I know that when he’s so terribly quiet, he’s usually terribly busy, but for a while there even I was getting worried about Mr. Kramer. After all it’s been almost three months. It’s good to see they left him out of his dungeon working on Star Wars – The Force Awakens. To be honest, though, I feel a little overwhelmed lately with all that Star Wars stuff between a new movie (or two) every year, new games, revived games, complementary comics and the usual merchandise. I will not pretend that I’ve been a die-hard fan (always been more into Star Trek) but the immanent danger is of course that you are missing essential parts of the story when you don’t care for some of that stuff or for technical reasons cannot play those fancy looking games that require decent hardware. The good news is that there’s tons of money involved, so perhaps I should ask A.K. to save the Error Code Database? So far response has been underwhelming and I’m more than inclined to just shut it down again and invest the money donated so far in my diaper stockpile (or alternatively a super-large plush polar bear I’ve always wanted) and not even feel bad about it…
My life in the digital world is full of on-off-love-hate relationships with specific software, and games are no exception. One of those is Tomb Raider and its heroine Lara Croft. I loved the original game back then on my first 486 DX PC. Inevitably I then also got teh second game and that’s when I already lost interest – the game just dragged on and was too long and repetitive. I even got myself a printed solution book (Do you kids even know what this is? ;-) ), but I never actually finished it.
And then for a few years I yawned bored and desinterested every time they announced another game and “rebooting” the series when in fact they mostly “reboobed” it to satisfy adolescent male gamer’s fantasies. I felt very vindicated when a few years ago I picked up Underworld from the budget tray. The same boring concepts just with prettier graphics and a lot of gameplay bugs. That’s exactly how you ruin a series that could be great by being greedy. I’m not even convinced the various current outings would be up my alley for the simple fact that there is too much action. One of the strong points to me always was roaming the halls and solving (logical) puzzles, not having to listen to endless “story” atmospheric babbling, killing opposing fractions or getting stuck in badly designed cul-de-sac situations you only get out of by killing yourself.
It seems my prayers have been heard at least a bit, and so I’m having quite a bit of fun playing Tomb Raider Go! on my iPad. The puzzles are challenging enough, but not overly so, so it’s quite enjoyable and even if you have to start a level again a few times after you got killed or did things wrong the solution comes to you quite naturally. The presentation is of course the highlight. I always liked isometric games somehow and this one was done with a lot of love. I even left Lara standing around in some segments just to watch the animation cycles of some bug or lizard in some levels. It’s amazing how effectively the graphical, reduced style works. I hope somewhere there’s someone already working on a second part (assuming same quality, of course)…
In the Möbius loop that is my precarious health, it seems I’m going through the same cycle over and over again, just in different intervals. The frequencies of my medical schedule – weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually – are like an interfering wave pattern that would create screechy noise in an analog synthesizer. One of those noises has now luckily been eliminated. With my escalating issues, the threat of Mucoviscidosis had been hanging over me for a while. You know, really nasty stuff with coughing up really gooey lumps of lung secretion that can be pulled out like a chewing gum. Finally yesterday we managed to pull together a sweat test at Universitätsklinik Halle and what can I say? – It turned out well in that it didn’t confirm the suspicion. In fact the values were so low, it would have looked good on a perfectly healthy person. While I’m glad that we have eliminated one potential issue, it’s also kinda frustrating to not know what’s going on. Anyway, it was an exhausting day getting up at 5.30 in the morning (after having barely slept due to digestive issues) and I quite literally fell asleep when I returned home in the afternoon…
My, what a week! The powers that be, meaning our MDK (Medizinischer Dienst der Kassen = Medical Evaluation Board), on behalf of my health insurance have force-declared me fit for work, so I have to re-enter the circuit of going on a hunt for a job after almost one year downtime. Suffice it to say that I and my physician absolutely don’t agree and we’re going to take action, but for now this is the harsh reality of it – having to look for work when you can barely get out of bed on some days and have two or three medical appointments every week. The people at the (un-)employment agency are going to love having me around as a piece of useless junk…
The whole affair bears a certain similarity to Adobe where releases are declared fit for release rather than actually achieving bug-free, stable and usable products. Weeks after the 2015 version was pushed out of the gates, still every second post on their forums is about something not working, and combined with their failing customer support, the place further deteriorates into a garbage dump. Which ultimately appears to be one of the reasons, why my Error Code Database is still enjoying a considerable popularity and the number of visitors is growing every week. That’s not bad and even surprising, considering that aside from sneaking in a few new articles from time to time I’m doing limited maintenance on it and it by no means is what I would call an up-to-date reflection of current technological developments. In light of that, it would be a shame to have to nix it again now that I’ve brought it back for the ump-teenth time.
