Mar 23, 2009

3D Dinosaur Make Overs

It is a long week... Yippee.

So in addition to the normal weekend stuff I had to do (food shopping mostly... which takes forever in this town for some reason!), I had time for some major 3Ding.

Which is good, as there is a BIG 3D event on the horizon over at The Tyrannosaur Chronicles.

Due to my mega Dino construction project over the "summer" (known in North of America as winter ;P ) I didn't have many new things to build in preparation of next week's excitement, but I had a few other issues.

A big one of these, which can be tedious and annoying, was shading. Colouring a 3D Dinosaur is NOT fun. It can take up to 8 hours if it doesn't jive, and the Dinosaur is kind of useless till it has colour. The good news was I only had one colour scheme to tackle, and thankfully I nailed it on my first test pattern. Love it when that happens (not often!).

So that left me with two remaining issues. Tweaking the older models I was going to be using, and solving my overall posing problems.

As I was reactivating some 3D models made in the immediate post-proto Larry era, they had some problems (as most of my models do somewhere or another). As I'm on a big kick to up my models scientific accuracy (why I set such lofty goals is beyond me!), these 1+ year old constructs needed some major overhauls!

The only sneak preview you're getting is Lance the Lambeosaur. Now back when he was originally built in Jan. 2008 Lance was the most cutting edge of my Dinos. However sadly as time has gone on, and my skills and models have improved, sadly he has fallen into the obsolete pile. Which when you consider that, it tells me something about my 3Ding lately, when a model this nice is considered crap.

Rather than leave Lance behind the times, I spent a good 2 hours reinventing him.

It was all sparked by an urge need to correct his colour scheme. Though his pink underbelly looks good in the total black modelling window, when it is against a real life photograph it looks awful!

So the first thing I did was change it to a light blue. Which looks much better if you ask me.

As a side note this photograph you'll see him popping up in is not a final shot or anything. Rather just a random photo I stuck him in to see how he looks in composites. I have learned I need to background all my shaded Dinosaurs to test how they look. They all tend to look good floating in ambient black modelling space. With a photo background half my texture attempts are exposed to look terrible.

However this reexamination of the model coupled with the Luis Rey illustrations in my new copy of Dr. Thomas R. Holtz's Dinosaurs: The Most Complete, Up-To-Date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages (a MOST owe book for all you palaeo fans out there... best popular book on the subject!) lead me to launch into a further tear apart of poor Lance...

First thing was first. As a duck billed Dinosaur, Lance was going to need such a bill himself. Though I liked my initial bill for him when I first made it, with my recent practise a proper duck bill wasn't going to be too hard.

So after 20 minutes tweaking I was very happy with his improved mouth.

Peter popping up online for one of our usual Prehistoric Insanity scrum meetings, suddenly alerted me to a whole fleet of other problems with Lance when I sent him this picture. I've grown to count on Peter's unrelenting critiques, and though I may "hate" them at the time, they almost always bear fruit when addressed.

Peter's big qualms were how skinny Lance was, and how not tall his neural spines were. Now I'd actually taken the neural spines into account, and gone with the idea of fatty tissue covering them, but both me and Peter in discussion thought an animal living in a tropical-ish swamp land won't need fatty tissue.

I having got out my skeletal references for this, then also realized it was time to be honest, and admit I was putting a Lambeosaur crest on an Edmontosaurs skull. So I was going to have to raise his eyes, and make the head a U shaped one rather than triangular (the shape I try to make everything... for whatever reason I'm geometrically biased when drawing/creating).

So I bulked him up, and raised the neural spines. Peter was right like usual. My skull modification looked good too.

That left me with the long standing problem I've always had making Dinosaurs. Posing him.

You'll note how I've taken his far left leg and bent the joints, and done so with the arms too. However this is not a precise job. All I've done is remodel those pieces, rather than rotate them like a proper limb should.

Sadly when remodelled, the limbs behave more like play-doh than a fixed joint. It is next to impossible to keep segment lengths (as in shoulder to elbow, elbow to wrist) consistent as I have to bend and move each point in them manually (and there are many points between the proper joints, that act like joints in this type of model). Additionally due to the limitations of bending and flexing this types of model, I've always had to keep the limbs simple. Too much detail and I can't pose the limb anymore.

