Writing from the glands of scientific theory

His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands. -W. Faulkner

Recently, I’ve been quite busy working on a script narrative for a computer game that I’ve been working on for nearly 2 years now. It’s not the same game that I started out with. Indeed, I have had several major changes in direction, each turn became a personal revelation why the other idea just didn’t work for me.

One could look and say that I was fickle. Ultimately, I couldn’t concern myself with it whether it was true or not. For what is ‘fickle’ if only an external point of view used to categorise, and thus predict future behaviour? Why should I, of all people, predict my future behaviour?

One thing that I’ve learned is that the creative process is a process of thinking and feeling. Thinking and feeling bounce off each other and influence each other in kind. From thinking and feeling, we come upon that collection of intuitions that we may call instinct.

In writing, of which I know little about, I have been informed that there are types of writers who are plotters, and those that are pantsers. I’ve discovered that I’m a little of both.

In animation, of which I know much about, there are two animation methods called pose-to-pose, and straight-ahead. As an animator, I don’t work exclusively with one method over another. These methods are not techniques per se, but the only two ways of thinking about technique. Hence, as an animator, you are use both principles in order to find multifarious methods suited for the works that you want to do.

Whether you take concepts such as these strictly or loosely, the most important thing for the artist is knowing how and why these concepts are applied. I call this the Grey Area, because there is no right or wrong, only why something is working or not.

The Grey Area is like the Grey Matter — our brain — where any external concept floating out there in the world can plop down and relax. It is our little private room where we can do anything we want with these concepts, and no one has to know about them. Privacy is key, because privacy is what makes it special to oneself and potentially to the rest of your external world. As far as philosophy and analysis is concerned, I confine myself to these coarse principles of creativity. I’m happy to let ambiguous concepts mutate and evolve in the Grey Area.

Unfortunately, because of that loose creative disposition, I become irritated by over-analytical people. Out there abounds articles of a scientific bent which seek to ‘optimise audience-user engagement’ and ‘define and measure suspense (anxiety) in terms of durability’. Presumptuous titles adorn most of these presumptuous articles, and sometimes follow a template such as: “How Science is Helping Art…”, ‘Art’ being things brought on by the creative process, I would assume.

The life that gives breath to these articles is a superciliousness of these business-minded scribblers who use the authority of science to convince us of what they think the bottom line art is supposed to be. Go scrounge a few measurements, researches, testimonies, call it science if you will; but what was it that caused them to think that art was made to catalyze ‘unconscious involuntary responses‘, or ‘meet audience expectation’? If art had to exercise techniques in manipulation, and to some degree it has to, why does this seem like the overriding function of art? Why does a biological and psychological research into, say, the ‘fear-anxiety process’ infer that such stimulus must be pandered to at all?

The idea that science is serving the purposes of art is one of willful ignorance: even if scientific researches don’t objectively presume to understand or even define art, but only to observe its effects, why are the results of its conclusions always encourage ‘scientifically minded’ people to presume that artists need to act on these effects? Let’s be honest and perceive that science does not conduct its business to serve art. Instead, its very insistence seeks to bring itself above art by defining it, by saying, “I know you better than you know yourself. This is what you really need.”

And that’s the point when I say, no, I don’t. You can tell me what makes me cry in a movie, but you can’t tell me if I should be crying at all. You can push all my buttons to make me keep from pressing the stop button on this crappy movie for a few seconds longer, but you can’t tell me that it’s truly worthwhile watching. And if we, as artists, keep conversing in the thoughtless language of statistics and obsessive yet irrelevant analysis, pretty soon that’s all ‘Art’ is going to become

(If it isn’t already.)



Tokyo Ghoul – 5 Years After

I had started out as a freelance in my previous company, and then a year later, I became a permanent staff as a CG supervisor. A CG supervisor’s responsibilities may encompass many things. Or, inversely, may encompass only a narrow field. This depends on the company’s expectations from the role and the person. As such, some write certain things on paper, but are not carried out in reality, and vice-versa.

