Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pendulum waves

If you ever want to see a visual representation of patterns in nature (or mathematics), or just like to be hypnotized, then line up a group of pendulums with varying lengths and swing them together (or just watch this video):

The various speeds of the swings causes a palindromic succession of shapes to appear: 1 long "snake", 4 small lines rotating around each other, 3 lines rotating and then reversing rotation, 2 lines that rotate clockwise then line up and rotate counter clockwise, 3 lines rotating and then reversing, 4 small lines rotating, then the snake again swimming in the opposite direction. What's interesting is the pattern is the same if you watch the video in reverse, and the entire cycle takes 1 minute to reach the starting point again.

All of this from the simple action of a swinging weight.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Meet the Medic

I've always been a fan of the "Meet the..." videos Valve does for its Team Fortress 2 game. There are nine different character classes in the game and Valve has created short animated films to introduce each one. Recently they released "Meet the Medic":

While the Medic is quite enjoyable, my favorite "Meet the..." is the Spy:

Considering Valve released this game in 2007, and recently made it free to play forever, it is amazing they are still spending time and money to promote it with such well-made animations. Most studios "forget" about their game 6 months after the release and move on to the next thing, while Valve continues to please its fans with treats like these. Just one final "Meet the..." video to wait for now...

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Khan Academy (and Time)

I recently discovered the Khan Academy. Sal Khan began creating 10-minute Youtube videos to tutor his cousins in various school subjects. Five years and over 2200 videos later his website is now an invaluable resource for learning, and great for anyone with a passing interest in subjects ranging from Physics, Finance, Astronomy, History, Calculus, Biology, Stocks, Chemistry, etc. I've recently been watching his videos on Astronomy and found them fascinating. Here are two of my favorites which emphasize the vast scale of the universe in both time and space (similar to my own "How Big Is a Billion" post).

Visualizing the age of the universe

Visualizing the scale of the universe

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Weird Job Interview Questions (brain teasers)

I am a few months late on this, but business sites published a list of the "Weirdest Interview Questions from 2010" earlier this year. Some are fun brain teasers, others are completely subjective questions with no right answer, and a few seem almost deviously presented to obtain information that interviewers can't legally ask ("what has happened in this country over the last 10 years" may offer some insight to political leanings).

Before reading the questions and then a select few of my personal responses, you must understand the purposes to questions like these. I've interviewed many candidates for computer engineer and various tech positions and questions like these help us get insight on a person's thought process and ability to "think outside the box". In an interview, a candidate does not have to answer the question with the correct answer (if there is only one), but seeing a candidate realize that there just isn't one answer to the question or ask for details which were intentionally omitted tells us they can adapt and try new methods to real life problems presented to them on the job. Sometimes they may give a wrong answer, but the thought process that took them there is what impresses us; and since they really only had 5 min or less to come up with the answer we understand that the first hypothesis is usually not correct but a stepping stone to finding the final answer if given enough time. (a self-motivated candidate who calls back a few days later with an updated answer after time to reflect on the question is even more impressive).

Few of the Weirdest Interview Questions from 2010:
  1. If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?
  2. How many ridges are there around a quarter?
  3. What is the philosophy of martial arts?
  4. Explain to me what has happened in this country during the last 10 years?
  5. Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 how weird you are?
  6. How many basketballs can you fit in this room?
  7. Out of 25 horses, pick the fastest 3 horses. In each race, only 5 horses can run at the same time. What is the minimum number of races required?
  8. If you could be any superhero, who would it be?
  9. You have a birthday cake and have exactly three slices to cut it into eight equal pieces. How do you do it?
  10. Given the numbers 1 to 1000, what is the minimum number of guesses needed to find a specific number if you are given the hint “higher” or “lower” for each guess you make?
  11. If you had 5,623 participants in a tournament, how many games would need to be played to determine the winner?
  12. An apple costs 20 cents, an orange costs 40 cents, and a grapefruit costs 60 cents. How much is a pear?
  13. There are three boxes. One contains only apples, one contains only oranges, and one contains both apples and oranges. The boxes have been incorrectly labeled such that no label identifies the actual contents of its box. Opening just one box, and without looking in the box, you take out one piece of fruit. By looking at the fruit, how can you immediately label all of the boxes correctly?
  14. How many traffic lights are in Manhattan?
  15. You are in a dark room with no light. You have 19 grey socks and 25 black socks. What are the chances you will get a matching pair?
  16. What do wood and alcohol have in common?
  17. How do you weigh an elephant without using a weigh machine?
  18. You have 8 pennies. Seven weigh the same, but one weighs less. You also have a judges scale. Find the penny that weighs less in three steps.
  19. Why do you think only a small portion of the population makes over $150,000?
  20. You are in charge of 20 people. Organize them to figure out how many bicycles were sold in your area last year.
  21. How many bottles of beer are [consumed] in the city [in a] week?
  22. What’s the square root of 2000?
  23. A train leaves San Antonio for Houston at 60 mph. Another train leaves Houson for San Antonio at 80 mph. Houston and San Antonio are 300 miles apart. If a bird leaves San Antonio at 100 mph, and turns around and flies back once it reaches the Houston train, and continues to fly between the two, how far will it have flown when they collide?
  24. How are M&Ms made?
  25. What would you do if you just inherited a pizzeria from your uncle
And now for a few of my answers to these. They may not be right, but I really enjoyed the thought processes it took to get me to them! One thing to note is many of these questions use a similar idea of the candidate assuming the "standard way" to do an activity. Once you break that assumption, these questions actually become really easy.