Slowly but steadily I've been losing my patience with my cartoony simple limbs (apart from Lillian's, hers have always looked good despite the limitations) over the last 2ish years. So this weekend I decided to tackle the problem head on.

I was inspired by Angie's rescent creation of a 3D Corythosaur, and in particular her post about "rigging" her model. Way back when I first got Carrara I tried playing around with rigging, but was overly ambitious and tried it on a full Dinosaur model. Let's just say I bite off more than that Albertosaur model could chew (especially given its lack of molars!).

Now if your wondering what rigging is... Here is a visual that might help. Carrara calls rigging a "skeleton". Which is all I'm essentially doing. Each of those blue points you see is an articulation point I've defined for the computer which in THEORY will behave like a joint in the body.

I say in theory, as the problem that drove me from using this system years ago was that these points don't discriminate what they'll bend, and in a full body rig will bend hips along with their leg, or distort parts of the limb or hide.

Just like anything else, I'm sure with practise I'll be able to master this system, but I wanted to use it in a limited capacity now. After all I'd only need a full rig for a moving animation. Right now I was just looking for something to make posing my models quicker and easier, and while I was at it keep their accurate proportional measured limbs.

After some 14 hours of playing with it, I'm proud to say I've achieved rigging level 2! Not Angie's level 10 mind you, but still going from a 0 to 2 over one weekend isn't too bad if you ask me!

My solution was to rig each limb independent of each other and the body, and not connect them. Resulting in very funny action figure style looking models. I leave the head alone as the rigging that goes into them is INSANE (a level 7 at least from my playing with it). Leaving the head unrigged leaves me in control of the eyes, tongue, and most importantly cheeks. Hadrosaur cheeks while I'm sure riggable in theory, are not a beginners friend, and so I'll just manually keep them at my disposal. The limbs were my main concern anyways.

There are still some headaches this causes, but as they say the grass is always greener (especially 3D grass, I can always make it greener ;p ).

If I "attach" my "skeleton" to the model it is stuck in that 3D project forever. Meaning if I want multiple animals in a scene I have to grab them from another project, unattached to THEIR skeleton, and bring them and their rig in and attach their skeletons in this new scene. This means I have to make sure to save a unattached version of each model to copy and paste, and that I have to go through the 5 attachment processes for every Dinosaur I want (which gets time consuming as of Dino #3 onward)

However the results are breath taking.

Though this is not the best example, see if you can spot the beautifully kept limb proportions, glorious proper bending knees, elbows, wrists, and ankles! You may also note that I went in and added a lot more detail to the limbs, as I don't have to worry about bending the model myself (the rig modifies the model for me, in a way I would never be able to!).

Leading to final Lance. Which I let you look again, keeping all these changes in mind, and enjoy this preview half finished final shot. Lance is of course final element in this shot, but there are some other things being added for next week's big event. So watch Traumador for it!

Mar 19, 2009

Oops, Fossils Aren't Real

I had a very miserable day at work today. The major incident of the day I won't be talking about in detail here, but I had my first ever disagreeable interaction with a skool.

The second incident as though adding insult to injury was my having to deal with a big C creationist staff member during lunch time.

The encounter was triggered by my use of Traumador in my classroom, and Ms. C (not their name at all, but rather denoting their BS Creationist beliefs) taking exception to that. She was borderline harassing me about my endorsing such "controversial" material as Dinosaurs to children... funny enough afterwards I found 4 skool owned books on the subject in my classroom alone!...

Due to the fact I'm a substitute teacher I play nice no matter where I go and what happens to me. My employment depends on not rocking the boat at all. So I somehow (and could probably claim admirably) kept my mouth shut, and yet pretended I gave a rats @$$ about what she told me. The whole tell the Penguins from Madagascar's quote "Smile and [nod], boys, smile and [nod]" ran through my head.

The reason for the post though, was her statement that "They [Dinosaurs] weren't even real you know."

That has to be my favourite creationist 'fact'. Though I didn't delve into it today with her, for a number of reasons, it dredged up many memories of my past encounters with Big C's at the museum.