As a technical person in a supervisory role, I naturally supervised everything I had competent skills in. This meant everything in CG post-production, whether it would be as high-level as a pipeline development, or low-level as switching out a heat sinks from defective computers. This is just my nature. I like fixing, and designing things as well. There were some things that I initially didn’t always look forward to, like production shoots, but it was my job. And in the end, I learned to like it as much as a computer geek possibly can.

Through the intervening 5 years, the role remained as broad as I was. There was no need to do less work. In Sporty Drive, I had taken more responsibilities than before, but no more than a CG supervisor of my expectations would have. This would be the only project in 5 years that I can confidently assert that gave me a sufficient level of satisfaction after its completion. But from then on, as if on the downward phase of a sine wave, it became a challenge of enduring the tedium of the advertising world.

Tokyo Ghoul was the last major project I worked on in that studio. And I mention this because it serves as an end reference point for my role as CG supervisor just before I left. We hired a new great TD, originally from Weta, and both worked — in tandem with the main studio in Japan — on some shots for Ghoul. Our major task was rigging, though we also did some animation, too. Although I had been usually the one to work on rigging in the past, the studio execs and producer wanted to leverage our new TD’s expertise and occupational history to impress our Japanese counterparts, so all of the rigging work was assigned to him.

I was left to become a visual effects producer of sorts. I helped write the final visual effects breakdown; since our work was technical in nature, I wrote documentation and emails explaining the technical concepts to a non-technical Japanese translator: what problems we were having, the details of what we need, what the rigs are meant to do, etc. I created video tutorials for workflow suggestions (that sometimes had nothing to do with rigging, but simply a knowledge exchange between CG artists), and for explaining the rigs we were delivering. It echoed my Lifeway CG teaching days.

(I also did some animation: when we couldn’t afford to get animators in, I took over and animated a few shots in the end.)

You can say that my role was largely educational and social. It was challenging and it was important as well. I’m aware of that, and I’m fine with it. But this isn’t the sort of thing that I’d been wishing for. In fact, this was certainly a step in the wrong way, and a step that I had been forced to make gradually over the years.

The execs do not have any sense (tactically or strategically) for technicalities of CG production, so they habitually nod their heads in feigned consonance whenever I relate anything related to technology or software. Thus it becomes a difficult proposition to build anything of substance in an environment where pipeline is only just a word bandied about creative directors who want to sound cool among production people. It’s not real enough for execs; it’s not as real as clients’ whims, it’s not as real as the debates of the philosophy of creativity that I used to hear in our open-space office, it’s not even as real as promised money.

I am not exaggerating when I say that though I had been coding the studio’s pipeline for 5 years, the execs have assumed that I don’t actually code, and perhaps they think I just download plugins and scripts. Anyone who truly knows my development work will probably laugh at that bit of irony. And I’m laughing a bit, too. (Of course, never mind the 10 odd years prior of doing code; to some that’s ancient history.)

Perhaps they lacked confidence in my professional pedigree, or they didn’t know enough to understand any other aspiration apart from theirs. Perhaps, perhaps. Either way, I saw the trajectory of where I’d end up, and if I wouldn’t be out of a job due to redundancy, I would have been out of my mind in boredom.

So, in the end, when an opportunity presented itself to do a bit of original coding related to Iray, Janus, and LightWave, I took on a contract, despite its short term.

I think there’s a point when many factors for quitting converge. But some seem so charged with emphatic resonance that you’d think that was the primary reason for changing your job (or your life). People might say they hated working with so-and-so, or got paid peanuts, or felt no respect from others, or the workplace was stressful. But all of them helped to make it worse, until at one point, not any one of those factors is going to be enough to make it better. When the bad stuff accumulates, it hardens after a time. Then, even if they worked on getting new tables, lamps, decors, heaters, hardware, software, or whatever to make it seem that they’re addressing issues, everything wrong has accumulated to the point none of it matters. Because none of them, by themselves, matter anyway. As one the execs — an example of irony if I ever saw one — used to pontificate: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And so truly, it is: when the parts are faulty, the whole is more faulty than the parts.

