Me? Sleeping? Anything but. I understand where you’re coming from, though. I mean, it was yonks ago when I said I was cracking on with a sequel to Borobo Reef, right? That’s true, that’s true.
I’m still running with that, sitting somewhere around halfway done with the first based on a desired word count. Halfway. I’d love for it to be further along but stuff just gets in the way. Urgent stuff. Stuff that can’t wait.
For starters, I’ve designed, re-designed and then re-re-designed an electronic solution. I confess I had to grab my old books off the shelf and do some scrambling to remember the differences between my PNPs and my NPNs and figure out how to do high-side switching. There have been many nights in the cold garage, hunched over a soldering iron, burning my fingers and breathing pungent fumes of flux, and even more nights drawing up schematics and placing components on a circuit board.
That’s not all. The Amazon AWS Summit was on up in Sydney. We like to keep our finger on the pulse of technology at OrderMate so up I went to see what I could see. It was a real eye opener, to say the least. The rate AI is progressing is nothing short of astounding and the demos and presentations given were inspiring. Almost as inspiring as the city of Sydney.
Along with all the travel and fiddling with resistors, I finally got to sink my teeth into custom graphical images on thermal dockets.
Hey, it’s a big deal, alright? Devs get excited by these things. Well, there’s that and a handful of larger enterprise developments that need development.
And craft. And videos. And learning how to box. And teaching Joey how to box, and play basketball, and draw, count, spell and read. Then there’s heading to the local school fetes and various birthday parties and helping out with homework and making scarecrows (I’ll post that soon, don’t worry), so there has been very little time left over to sit in front of a keyboard with a cup of tea and type.
That said, I’m working at getting myself back into a rhythm. Watch this space, I’m still moving, just spread too thin.
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?
Opening up Synfig, I set the dimensions to 1280 x 720, which gives a 16 : 9 ratio, ready to go.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
There are three key sounds in this scene:
The Professor nattering to the Protagonist about it being dry on the porch.
The key turning and the door opening.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There I was, at Officeworks, looking for a present, when I saw this little puppy looking at me with sad eyes:
I 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’.