There are 2 variants of the creationist denial of fossils. Which in itself I think speaks to the stupidity I've dealt with.

The majority of creationists have had to concede that fossils are real, and incidentally present a big "problem" to their beliefs (in that they are totally WRONG!). Yet emphasising how not connected into reality creationism really is, some in the creationist movement have decided, rather than try to sidestep and blur the issue of fossils, they're just going to deny they exist. Which indicates how "real" their view point on the origin of things really is. When they have to pretend whole aspects of the world around them don't exist simply so that they can keep pretending their ancient fiction is real...

Anyways 2 variant versions of why fossils aren't real...

1. Evil Scientists and the Evolutionary Conspiracy...

This is my favourite of the two, and it is the easiest to show the stupidity behind it.

It goes like this, apparently "scientists" starting with Darwin (even though fossils have been recorded from as far back as the Greeks! but that is besides the point... for some reason) decided to start a clandestine conspiracy and "create" evidence for his new super villianistic scheme called "evolution"... for some reason... Meaning all the fossil evidence from around the world was in fact created by this cabal of evil academics to support the nefarious plot of "evolution"... for some reason... and yet no not single member of this secret society has ever broken ranks to warn the witless public at large of this diabolical ruse... again for some reason.

In other words palaeontologists and geologists make fossils, hide them, and than pretend to find them...

Like I said, this is a terrifically hilarious idea, and worthy of a whole TV franchise. It is also very complementary at the same time, and gives earth science people a LOT of credit.

Afterall we scientists (I'm lumping myself in here as I've worked behind the scenes in one of the fortresses of evil... errr Palaeontology) are able to produce STUPID amounts of fossils every year. Not only that but we do them all custom with an incredibly diverse variety, composition, and geographic distribution. At the same time no one notices or works at our mass production facilities... MAAAAAHAHAHAH

We therefore must be economic geniuses. As we not only acquire all the materials needed to manufacture the fossils, but we also have an incredible logistics system to distribute the fossils to the remote locations we want them to be, and place them through totally undetectable means (the fact fossils are often found far from "witnesses" is proof of this conspiracy you see according to Big C's).

Not only that but we are incredibly good actors, able to legitimately pass off our own creations as things we happened to find!

We are the most united organization in the history of the world, making the conspiracies of the X-Files look like mere childs play. In the one and half centuries of the plot, not one member of our circle has defected and told the world of our mass deception. We also have been able to plant our creations around the world unnoticed, not only to be found by ourselves but naive citizens.

Best of all we do it for no reason other than it is something to do... I have yet to see world domination in the grasp of Palaeontology... or have I said to much...

I'm not kidding sadly. I've personally had a young teenage evangelical try to persuade me of this "truth"... mental note to self, she still knows too much...

It came up enough at the museum that the staff rewrote the song Three Blind Mice to go

Make, Hide, Find

Make, Hide, Find

We make the fossils,

We hide the fossils,

We find the fossils
Make, Hide, Find
Make, Hide, Find

So as proof that this isn't true, I'll tell you theory number 2. The proof being if this conspiracy was as capable as the story goes they'd have killed me by now for saying this much!

2. The Devil's Creations

This story goes in an effort to trick us humans off the true path of gOD that sneaky Satan went and planted fossils all around creation.

Now this is about as easy to discuss or debate as the existence of gOD. Is your imaginary friend real or not? Only in this case is your imaginary enemy real or not...

Well here is the reasons I think creationists should avoid this one.

First of all its not in your great touted "one true book". No where in the bible is there mention of Satan making fossils (or mention of fossils at all funny enough...). So immediately your claim that the bible is THE literal truth is looking kinda in trouble, as a very KEY event is missing. What else is maybe missing from the book?

The chapters about evolution before Genesis? That disclaimer at the front warning this book is fictional and resemblances between real people and events inside a merely coincidental?!?

However the kicker of this whole Devil made fossils argument, is it suddenly upgrades Satan from a mere second stringer gOD (oh sorry fallen angel) to a full on powerful gOD like the big G himself. Now Satan has the power to create stuff just like gOD did, a Genesis 2 as it were.

