The Front Porch at Grosvenor Lane

With the backdrops pretty much ready to go, with the exception of the fireplace, which needs some serious shadows, I’ve been looking at the animation side of things.

Nothing gets stuff done like getting stuff started, eh?

Synfig

Opening up Synfig, I set the dimensions to 1280 x 720, which gives a 16 : 9 ratio, ready to go.

Synfig-properties.png

Now, the scenes are to be slow and progressive so, unlike Adaptation which was more a collection of conceptual shots, I’ll be looking for a lengthy time span of about ten seconds. At a frame rate of 30 fps, that’s, uh, wait, let me get my calculator out… carry the 1… 300 frames.

Synfig-properties-time

Hit the OK button and get ready to rumble.

I start by adding a flat colour for the background. Black is good, considering the number of shadows. Why do I need a background if I’ve got a backdrop? If any part of the backdrop image happens to be transparent, or if I use a layer over the top which modifies the alpha of the backdrop, I don’t want to make sure it doesn’t use white or something to compensate.

Anyway, with that in place, I add the backdrop of the door frame (taken from the actual cover. Yes, it’s grainy. Yes, it’s dark. That’s ok. The scene is at night, and it’s going to be a bit further away than our Professor, anyway. The door, however, is sharp. This is where the Professor will be spending some time opening up the lock.

So I insert the door and, presto, I’ve got a front porch!

FrontPorchInitial.PNG

Props

Now I want to be able to move things about. I want the Professor to walk from the right, over to the door while chatting to the protagonist, unlock the door and open it. And for extra focus and ‘night time’ness, I want there to be some evidence of a lantern.

ProfessorBody
The Professor’s Torso

 

 

ProfessorArm
The Professor’s Arm

I’ve broken up the Professor into two main parts: his arm, which will move about to give an impression that he’s not just a cardboard cutout, and his torso. Both the arm and torso will belong to a group so that, as the Professor ‘walks’, the arms and torso bob at the same rate.

FrontPorchWithProfessor.PNG

I’ve added the ‘lantern’ to the Professor group, so that it, too, moves along with the body. It’s really just a shroud, a radial gradient of zero-alpha to full, with a heavy offset, such that everything outside of the lantern’s influence is dark.

You’ll note, on the time line there, the bunch of green dots. This is the motion of the Professor, stepping and bobbing along. The green is Synfig’s TCB waypoint inference. It gives a looser waypoint than clamped or ease. If I set them all to linear or clamped, the Professor would be marching like a soldier. As it is, his gait is more natural.

All that’s left to do now it animate the door opening, add in a warm ‘lantern’ glow to the radial gradient and shade the door more as it opens to give an impression of darkness and depth.

Sound

There are three key sounds in this scene:

  1. The Professor nattering to the Protagonist about it being dry on the porch.
  2. The key turning and the door opening.
  3. The ambient rain, a crucial element of the story.

Getting the key and lock sound was fairly simple. I went out the back to the gate and practiced with the slide bolt. A few trial runs and I recorded it on my phone, picked the best sounding one and cleaned it up in Audacity. More on the cleaning-up bit later.

The voice was more difficult. Where, oh, where does one find a Victorian Professor in the middle of outer Melbourne suburbia? I tried a few online services, but I couldn’t get the voice actor I was after. The ‘British’ was either too uppety, too young, too old or, in most cases, too damned expensive. I’m working on a shoe-string, here.

Fiverr looked promising. There are a lot of voice over artists who are willing to lend their talents. Checking through the various videos and samples, though, it seems it’s mostly geared toward reading scripts for advertisements. Not what I’m after.

In the end, I put on my best ‘old-but-not-too-old’ British accent, practiced again and again and again. And again. Then recorded myself. Yeah. That’s what I did. I hope it sounds right. You know when you hear your voice on tape and you think, “Heck, is that me?”

Lastly, the rain. I haven’t got that sound clip yet. I’m expecting it to rain here in Fawkner tomorrow, and I’ve got a nice corrugated iron cantilever out the side that should sound awesome.