  1. If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?
    Pencil sizes are not all standard, a person the size of a "large pencil" could easily get out. Or, a person the size of a regular #2 pencil is still long enough to easily shimmy up the sides of a normal-sized blender. (there likely isn't a right answer, I'm sure "screaming my lungs" out tells as much insight as these answers)

  2. Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 how weird you are?
    This reminded me of the "How humble are you" catch 22: a humble person never admits they are humble. My answer is 5, because a person who says 1 is afraid of being weird; yet we are all weird/different, so who wants to be the same? And a truly weird person doesn't believe they are weird and would never say 10. Anyone who says 10 is flaunting themselves in a way a weird person would not. Answers 4-6 work just as well.

  3. How many basketballs can you fit in this room? This is just a good example of estimating lengths and volumes, and a good test of memorization of formulas (but having the guts to ask for the volume of a sphere formula, since really we would just look one up if we didn't know it, is good too)

  4. Out of 25 horses, pick the fastest 3 horses. In each race, only 5 horses can run at the same time. What is the minimum number of races required?
    My favorite question, this one was fun. My first answer was based on the obvious omission: do we have a clock? If so, you would only need to race each horse once (5 races) and compare their speeds to find the top 3.
    If not, my original thought was 11, since each race you could always eliminate the slowest 2 horses. It would take 5 races to get the top fifteen, 3 races to get the top nine, 2 races to get the top 5 (if you raced the winner of the previous race again you could order all 9 horses), and 1 race to get the final 3.
    But the general rule of a numbers answer is the first one you get is likely wrong especially if it is double digits. So I worked on it more. Currently I believe 7 is the right answer, but I may be wrong:
    5 races to find the five horses who place #1. 1 race between the five "first placer" horses to get the champion of champions, then 1 race with the 2nd and 3rd placed horses of the "first placer" race, the 2nd and 3rd place horses from the champion's first race and the 2nd place horse from the 2nd place horse's first race. The idea is the 2nd and 3rd place horses who originally lost to the champion horse may still be faster than the other horses who won 1st in their races, and the 2nd place horse who lost to the 2nd overall horse may be faster than the other 1st placers and 2/3 of the champion's first race too. Take the 1st and 2nd place winners of this race and along with your champion you have the three fastest horses.
    Read it a few times, it makes sense :)

  5. You have a birthday cake and have exactly three slices to cut it into eight equal pieces. How do you do it?
    The first of the "breaking the assumption" questions. The assumption is when cutting cake you cannot move any pieces, which is false. Cut the cake in half, then in half again to get 4 equal pieces in the original shape of the cake (square, rectangle, or circle). Then line up the pieces in a row and cut one long cut through all 4 to get 8 equal pieces.

  6. Given the numbers 1 to 1000, what is the minimum number of guesses needed to find a specific number if you are given the hint “higher” or “lower” for each guess you make?
    I originally got snooty with the semantics on this one and said 1. It only takes 1 guess to possibly get the right answer (this is not the right answer and may come across wrong). But if you want the "minimum number needed to guarantee a right answer" then this is a simple binary search any computer engineer learned when first studying: you always guess halfway between the numbers.
    The guess pattern assuming the answer number is 1: 500 - 250 - 125 - 63 - 32 - 16 - 8 - 4 - 2 - 1! The answer is 10 guesses, but you will likely find it before the 10th guess unless the number is 1 or 1000.
    Also, if you paid attention in math class you know binary searches are all based on powers of 2. If you find the power of 2 higher than (or equal to) the maximum amount you know the answer based on the power. If the answer is between 1-8 your guesses would be "4 - 2 - 1", 8 is 2 to the 3rd power (2^3) so the answer would be 3. 2^10 power is 1024 so the answer to the 1-1000 question is 10. And any computer/video game geek should know the powers of 2 up until 11: 2 - 4 - 8 - 16 - 32 - 64 - 128 - 256 - 512 - 1024 - 2048 etc (these are the common numbers for "bits" and "bytes" for ram, memory, and processors among other things)

