer. I haven't been able to do so in a long time because of all the huge files not backed up. I guess I should break down and get a backup external USB hard drive at some point.

While I was waiting for DVDs to burn, I decided to draw whatever the pencil led me to, on a customary 3" x 5" card. As usual, I came up with strange characters. I have a hard time making myself draw props and environments. I usually start off with random shapes or scribbles. My mind invariably pulls faces out of these abstractions, so that's what I end up with. Next time I'll try to draw something besides only characters. It'll be a stretch. My old drawings, while absolutely horrible, at least have more variety. I call this latest creation The Grey Ellipse.

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Wednesday, November 14th, 2007 - 7:44 PM

"Don't Cry Over Spilled Solid State Water Blockoids"

Ice Cube Spill

Today during lunch I accidentally dropped an ice cube. I thought it looked interesting how the light was shining through, so I took a picture. Then I let Sadie out, trying to convince her to eat the fallen frozen felicity. It took a while to convince her, as it involved a camera in hand (our dog is camera shy). Eventually she gave in. I didn't get any great pictures of her though, as she was quick to lick up the ice and take it to the other room for crunchy cold contentment.

The Cube's Demise

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Friday, November 9th, 2007 - 10:38 PM

"Leaves of a Different Color"

Fall Leaves

I'm pretty sure I've already mentioned the following perspective/opinion about photography on my blog somewhere, and my brain certainly thinks it on a regular basis (like nearly every time I look around). It is my opinion as an amateur photographer that photography is one of the easier arts to pick up - so easy in fact, that it often feels like cheating to me. You see, in photography the subject matter is already there in all its beauty. Your eyes see and recognize it. This beauty is God's creation. He is the Master Artist who laid everything in place, gave them color, texture, smell, taste, etc. You've heard yourself say, "What a gorgeous sunset!" or "What beautiful color!" All a photographer is doing is trying to capture those moments in an interesting angle with their equipment. Naturally, there are varying levels of skill that result in what even I would qualify as being a "good" or "bad" photo. A big part of that is knowing how to use the equipment, which is simply a matter of learning. In general, the art of photography is not nearly an obvious indicator of creativity as painting, drawing, music, and other fine arts. These are more challenging and require an obvious natural gift to do well... or lots of practice, trial and error as in my case. Granted, the same goes for photography. The difference being that someone with a decent camera can capture a pretty cool image just by clicking the button a bunch of times... eventually one of them will look good, even if the person has their eyes closed. Nature is inherently beautiful. I think I would be severely challenged if I had to photography other subjects, like people or architecture. Maybe the ones who can make those things look interesting or new are the ones with true talent. My former classmate, Sarah, is very good at this, as well as this guy.

Water Drops on Fall Leaves

I hope this doesn't offend any talented photographers out there. I certainly wouldn't compare my work with yours if you are truly talented and are able to make good business of your skills. There is certainly such thing as a brilliant photographer. I'm not one of those. I just get lucky when I have a quality camera in hand and am in the right place at the right time. I think it is more accurate to say one "has an eye for it", as is commonly said. This means that, yes, the beautiful material is all around us. We can all see it with our eyes. Most of us, nevertheless, don't appreciate it or realize the angles and composition. So "the eye" is more what I see as the natural talent side of photography. The rest of the technical stuff like the different settings on the camera and what they do... that can all be learned quite easily.

I'm no expert, but I took some photos today that I think may very well be some of the best I've ever taken. I entirely credit the camera and the perfect outdoor conditions. I guess you could say I at least had the eye to notice the beauty and do something about it. Every year outside my place of work you can find about the prettiest fall leaves collection available. The red is so bright that the leaves emanate a glow that reddens objects around them. Literally, as I approach the office, I feel odd, as if I'm trespassing in some wizard's enchanted aura tunnel. Today I grabbed the company camera, since I didn't have mine with me at work and took a bunch of quick pictures. Keep in mind that I didn't do anything to digitally enhance hardly any of these photos. I brightened about 3 or 4 from the whole set that were a little too dark, but that's it. No increased saturation, nothing. That's how bright those leaves are (at least)! Like this one. I wish I could show you all the full size images... they are so amazingly crystal clear and detailed. My heart actually raced a little when they popped on (out of) the screen for the first time. They are almost mystical... not bragging of my own skills at all, just a testament to the beauty of God's creation. I get so used to my 6 year old mediocre camera... I'm sure I would be amazed at the images a new digital SLR could get me. Make it the best Olympus money can buy :)

See the pictures here on EsoShow

compared to last time.

