Latest Activity on my other Blogs

Mylenium’s Error Code Database

Mylenium’s Health Stuff

Myleniums Gesundheitskram

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Knit your own Fabric!

My hyper-stimulated nerd genes love dabbling in obscure “generative” software and node-based interfaces are just always nice, so quite imaginably, the now released Fabric Engine 2 with Canvas is just up my alley. For now it’s of limited practical use to me because the plug-ins for modo and Cinema 4D are still in Beta, but I might perhaps slap together a few assemblies just for fun. It’s available as a totally free unlimited evaluation (with a forced interruption every 15 minutes and a nag screen), which me like very much. For now that’s better than those 200 bucks a year for Houdini Indie, ‘cos my software budget at the moment is exactly zero, unfortunately.

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Sapphire goes 9

Same procedure as every year, I guess. Just like there will be predictably a new version of your favorite program every year, plug-in vendors follow suit and pimp their products in the same cycles. Sapphire 9 is now out for your pleasure and you can download it from the GenArts site. No real changes to the lens flares stuff, but a few new effects and of course a massive expansion on the Builder effects introduced last year. I’ve dabbled with it on and off, but I’ve been so busy lately, I never actually finished my presets. Maybe one of those days I get around to it and can dump them herefor everyone’s perusal.

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Grow me a Forest…

While I’m currently not using Cinema 4D, I still follow developments and combined with my obsession about virtual plant generation, Forester could be of some relevance, but then again maybe not. I take issue with a few things that are all too apparent even from the demo videos.

  • The trees look crude and very “artificially generated”. They remind me of a plug-in called TreesDesigner back then in the golden Lightwave days. Examples of those ugly trees can be seen in many TV series from that era that have Lightwave VFX in them such as Babylon 5 or Firefly.
  • The growth simulation looks just awful. Scaling your plants to make them appear? RLY?
  • The so-called “industry-leading wind effects” just look like what they probably are – some sort of 3D noise whose force multipliers propagate across the different sub-elements. Even the settings for it are a dead giveaway. if you need that many controls, then perhaps it’s not as sophisticated as they want you to believe. I always thought “real” wind behavior should automatically be derived from parameters like surface area, density/ rigidity of the lements and how elements facing the wind shield others, reducing the overall effect. Or in other words: It doesn’t look real at all to me.
  • Speaking of which, the whole interface seems like a bloody mess. There’s like twenty tabs and on each of them equally as many sliders. Given Cinema 4Ds architecture and paradigms, I would have expected a more elegant solution where e.g. wind would be a deformer.

With that being said, the part that’s enticing me is the Multiflora thing. There seem to be lots of ways to control distribution and some of the examples could indeed pass for a real meadow. Even if I always considered myself reasonably masterful at e.g. coercing MoGraph to place my clones where I wanted them, getting organic distribution of nature elements is an art in itself. You can have the most beautiful individual trees, but still produce an ugly forest, if you get my meaning. That’s definitely one of those areas where nobody has found the best solution yet.

It’s quite a mixed bag, but things being that there aren’t too many plant tools overall and most plant plug-ins for Cinema 4D have shortcomings or are dysfunctional in one way or another, it’s always good to have one more option. in fact if they can improve their overall user experience and quickly expand their plant libraries they could be onto something here.

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Miracles happen?

Maxon, what took you so long? When it comes to being closed up, they were closed up as someone who has been tied, gagged and plugged during a BDSM play session (yes, I know how that stuff works; feel free to ask). Gathering from this thread over at CGTalk it seems they’re finally coming around. Did Nigel and many others leaving finally change their minds? For now the pertinent takeaway is:

  • Cineware will use OpenGL previews in the next versions, though that was on of those “my mom could have told” you inevitable things. No real surprise there.
  • MoGraph is being worked on. My prediction is that they are probably taking a good dose of cues from X-Particles or integrate it right away. Otherwise it’s about time. Even when it was fresh, MoGraph‘s infrastructure was already superior to Thinking Particles and I just never understood why they didn’t move on from there.
  • Bodypaint is not dead. I take that mostly as a sign that finally there may be some decent UV layout tools one day. I’m not too convinced they could compete with Mari or Substance Painter for the actual painting, but anything is possible.

It may be worth keeping an eye on this thread and then later on their blog, though I wouldn’t expect them top tell you the color of their underwear. “Openness” from a company is a different thing than what users usually expect.

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After Effects repainted?

Things being what they are, After Effects is pretty screwed up these days. Not only is it behind the times in terms of technologies (notwithstanding of course some science-driven stuff like the Key Cleaner and Refine Edges effects) and performance, but also over the years many of its paradigms and tools didn’t turn out quite as powerful and useful in practice as when they were designed first. Throw on top of that the gigazillion bugs and some really piss-poor decision-making on changes in recent versions and you get the idea. Adobe are just lucky that nobody ever bothered to seriously come up with a high-profile competitor to that wretched little lady, so people keep using it for better or worse.

Just like everyone knows how the situation is, everyone also has ideas how to fix this and that. Usually this turns into endless frustrating and aggravating threads on forums, but sometimes people actually take the time to explain their position in more detail. This is what Sander van Dijk has done this time around. While he is to be applauded for working things out so detailed, to me it’s a very mixed bag.

Of course there are some very obvious things that make sense. I’ve long been saying that Shape Layers were never properly “finished”, so tapered/ variable width strokes and gradients on paths are “Your mother told you!” things. On the other hand it took 30 years to get such features in Illustrator… Similar things could be said for global expressions and the need for a built-in expression/ script editor and based thereon being able to generate script-based/ interactive output like SVGs for web use or JSON/ XAML packages for UI design.