  7. If you had 5,623 participants in a tournament, how many games would need to be played to determine the winner? Very similar to the "guess" and "omitted info" problems above. My first answer was the obvious: 1 game. Nowhere does it say how many participants can battle in a single game, so a game where 5,623 gladiators fight each other until 1 is standing is possible.
    But if you assume only two can play at once then the answer changes. I got this answer "wrong" when I read this, I assumed it was asking for rounds and treated it like the "guess" question above. My answer was 13, since it would take 13 rounds (2^13 = 8000ish which is higher than 5,623) with multiple games per round.
    But after reading the question again while typing this post, the question asks for the number "games" not "rounds" So instead of asking the number of "guesses" like above, we are adding the actual number of the guess. I don't know the answer while typing this, but the formula is similar as above where you keep halving the number: 2,812 + 1406 + 703 + 352 + 176 + 88 + 44 + 22 + 11 + 6 + 3 + 2 + 1.
    In an interview I could likely spout off the string of numbers above (doubling or halving numbers in your head is easy) but without a calculator and pen and paper I wouldn't know the answer is 5,626 (I cheated and just used this computer's calculator), which is suspiciously close to the original 5,623 number above (I rounded a few times which explains the difference) which tells me there was probably an easier way to answer this than brute forcing the numbers and adding them. I will need to reflect on this. :(

  8. An apple costs 20 cents, an orange costs 40 cents, and a grapefruit costs 60 cents. How much is a pear?
    Not enough info. Probably market value. Plus you can't compare apples, oranges, and pears but if I had to guess it would be closer to the apple's price since the others are citrus and larger than a pear.
    In honesty, that is where I left my answer. But I researched the answer because I didn't feel like it was "right" like I felt my other answers were. And the "best" answer I found is when this question is asked verbally most candidates mishear the final word and think it is "pear" when the questioner really meant "pair". Therefore the answers would be a pair of apples = 40 cents, a pair of oranges = 80 cents, etc. When the question is written this confusion is removed.

  9. There are three boxes. One contains only apples, one contains only oranges, and one contains both apples and oranges. The boxes have been incorrectly labeled such that no label identifies the actual contents of its box. Opening just one box, and without looking in the box, you take out one piece of fruit. By looking at the fruit, how can you immediately label all of the boxes correctly?
    This one is really easy if you have a vivid imagination (or can draw it). Since you know all boxes are labeled incorrectly, you just draw from the box labeled as "Both". If you pick an orange you know only oranges are in it (since it is mislabeled), thus the box labeled "Oranges" must be apples and the "Apples" box must be filled both.

  10. How many traffic lights are in Manhattan?
    I've never been to Manhattan, so I would guess the number of blocks (and likely be way off) or ask someone in the room if they knew, then assume each block has 4 lights, realize that blocks share traffic lights so I can't multiple by 4, and arbitrarily multiple my guess by 2, then find the closest square number (my geeky Rubik's Cube days taught me 1 block has 4 intersections, 4 blocks have 9 intersections, 9 blocks have 16 intersections, etc, thus all intersections are to the 2nd power: 4, 9, 16, 25, 36, 49, etc. There is a formula in there somehwere but it would take longer in the interview to figure it out than just creating an educated guess as mentioned above.

  11. You are in a dark room with no light. You have 19 grey socks and 25 black socks. What are the chances you will get a matching pair?
    I assumed the was a trick question (as you always should), so my first answer is 50/50 chance (since picking a second sock is not affected by the color you picked first). My next guess is slightly less than 50, like 47ish, but it would take some math of total possible solutions which may take me a while (I'm rusty on my probability formulas). My 3rd guess and final answer (because this is what I would do in real life) is to just pick 3 socks and ensure a 100% chance of picking a matching pair. Nowhere does it say how many socks you need to pick up at once.

  12. How do you weigh an elephant without using a weigh machine?
    Using water, such as a pool, and determining the elephant's volume and then measuring its density. I don't know the exact formulas off the top of my head, but that is how you find weight without weighing an object. There are probably other ways too, but that was the first that came to mind. Given enough time, I could probably come up with some pretty creative contraptions that were not technically "weigh machines". Now getting the elephant to voluntarily participate is a much harder problem...

  13. You have 8 pennies. Seven weigh the same, but one weighs less. You also have a judges scale. Find the penny that weighs less in three steps.
    Really easy, although I had done a harder version of this test years ago. The assumption is you can only weigh 2 pennies at a time, which, again, is false. Weigh all 8 pennies as 4 vs 4. Take the group of 4 that was the lightest (since you know the light penny is among them) and weigh them 2 vs 2. Take the lighter pair and weigh them 1 vs 1 to find the lightest one.
    This test gets much harder if you don't know if the one odd penny is heavier or lighter than the others. The answer to that problem is long and complicated but uses the same principle as above (you start off weighing 3 vs 3 and hope the odd penny is one of the 2 not weighed), it just takes a few more rounds to determine if the penny is heavier or lighter.