That’s where you come in. As you see on the start page of the database, it’s been a while since some nice people sprung a bit of money for it and those resources from 2013 now have been gobbled up for good. Given my situation, I can’t afford to pour infinite resources into it myself and since there are a few payments due in October, now is as good a time as any to ask for your support. I’m not going to tell you how much we’re going to need, but suffice it to say that a handful of 5 Dollar donations aren’t going to cut it. This is more like a few hundred. So if you feel like it, head over to the page and hit the orange button and hit it hard. If you need to transfer larger amounts of money or are some wealthy investor looking for tax-deductible spending, feel free to get in touch. ;-) There’s still so much one can possibly do and as it is, I could probably spend a million on this and still not be done. Here’s the basic rundown of what good your money could do.
- Secure the running cost of this setup for multiple years.
- Upgrade to higher level WordPress plans so we can add more customizations to facilitate finding the right stuff.
- Cover more programs with articles.
- Hire people to co-write and translate articles.
- Create graphics and videos for step-by-step guides.
- Pay my software to stay current (yes, even I don’t get my programs for free).
- Get myself some hardware so I can check issues myself, meaning a Mac and a Windows 10 notebook or something like that.
- Provide direct support and maintain the database fulltime.
As you see, the potential is unlimited, but I guess your purse is not. In the end, we could be talking about 50000 Euros a year and more, if all my grand plans were to become a reality. So for now I shall be glad if the first two or three points will give us enough breathing room for a few years perhaps. Thanks for whatever you can contribute!
Wonderful song, isn’t it? I still have those pictures of Sinead O’Connor in my head… In the wake of the recent release of Cinema 4D R17 inevitably those questions popped up on my dashboard about an updated/ revised comparison of modo vs. Cinema. The bad news is, that I’m not going to do it. There’s a number of reasons for this.
First, the new version of Cinema is not yet available even. Obviously I would have to have been part of their Beta to tell you anything right now. Second, I quit my MSA early this year, so aside from the time-limited demo I won’t have access to the program. Not that this is a big thing – I wasn’t planning on going crazy over this, anyway, even if I would get R17. I’ve always been slow to move on to new versions, so it would have taken a while. Third, it’s a simple question of money. Even if I help The Foundry with modo occasionally, I don’t get my software for free. Technically I haven’t even upgraded to 901, though I’m lucky enough to be using it. Fourth and perhaps the most important part: I really don’t care for catching more flak from Cinema fanboys. Last years uproar over the revised version was downright ridiculous, considering that the original article had been there for over a year without anybody taking notice of it. Any offers on cooperation and adding a different perspective and corrections on things I may have gotten wrong were dismissed, so what’s the point?
Here’s the thing: I love myself having all sorts of software around just to satisfy my nerd genes, so if someone can pony up the cash or can provide free unlimited licenses I can still be a good boy and give you those updated articles despite my limited time (my illness is keeping me more and more busy), but otherwise you will have to look elsewhere for guidance.
The last one and a half week have been making ripples, well, waves actually, in modo land since they opened up an old wound regarding everyone’s favorite missing feature: The total absence of parametric, re-editable text, including options for extrusions, bevels and so on. that and of course similarly the lack of proper spline tools.
The facts of the matter are, that modo has been able to create 3D text for a while and correctly handles most fonts, but when it does, you end up with a set of converted polygons or a spline path, depending on what you choose. You can then edit, texture and animate them using modo‘s normal tools. Things like the bevel profiles may even help you to save time here. So far, so good. but what happens when your client changes his mind or you made a typo? Exactly! You start back on square one. You need to re-type everything, clean up the paths and polygons to remove all the extra points, extrude and bevel again, also with the usual cleanup operations and then start copying over your textures and animation. Pretty much the same is true for working with vector artwork. This not only costs a ton of extra time, but is prone to all kinds of errors. So where did the kid fall off the merry-go-round?