Other stuff is what I would call nit-picky obsession over minutia. I’m not saying that e.g. the way keyframes are displayed is perfect or that blending behaviors in effects for Fill/ Blend with Original are always logical, but well, to me a keyframe is just some tick on the timeline and unless I dig into the graph editor or create a RAM preview, I never know how my layers will actually behave. In a similar vein one could argue that going crazy over icons or the layout of the layer switches is not a productive discussion, since the facade cosmetics won’t fix the deeper underlying problems like those layer switches being overloaded with functions or the program using system icons and file associations for source file types.

Finally there is stuff what I would call “convoluted nonsense” that misses the mark and doesn’t really offer a solution to some problems. A prime example of this are the various attempts to improve display of properties in the timeline by using tabular alignment . The real truth here in my opinion is, that After Effects simply shouldn’t be displaying so much stuff in the timeline at all. Wouldn’t it be wonderful (and much more stringent) if we had a proper attribute editor, a.k.a. a pimped effects palette, that would allow us to have some tick marks which property streams to display in the timeline, including base properties like position or rotation? After all, that’s how most 3D programs’ track/ graph editors work with their default “show only animated channels” option. In other words: We need more control over what we actually get to see, not just ways of making redundant information look good.

Similarly the proposed multiple Set Matte effects don’t really fix anything. The inherent danger is that you simply lose track of how things interact. You can easily try this already by stacking a layer with tons of Circle effects, using the Stencil Alpha mode, and then playing around with things like the Invert option and the effect’s opacity. I have done this lots of times for complimentary stuff to my lens flares and it can drive you completely nuts. Just changing a single effect at the bottom of the stack can completely destroy your work. In the grander scheme I do not feel that this offers a solution, though moving the matting to an effect without any of the fancies could still be useful to reduce UI clutter.

I could go on forever, but suffice it to say that to me many of those things feel only half-thought through. There is a clear bias on UI stuff and fixing some immediate issues, but I’m missing the broader vision. As I always like to say it’s not about trying to do things the way we do them currently, only slightly better, but rather some things needing to be re-thought from the ground up and I can’t see that here. Don’t misunderstand me – you can fall in love with some tiny things and they can greatly make things easier on a day to day basis, but you can only go so far. Conversely I feel that several of the proposed changes would lock users into other “bad” workflows like further overloading Alt/Option, Ctrl/Cmd and Shift keys with more “secret magic” based on what they are used for. This stuff has always has a way of haunting you later when you wish those combinations would do something different, after all.

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Micro-Plant-Station (or something like that)

The shuffling around in “the industry” continues. This time e-on Software got bought by Bentley (no, not those cars), which is an interesting move. While Microstation has been around forever, it’s actually one of the CAD programs I never got around to use first hand because none of our clients used it. Of course the cherry on the pie that they are probably most interested in is Lumen RT to provide packageable realtime presentations for CAD models and the like. Will be interesting how this turns out and in the long run affects other products. Popping in some The Plant Factory stuff in your building visualization is not that far fetched. BTW, I’m wondering if the modo renderer is still in there after they licensed it a few years ago…

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One of the strange and wonderful, yet highly unpleasant sideeffects of my illness is the difficulty in getting some decent sleep. I’m tired and exhausted all the time, but when it’s time to hit the pillow, it is often extremely difficult to find a restful position. The changes and inflammations in my tissues combined with the muscular spasms from the constant coughing cause all sorts of pain and cramps. That being so, I either watch stuff on DVD/ Blu-Ray until late at night or often wake up at the strangest times and see reruns or documentaries on TV. You’d be surprised what they show at 2 or 3 A.M.! Anyway, yesterday was one such day and they had Battleship on one of our “free” public TV channels.

Naturally it’s one of those movies that I’d never add to my collection, but there’s no harm in watching it at no cost. At least that’s what I like to think, but I honestly wasn’t prepared how bad it is. You know, there’s stupid movies and then there’s really stupid movies. Science fiction stuff always requires some suspension of disbelief, but man, I don’t even know where to begin. It’s essentially an overly long US Navy commercial and that already says a lot about “heroic” camera angles and what cheesy acting to expect. Aside from Liam Neeson there’s not a single good actor in there (an even he only does stiff paycheck scene chewing) and the whole script is like Pearl Harbor just with aliens. Wasn’t so bad if they only kept the action parts, but the first 45 minutes or so just drag on with “character exposition” in the worst way imaginable.

Once things get going it gets a little more bearable, but mostly in a cheesy, corny way. The dumbness of the military decisions is really at OMFG! levels and makes you wonder, how some people would have ever made it beyond their initial three weeks after joining the service. The aliens look a bit like those soldiers in the Halo games in their armour, but when they take off their helmets, they look like cave trolls from another notorious game. Just ridiculous.

Overall the production design is all over the place, which is the other big issue. The alien ships look interesting enough, but then they made the mistake of turning them into weapons-ladden dreadnoughts and all this technology still requires manual operators? Not particularly logical! There’s tons of water simulation and explosions and when you see them, you know where the bulk of the money for this movie went.

Inevitably, one of the things that sticks out are the lens flares. There’s no rhyme and reason behind their use and it really feels like different teams have worked on different shots and tried out every lens flare plug-in on the market with the most extreme settings and presets. Even in my more fancy fictitious presets I’ve always tried to give them a feeling of physical plausibility, but this is just completely whacky in a very negative sense.

The whole thing is just one hell of a mess, but at least some parts are actually entertaining. It’s nothing to plan your Saturday evening for, but if you happen to catch it on afternoon TV, are considerably inebriated/ stoned or just don’t care it’s an okay watch – once in your life and then most likely never again. That’s how forgettable it is.


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