Never forget.


Kerry Logistics’ Video Wall

This project is not classified as a commercial. It was meant to be privately displayed inside the company’s (Kerry Logistics) reception area. It’s a couple of metres high, six times across. Pretty big, if you ask me, though I’m sure there’s always some guy who can pee higher. There always is.

Anyway, that’s the reason that I can’t show, at least in its final form, what it was. But I do have pictures — pretty pictures — of the stuff that I got to contribute.

Mocap data, to geo in Maya, then LW for point rendering.
LW nodal displacements with the help of Denis Pontonnier’s tools.

Particles made easy by LW’s nodal displacement fancy-footwork.
Additive particle morphing in LW using nodal displacements.
RealFlow HYBRIDO sim. LW for instance rendering.

Mass transformations using Denis Pontonnier’s toolkit and LW instancing.
Nixed scene. LW displacements, scene and render.
Motion graphic shenanigans in LW using 2-point polygons and instancing.

The keyword in this project was ‘repetition’. Now, a guy in the studio kept using the word ‘iterative process’. But no: this wasn’t iteration. Iteration means:

…repetition of a mathematical or computational procedure applied to the result of a previous application, typically as a means of obtaining successively closer approximations to the solution of a problem.

The operative phrase is ‘successively closer approximations to the solution of a problem’. If it were actually the case that in the so-called creative industry that iteration existed, of which my experiential opinion says is more of anomaly than a rule, it would follow that some end goal could be discerned at the beginning. This was not the case here. It began with an idea, then killed, to reincarnate into a new form, killed again, rose from the ashes, ad nauseum. Indeed, nausea is actually a good word for it. Isn’t just better just say repetition to be truthful? Instead, we are encouraged to think it’s iterative, so as to regard each ‘iteration’ not the pointless exercise it actually was.

Here, I also encountered the novel concept of ‘not second-guessing’ the client. What this actually meant was that ‘the client doesn’t know what they want, but we do.’ Basically, a Jedi mind trick. The hilarity of it all is that we’re not Jedi. No indeedy. Hence, the bulk of the setbacks were clients totally rejecting the concept and, despite the studio’s assumptive airs, we took it by the balls — what choice did we really have? They were the ones with the money — and re-did it again and again and again. Joke’s on us. Actually, joke’s on me, because I was at the bottom of that food chain. As I say, things like money/wealth may be too dense to trickle down. But work, overtime, and frustration, those things don’t sit at the top for too long.

At the of the day the repetition stopped. Where we got to is for Kerry Logisitics employees and guests to see. Where we had came from is, as they say, history.


Commercial: My Tax

Click picture to view on Vimeo.

My last NZ-based shoot. These were a series of commercials. We shot in around Christchurch in many different locations for several days. Rob McLaughlin was director, and Warwick Wrigley the DOP. This was a great experience working with this crew.

In this project I was primarily the on-set visual effects supervisor. Back in the studio, however, I had really nothing much to contribute as the post-production crew had already been slated. I had been assigned to work on Toyko Ghoul following the conclusion of the shooting.



Commercial: Pepsi Emoji



This project, far in time (relativistically, not relatively, since I’m feeling scientifically pretentious at the moment for no apparent reason I can point out), is but a blur to me. Done primarily by Terry (rendering), I helped by the theoretical workflow and literal rigging of the bottles, including the liquid inside the bottles. The sand animation — not really sand, but the deformations applied to make it appear that the bottles are interacting with the sand — were done by applying ‘shrink wrap’ deformers. That came as an afterthought, obviously, because the timeframe was so short, one couldn’t think beyond a few days.

Watch the series on Vimeo below, if you’d like.

Quiet air

What cold light is.

Aging past desperation. Someone’s idea of excitement is a rusty barrel of boredom. Searching for air to breathe, gasping for time to breathe. Hoping like a dying man. Choosing like a prisoner.

