DAVID R STONG: August 2007 Archives

keyframer

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I'm not the type of guy to take any sort of comfort from having a label. I usually take pains to avoid running in a pack. In my efforts to find better ways to animate dialog and characters in Flash, though, I discovered that I have one: and it was a big refief.

I'm a keyframer. We even have our own website... or at least, one guy has a blog and forum. My Flash skills are primarily in being able to conceptualize on a timeline. I know some actionscript, but there's no denying that with any project, I'm better suited to illustration, character development, and animation than I am to gathering data for a data base or creating action with code. It's all part of that "visual" thing, I guess.

Working here, I've struggled with the difference. I'll still struggle trying to grow the backend skills, but I'll take some comfort in knowing that somewhere, my skill set doesn't put me at the bottom of the heap.

Meanwhile, this is an attempt at a new, improved technique for creating mouths that appear to talk. In a nutshell, the mouth is a movieclip with ten mouth positions, each on a different frame. With that clip selected on stage, I can treat it as a "graphic" in the Properties dialog, then choose to loop it so it fudges dialog, or I can choose "Single frame" to say what frame I want to show. Still a bit of work, but easier to manage than most other techniques. I'll do a video on it when I get some decent examples.

drawing epiphany

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Caricature.Actually, two of them- the first one happened years ago...

I always struggled with caricature. I've done them for friends and family, for fun and profit, sometimes succeeding sometimes failing. Mostly, I'm embarrassed, frustrated, and dreading the next one- while hoping for a chance to improve and really nail one.

The rendering process occasionally was very brief. Maybe I knew the individual really well and had mentally drawn their caricature dozens of times. I already saw the subtle nuance and knew how to capture it. Other times, I drew for days and days, generating hundreds of versions.

Caricature. Usually, I'd manage to get a line right somewhere. I'd trace that line onto vellum or cheap xerox paper on a light table and look for another "piece" that might be right. Maybe an eyebrow was the right shape, but in the wrong place. Depending on complexity, I may trace the new part onto the piece of vellum with the good first line. Often, though, redrawing would take too long and I'd cut out the part I wanted and tape it to my good page. When there were no more good parts, I'd try again, this time on vellum overtop of my first file. Occasionally I might draw a great eye, but it might be aligned badly- for that, I'd shift the vellum into proper alignment, tape it in place, then add a blank sheet for what was next. A nose, the lips, the line of a cheek or hair.

Caricature.Hirschfeld's work looked so effortless. No matter what I did it was always an almost endless and usually unrewarding process to get a look I'd accept. The times when I could knock one off at first shot were far too rare. By the time I could say "good enough" deadlines were far too close for polish.

Then one day I read an interview with Al Hischfeld. He talked about his process. He said that he usually had to produce hundreds of drawings, often getting an eye right on one and a nose on another. He'd trace parts on to vellum, cobbling together a master image that he'd trace, extremely large, as his final cartoon.

Caricature.Good grief. I was doing it the same way the pros did it. I was struggling the same way they did. It was okay to "work" at it; I didn't have to tear off a masterpiece in a flash. With the time they allowed Hirschfeld and the space to work large, I might be able to do work that wasn't a total embarrassment.

The second and by far the more important moment happened not long ago. I've always wanted to do animation. Create the story, develop the characters, do the drawings... working as a cog in a process never particularly turned me on, but working on the entire multimedia piece as an expression of my own vision has always seemed exciting.

Caricature.As a kid I tried sequential art and I made flip books, but the photographic process was always out of reach. Time. Money. Never enough of either.

Digitalia changed all that; no biggy there. But having the tools is considerably different than having the skill or talent. No matter how many times I tried, the results always, well, completely sucked. It felt very much like I had everything I needed except the talent.

The epiphany came while I was reading a new biography of Walt Disney. It's very dry, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, except for this one insight: the animators generally took two hours to do a finished character drawing. In Sleeping Beauty, one of the more stylistically simple Disney 'toons, the animators were under an extremely short deadline and had to crank up their speed- people drawing the girl had to try for eight pencil drawings a day.