  14. What’s the square root of 2000?
    My final answer is a guess depending on how far they want to go into decimals. But I know 40^2 is 1600 and 50^2 is 2500 so the answer is between 40 and 50. 2000 is smaller than 2050 which is halfway between 1600 than 2500, so the number is likely less than 45 which is halfway between 40 and 50. A quick mental multiplication tells me 45^2 is 2025, and 44^2 is 1936. I hate multiplying decimals mentally, so at this point I would guess 44.7 since 2000 is roughly 70% of the difference between 2025 and 1936. If I was allowed a calculator (and couldn't cheat the answer by typing it in) I would brute force the answer by narrowing down the decimals from 44.7 until I got the answer (which my computer now tells me is 44.72135... yea, I would not have found that precisely without a calculator to help).

  15. A train leaves San Antonio for Houston at 60 mph. Another train leaves Houson for San Antonio at 80 mph. Houston and San Antonio are 300 miles apart. If a bird leaves San Antonio at 100 mph, and turns around and flies back once it reaches the Houston train, and continues to fly between the two, how far will it have flown when they collide?
    Yea, I hate these problems as they are too cliche and not that hard to figure out. Not to mention we don't know if the trains are on the same track, left at the same time, or if the bird is even flying towards Houston.
    Anyways, I know the distance traveled in a specific time must add up to 300 so the formula is 60x + 80x = 300, or 140x = 300 where x is an equal amount of time both trains travel. I would need a calculator to figure out the exact decimals but mentally I know it it is just over 2.14 hours (140 goes into 300 2 times, the remainder of 200 another 1 time, and 600 4 times, etc). Convert this into time and you get roughly 2 hours, 6 minutes + less than 3 minutes (.04 x 60) or a little less than 2 hours and 9 minutes (again, without a calculator) until the trains hit. But the actual time in minutes is pointless, I want miles.
    A bird traveling 100 mph for an x time of 2.14 (100 x 2.14) travels 214 miles.
Whew! That was fun, yet draining. Let's see what odd questions 2011 brings!

The face tells all

An amazing reference sheet for animators (or amateur detectives) came across my desk this week:

(click here for the full-size-readable version)

An artist called Cedarseed compiled all of her notes on facial expression to create a "facial map" detailing the differences between emotional expressions! For example: the difference between a "sad expression" and a "blue expression" is that in the blue face the eyebrows are lower and the eyes' irises are partially covered by the eyelids, whereas in the sad face only the pupils touch the eyelids.

Cedarspeed analyzes 60 different expressions in this manner and offers a great starting point for any artist depecting a subtle expression. Of course, facial expressions are not universal (each culture may express the same feeling in different ways) and the accompanying body language can easily change the meaning of an expression. But for a quick facial cheat sheet, they don't get much better than this!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sonic youth(ful) nostalgia

This week I had not one, but two (unrelated) interactions brought upon my retention of frivolous Sonic the Hedgehog facts from my early 90's gaming days. That is twice as many frivolous-Sonic-fact-caused-interactions in the past week than I've had in the past 16 years! (but that other previous interaction is a post for another day)

The first interaction this week came from my meeting with a video game composer who worked on the Sonic games 18 years ago. A few months ago I read an article about a local art school. The article briefly mentioned the President of the school, Spencer Nielsen, composed music for Sega games. Upon looking him up, I realized not only did I know much of his music but he wrote the soundtrack for "Sonic CD" which was my favorite soundtrack of the Genesis era. I talked to my coworkers who previous worked at the art school and this week I finally got to meet Spencer.

The conversation was amazing and we discussed various topics, both old and new. As the meeting ended I finally was able to ask the question that bothered me for 18 years: "What were the voices saying"?

Sonic CD was the first CD based game I owned and also the first to have a "Red Book Audio" soundtrack which meant the music played from an audio portion of the CD as opposed to a synthesizer chip from inside the game cartridge or system. As such, the soundtrack used actual recorded instruments and vocals when most soundtracks of the era were rudimentary beeps and bops. To celebrate the occasion, I bought my first pair of speakers and plugged them into the Sega CD system to enjoy the game's music in glorious stereo. Hearing the music out of multiple sources allowed me to pinpoint various instruments, vocals, and tracks in each of the soundtrack's songs. And after playing a specific level a few times I noticed something odd: in the background of "Tidal Tempest" music I heard voices speaking.