First and foremost the fundamental issue with modo was/ is that it was initially more or less conceived as an auxiliary tool for other programs. It started out as a modeling-only app, then at some point got a renderer for stills. For these workflows the rudimentary text and spline tools would have been acceptable, though not particularly elegant. Things got only really bad once animation was added and the opportunities for doing nice things with text and logos multiplied. People started to hunger for better tools, but somehow this stuff always fell between the cracks and other things took precedence. Add to that the fact that other companies kept improving their tools, so here we are now and still have not much to go on, not even a semi-official comment from The Foundry aside from the small streak of hope that SVG support was added in 901, which of course still remains impaired by the lack of proper tools. Now you may say that you don’t care, because you only do sculpting, retopo and otehr stuff that never requires you to use text, but here’s why this is so important.
I’ve mentioned text and spline tools for motion graphics. That is of course extremely obvious. Everyone needs some swirling title or a tumbling logo every once in a while. The creative use doesn’t stop there. In particular when you start thinking about dingbat fonts, a whole world of options opens up. Arrows and markers for infographics? Check. Randomized particle shapes generated at runtime? Check. Parametric profiles and shapes? Check. Countdowns? Check. Datagraphics and their readouts? Check. Renderable measurements? Check. The list can go on and on. When you consider the last point another use for text becomes apparent: Scene debugging, adding comments, creating descriptive placeholders, labeling auxiliary constructs used for selections and animation controls and so on. Currently you probably wouldn’t bother doing this in modo because it’s so much trouble, but I’ve used in in Cinema 4D more than often and other artists, too. Are you getting nervous already? Then let’s have a look at the spline tools (or lack thereof).
While the few things we already have in modo work reasonably well, they are only used in a very limited fashion, meaning you often only import artwork you prepared elsewhere and editing paths only happens when you use the tube tool, the spline guide deformer or the spline path particle modifier because, quite frankly, you want to avoid the awkwardness of having to use the spline handles. They’re not even drawing particularly nice and are difficult to grab. The biggest *doh* moment in modo is of course the complete non-existence of any parametric spline primitives, not even a circle or rectangle. Even for a simple floorplan you end up pushing points. SRSLY? That also already reveals a potential use case: parametrized construction stuff. Second to that, inevitably of course all sorts of animated extrusions spring to mind. The tube tool would be so much more useful if it remained “live” instead of converting to polygons once you drop it. Another thing that is sorely missing are easy ways to split, intersect, divide, merge and rebuild curves. The current way of adding points manually or with the knife tool then unwelding and re-welding them is convoluted, to say the least, and prone to destroying the shape you created. All of this by all means extends to imported logos and converted text. So what could be the possible ways out of the dilemma?
I’ll simply assume you know about this stuff in Cinema 4D and if you don’t, you can always watch a ton of tutorials everywhere or download the demo. Now saying “Simply copy the functionality from program XYZ” is usually the lamest way to request features, but in this case there is no better way to describe it. The whole workflow is pretty much nailed down to the T using MoGraph and existing tools and the new spline tools in R 17 will up the ante even more. I’m not sure if I’ll ever create swirlies this way, never having used the vortex tool in Illustrator even, and creating complex stuff is still probably done better in a dedicated 2D vector graphics tool, but it’s always nice to have options. Another solution is offered by Autodesk in their latest 2016.1 Extensions for Maya and MAX (videos here, here and here). The only issue I have with their approach is that it looks kinda over-engineered and they cram everything into one tool – not untypical for them and it kinda fits the way the program’s work, but not necessarily intuitive. If you get my drift: When working with text I would probably not so much be concerned with Newtonian fields and self collisions, but rather the letters ending up like glued into position where I put them when tweaking the kerning. In fairness, though, of course demo videos only show so much and it’s been a long time since I last used Maya. It may be much more streamlined in practice.