Wow. Everytime I worked, I worked mostly to test concepts and experiment with software. I would be satisfied with crude characterizations and rough movement, but even with low expectations, I failed. Now I realized that it was okay to spend some time on the drawings. I never would allow myself more than a few minutes per frame; now I had learned that it wasn't remedial cartooning to take an hour.

FMS

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It feels a tad strange thinking we're finally casting about for video solutions for Penn State. We've had that Flash Media Server on the back porch for what? A few seasons now? We may have to pick the dried leaves out of the spider webs, but I think it's still serviceable...

So far, we've seen regular instances of its reliability, while even the almighty Quicktime Server occasionally falters. I'm sure the Media Server will too, with harder use. We may even need to have a hosted solution to meet the demands from 80,000 students uploading phone videos for their friends and parents. And their course work... With Photoshop and our handy Flash Media Server, even I can do video. If you read this in an aggregator, check out the original front page version so you can see my Experiment with Flash Video placed in MT with a Widget what a kluge...but with the backend in place, I can do somethig nice and just drop it in.

Their are quite a few notable examples of Flash Media Server driven video sites. SchoolTube is a biggy. So is TeacherTube. EASE History isn't so well known in general circles. It grew out of Michigan State's Cognitive Flexibility Lab. Conitive Flexibility Lab? Wow; these guys are in the Big Ten.

Video is the new text message. Check out eyejot. Be there or be ...round.

Photoshop video

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No... not a Photoshop tutorial. I will get to demonstrating by video some useful and esoteric Photoshop techniques, but this isn't a demo. It's an example.

Photoshop Pro in CS3 can open, manipulate, and re-export video as well as export newly created animations. Video can be edited
and animation produced inside Photoshop Pro.
Opening and tweaking video was an unadvertised feature in the beta release, and it took me a while to see what they kept and what they improved in this final release. I'm not a video guy by any means, and this 10 seconds isn't intended to wow anybody; I'm only saying it's here, and this photoshop video experiment is where I am after a first take.

The clip that I linked to is a streaming Flash version. I seldom have problems with the Flash Streaming server, and after spending much of the morning troubleshooting my attempts to get a hinted Quicktime to play well on the QT Streaming server- I gave up. Hell with it; life's too short. Unfortunately I don't know if the problem is Quicktime, the server, Photoshop, or, ummmm... user error. But I do know that once I find the damned Flash Media server, it works.

There's a lot of potential apparent already, along with a lot of first generation pain in this new Photoshop capability. The time line and some of the functionality, looks like After Effects and Premiere. In fact, the hope is that the three, along with Flash, can become a well integrated symbiotic creation tool. Photoshop automatically tweens (called "interpolation") position, opacity, layer style and text warping. It doesn't tween transformations, though. And some of the editing controls seem pretty cryptic. I hope the new way of accessing these apps via a keyed server takes the interoperability and processing demands into account. I hear After Effects is integrated pretty well with Flash, and I foresee heavy use...

Have I ever said how happy I am that Adobe now has Flash? Already there are benefits. Already ActionScript is becoming more ECMA compliant. Life is so good. Too bad I learn like an old guy.

HDR: my last words

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Maybe.

Low dynamic range photo of the engineering underpass. If there's one thing the HDR photos on Flickr aren't, it's HDR. I finally realized that all of the shooting, all of the reading, all of the dialog boxes just resulted in images with mashed up detail in both the shadows and the highlights. I can do it much more easily if I can see what's going on. A final "Tonal Mapping" conversion dialog that let me choose from four methods, was just too much. (Incidently, if you do go the HDR route, I think "Local Adaptation" is the most adaptable, controllable mapping choice.)