Now correct me if I'm wrong... If Satan can create stuff just like gOD, would that mean there isn't one true god, but in fact 2 of them. Now as Satan's creation of fossils would have to presumably be AFTER gOD created the world, as otherwise Genesis is wrong anyway and Satan is actually the world's creator, would that not make Satan more powerful than gOD? Afterall gOD creating the world is dandy and fine, but kinda easy as there was nothing there. Won't it take the real power in the universe to go and amend that creation after the fact?

So yes Satan would be trying to lead me "astray" from gOD, but isn't he doing me a favour? Afterall gOD only created the world... he has no say on it now (otherwise why not remove the confusing fossils?!?). So Satan is the guy holding all the cosmic cards, and we should really be sucking up to him shouldn't we?

Kinda makes you think doesn't it.

In either case I like these theories as it means I don't have to even pretend creationists have a point. They're just talking out their @$$es. Which in fairness they're only one stepped removed from when they acknowledge fossils exist.

Mar 9, 2009

Older and uh... Just Older I Guess!

Work has been coming thick and fast for me in term #1, and I hope it holds up all year. The only set back of nice steady employment is of course not as much spare time. Meaning things like blogging are pushed to the back burner.

Over the weekend another birthday came and went. As I wasn't hitting a remarkable or "milestone" age it wasn't anything to fuss over. Though I am now in scary close range of the big three o!

Even though I wasn't set on fussing (a habit from my uni days when my b-day was smack dab in the middle of midterms) fortunately I have a fantastic partner who was! Lady R not only baked me this ubber cute cake, but also made a gourmet dinner for two. So we enjoyed all that over candles in our new house's "sky loft". To end this romantic evening on a counter conformity note we ended it all off by teaching her how to play Lord of the Rings RISK. You heard right Andy, now she knows how to play!

So I did realize how lucky I am these days.

It was as though Dunedin knew it was my b-day and had a squadron of stunt planes flying cool formations over the harbour to celebrate. I didn't let the reality of them being here for a motor event the whole week, deter my basking in imagined glory. Though they've flown over head the last 3 days, only the first round counted as it was on my B-Day :P

It is also yet another example of "sky loft" paying for itself! As we could see 60% of the squadron's flying space from the roof. Very cool. I'm vastingly enjoying my new house over the hall!

Of course with another b-day ticked off the list, has me thinking about getting older. Watching my x-mas present from the parents (which JUST showed up last week... go postal system!) of Corner Gas season 5, I now jokingly wish to grow up to be Oscar when I'm his age. He grouchy, crazy, and thinks everything should be how he wants it too be, sounds like me already! All I need is his eccentric paranoia and I'm set! Jackass!!!

Mar 5, 2009

Soundtracks: Bad Movies

Today I'd like to look at a whole genre of soundtracks that I personally love. These are the scores of awful movies. Sometimes such films will produce some amazing music. My theory is that good composers take their job descriptions very seriously, in that their music is supposed to enhance the film watching experience, but since there's not much of a movie to experience with a bad film the composer goes into overdrive to compensate.

Now at the same time I'll point out that SOME (but by no means all) of these movies are ones I quite enjoy and like. Some are so bad their great, but I'm aware of the fact technically speaking they are stupid films.

The king of overcompensating scores was hands down Jerry Goldsmith, who took pride and pleasure from scoring every project as though it were a worthwhile undertaking. The films themselves often were not, but man the albums are master pieces in some cases! Brian Tyler is seeming to have risen in the post-Goldsmith era to fill in this niche, and many of his projects are in a similar vein.

The Mummy by Jerry Goldsmith. Whatever your opinion of this film (as I know it has many die hard fans) one must admit this is a cheesy movie. A well done one I'll add, but it is cheek and tongue about itself as it goes.

Goldsmiths score lends it an air of legitimacy, and raises the films at parts to feel like a real horror movie. Even if it is a formula romp around ancient ruins.

The Mummy's score is just a really great album. As to not fall into a cliche action score, Goldsmith hints everything with an Egyptian flavour musically, and keeps the music as epic as the scenes will allow him.

First Knight by Jerry Goldsmith. This was just a plain bad movie.