What am I saying with my long-winded hubub? It’s time to act for The Foundry. If a VFX-centric tool like Maya can have a not so bad 3D text tool, then this is even more mission critical for a tool like modo to attract a specific crowd and sell more licenses. Speaking of which – they have released a number of videos that should help to win you over…
At long last I managed to get myself Interstellar. I had waited until the pricing got a little more reasonable because I wasn’t in a rush and it’s one of the rare occasions where I consciously wanted a Blu-Ray for the visuals. Imagine my shock when I popped in the disc and had to look at a menu that looked like it was done by a student on a summer internship who had just discovered Photoshop. That’s something I’ll seriously never understand – hundreds of millions for the movie, not a penny for a proper menu design. I also don’t get why they still squeeze in those ugly FBI warnings in European releases. Last I looked Germany wasn’t the 51st U.S. state. Anyway, on to the movie.
As someone who’s a big science fiction fan (with an emphasis on the science part) and regularly get’s glued to the TV watching documentaries on quantum physics, astronomy and all that, I was of course intrigued by the concept of travelling across galaxies by means of a “wormhole” and the movie did not disappoint. Before the good stuff begins, we are of course introduced to an Earth in the not so distant future suffering from a drought and some obscure “blight” that kills all plant life, offering a good enough reason to venture out there. There’s a subtle, but not too obvious ironic/ sarcastic undertone and a stab at some common conspiracy theories, but it all fits well within the story and isn’t too much “in your face”. The intro sequence in a pseudo-documentary style and everyone being a farmer just to sustain the remnants of civilization made a lot of sense, other things not so much like that allegedly solar-powered drone having cruised around for 10 years or NASA going underground and being made up of what looked like only hundred people.
Once we get up there, things work nicely. Space is presented as really spacious and even the relatively large Endurance station is just a tiny spec. I was not particularly taken in by the look of the wormhole. The issue with such stuff always has been that it basically looks like the Bulge, Spherize and other distortion effects in After Effects and despite writing a custom raytrace solver/ shader for this, it still does. Dunno, seems like a lot of effort for nothing. It works much better with the Gargantua black hole on the other side, which apparently benefits from the refraction of the glowing accretion disk. Anyway, they’re doing the best they can to keep it interesting, but that old Star Trek funnel sucking in some fractal noise would probably have worked just as well.
Once they are through, there comes what I call the “morons in space” moment and that’s probably the biggest (sequence of) plot hole(s) and bad decisions in the entire movie. First, why go to planet Miller and Mann as the first ones at all? As a space-faring veteran, would you not logically assume that the closer you get to a black hole, the worse the effects of that black hole would be? Gravity pulling at the planet and changing its trajectory, dangerous radiation and that sort of thing. Second, with all their technology they can’t launch a simple reconnaissance probe to detect those 4000 ft. high waves on planet Miller? It makes absolutely no sense, especially since they equally could have assumed extreme tidal activity due to the proximity of Gargantua. Really weird. Where’s Kip Thorne when you need him? ;-)
After that interlude things get better with planet Mann and of course it provides a number of good action sequences. Oddly enough I never found Matt Damon looking as good as he is here. Must be the dark hair making him look more distinguished. But I digress. Of course he’s the “bad guy” and meets with a deservedly miserable end, which also provides the entry point for the final chapter when they have to decide whether to stay and build a colony on planet Edmunds or risk plunging into the black hole. Of course we get both and they split up, so we end up getting to see the Tesseract and Cooper “phoning home” through time. This is again an interesting concept, though in itself presented somewhat inconsistent. If time is taken out of the equation, you can just do things again and again until you get them right, if you get my meaning. Still, it’s just a movie, after all.
In conclusion this film is strangely mesmerizing and beautiful, yet has some shortcomings that can’t be overlooked. Most notably some of the claims to scientific accuracy seem a bit preposterous. If they didn’t explain some stuff in the bonus materials or you are not a reasonably prepared nerd like me, it would just be massively confusing. On the other hand I never felt bored during those three hours and there’s enough to keep you interested despite the slow storytelling. It also has something soothing and meditative about it, while also at times being rather depressing. This is helped a lot by the creative use of music juxtaposed to silence of space. In the end this is definitely one of those movies you either totally hate or can accept for what it is. I’m leaning towards the latter.