Fall Leaves

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Saturday, November 3rd, 2007 - 5:15 PM

"Ambultax Logo"

My current selection of vector illustration software at home is Macromedia Freehand MX, CorelDRAW 8, Fireworks MX 2004, Inkscape, and Serif DrawPlus X2. At work, I also have access to Adobe Illustrator CS2. Out of all of these, right now I prefer to use DrawPlus. I would use Fireworks, but it doesn't offer many file export formats, so vectors I create in Fireworks largely stay in Fireworks. Besides, since I'm working mostly with animating vectors right now, there's not much sense in creating shapes in one program just to export them to another, potentially losing something. The pen, shape and node editing tools in DrawPlus are good enough to do what I need, and I'm animating in DrawPlus anyway.

Ambultax Logo Draft

The first scene for one of my partially storyboarded animations is a title screen with an animated background, much like you'd see in most golden age video games. I drew the draft for the logo on a 3x5 index card about a week ago and used it as a reference when creating the final vector version in DrawPlus.

Here is the final DrawPlus vector, with a basic animated background. The final animation will not have this arbitrary pink and white flashing stuff, but rather a scrolling overhead view of a city. I opted not to add the emergency light over the "A" in the draft because I thought it added too much height to the otherwise vertically slim logo. "Emergent Deuce" is the name of this particular episode of Ambultax. I doubt there will be sequels, but you never know.

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Thursday, November 1st, 2007 - 12:16 AM

"Camp Jonah Winter Camp Serif DrawPlus Animations and Graphics Lecture Extraordinaire"

Jonah Winter Camp 2007 Logo
Last year's Winter Camp logo I designed. Both this one and the new one are supposed to look like a snowball is being thrown across. Obviously it is conceptual rather than blatantly obvious. In the new one, it probably appears to most people like a full moon shining brightly. Oh well, that's cool too.

The last several days I've been working on a storyboard for an animation that will promote Jonah Ministries' upcoming Winter Camp. It is far too involved to get done in a prompt manner though, so I'll probably do it just for fun later. Maybe I can use it next year.

Instead of going full bore with the lengthy animation, I designed a simple graphical logo in Serif DrawPlus X2 and converted it into a simple keyframe animation. After an in-depth search, I couldn't locate the original Fireworks file for last year's winter camp logo, so that's what motivated me to recreate it in DrawPlus. I couldn't find the font I used, so rather than copying what I did before, I made it over completely.

Note: depending on your processor speed, these animations might really lag if you play them both at the same time - that's why I made goofy play buttons. Each animation can be stopped by simply clicking it.

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Here is the animation I made for Camp Jonah's home page to draw attention to Winter Camp.
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This is a simpler variant that blends nicely into the surrounding interface color and is used on a couple of the Winter Camp pages.

DrawPlus X2 really shines on simple projects like these. The storyboard keyframe format makes it rather easy to set up simple movement for Flash banners and things like this. However, I still hold firmly that a multi-layered timeline is by far the superior interface for animating - especially for character animations and other complex organic movement (at least until I sit down and think of a better idea and share it with some lucky company... okay, just kidding, I'm not that arrogant! But I might have an idea or two up my sleeve).

I found a very easy set of tutorials on kirupa.com to create a falling snow effect with Actionscript. I have enough sense to know that keyframing such a thing would be absolute insanity and horribly inefficient. Unfortunately, the tutorials are set up to be used with Flash, detailing the interface panels of that program specifically. I tried parsing the code, pasting it into the "equivalent" areas of DrawPlus where it made sense to me that it should go. However, I couldn't get the same falling snow effect to work in DrawPlus - not at all! I even tried very simple variations, just trying to get some duplicateMovie functions to work... couldn't make it happen at all in DrawPlus. I'm not sure if it's a bug in DrawPlus, or I just don't know how it should be done. I'll give Serif the benefit of the doubt here because I'm not an Actionscript expert yet - just getting my feet wet (though I'm familiar with ECMA standard syntax). DrawPlus treats everything differently than Flash, so it's not really possible to have direct cross-over of Actionscript. The code needs to be put in different places. Not only that, but DrawPlus has no obvious ability to create and embed what are called "symbols" in Flash. This is a core feature in Flash that allows for a host of functional outcomes. I think "placing/importing a movie" into a DrawPlus animation document achieves somewhat the same thing, but it's not documented well, and the functionality is not nearly as robust as Flash.