(listen to the left track at 1:03- 1:06, headphones help]

Now, much like earlier generations thought they heard secret messages hidden in LPs, my 11 year-old self was sure I had stumbled upon a secret code that I could use to "cheat" in the game (infinite lives, level select, etc)! Games of this era were notorious for hiding cheat codes in the least-expected places of the game for players to find (which incidentally is was led me to my second encounter detailed below). Unfortunately, I couldn't tell what the voices were saying so I had no idea how to use the "code". I listened to the music over and over and eventually, as in months later, gave up and moved on to the next game. But I never forgot the "code" and the question of "what the voices said" stuck in the back of my mind in the "will likely never know" folder. That is, until I met the composer of the song.

Eighteen years later, Occam's Razor had taken hold and I assumed the voices were from a conversation unintentionally picked up on mic. But I still wanted to ask the composer just in case... Spencer did not know of the voices I mentioned and assured me there was no way a conversation was accidentally recorded. But upon sending him my digitized copy of the song he conceded that was exactly what it was and was surprised anyone could hear it (no one had noticed it up until now). He also gave me a personalized signed copy of one of his out-of-print CDs; not for finding the "secret code" but just because is an overall awesome guy!

And so my Sonic-knowledge-event ended for the week, or so I thought.

As mentioned above, games of the 80's and 90's hid secret codes in the least expected places to reward "superfans" who found them (and to allow programmers to use them to skip to various levels in the game to bug test). Many games also offered a special menu for players to listen to every piece of music in the game, which sometimes numbered over 100. And Sonic 2 is notorious for hiding its codes in the "music test" option. If players listened to track 19, then 65, then 9, and then 17 a special sound occurred which allowed the player to select any level from the game (the numbers are actually the birthday of the director of the game - 9/17/1965). Other combinations of track order playback opened up other secrets, but this was the most famous.

So this week while reading one of my favorite webcomics, Sam and Fuzzy, a throwaway line caught my attention. One character yelled a computer command, "Command Code 1965917", which caused all the robots in the scene to attack the heroes. My guess is most people "read" the first two numbers of the sequence then glossed over them to the next word with the understanding that is was just a string of numbers. But for some reason the numbers stuck in the back of my mind and when I read them again the memories of selecting any level I wanted in Sonic 2 came flooding back. So I e-mailed the artist to point out his hidden geekery (another Sonic "superfan") and a few days later he posted my e-mail and his reply on his website.

I'm not sure I have many more frivolous-Sonic-facts left that could lead me to intersting interactions, but you never know what the future holds...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Fossils and Myths

Not long ago I read some interesting theories regarding the origins of myths and legends. One fascinating theory states various ancient societies unearthed fossils while digging for stones to build their civilizations. The bones of long extinct animals perplexed the ancient people who then created imaginative stories to explain them.

For example, imagine you lived in ancient Greece and one day while hunting for food you come across this strange skull as large as your chest:

Well obviously, this must be from some large one-eyed creature with vicious teeth capable of rending a man in half:

(of course, since you live no where close to the Serengeti you wouldn't recognize a the skull as that of a dwarf elephant , complete with a large hole for the trunk, which lived on Mediterranean island until 9,000 years ago)

Similarly, if you came across a protoceratops skeleton (ie a triceratops without horns) you may assume it was an beaked creature the size of a lion with giant wings connecting to the frilly areas behind the neck.

Thus the griffin was "born".

Finally, if you lived in ancient China/South America/Europe/India/pretty-much-anywhere-thanks-to-Pangaea and you came across this skeleton larger than your house:

That must be a dragon (and not a Spinosaurus). Better call a knight to dispatch of him, and then eat his bones to claim his power.

Many of history's most fantastical stories have humble beginnings grounded in reality.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Good Life shot - blocking

It has been a busy month of animating. As mentioned in my last post, I "finished" my shots for my short and began a new dialogue piece. I spent weeks of filming reference, building sets, modifying rigs, and blocking the 600 frame shot (ie more frames than all of my "finished" short shots) to the point where it can be shown in its first stage here.

When I am "finished" with this shot I will upload my video reference for the piece, but right now the "scruffy-bearded-man-effeminately-crying-over-a-teddy-bear" video is too embarrassing to be shown without countering it with the successful final product.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Animation eye + 1, morale - 1

Have you ever had a creative epiphany from a successful endeavor which completely killed your morale?

For the past few weeks I have polished a segment of my animated short with the intent of updating my reel. And by polish I mean painstakingly positioning each individual finger, toe, knee, elbow, etc on 600 frames so that they made beautiful arcs. My plan this week was to finish* polishing the segment and add my highly-regarded "Get Out" dialogue to the end. Bam! New reel completed.

I accomplished the former, but the latter step hit a major block:

Six weeks of over-analyzing minutia in my "Head of the House" shot had inadvertently trained my eye to be more sensitive to animation principles. When I finished the short's polish, I opened my "Get Out" shot to add it to the reel and audibly gasped: It looked terrible.