Anyway, back to Synfig: I tried adding these sounds as ‘sound layers’. That is, one adds a layer of type ‘sound’, points the sound file to the .wav or .mp3 and then set the offset.

Synfig-sound-layer.PNG

This seemed the perfect way to add sound to the clip apart from two things.

Firstly, it didn’t always play. Every so often, when re-running the clip, I’d have to select the layer to give it a poke, and the sound would then play. OK, no biggy. So long as it exports…

It didn’t export. No matter what format I exported it as, the sound didn’t come through in the final file. I vaguely remember having this issue with The Bullet. My solution there was to add the sound when assembling the final video. I guess I’ll have to do the same thing here.

More on the sound and Audacity in the next post.Mini Jeztyr Logo

Thank you… You’re Wacom.

One of my biggest bugbears when it comes to digitizing pencil scratchings is that I have to do my sketching on paper, get my phone out, take a photo – with a black piece of paper underneath to hide the stuff on the other side – then transfer that via bluetooth to my machine, process it through Gimp to get rid of the noise and stuff, despeckle, desaturate and use the threshold command to get the ‘black and white’ levels, mask one over the over to retain the gradient of the pencil or pen, and, finally, use my clumsy mouse for shading and colouring.

Ouch.

I’ve been drawing with a mouse since the old 286, and it’s fine and fair enough for this and that but, really, what I’ve been after is a way to draw / sketch / paint directly into the machine.

Intuous Art by Wacom

There I was, at Officeworks, looking for a present, when I saw this little puppy looking at me with sad eyes:

cth490k_galleryimage_1_600x600_emea.jpgI thought, “Nah. Nahhhhh.”

I did a skip around the store, found the present and was about to leave. I looked back. It was still there. “Take me home,” it said, not forcefully, not appealingly, just sagely.

“Take me home. Use me. I’m what you’ve been looking for.”

I have an old (ooooold) Wacom pen and tablet thing. As a pointing device, it was great. As a drawing tool, no good. Naturally I was skeptical about this one. But times change, technology improves, things get better, kinks get ironed out.

I thought, “OK.”

The rest is history. And, I have to say, it’s awesome. It came with a Corel painting software with which it integrates perfectly. It responds to finger pinching, so I can move the virtual ‘paper’ around, or zoom in and out, without having to leave the pad.

But the really cool thing is that it’s pressure sensitive, so if I want to make light strokes, the corresponding lines are light. Push down and make darker, stronger strokes. The result is a very natural looking stroke for pens and pencils, even watercolours, oils and acrylics.

Blending and shading, as you can imagine, comes out tops. In Gimp, it’s not so great because it doesn’t respect the pressure sensitivity, but pop the picture into Corel and it’s like liquid. I can shade gently, I can shade hard, I can smear this bit, scratch that bit, and even layer it all.

Needless to say, I’m going to be spending some time with this little pooch to make the artwork for Grosvenor Lane Ghost. My pictures will have a lot of chiaroscuro, contrasting light and dark, so I’ll be working on shadows and shines a lot, lanterns, old fireplaces, that sort of thing.

What do you know? I haven’t been excited by technology for a while.

On a side note, I’ve found that this is pretty cool for my little Boy as well: I showed him how to paint with it, how to change the colours and make shapes and things. He’s still getting the hang of it, of course, he hasn’t actually mastered holding a pen properly, but he loves how Daddy can draw him a dragon or a car or a train or a tree or a face or a cat, and he can ‘colour them in’.

Bugger. Can’t stick it on the fridge.Mini Jeztyr Logo

Spirit of Inspiration

To make ghosts dance, one needs music.

Not only will it set the mood of the animation, if I do it right it will tie into the various scenes. The first question I asked was “what’s the mood?” Well, this animation is for the book, so the mood should reflect how the book reads.

Hmm. The Bullet is slow and sad, so that’s not quite right. Adaptation is paced and new age. Also not right. No, this needs to be light, in that it’s not a horror book, it’s a ghost book, so that means a little bit of creepiness, and it’s vintage, a tad ye olde world.