Low dynamic range photo of the engineering underpass. I mentioned the old school Photoshop method in my last HDR post. There are several- some taking advantage of layer masks and adjustment layers. Here is a quick capture of the very simplest technique. It relies on the simple fact that selections are actually saved as 8-bit grayscale images. White is totally selected, middle gray is 50% selected, and black is totally masked. All the other 256 levels of gray represent an equal number of levels of masking. So instead of deleting bad parts, you could invoke a channel selection then open an adjutment layer with that selection appearing as a layer mask. The images here are images done "old school." Check them out- color and also grayscale for a more accurate comparison. Check out the vid. Try it. See if you agree that Photoshop HDR is really unnecessary...

So, I think that until we have cameras that can record the first part of an exposure separately from the last part of an exposure and give us 32 bit images, and we have 32 bit viewing devices, I'll leave HDR alone.

tablets

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I ran up to Stuckman yesterday with Wendy. We wanted to try the only lab version of a Wacom Cintiq at Penn State and their 144 lab has a 21 inch model. I've used a standard Wacom as my input device almost exclusively for over ten years. I have no trouble with drawing on my tablet while watching the stroke appear in another place, but some folks, new to tablets, do. Having the opportunity to try the Cintiq's direct-on-monitor input is something I can't pass up, even though for me it isn't necessary. Being able to use my tablet experience and expertise in consultation on a real project is a welcome novelty.

Unfortunately, the machine was down: isn't that a bit like
putting a racing saddle on a pack mule?
the monitor screen had a warning stating that some sort of installation procedure was taking place ( and had been taking place for at least the past 78 hours). We didn't want to interfere with any end of term installations, so I called the hotline and was told that I could reboot. We tried, got the same dialog again, then talked to a lab consultant. The young man was very polite, very attentive, very much in the dark about the Cintiq, and he called for help- which I imagine is in process...

I'm generally annoyed by most of the tablets I run across. Some have the proportions set incorrectly so when you draw a circle on the tablet you get an oval on screen, and users don't even seem to notice. Some are set up in "mouse" mode and users don't realize that there's another option; how do you draw if every new stroke just pushes the cursor along the same line? So when I saw that the tablet wasn't working in 144 Stuckman, I was annoyed but not surprised.

What was surprising was that the librarian who loaned out the pen remarked that she hadn't loaned a pen for months. In fact, she didn't know which pen went with the 144 Cintiq. I can't expect a librarian to track such things- my surprise is at the Cintiq's limited use. While we sat at the machine another student walked in asking about it, disappointed that it was down. We mentioned that we'd called for assistance and he replied that he was glad it finally would be fixed. Hmmmm.

One final thing was a surprise: the Cintiq was in a Windows lab, on a Dell. Excuse me, but isn't that a bit like putting a racing saddle on a pack mule? No wonder it gets limited use. and I'd been afraid we wouldn't get to use it because we didn't have reservations...

more HDR

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Grayscale photo of the engineering underpass. Slowly I'm getting bits of information about high dynamic range (HDR) images. Sometimes they're about Photoshop, sometimes about the camera, and sometimes I just get an overall confidence boost from the added practice. An article in Technology Review last week on new high contrast HDR displays gave me some info and raised more questions. (Take home from the article- if you're thinking of buying a high def display...hold off for a little while and high def HDR will be out.)

In the article I read that most of the current market for HDR is in the gaming industry. They use a lot of HDR video exported as 32bit per channel renderings from 3D applications. I also just learned that Adobe After Effects v.7 has the capability of editing this type of video. You can adjust lighting way beyond what you used to think was possible. But what would be our immediate gain in using the technology?

If you do a Flickr search on the tag "HDR" you get a lot of images. I'm impressed by the technology and a few of the images, but find many that seem pretty tacky. Most of the work is color- and it tends to be over saturated, flat, with unnatural contrast. It could easily appear on black velvet, or in a cedar frame with a light behind it and a waterfall that actually moves.