Speaking of "symbols": I always thought this was a stupid word for Macromedia to latch onto. To me, the word refers to a written character with meaning, like &, %, @, etc. All programs in the multi-verse use "symbol" to refer to a non-alphabetic written character, or alternatively, some sort of iconic image. The idea of using the word to mean something that has no relationship to its core English definition is annoying. This confusion was one of the reasons I was initially intimidated by Flash. I scratched my head, thinking, "What in the world do they mean by 'symbol'?!". I have since come to understand Flash's terminology, defining "symbol" as a sub-movie component, often very much an animation (or significant object or button) inside another animation. An example of this would be the hair and paddleball in this animation. These two objects move entirely on their own, out of sync with the rest of the keyframed motion. They are in essence, movies inside the movie. I see no reason for Serif to follow suit and use "symbol" to describe this functionality, but I would like to see better support of something very closely comparable (and other designers more entrenched in Flash than me would too), since it is a core and valuable feature of the SWF file format - and a way to trick the limited storyboard design format to "do more" for you.

End of blah blah blah tangent... So, because I couldn't get the Actionscript for the falling snow to work in DrawPlus, I simply made it happen in my older version of Flash. I exported the snow as an SWF and imported it into DrawPlus. Luckily this worked like a charm. Everything else besides the snow was done in DrawPlus. It would be nice not to have to use Flash at all though. I'm guessing there's a way to adapt the code to get DrawPlus to behave similarly to Flash, but there's pretty much no documentation for these more advanced features and very little community out there doing it. I feel like the only one even trying this stuff right now. But hey, at least I have a Serif project manager I can bug at any given moment ;) Just kidding, I'll leave that guy alone for a change... let him recover before my next barrage del garbage.

By the way, since Serif goes about doing things in DrawPlus differently than Flash's approach, I'd highly suggest some well-written cross-reference tutorials to be included somewhere in it's documentation. Like, "If you are trying to do this in Flash, do this in DrawPlus". Since Flash has been around for years and is the de facto tool for vector animation, all serious animators know it inside and out. The goal of "ease" and "simplicity" in Serif's product is undermined if a Flash user can't figure out how to do in DrawPlus what they after habitual use consider "easy" to do in Flash. Granted, a serious animator will probably not choose this product over Flash if they can afford to keep up with the latest exorbitantly priced Adobe upgrades... but Serif can't hope to grab that market if they don't invest some serious marketing, user case studies and planning into it. And don't forget the infinite value of user feedback! Ignore it, and you will not gain any users. Naturally, if there is a better, far more innovative ideal way to do things than the Flash way, then there's a little more leeway for artistic license... but there needs to be a balance between trashing the traditional for the trendy and cherishing the treasures chucked down from times of graphics lore. I personally think the Flash market is wide open these days. There are a number of other key companies emerging and capitalizing, such as E-Frontier with their bone-enabled Anime Studio, ElectricRain's Swift3D, and Swish, to name a few. Not to mention the whole open source Flash community (osflash.org) - try to keep up with that, and you'll get dizzy! Serif really has a chance to capitalize on this market if they pay attention to the opportunity at hand and take it seriously (and keep their prices low - oh yeah!).

I just sent in my 2-year contract to Serif to be an outside beta tester for their products. So these thoughts here are independent of and prior to any "inside information" that might result from such future activity. I'm not sure how much involvement that arrangement will result in (possibly none, depending on my motivation), but I figured it would be a good experience - especially since I'm the biggest graphics enthusiast I know ;) And, of course, I will respect every bit of privacy Serif requires in not divulging secrets of features and such before release of new products - so don't even ask! But hey, once they become public releases, you bet I'll talk about them and review them for good or bad. No one company or product owns me. I use the best products for their strengths and switch between them constantly.

Even some open source projects are worthy of serious attention. Can you say Inkscape and Google Summer of Code? Inkscape is becoming one of the most viable illustration apps in existence, regardless of price or branding. Watch out, Adobe, Corel, Serif, Xara, and anyone trying to turn a profit from your work! (trust me, I know all about the whole fee versus free frustration - after all I'm a web designer! - most people think what I do should be free - waaaaah!) Inkscape already has some killer features that I REALLY like, that no one else seems to be addressing much at all, and a number of whoppers on the horizon. If they keep this up, there won't be a market for commercial products! If Inkscape takes up animation and some other kewl key features, I'd use it as my mainstay vector and all-around illustration and design tool. After all, as the floating, disembodied head of Tom Peterson once (or twice) said, "Wake up! Wake up to a happy day!"... er, I mean, "Free is a very good price!"

Note: If I shortly become a bonafied Actionscript expert, I might write more about how to translate between programs. Right now, I'm with everyone else, trying to figure out if it's worth the time.

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