Writing notes, pathetic to the immensity of slipping time. It helps to hold on to that dream this morning. But the immensity sees the notes away, displacing all things.

The grieving of the stoic face. Someone’s smile that is impossible to share. Running to and fro futility and stupor, up and down promises and neglect.

The quiet air full of prequel wishes.

3400AD: Set concepts

Back alley, Letigus, Sleeper Service; Central District, Slum side
Spaceport; immigration booth closeup
Unknown country scene; Possibly The Hills
The Registers (Registrars); Central District
SuperRail and Underground Access
The Tower (of Power); Central District

These are some of the concepts I’ve been working on which were based on the initial write-up for the idea of the game. The drawings depict several locations that feature heavily in the game, some of which I had no idea how they looked like until I got down to actually drawing them. Each drawing is different, too; the style of construction, for example, varies from structure. After several drawings it felt that there was a little bit more consistent personality in them. But I still have to work that through.

At the end of the day, it will either be 3D models, or illustrations, and I think I can consolidate the styles then.

These series of drawings began as a test drawings for actual adventure game scenes as I expected them to be rendered on-screen. But because there was a big gap in visualising the game thus far, I strayed from this and started to explore how the world actually looked like.


Commercial: Tip Top Popsicle Smoothie

This one was a long, drawn-out schedule. In order to accommodate its numerically-challenged budget, it was thought that the schedule could be extended to several months so that we could put in other jobs in between this one. However, near the end of the schedule, we started picking it up again in earnest, and ended ironically with a quick tempo. Over-extended jobs like these invariably turn out to be rush jobs in the end. This wasn’t the case of procrastination, but the limiting of hours that could be spent on it. Consequently, we were set to do other jobs, and in the end, it could be argued that we had to spend more time on it due to the inefficiency of going back-and-forth different things.

My contribution to this ad was that I helped think out the render strategy, helped the render layer setups, modelled the base of the blender (yay!), troubleshooted character models as it relates to the rig, did the white mist effect using Maya fluids, did a breaking ice simulation that replaced by another simulation, helped shade a few of the elements, and assisted in the initial comping.

The render strategy was thought out early; we saw the character design as a final art for a poster, and Terry and I worked out the booby-traps in making this character work in 3d. It all boiled down to the refractive properties of the characters especially around the cavities (eg eyes, mouth). If modelled literally, the character would look wrong (and slightly horrific) in many angles, since the glass would refract the dark cavities.

The solution was to make render the glass as though the smoothie content was unbroken by the mouth or eye cavities. This way, the refraction was as seamless as possible.main_v010_BTY_blenderGlass.0039Then, it was a simple matter of comping, using masks, the mouth cavity and eyes, and the rest of the limbs.



Apart from my usual responsibilities maintaining scene integrity throughout the whole project, one of my other main contribution, was rigging the characters, which I used AdvancedSkeleton with. The rig went through a lot of iterations in its cycle, mainly to do with consideration of the render elements that changed as we moved forward. Towards the end, collision objects were added into the rig to affect the ice that broke apart around the characters.

Because these two characters were identically in many respects, yet had considerable differences, too, I opted to create a generic rig was which featured elements from both characters. The most notable feature are the fruits sitting on top of the characters. A simple boolean switch handled the switch between the ‘pink’ and ‘purple’ characters.

In keeping with Sandline workflow the rigs had to be uniquely named, so I wrote a simple variant export. When a rig change had to be made, the generic rig was modified, and the variant export was done.

One of the workflow strategies we developed in the Mother Earth Pingos ad was using rigging low-resolution meshes into lattices in the rig itself, whose lattice points would be exported as vertex animation. Then we use the same lattice setup in the models file, and put the high-resolution meshes there. This is the approach we used for controlling the high-resolution fruit meshes on top of the character (though, on reflection, a lower resolution would have sufficed).

2016-02-10 12_40_21-Autodesk Maya 2015_ r__3d_2015_07_TipTop_Popsicle_Smoothie_3d_scenes_rigs_PINK_r