I’ve found it… my Wacom pen is back. To prove it I have used it to draw this:
Actually I drew that with a mouse too.
I love computers. I’ve had one since I was 7 – my parents bought a ZX81, with no sound, no colour, and a 16k RAM pack that crashed the computer if you wobbled it slightly, killing that program you’d spent hours typing in. I fondly remember the smell of cooking circuits and the gentle hum of the power pack. And the dreadful sinking feeling when I dropped the power pack and the computer wouldn’t power-up. And the giddy feeling when my next-door neighbour, who was also a radio ham, helped me build a new power-pack from a circuit diagram.
So I’ve bought a new computer with a hefty motherboard and a fast new (loud) graphics card and it’s all shiny and I’m digging using Windows 7 because I’ve never had a computer that had enough welly to actually run the current version of Windows. But the closer something becomes to being user-friendly, the more small things stick out.
For example, Flash CS5 treats its panels as separate windows, and there are problems switching between them. I’m very used to using the Flash shortcuts (V for the arrow tool, B for brush, Z for zoom, L for lassoo and so on) but here they stop working unless you click on the main stage window first, meaning that if you’ve got the zoom tool selected but want to change to the brush tool, you press B and click on the main stage and it zooms away from where you want to be. It’s only a minor thing but over thousands and thousands of clicks and taps it becomes really frustrating!
Other annoyances include text selection in some programs. I used to know how it worked – you select a bunch of text, but then decide you want to simply move the cursor to the beginning of the text. So you press the left cursor key, but instead it moves you back one space from the end of the selection – I can’t see any context in which this would be useful, but it’s now entirely ubiquitous, and it really burns me up.
Maybe I’m getting old and cranky, like Sizzles, but the areas you have to click on to perform certain tasks seems to be really small. From scrolling all the way up to the top right of the screen to click on a square the size of a small bluebottle, to selecting the two-pixel width edge of a window to resize it, to moving the mouse cursor in small increments and notice when it changes to the double-headed arrow so you can drag the divider between panes, it’s all getting to be a bit of a pain in the arse.
I try to get away from the computer as much as I can – I’ve set up a sit/stand desk in an alcove which is basically deep shelves and a tall stool. I stood up at the desk for a few months but in the end my back felt like it was going to give out so I bought a cheap stool from Argos, which is doing a pretty good job, except it’s too tall to put my feet on anything except the curved strut about a foot off the ground, which is slightly too high for comfort – when I rest my bare feet on it they go numb after a few minutes. When I have my Wacom tablet out for animation there isn’t enough room to pull the keyboard close enough, so after an hour of animating, holding my left hand in the classic “Flash animator’s claw” I get a seized-up shoulder and neck. I obviously have terrible ergonomic shortcomings but can’t figure out what else to do about it!
The “Piece of Cheese Cottage”, Hastings, East Sussex. I would have got a bit closer so i could frame the shot like all the others I’ve done, with clear views down either side, but there were some workmen on the roof of the cottage behind me having cups of tea, and I lost my bottle.
I’ve been doing a lot of fairly intricate animation lately, for an online company called Espresso, who make educational software and tools for education. I did some banner animations for them at the beginning of the year where you could drag the weightless characters around a tall, narrow box in different directions and they’d react as they hit the sides, or if you did nothing they’d exhibit a range of actions from bored, to impatient, to distracted. It was basically a simulation of keeping children in a tall chimney in space.
There are seven characters in all, all carefully ethnically-balanced and including a dog and a puppy. The puppy’s easier to animate than the dog because he’s young and jumps instead of running, meaning that I only have to animate two sets of legs rather than four independent ones (those black-and-white Muybridge photo-series of animals and people running along in front of large grids help to demonstrate distinct gaits to four-legged creatures, but mostly they’re too difficult to animate quickly so we animators cheat slightly and treat them as two pairs of legs) as if he’s just jumping along, or constantly pouncing. It’s surprisingly effective, and is how I animated Sizzles, Marv’s creaky old sausage-dog in Charlie and Lola.