However listening to the music you'd think that it was the definitive telling of the Author legend (has there ever been such a definitive version? apart from Monty Python I mean). Goldsmith pulls out every stop to conjure nobility, majesty, and excitement for a film that was none of the above. I remember when I watched it I was just listening the music most of the time.

The grand pieces for Camelot, and also Author's death, are particular highlights. Most of the battle music is very satisfying as well, but a little generic.

Small Soldiers by Jerry Goldsmith. This film was trying so hard to be so many things it didn't manage to be any of them sadly. Jerry picked up on the quirkiness of the living toys and runs with that. What you get is a high energy score themed to communicate its about amazing small things. To me the music serves well for science, and I tend to imagine scientists and their discoveries to this score.

Star Trek the Motion Picture by Jerry Goldsmith. As a trekkie it pains me that amongst all the good that is contained within the franchise there is an equal amount of utter crap (I'm looking at you Voyager!!!). Though there are many films in the Trek line that were less than awesome (the oddly numbered ones as a safe measure) most have redeeming qualities. Trek 5 for example while having a stupid quest for God, is sooooooo over the top (due probably to Shatner's directing) that it is very funny.

Two of the films though for me are just bad, and I was torn which to insert here. Mike convinced me to leave Insurrection alone, but in my opinion it could easily have been placed here, as it is a bad movie with amazing music (in fact among my favourite of the Trekverse).

So that means we look at the first ever Star Trek movie. It was about as exciting as life on a spaceship would be in real life, and that would be dull as (space is actually a really empty place after all!). The only thing it had going for it was amazing visual effects, but in many senses these were just a slide show as not much would happen on screen even in an effects shot.

To me the film is a 10 minute story spread over an hour and a half! So to lengthen it you often get a line of dialogue cutting to a special effect shot, the responding line cutting to another similar effect! However when I do this parody out loud I hum bits of Goldsmith's score.

It is an amazing score, and much like First Knight desperately tries to combat the failings of the film. Only in this case it is more extreme. I personally think this was Goldsmith's (quite probably anyone's) greatest compensating role in music holding the movie up.

The Motion(less) Picture often feels like a slide show at times, but one with a great soundtrack to tell you what the missing movement would be like! This is the one thing Star Trek 1 had above 2001. Both a similarly dull movies, with special effects shots that amazing for their time were really impressive, but are dull today. Only 2001 has boring ballet music, Star Trek at least has powerful music to listen too.

This is not only where the famous modern theme for Star Trek originated, but the music Goldsmith came up with for the monstrous V'ger is among the most effective "alien" music ever written. My personal favourite was the Klingon theme Jerry came up with for this film, and it is one he'd bring back time and time again in his additions to the Trek universe.

Starship Troopers by Basil Poledouris. I love this movie. I love it because it is sooooooo over the top it is awesome. That and it has Doogie Houser, but he is evil!

Helping sell us a heroic fascist America innnnnn space is the unbelievably patriotic and masculine score by Poledouris. It is an extreme militaristic musical ride, and makes you feel like you should be out conquering the galaxy after listening. If I'm craving snare drums or a good march this is the album I satisfy my jonesing with.

The Mummy Returns by Alan Silverstri. Where the first Mummy had quirky fun dialogue to make it watchable, its sequel has CG action scenes. It was rubbish frankly. The Mummy Returns felt like watching a video game. Only someone else is playing it!

I wonder if it was even too bad for even Goldsmith to score, or was it simply a scheduling conflict? In any case poor Alan Silverstri got the job. So how did he handle it. Like he always does, with an adequate score. Only this time it was above adequate...

This score in many ways is similar to Goldsmith's first Mummy soundtrack. They both have Egyptian flavours, both are built on (due to their films) solid action music bases, and both have a sense of magic and wonder that the events in the film would conjure if real. Yet they are nothing alike in comparison to each other. Goldsmith's is much more dark and ominous in tone, trying to convince you it is a legitimate viewing experience. Silverstri's is much more fast and excitingly paced admitting you're watching drivel, but you might as well have fun doing it.

Yet The Mummy Returns is the better of the two simply because its film is so much worse. Silverstri isn't getting any help from the film, like Goldsmith didn't on Star Trek. So he resorts to composing the highest quality (production value wise anyways) video game score of all time!

