Monday, September 4, 2023

It’s weird being an artist

The Artist named Bob looks out over the ocean from Baltimore, Ireland. Realistic but slightly weird image (twice)

When I was on the most western point of Ireland, the locals had trouble pronouncing or even remembering my name, so for the week I was there I was Bob. And to quote NoMeansNo: It’s weird being a Bob.

A colleague of mine, another Art Professor, asked me where I learned to become an Artist. For she did see me as one, meaning I think like an artist. But I did not go to Art School proper. I tried to relate my journey but could not really explain it. I don’t think I learned to be an Artist. I may be an artist despite my schooling as a filmmaker. I have always felt the need to create, and express myself. Not in words, but visually.

Can one learn to be an artist? You can learn the tools and techniques of creating Art. You can study Art History and build a solid foundation for you artistic practice. But can you learn to have this innate drive to create?

Bob the Artist does not know, but feels it is not so. Is this urge to create innately human, does everybody have it in them? Is there an Artist inside every person, waiting to be unlocked? That would be weird.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Blender Week 2

Live happened, so with a month delay, here is work from Blender Week 2. We did not get to a third week. I did finish a VR project I had been working on for years, but that is a different story.

Of course, all of you who follow me on Mastodon or Instagram have seen these videos already

I started the week epxloring the scuplting tools, which are pretty intuitive and work well. Not quite ZBrush, but that progranm has such an awkward interface that you need to regularly use it to be good at it. Like editing on and AVID system, which you could not even do without a custom keyboard with color coded keys - it has been a while since I actually used AVID so I do not know if this is still the case.

I uploaded the video in a square format to Youtube and that turned it into a short without asking. Bad YouTube.

On day two I took the one eyed character thing into Unreal. Took a lot of trial and error, and two days, but it walks. It does sink further into the ground after a few steps. That I had never user Unreal before did not help.

For day four I decided to do someting fun again. I took the sculted head from day one of this week, and pushed it through a pinboard. Not a real pin board, the pins are just cubes placed in a dense grid using Blender Geometery nodes. I was curious to see how many cubes it could handle. This was on a relatively new silicon Macbook Pro. Not disappointed.

For the last day I decided to play with dynamic simulation. Or day and a half, as it took a while to render. I basically did someting I used to assign my students: build a Rube Goldberg machine. I found the rigid body dynamics easy to use and pretty robust. I did not get it to interact with cloth or other soft body dynamics, and am not sure you can.

Then life happened and I did not return to Blender for the rest of the summeer.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Blender Week 1

As a summer project I decided to lean a bit of Blender. Mainly on my own but my I have some help of my son who has been building car models in it for a while. The first day I played around getting some of the basics down and made this:

Day two was a dedicated to getting a hang of modeling, and, since I wanted to get to rigging, I made an easy to rig two legged creature

That looked a little gray, so day three was a little texturing and shading, followed by building an armature - which is blenderish for skeleton

On to animation for day four. That meant weight painting. Not fun in Maya, but possibly even less fun in Blender. But I got it to walk. And used Blender to add an wiggling image in the background, with its build in compositor

Day five: more animation and shading. I added some environment and played with shaders to create an animated texture on a cube. Though totally misplaced, I added some hair to the character as well. And rendered slightly longer animation. Which took something like four hours, not too bad but if I had used the default sertting of 4096 samples that would have been more like ten hours.

Because of bad weather we added an extra day to this week. I played with geometry nodes, which are part of the reason I wanted to try blender more seriously. Over the years I had occasionally played with Blender, and used it as a file convertor, but never did any serious work in it. I do remember that in the late nineties, when Blender was under Not A Number, I played a role in the instutute where I was a graduate student buying the (hard copy) manuals. I have met Ton Roosendaal at SIGGRAPH a number of times and followed Blender developments from a distace. But this is the first time I took a serious stab at learning the program.

That concludes week one of the Blender summer project. Week two will have to wait at least a week, have other plans for next week, like finally finishing VR projects. One great thing about Blender, at least version 3.6 for mac, which is what I used this week: it hardly ever crashes. Only when I messed with displacement did I get it to freeze or outright die.
Now I have a week to think of what I want to try and do for Blender week 2. I got a lot further than expected in week 1!

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Website Update

In an attempt to make my website more dynamic, I created project pages. I can now easily post news related to projects I am working on, or recently completed. These project pages are build with wordpress. The main site is still using my own PHP parsing stuff. Getting all that over to Wordpress will be a major effort, maybe some day. This blog is actually higher on my priority list of being converted to a wordpress site on In the not too distant furture. I hope.

Here is some of the latest news posted there:

Monday, May 1, 2023

Sabbatical over already?

Although I will not return to teaching until fall, I am afraid my first ever sabbatical is just about over. Apart from our car being totalled after my first week in Ohio, it has been a very positive experience. I was privileged to be part of the ACCAD community at The Ohio State University, where I spent six and a half weeks in person and collaborated remotely for the remainder of Spring.

The experience being played at the ACCAD Open House. Photo: Lexi Clark-Stilianos

An initial version of the full VR experience was presented at the ACCAD Open House on April 7. I have been collaborating with MFA student Raven Serenity Glover, they build most of the game mechanics. The experience is not really a game, but we still referred to the scripts that drive the interaction as game events and triggers. I am not enough of a stickler for words to argue every time someone calls the experience a game. Technically it is not, but it seems the default to refer to any interactive work as a game.

Here is reel I created for the ACCAD motion lab, including some sneak peaks of the project:

What was great about being immersed in ACCAD (which, as most of you know, stands form Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design, the same place I received my MFA from) was the sense of community and being surrounded by smart people who all were doing research in fields closely related to what I do. Whether their focus was Digital Art, Art and Technology, Animation, Interaction Design or, well, Gaming, everybody was willing to share their expertise and help out when we ran into puzzles building our experience that a simple Google search did not solve. And, at least as important, they were there to bounce ideas off of and help develop the conceptual framework of the project. Teaching at a relatively small liberal arts college, I have only a few direct colleagues in fields closely related to mine, and am the lone animator there. From all these conversations with professionally like minded people I definitely learned a lot. And did I mention the great students?

ACCAD Open House. Photo: Lexi Clark-Stilianos

The project, for with he working title Inviting Motion stuck, is complete but not finished. We, that is: Raven and I will adjust some things based on the feedback from the open house (and other instances where people played, I mean: experienced the project) and polish a number of elements. With one last push we should be able to get it ready for festival submission soon!