The tricky part of these animations is that the character has to end up in the right place each time, because the files are to be output as videos and joined up in different ways (called “hooking-up” in film terminology). If the character isn’t in the right place to join up there’ll be a visible pop. This also means that all the background and scenery have to hook up too – which means that if there are corrections to one part of the background that has to be copied and pasted exactly into each of the other files, and the further I get into this job the faster the files proliferate – it’s quite an undertaking just to open up all the current files and update them, not made easier by the fact that my computer is getting a bit creaky and that Flash CS5 is a bit overwhelming. But the animation’s fun and the characters remind me of working with Pesky, lo, these many years – the characters were actually designed by Claire Underwood and I first saw them about ten years ago when we were doing the first series of the <http://www.adrenalini.com”>Amazing Adrenalini Brothers</a>.
While sorting through the accumulated papers of (half) a lifetime I’ve found my first ever paid commission! It was a logo for the egg-boxes that were delivered to the surrounding area from the egg-farm I worked on, incorporating a caricature of the farmer Ralph. I’m quite pleased with how it turned out, considering this was 1997 and I had no access to computer or Photoshop and had to work in pen-and-ink. I’m pretty sure there was also a counterpart design (involving chickens and a coop silhouetted by the sun) for a decal on the side of Ralph’s van, but I can’t find it anywhere.
Somebody must have given themselves the afternoon off after noticing that the terminal syllable in “Sussex” has an alternative meaning.
The “sexy” events include:
Armed Forces Day
The Avengers, 50th Anniversary Celebration
I’ve got to go have a cold shower.
Before reading this excellent and concise series of articles about game development and graphics, I had no more idea of what those two terms mean than I know what an ostrich is.
What in god’s name is that thing!?
I downloaded the Steam client the other day, having enjoyed buying retro games from GOG which will run on my computer. It’s about 6 years old and before a month ago didn’t have a graphics card apart from the very low-powered onboard one. Incidentally my advice is to steer well clear of Dream Pinball 3D because it is horrible.
Anyway I’ve enjoyed the stuff I got from Steam, apart from my minor discomfort about DRM and having another process running in the background. After doing some surfing looking at indie games, I decided to buy Lume, which looks gorgeous and has a nice tinkly soundtrack, and struck chords in me about bodging things together on a small scale and talented people who do many things at once.
I played it for a while, and got stuck when asked to enter a combination for a lock on a sink cupboard wherein I knew I would find useful things to help finish the game. And got frustrated, and got annoyed. And so being the I-want-it-now kind of guy I am, I found a walkthrough, and got even more annoyed at the impossible solution that I couldn’t even have dreamed was required. I mean, shame on me for doing what is essentially cheating, but how was I ever supposed to guess the following solution?
I found the following from the site Gamezebo, and reading it still curdles my brian and boils my integuments:
The object is to take the various clues you’ve found and figure out how to illuminate the 3 lights and unlock the Cabinet.Clue for the first number: When viewing (close-ups) all the Pictures hanging on the Walls, there were 1, 2 and 3 picture frames showing (only part of a third picture frame in the third set).
Clue for the second number: While standing in the Hall, you can see there are, from left to right, 2, 1 and 1 round objects on the Walls.
Clue for the third number: 1. In the Hall, there are 8 Pictures. 2. Upstairs, the shadow of Lumi’s Topknot looks like the number 8. 3. Outside, on the Lower Level, there are 3 objects with a total of 7 sides (the round Window has 1, the Door has 4 and the Ladder has 2).
On the other hand, this clue could just be Upstairs: 1. The shadow of Lumi’s Topknot looks like the number 8. 2. Her actual Topknot looks like the number 8. 3. The shadow of the lower, left side of the Drafting Table, on a diagonal, next to the Bookcase, looks like the number 7.
The clues for this lock are really obscure, so what I listed may not be accurate. They’re just what I used when I chose the numbers to enter. They worked; so, the numbers are:
1 2 3
2 1 1
8 8 7
I finished the game (disappointingly short for 4 quid) with an appreciation for the lovely colours and music and innovative cardboard-y graphics, but with a grudging feeling that this was all set-dressing for a do-this-then-do-that game with insanely arbitrary puzzles.
“Ever notice how modern cartoon characters look like every pose and expression involves a lot of pain and strain? It’s like there are a hundred invisible demons yanking this guy’s eyebrows with all their might, yet they still are barely moving. Is it hard to animate a smile today? Even the simplest expression has become a petrified detestable mask of agony.”
If you’re looking for a fun, gripping, and slightly spooky book for an 8-12 year-old, look no further than The Mummy Of Mulberry Avenue – this is a picture of my copy – I’m very pleased with the way the cover design turned out! Click on the picture to enlarge, or click here to see the original artwork.
Order it from the link above, or click here to download Chapter One for free!