Reign of Fire by Edward Shearmur. A colossally stupid biological plot device used to kill the movie's Dragons, and the forced in halfway tried old "America saves the day again" subplot topples what would have been an otherwise watchable post apocalyptic film. The best line of the movie also singles where it becomes terrible. "Great the only thing worse than Dragons, Americans!". The only good things about this movie were the Dragon effects, and it was where I first saw Christian Bale all those years ago.

Reign of Fire is given an edge of reality due to the efforts of the Shearmur score, and it is one the few of his otherwise really dark efforts I can handle. The reason being that nestled in between the otherwise depressing and dismal score (in the emotional sense not music's construction) is given an amazing brooding heroic theme. It is a very luring hero's theme as it is not overstated, but rather one you can imagine a real person having if they were to have a soundtrack for life in a time of true adversity.

This score was my personal music for Batman till Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard 's presented a legitimate offering (I hate, hate, HATE Danny Elfman's music soooooo much!). Amazingly the new The Dark Knight score features a theme for Harvey Dent that is extremely similar (to the point of being identical at times) to the heroic theme of Reign of Fire... Not only validating it as my choice of Batman music, but perhaps showing that Bale inspires this music from film composers...
Water World by James Newton Howard. Howard has always coasted the fine line between borderline movies and truly bad ones. Many of the projects he is attached to I won't say are bad, but I certainly couldn't say they were good either. His taking on a replacement score gig for the 1995 film Waterworld would be a venture into a disaster movie-wise. Not that you would know from the score.

I wasn't able to track down this album till long after I'd seen the film. It is a masterpiece, and doesn't connect with the film I saw. Sure I know what scenes roughly line up with the music, but that's where the association ends. Howard's music is much like the Goldsmith magic I mentioned before, adding emotional elements that the film just didn't have.

The most amazing of this music is the awe music for the underwater scenes, which I actually forgot about the film till looking at the track list. This is among Howard's best awe music, and a prototype for the entire Atlantis score.

The heroic theme from this film is fun too. It is over the top, and frankly a sort of silly hero's theme. I personally like it, as it fits well with imagining Traumador and his over the top adventures. However if you think about who the music is for, this is Howard musically making fun of Kevin Costner if you ask me!

Timeline by Brain Tyler. If there was ever a score that made me think it was a Goldsmith, but yet wasn't a Goldsmith, it was this one. Even more ironically Tyler was brought in to write a replacement for the first rejected soundtrack for this film by Jerry Goldsmith himself (the last thing he wrote before his death).

Built on a series of very functional themes this album is a solid listen. My only complaint is each theme only gets 2-3 treatments on disc. In the movie I'm sure they had a bit more each (though not particularly liking the film as much as Dan I can't remember).
However this movie has the most hauntingly beautiful 45 seconds of music I have ever heard. As in it is actually haunting. It gives me a pleasant shiver up my spine everytime I listen to it. A forlorn heroic theme with an ominous note of the price of courage.

Wing Commander by David Arnold. If there was a video game I liked while growing up, it was Wing Commander. I was as excited by this movie adaptation as I was by Jurassic Park. Apart from some great name splicing into the movies of technical stuff from the games it was a severe let down.
Not only was the actor cast of fighter pilots annoying (though the supporting cast was actually superb... but Freddie Prince and Matt Lillard still managed to trump David Warner, Tchéky Karyo, and Jürgen Prochnow), the ship designs were the WORST I've ever seen (seriously cigars of varying sizes... minus the Kilarthi fighters, which would be stolen by Battlestar a decade later), and the damn movie literally treated spaceships like submarines in space. They could hear each other on sonar!?!

This is my definition bad movie=great music. I loved the title theme for this movie so much I went to see the film a second time in theatre just to hear it again (as the CD for it took forever to come out)! It was everything the film was not.
Granted as an album it is hit and miss, but the Wing Commander march and the action cues that contain it are on par with Starship Troopers any day with space adventure, and triumphant music. Not so much for the dangers of action, mind you. This one is pure optimism with just a hint of victory even during the "suspenseful" moments. Not that the film really had any!