“Danse Macabre” sprung to mind. Remember that? Ah, yes. And that brought me back to when I was practicing scales on the piano, and there were the majors and the minors, and then there were some of the ‘advanced’ ones that I (vaguely) remember. The octotonic (I admit, I had to go rifling through google for that one) scales had that sort of ‘unclean’ feel about them.

Before you open up a can of music-theory-whoop-ass on my posterior, just remember that I’m a writer, not a musician. Actually, add to that pile ‘producer’, ‘animator’, ‘sound engineer’, ‘post-producer’… Anyway, if you can bear with, I went out onto the organ in the garage – hello old friend – and fiddled about with scales, noting some of the chords that sounded about right.

Melody

The Bullet score came from a tune I had stuck in my head for years. The Adaptation ditty was inspired from a mix of “Ship To Shore” and some old piano exercises. For Grosvenor Lane Ghost, I’m going with something altogether different.

One big lesson from the previous projects was to start with the tune and leave the bass and beats and accompaniments for later. Secondly, choosing the primary instrument, while easily changed at any point using Anvil Studio, is best done early: While plotting music, if it doesn’t sound right, it could be because rather than a Honky Tonk piano, one needs a Flute.

So there’s me, sitting at work, trying to get raster images to print to thermal Epson docket printers with wonky Escpos (ask me about it sometime ­čÖé ) while tumbling through random tunes in my head. No good. There’s me on the bike ride home, skipping between cars and ducking underneath trucks while pounding out ditties through my brain. No good. There’s me sitting at home, slurping on a coffee, letting my fingers practice Phrenology, forcing a brass band to make music inside my skull. No good.

It doesn’t matter how hard you squeeze the toothpaste tube, nothing will come out until you take the top off. Fine, not totally true. Squeeze it too hard and you have paste across the roof, but you get my drift. I needed to chill. And for that, I turned to a dusty bottle of Hennessy and a creaky desk chair.Hennessy.jpg

K. I’m chillin’. Anything yet?

No. Mmm. No. Actually, yes. A quaff and a sit down does wonders. Tunes start to develop. Patterns. Memories.

Zig-a-zig-zig. What was that? Zig-a-zig-zig? The Spice Girls? Hmm, no. A violin? Ah. Zig-a-zig. A fiddle. Good. Fiddles are cool. What’s that? Well, that’s nice, too. A guitar. Hmm, a guitar and a fiddle. Not strummy, more folksy, more┬áplunk-a-plink-plink.

And so, I state with honesty, I started writing the music of Grosvenor Lane Ghost with zig-a-zig and plunk-a-plink.

I think that’s the beauty of Midi – it’s like sketching or scribbling. You can start anywhere. You can work at it and refine it down, a bit at a time, cut out the bits you don’t like, add more twiddle-dee-woo or change tappa-ta-ta-tap to doomfa-doomfa with a few mouse clicks and see how it sounds.

I’ve got six tracks, now, with a lead in using a celesta and a nylon string guitar (plink-a-plink). The melody is with a flute, harmony with a cello (zig-a-zig) and a timpani and xylophone making up the bass and beat. Too much? Probably. But, going back to how Midi works, if it is, I can always mute a track and see how it sounds, or mix up the instruments, swap the cello to a fiddle, or a harmonica, or adjust the volume, or, perhaps, just hit the save button, finish the cognac and hit the hay.

Don’t want to overwork it. Don’t want to lose my chill.Mini Jeztyr Logo

 

Making Ghosts

As previously stated, I’m going to be giving love to Grosvenor Lane Ghost in the form of an animation. I’ve learnt a lot from the Bullet, and from Adaptation, about the sound, about the music, about vectors and rasters and paths.

Making a plan

It all starts with a plan. I made a story-board for the Bullet, likewise for Adaptation, and I think that helped a bunch. I could see what I needed to make / draw / record.

What I didn’t see was exactly how much was involved in each scene. This is because my plan wasn’t fine-grained enough: “Brother Holland in the bathtub” doesn’t capture all that was eventually required to make that scene. So, too, “Crabman in front of building” or “Assault on Sanitation Facility”.