This was a shot I spent months writing about on this very blog. It represented my best animation and I proudly showed it off. I even received feedback on it from some very influential animators and came away happy. But now, I see so much "wrongness" in it. Or, to be more precise, I see so many ways that I could do it even better.

The piece itself isn't bad, it just is no longer indicative of my current skill level. I have progressed enough over the past year that creative choices I was once proud of now cause me to cringe. I stared at this shot for over a hundred hours completely oblivious to errors that now loudly scream "look at me!" to me in every playback. And I couldn't be happier.

Well, at least now I couldn't be happier. When it first happened my morale was obliterated: my months-long plan to update my reel for the first time since January '10 was foiled by my obvious lack of skill. The simple task of pasting my last shot to the end of my current shot suddenly turned into a scores-of-hours process of updating my old shot to at least be decent. And again, I had tirelessly worked on this animation for months and then prominently displayed it for the past year to everyone. Goodbye self-esteem!

But it didn't take long for me to perk back up. This is natural, after all. Artist actually want this to happen. All artists look at their old work and shudder with disbelief. And all artists are exponentially more critical when looking at their own work. Many readers on this site may look at my "Get Out" shot and say "it looks great to me", which is fine. But I know I can do better and have already begun my next shot to prove it.

And I'm sure in a year I will look at my "Head of the House" shot and ask, "what the hell was I thinking" and repeat the cycle all over again (it has already happened once). I look forward to that day.

In other news, my new reel is up. Although there is a very good chance it will be replaced in the next 8 weeks. :)

*nothing is "finished" in animation, they just take it away from you and tell you to move on.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Head House - SP11 state of the short!

It is a new term at Animation Mentor and after a fantastic Winter term I am super excited to animate even more of my "Head of the House" short. I received wonderful feedback at the end of the term that motivated to put all of my focus into my animation for the next few months (some studios are keeping a very-interested eye on my progress, I've heard), so again sorry for the lack of blog updates but my animation is eating up most of my non-work time recently.

For the sake of progress, here is the current state of my short. This includes animation from 2007 (the beginning and end of the short) and the new animation I redid from scratch at the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011 (anything with the new couch). Hopefully the difference in quality is obvious enough that I don't have to point out where the cuts are. :)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Head House - The frisbee catch

I've been working on a new shot from my short recently. Below you can see my stages:
  • planning (sketching ideas)
  • reference (filming myself doing the actions)
  • blocking (ie choosing poses from reference and recreating them in Maya)
  • splining (adding the motion in between the poses)

The next week(s) I will be polishing the shot to make it look even better. Those hands before the jump are a little floaty for my taste!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Head House Week 8

Moving right along! Came to a stopping point on many of the shots in this sequence so it is time to begin a new one. (and also deal with that couch, after all these years it has gotten old and needs to be replaced)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Digital Domain's Tron

The movie was fun; imperfect but fun. But the amount of work put into the design and visual effects of the film is mind blowing. Especially considering how easy it is to forget that 95% of what you see is not real and was added later:

This also includes some of my favorite music from the movie. Congrats to everyone at Digital Domain who worked on this!

Head House dog side

Another week, more animation! This week I focused on the dog and improved his walk animation. I also tried something new and received critiques on an animation from another angle, this time from the side. Usually, you animate to a camera and as long as it looks good in that one camera then it really doesn't matter how you "cheated" to get it there (sometimes a character walking towards camera is actually taking 10 ft long steps just to get the right angles in the legs). The dog walk was throwing me for a loop from the front angle so I stepped to the side to see how well it looked from there... not bad! The bounce shot also went from blocking to splining this weekend (meaning there is animation between my poses from last week)

Dog walk
- rotated camera towards center
- Smoothed foot rolls so the feet take off at the last moment without floating the weight
- Smoothed head roll arc so it doesn't hit a "wall"
- added snout overlap
- smoothed ear arcs

Bounce Prep
- rotated camera towards center
- splined all controls, ironed out pops
- focused on bounces in body, head, and shoulder
- smoothed frisbee arcs
- did a finger pass on screen left hand

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Head House 2 - block

Starting a new shot on my "Head of the House" short. Blocking is now finished (meaning I have the major poses done and will start creating the inbetween frames):

Before I know it, the final polish will be uploaded and it will be time for a "progression post"!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Buccaneer Band logo

Before heading down the animation path, I studied graphic design in college. And occasionally, my friends would come across a project or two that needed the services of a graphic designer. Since many of my friends were musicians, during my college years our band program's fliers became far more interesting. After graduating I focused completely on animation and moved on from graphic design, but recently one of my longtime music friends (and now a head band director) called me up with a new project: all the departments in his school were to design logos which were then scaled and painted on the school's hallways. He gave me the band font, color scheme (I could only use black and the school's blue) and in return I sent him this:

A few weeks later he sent me the final image after it was painted:

I was impressed at how well the painters were able to recreate a 6 foot image on the wall, especially the negative-space-from-hell French Horn and the vanishing-point-parallelograms of the xylophone. Sadly the painting ended up only using one color, but even then it still works.

