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Animators Survival Kit

The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams is one of the Bibles of modern animation. Not only does it give a fascinating inside look at some of the real work horses behind the animation we grew up watching, it also provides immensely practical formulas and templates for your own work. I’d read it before, but decided to finally buy it and make it my vacation reading last week. I can’t tell you how useful this book is for animation work.
As a warm up for my next book, I’ve been building a rig and doing some animation. The other morning, I spent about forty-five minutes doing a walk using the techniques in Survival Kit. It blew me away how following the tidbits of advice in there instantly infused an otherwise dull cycle with weight and life. Check it below:

Also, we were hard up for dinner ideas, so I made do with what was in the house. This takes 1/2 hour, start to finish, and turned out great:

  • Two chicken breasts, defrosted and thrown on the grill
  • Half a red onion, several close of garlic, and a small jar of artichoke hears, diced together
  • Heat olive oil in iron skillet. Salt oil and throw in handful of Italian spices once oil is hot.
  • Cook garlic/onion/arti’s in oil until they begin to soften
  • Meanwhile, cook ravioli (or tortellini, rigontini or other cheese-bearing pasta)
  • Put 1/2-1 cup of white wine into skillet with veggies and oil. Add 1 Tsp butter. Let simmer.
  • Dice grilled chicken and add to skillet.
  • Serve chicken/veggie skillet over pasta. Add fresh parmesean if you have it.

So, after almost fifteen years in the printing business, I’ve moved on to much greener pastures. First, a little history.

Programming. Animating. Writing. These are the things I did as a kid, lo those many years ago. I wrote games, utilities and graphics demonstrations on my Dad’s TI. I wrote stories and poems constantly. I made elaborate flip-book animations in every notepad I could find. And always, the three would cross-pollinate. I’d write on the word processor that I’d developed on my own. I’d program graphics visualizations and put animation into my games.

And now, how very fitting that I find myself doing the same thing as an adult. I write books about animation software, software of which I’m both one of the (very minor) developers, and one of the users. But writing isn’t my new job. It’s software development. Almost thirty years after I touched my first keyboard and typed

10 PRINT "YOU SUCK"
20 GOTO 10

Someone is actually paying me to write and maintain software, and that’s probably what I’m going to end up doing in one capacity or another until I’m too old to make my fingers strike a keyboard. It’s funny, and a long, weird road.

Ton used to say to me, when I’d start talking about some coding project I wanted to do in Blender “No! No! Write books! That’s what you’re good at!” And it turns out that I am good at that, and I’m grateful for the shot he gave me with organizing “The Essential Blender.” It also turns out that development, or coding, or whatever you want to call it, is buried just as deeply within my bones as writing.

As I was mowing the lawn tonight, I was contemplating the path ahead for many people in my position: management. The thought came into my head: “Nope. If I’m not inside the computer, I’m not happy.” And thinking back, it’s always been that way for me.

So I want to give a huge thanks to Ton, and to Blender, and to the community that recognized its potential, payed the ransom for, and ran like the wind. Without the Open Source nature of Blender to fiddle around with, so many things for me just wouldn’t have happened like they did. Working on Blender has allowed me to be “inside” the computer in a very meaningful way over the last several years.

Of course, I’m still waiting for the day when I’m independently wealthy enough to take a whole summer off of work, drag my family to the Netherlands and donate my time just doing whatever needs to be done. But until then, I’m going to enjoy my new job, enjoy my family, and keep trying to become more than just a hack animator.

Under the Transform section of the Add Constraint menu is a new one called Maintain Volume.

I developed the constraint (which is extremely simple) to help with adding squash and stretch to characters. There are a number of ways to do this already, but as I’m not the world’s greatest rigger and don’t have a lot of patience for layering several tiers of controls on top of each other, I wanted an easier way. First, I tried doing it with Drivers. I figured that if I could drive the X and Z scale of a bone as a function of its Y scale that would do the trick (the equation btw is: X (or Z) scale equals the square root of the constant volume divided by the Y scale). Unfortunately, Blender didn’t like this and considered it a cyclic dependency. So, I moved on to using the Transform constraint.

Another user (mtracer) said that he’d done just such a thing with the Transform constraint, and it seems like that’s the case. I just couldn’t get it to work. I find those types of value-mapping interfaces horrible to deal with. I could have tried to do this with a PyConstraint, and in fact something like this was done by Cessen in Big Buck Bunny. Unfortunately, I’ve never done a PyConstraint before and didn’t feel like learning the new API for what should be a relatively simple effect.

So, I was at the point where most users find themselves. Yes, I could have brute-forced any of the previous four solutions (complex rig, drivers, transform constraint, py constraint). However, that doesn’t solve the problem for everyone else. We can’t expect people to be programmers just to use the software. So, I did the easiest thing for me, which was to add a constraint. You can see the effect below:

Blender 2.5 “Maintain Volume” constraint from Roland Hess on Vimeo.

It’s in trunk, so update, compile and have fun!

Switching to Kubuntu

So I’ve been pretty happily using Ubuntu for over a year now — currently 9.04 on my laptop and 9.10 on my desktop. I got to looking at some of the great desktop setups that you can do with the Plasma (KDE 4.0) desktop, and wondered how hard it would be to switch to using KDE on my machines. As my desktop is my test bed, I went for it on there. It turns out that it’s ridiculously easy to switch. Just enter “sudo apt-get intall kubuntu-desktop” from a console. 480MB of download later and it’s done. I just love how easy it is to do things like this with Debian/Ubuntu.

Thus far, I’m very happy with it. I like the options and such way better than the Gnome ones presented with the default Ubuntu install. Look and feel fits the way I like to work better, too. In fact, after several days of using Kubuntu on my desktop, I’ve also switched over with my laptop. This isn’t to bust on the Gnome desktop or anything. It was fine for a long time for me. After a suitable acclimation period (like, a day) though, I have KDE working in a way that really suits me.

Having to deal at home with supporting Windows XP, Windows 7 (which ain’t bad) and a Mac makes me appreciate the ease and elegance with which I can administer my two Linux computers. The Mac’s not bad, but trying to get those Windows machines to place nice is really taxing me.

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