Sure, it helped break things down into manageable chunks, but each of those chunks was broken down on the fly. OK, I’ve worked like that before. Sometimes there are just unknowns. It’s a fact of life. However, if I sit and think about each scene, I can picture each bit that is necessary:

“Oh, I’ll need a sniper’s scope. And figures in uniform. And a background. And waymarkers. And text.” Right. That’s a whole lot more concise.

To ease the production, I’ve taken the story board, made scenes and, for each scene, detailed the rough time (it’s very loose at the start), the voice-overs, the sounds, the backgrounds and the props required.

And I came up with this:

GrosvenorPlan

Scenes on the left, assets on the right. And from here I can pick and choose the bits I need to make. Only got twenty minutes left on lunch? Make a differential thermometer. Have a couple of hours to spare, crank out the laboratory scene. Got a quiet (Yeah. Right) room? Record some voice-overs or sounds.

I’ll not working from start to finish, rather it’ll be a bit of this and a bit of that as I can fit it in. In an ideal world, I’d like to concentrate on one thing at a time. In a real world, that ain’t going to happen.

Besides, with technology today, I can work on (most) of these things during lunch, before bed, between dodging telemarketing calls or while watching tv.

Cool, Jez. What’s first?

Ha. Ha ha. Haaaaaa. Yeah. Meat or potatoes, right? Well, you know what? I’m going to have a little fun and start with the music. That’s right, I’m skipping to dessert.

Why? Because it’s fun. Really. It sets the mood for the pictures to come. And I think it’s important to have background music for a video rather than just sound. Not only that, if I’m going to make a bunch of these (one for each book in Paranormology), then I’ll want to have a ‘theme’ going, a tune that is associative with the series, not just the book.

Which means making a ditty. And since MIDI is such a wonderful way for a single shmuck to make music, and considering I already have Virtual Midi Synth installed, I’m going to go bury myself in my earphones.

Look out, Anvil Studio, here I come!Mini Jeztyr Logo

We want you to make it free

You there! Did you know that you already own several of my books?

Open up your favourite e-reader or e-book application and go right ahead. Put in Jeremy Tyrrell into the search bar and go for it. Download and share to your heart’s content.

Wait, are you with Amazon? Well, that might pose a problem.

The Problem

The problem is this: Amazon refuses to allow me to make my books free. I physically cannot, in the little price editor thing that they’ve got, set it to zero or blank or null. In fact, I cannot set it for anything less that 99 cents.

That’s their business model, and, if I wish to distribute with them, I need to follow suit. Fair enough. It’s their platform. Their ones and zeroes. Thing is, my book is my ones and zeroes, and they should be yours, too.

Sure, you can download the .mobi format from the Smashwords site for free, I don’t know how that plays with adding it to your account, or whether you can share it, or if it goes from device to device or what.

And, really, why should you, the reader, pay for something that everyone else gets for free, simply because of the carrier?

The Solution

The solution, I found the other day, is that Amazon will honour competitor’s prices. So, for example, if I were to post one book on iTunes for $5, and on Amazon for $6, Amazon will, wisely, match the $5 price tag (same currency).

The only thing you, as a reader, need to do is inform Amazon of the cheaper price. Above the ‘Author Info’ and below the ‘Product Details’ is a little option to ‘tell us about a lower price’.

To do this, you need to be on the .com website, not the .com.au. It’s not there for some reason. Don’t know, don’t care.

LowerPrice.png

When you click on this, it expands to ask ‘where’ and how much. Bung in a competitor’s page, like the one from Barnes and Noble:

MakeItFree

Here, copy and paste this for Grosvenor Lane Ghost:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/grosvenor-lane-ghost-jeremy-tyrrell/1120385725?ean=2940046187342

And put in 0 for the price and shipping, click Submit Feedback and Bob’s your uncle.It says Thank you for your feedback, and the dialog goes away. I think that it is a manual process to validate, but, I assume, once they’ve approved that it is indeed cheaper at Barnes and Noble, they’ll let you have it for free.