Merge to HDR Photoshop panel.The problem, I think, lies in the fact that there are quite a few choices to be made when you save the final JPEG for flickr, and very few people have the skill or sensitivity (as yet) to make the best choices. After selecting the images that you want to merge, they all open in the Merge to HDR panel. You can turn separate images off or on, choose final bit depth, and tweek an exposure "white point preview" slider. Clicking "okay" opens the final HDR file in a normal Photoshop window, except for a small slider in the window's lower bar that lets you continue to adjust lighting. There are a few commands available in 32 bit mode- Levels, Exposure, and Hue/Saturation for instance. The final conversion to an 8 bit (or 16 bit) image brings up more controls and more choices. With these tools, folks are making the kitsch.

Cattail as 32 bit and 8 bit.A benefit could be in the control: the continuing options after images have been shot. It would allow someone of limited camera skills to grab visual data that could be, essentially, reconstructed later. I tried to project some sort of scenario where I might recommend HDR techniques to a faculty member. A botanist, for instance, may use digital photos to make field notes. Bracketing the images, or shooting a variety of images at different film speeds, could help guarantee usable results under varying light- and skill- conditions. Deep woods shadow, bright meadow sun. No photography skills. Like using old-school curves, layer masks and channel opps, the expertise would need to exist for post processing.

Sassafras as 32 bit and 8 bit.I shot a series of plant images, as I thought a botany professor might. I did very little post processing, pretty much just what was required to get images on the web. The few plant shots shown here are double images, with the HDR merged group preview on the left and a single image from the group on the right. The image on the left, the HDR image, exists as a 32 bit per channel image that seems to be very tolerant of adjustment. The image on the right still exists as a 16 bit per channel RAW file, so is still somewhat adjustable, but I'm still assessing which is best.

Jewelweed as 32 bit and 8 bit.As in other HDR sessions, it 's obvious that a tripod and cable release are a necessity. In these HDR examples, particularly the cattail, you can see multiple leaf edges as the result of Photoshop trying to align leaves that were blowing gently in the wind. There is an "Allow Photoshop to align these images" option, which I leave on, but with some movement alignment is impossible. Also in the cattail HDR image you can see the sky is burned badly, where it isn't in the single version. That's a result of my including an overly bright image in my merge. The effect can be reduced greatly but not eliminated- so image selection, and ballpark correctness, are important.

If you want to open a 32 bit HDR, you can grab a cropped version of the jewelweed zipped here. Or, merge your own from these four cattail JPEG files or these five underpass shots.

Pen and ink sketch of the engineering underpass.
As an aside, after I shot the grayscale hdr above,I remembered this old sketch and pulled it out of a stack. I did it shortly after I moved to the area, summer of '79 or '80. I've done pastels of this scene, pencil sketches, watercolors, and taken lots of photos. I love to walk it. It's intriguing- the light effects are interesting, the architecture , too- but a motif is most often selected for the psychological impact on the artist. The subliminal implications of the visuals. I'll leave the Jungian symbolism to others; the need for academics to turn images into words has always troubled me.

early ramble

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When I came in this morning I had an Edutopia email newsletter. I love plugging Edutopia, and especially enjoy their videos. This newsletter contained a link to an article on Alice Waters called Learning Curves, ...Alice Waters' appearance on the Julia Child Master Chef series... I could get lost in this stuff which contained side links to videos on The Edible Schoolyard and a series of five video snips from Alice Waters' appearance on the Julia Child Master Chef series. I could get lost in this stuff. Alice Waters as a teacher? Wow! Her personality comes off a bit too sweet and precious next to Child but her food looks fantastic. Hand chopped tapenade, shaved fennel and raw mushroom salad with a touch of Meyer lemon... ya' know, if you want to eat like this, you have to do it yourself.

Recently, we've talked about Keller's book The French Laundry. Now I can also confess my affection for Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard website (never moved to read her books), and another book that I usually recommend as a cookbook, though it isn't a recipe book at all: Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Mcgee tells you why Hollandaise works, why meat browns, what sugar does in cakes. This is indespensible stuff for people who want to cook without tediously following recipes. For people who want to do it themselves.

Penn State
April 18, Symposium 2009; reimagine.
New content. Symposium 2008.Digital Commons at Penn State. Improve the workplace; hire for variety.

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