Yay! And now that I have the graphic design bug out of my system it is time to hit the animation splines again.

To buy or rent?

I came across a fun, informative, and interactive chart today at Trulia

The chart takes various factors, such as rent cost, purchase price, foreclosure rates, etc and uses an algorithm to determine if in the long term it is better to purchase or rent. Unsurprisingly, San Francisco is a "rent" suggestion, but I surprised my old stomping ground of Fort Worth was one position away from Los Angeles (although the cutoff from "buy" to "rent" occurs between those two positions.

As much as I love living in the Bay Area, sometimes I tempt/tease/depress myself by looking at other cities on charts like these and realize that what we pay in rent for a relatively small apartment could buy us an extravagant, large house in another metro area. *sigh*
Being the optimist, I like to think that if we ever do buy a place and then sell it and move out of state we will then live like royalty.

Until then, I will (ab)use my location in the Bay Area to the fullest and enjoy the multiple luxuries the area provides! Plus, animation studios are here! Woohoo!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Specks in the sky

I've been on an astronomy kick recently (not to be confused with an astrology kick, although I have some posts on that as well coming up). Every now and then I come across a photo which stuns me: some for the sheer colorful beauty of the heavens depicted, others for the ideas they represent. Today's primary photo falls in the latter category, but I'll include a little reminder of the former too.

Today's photo comes from the Herschel Space Observatory courtesy of Dr. Scott Chapman from the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge.

(click to zoom to get the full magnitude of the photo)

While this image may look like a bunch of static, what it represents is far more mind-blowing: Each non-black pixel in this relatively small infrared image depicts an entire galaxy. And, as previously discussed, a single galaxy contains over 100 billion stars (more than the amount of humans that have ever lived) each with the possibility of its own solar system with a possible earth-like planet. If each star was 1 square foot in size, there would be more stars represented in this picture than could cover the entirety of Earth.

That is a lot of galaxies, and billions of stars, especially for an image which is only a minuscule fraction of the total sky. If the amount of "space" out there doesn't inspire awe in you then maybe it hasn't "clicked" yet, because for me that hint of knowledge changes a seemingly boring photo of static into a masterpiece of possibilities and colors.

Plus, it helps to remember that each dot of "static" represents one of these:

To quote the great Keanu: "whoa"

Monday, January 31, 2011

Touring AM with Jay and Victoria

One of my jobs at Animation Mentor is hosting various Q&As and webinars for students, alumni, and prospective students. The last group requires a special webinar as accurately describing an online school where professional animators teach animation and critique students' animation can be a difficult task. A few months ago we recorded one of my Q&As on the subject, so if you are interested in seeing me discuss exactly what we do at my company then your wish is granted:


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Head of the House - polish!

My animation short "Head of the House" is coming along. After "finishing" it a few years ago (more like shoving it under the bed out of disgust) I reopened it with fresh eyes and new animation knowledge. After a few (spread out) months of focus on specific shots, I finally have a coherent clip of polished shots!

Currently I am working on the middle of the short on arguably the hardest shots of the piece. Here is the most recent update:

And here is the original "finished" piece from years ago. Not a single key from below is retained above, I have completely recreated the each shot from scratch.

Finally, here is the original animatic for the short:

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Mouse called Tron

After 7 years I finally replaced my mouse on my computer. While my old mouse continued to work, it finally passed the point of no return: no amount a cleaning supplies could remove the finger oil from the mouse. I had literally worn away all the paint and plastic covering of mouse and was brushing against the endo-skeleton, at which point the oils began to build up into their own coating.

Moving on, it was time to get a new mouse. And luckily, the perfect mouse for me just arrived on the market. Meet Tron: The Mouse:

Not only does it glow (and shut itself off at night)...

But it also creates fascinating glow trails as you scroll across the mouse pad! I sometime find myself moving the mouse cursor to out-of-the-way areas on the screen just to create cool new patterns on the pad. I am not ashamed to admit I have written my name in cursive once or twice this way.

And as an added bonus, it makes the Tron bike noises from Tron Legacy when you start the computer. At this rate, I may have to spring for the matching Tron keyboard and call it a set.

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Salt and Pepper

In January, I grew out a beard for a combination of artistic prank reasons (the product of which to be posted in April), a gentlemen's agreement, and a Hanukkah gift to a friend who wanted to see someone at the company in mutton chops (if only for a day, and no picture to be posted for that one).