Go nuts with Jolimont Street Ghost, and Atlas, Broken. And Adaptation. You can find the links to them in the side bar of this website.

Boom. Thank you. The books are yours.

Please enjoy them with my compliments and gratitude.Mini Jeztyr Logo

 

Format, Distribution, Promotion…

Publishing Jolimont Street Ghost should have been a ‘crack a beer and take a week or two off moment’. After all, the hard stuff is done. Writing and editing and proofing and all of that stuff. Done. Front cover and page dimensions and blank space checks. Done. Converting and publishing and getting it approved. Done.

Then what?

Then comes the next part, the bit you really, really wish you could forget about. Jolimont Street Ghost was pushed up in digital format (a little early, but let’s not dwell) and, thanks to Smashwords’ awesome Channel system, it gets distributed to a lot of major players like iTunes, Barnes and Noble and Kobo, along with newer ones like Scribd and Overdrive and Txtr.

Is there a glaring omission to this list? Amazon? One needs to do that oneself. That’s not a failing of Smashwords, rather that’s an annoying fact of Amazon. I won’t go into my usual rant, suffice to say it takes a bit more work to take what you’ve already done and distribute it elsewhere. Google Play? Same deal.

So to distribute it via the ‘other guys’, it’s a matter of copy-pasting a lot of the meta-data, title, series, author, ISBN, etc. and going through the motions on their sites, uploading in the correct formats – epub, png and pdf for Google, mobi and jpg for Amazon – and then submitting for their scrutinisation.

Other issues

The genre issue is a funny one. Seems everyone has their own way of doing it and, while there appear to be standards, not everyone uses them.

For example, with Paranormology, I believe it sits somewhere in a “Ghost” genre, rather than “Horror”, but that isn’t always available at all distributors. OK, so “Science Fiction” is too broad, “Paranormal” exists in one standard but not another. Sheesh! At this point it’s a best-effort approach, near enough is good enough, move on.

Tags. This is another point that has me confuddled and bewused. Some distributors like single words, others like phrases, some have unlimited tags, others a maximum. Don’t put the title in the tag, but try to keep tags similar to books of the same type… Yeah, again, I hit the Sheesh! button and give it a best effort once more.

Anything else?

Of course. This is just what needs to be done to get it up and out. After that, you need to download it all again in the various formats, to make sure the formatting ain’t up the wall. You see, converting your manuscript to ePub and Mobi and PDF and RTF can leave weird spacings or blank pages or dropped fonts, all of which looks unprofessional and is distracting to the reader.

My advice is to follow the Smashwords’ submission guidelines. Their converter is very decent and works like a charm so long as you stick to the guidelines. Sure, you can always re-submit if you need to but, trust me, you don’t want to.

After all, there’s a headless beer slowly getting warmer over there…Mini Jeztyr Logo

Jolimont Street Ghost – Free at last!

Tada! Please find Jolimont Street Ghost at Smashwords, yours for free, with my compliments, in whatever format you like.

Cue the fireworks and open the champagne. OK, maybe I’ll just crack a beer and watch Hellboy.

You see, I wanted to hold off on the release until I had all my ducks in a row. I wanted it available in printed media, as well as on Google Play and Amazon, get the webpage up, and all of that stuff, but I, um, kind of mucked up the delay thing at Smashwords and, well, long story short: it’s out.

But, hey, it’s out!JolimontStreet

It’s released!

It’ll be up on Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Google Play, iTunes and Kobo in a day or two, and I’ll update the website accordingly, but why wait? Head to Smashwords and bag yourself a free copy now! (Besides, it ain’t gonna be free on Amazon).Mini Jeztyr Logo

Jolimont Street Ghost – Front Cover

For the next in Paranormology, I’ve gone back to the beginning in terms of my front cover, except that, unlike Grosvenor Lane Ghost, Jolimont is a fair bit darker and nastier.

Now, for the past three covers I’ve been the creepy guy curb-crawling around Essendon and Moonee Ponds looking for the appropriate house but, for this one, I needed a particular kind of townhouse: Two story, short front yard (if you can call it that) sharing its walls with its neighbours.

Yes sir, that meant a trip to Carlton.

Annoyingly, a lot of the best fits had trees in the way, or bicycles hanging out the front, or garbage bins overflowing with junk. I managed to get two decent houses, one a blanch (boring) white and the other a yellow and brown brick.

Guess which one I chose?

Anyway, here’s a sneak peek of the cover in progress.

JolimontStreet.jpg

I reckon the contrasting bricks makes for a most interesting title, don’t you?

Fun Fact: For the eagle-eyed of you wondering why the text is offset from the right some, that’s to do with the hard-copy version of the front cover.

Because of the way the printing presses work, you have a margin on the top, right and bottom of the image that is going to get snipped off and, what’s more, there’s also a ‘safety-margin’ that, again due to the manufacturing process ‘may’ get snipped off, and then you’ve got the ‘guaranteed-to-be-in-there’ bit.

There’s no margin of snipping or safety on the left edge, hence the left bias.

I’m making a habit, now, to start with the hard-copy version first, and tweak the wording over to centre for the electronic version. Stay tuned for more updates for Jolimont Street Ghost!Mini Jeztyr Logo

Adaptation Animation – Dynamic Changes

There is a temptation, with everything we create, to fiddle and poke and prod to get it ‘just so’. This applies to writing, of course, but also to drawing and, as I’ve discovered, animating.

The Conundrum

We start the creative process with an idea, vague or exact, of what we want to build. As we progress, the idea will morph as we think more and more about it, and it should, for rarely is an initial idea perfect.

Things change, ideas change, the goal will change. A book, painting or animation is made up of many ideas, and therein lies the problem: the bits will change at different rates and in different directions. The struggle of the artist (read: one of the many struggles) is to keep all of the moving parts aligned an synchronised with each other.

That’s very much a software developer’s perspective, you can tell by the wording, yet it’s quite applicable.AdaptationAnimation

As I’m making more scenes, my drawing style is converging, so that my original sketches are dissimilar to my current ones. So too with the colouring. So too with what I intend to offer to the end user. Now that the music has come into play, the order and relevancy of the scenes is also under question.

Along with all of this, comes the desire to optimise before functionality has been achieved and, as any good programmer can tell you, premature optimisation is the road to Paintown, stopping all stations.

Solutions?

While things change, and they have to, its good to set a few core elements in concrete. For example, when it comes to books, I can maintain the theme, the premise, and the setting while being free to develop characters or explore morals, so long as they fit within the scope of the aforementioned.

Likewise  with animation, I am keeping to the original plan of showing parts of the story rather than telling the story. Which means that the scenes can be out of order in order to fit with the music, and they can take artistic license to render a scene conceptually, rather than in actuality.

Using this approach, it also shows me that some scenes that I had originally earmarked for inclusion no longer fit under the category of ‘an important part of the story’. In short, if the scene did not demonstrate something new to viewer, then there was no real point including it in the final cut.

I guess this is why film makers take so many shots and leave most of it on the cutting room floor. Not everything is relevant.

Also, since the music has been locked into about a minute or so, I’m restricted to the amount of content to include. This isn’t such a terrible thing. In fact, it solves the primary issue: I can’t afford to ‘optimise’ (tweak, fiddle, poke, prod, push, tap) until I’ve got the fundamentals laid out.

There’s a solution for you – limit the scope of any project, before you commit to too much, so that you are forced to really assess what must be in there and what would be nice, and what amounts to wood pulpMini Jeztyr Logo.

Export, Upload and Done

The Adaptation – Part 1 animation is now up on YouTube!

dance excited minions celebrate

A few of the posts regarding the scenes and whatnot didn’t make it, pardon my user error. They’re there, they just haven’t been ‘published’, most notably the ‘thermal’ imagery of Lucas’ sniper scope and the crabman at the firestation.

Anyway, that’s a minor thing. Right now I’m winding down after doing the rendering and re-rendering and tweaking and syncing and, yeah, I’m spent.

Without further ado (or animated gifs of minons):

Enjoy!Mini Jeztyr Logo