While trimming the beard to keep it somewhat presentable I made a startling discovery:

How cool is that!? Here is a close up:

Oh noes! I am teh old! :P

Or more accurately (at least to my mental state), I am now "distinguished". Bring it on, Father Time!

Monday, January 24, 2011

50's advice from the fitness godfather

Today I learned about a man who changed the world and inspired people to take the same the same steps in improving both their physical and mental health as I have taken over the past few years. Yet this man gave his advice to a national audience over 50 years ago and spent a lifetime changing peoples' lives. Sadly, I am only discovering this man due to his untimely death at the young age of 96: Jack LaLanne.

Here are just a few of his numerous accomplishments: starting the first public gyms in America (now Bally Total Fitness), inventing leg exercise machines and pulley weight machines, hosting a fitness show for 34 years, performing 1,000 pull ups and 1000 jumping jacks in just over an hour, creating a vegetable juicer line still sold today, performing over 1,000 push ups in 23 minutes, swimming in handcuffs while towing 70 rowboats with people for over a mile... at age 70. This man could do straight-body finger pushups at age 90, a feat I just tried at a relatively fit age of 29 which nearly resulted in breaking all my fingers (I won't even attempt the one-handed version he did at age 50).

Even with all these amazing feats, what surprises me most is how his life advice from his 50's TV fitness show is still applicable today. This man knew what he wanted in life and chose to share his secrets to achieving happiness and longevity to everyone. And the fact that he happily lived to the age of 96 shows that there may be some merit to his teachings. Here are a few of my new-favorite inspiring videos:

Life needs incentives

Stop being so tired

The effect of bad habits

Why people are unhappy

And more can be found here

Add color, update the outfits, and change the hair and these videos could be mistaken for current day "self-help" programming. The maladies he mentions, from obesity (from empty calories and man-made foods) to general happiness due to modern luxuries, still apply today. Even his primary rule of nutrition "if man made it, don't eat it" is the basis of many of today's popular diets (and the organic movement).

Thanks to constant technological improvements, scientific discoveries, and general generational gaps, I grew up with the (often erroneous) assumption that the older an advice on health (or self-help, finances, etc ) is usually wrong and I should only read the newest book with the newest advice. It is videos like these that remind me how little has changed throughout the years and that some advice is timeless.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Get Out - 2011 Polish

After two false starts at the end of last year (sadly, due to waiting for a event that kept on being postponed) I am back in an animation class to work on new and old work alike. At the beginning of the class I showed my current reel and expected a lot of notes on my perpetual-work-in-progress short. While that did occur, I also got a lot of notes on my "finaled" dialogue shot "Get Out" from 2009. Thus, I returned to "Get Out" to polish it even more, and see things that my oh-so-naive eyes of 2009 completely missed.

Here is the newest polish:

And for reference, here is my "final" shot from the end of 2009

As is true polish, the changes may so small enough that you don't see them at first, but as a whole improve the entire shot:

  • Added a preparation breath prior to the dialogue
  • moved lip sync to hit the accents better
  • added nicer arcs to hands before "plague" and the jump "why to me?"
  • eyebrows are used more
  • Eyes are consistent throughout the shot, the old shot had him looking at 3 completely different "people" during the tirade
  • took out the staggered "Pixar blink" before the silent "whaaa?" (I have a Dreamworks mentor this time, it was the first thing he axed)
  • subtle hip and lower body movements throughout to keep him alive
  • subtle camera change at the end to keep him from hitting the side of the video window

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The best laid plans... (of 2010)

'Tis 2011 and my blog has been far more barren than I had planned. I would like to say "life got in the way" but I also know that I could have posted more if I had prioritized it higher. In retrospect, my biggest downfall was reaching my year-long goal of a "healthy, talented Jay" for my 10 year reunions. After traveling and spending two weeks with my old high school friends I found it hard to motivate myself to return to my strenuous routine when I returned. I still worked on each of my stated goals, but instead of doing all six of them every day I would do only 1-3. And the most affected, and public, of these goals was posting to this blog. My "upcoming posts" admin page has 20+ partially finished posts each waiting on me to finish an earlier, time-sensitive post before I can publish them in chronological order. I must overcome that desire for accurate chronological posts and instead post when I have a topic that needs to be written.

Regardless, I have no more excuses and plenty of motivating factors to encourage me to return to my goal-accomplishing habits of old: I'm taking another animation class (yay for daily animation); I've organized a gym team at work (exercise, woot!); I've moved and now have a 1.5 hour round trip commute (dedicated time for audiobooks and family phone calls); and most importantly (and unexpectedly) I've moved in with a wonderful someone who has similar goals and the mutual desire to help the other reach their goals. Most of all, I'm looking forward to 2011 and seeing this poor little blog have some life again!