Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Weather outside is Frightful

After doing the research and finding out that a Smudge guard glove costs $15, I figured I just mutilate my own winter gloves. I'm sure I couldn't find any winter gloves at Meijer right now, considering that it's the middle of June.

What if someone were packing for a trip to Alaska right now, and need a hat and gloves, or a winter coat? Where do you go to get a winter coat in the middle of June?

Damn, I have long ass fingers!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Power Cycle

I’ve started a new experimental project, exploring basic fluid horizontal motion. I’m working in an increased frame rate, 30 fps instead of 8, so there are many more drawings to make. I’ve chosen a 10 second music bed from our standard library, and have put together an extremely simple storyboard to fit the swells in the music. I’ve also created a frame log spreadsheet, to see if it helps in anyway.

I wouldn’t be able to do this project without the Cintiq. I’m able to adjust fine details as tight as the thickness of the line, for example. This type of detail work would have been impossible on the Intous.

I did have a little bit of a scare on Sunday. I had unplugged the USB connection on the Cintiq in order to plug in the printer. After I had printed my document, I turned back to the Cintiq to continue drawing, only to realize I had forgotten to plug the USB cable back in. So, I plugged it in and turned once again to the Cintiq, which had been on the entire time. I opened Photoshop, and began to draw only to discover that the brush was making a dot when I touched the pen to the glass, and then drawing a straight line from that point to the point when I released the pen. I scribbled a couple times, and got only straight lines. For a brief moment, I was reminded of a Flash game I had developed years ago – but then slight panic took over when I considered the possibility of damage to the Cintiq.

It turned out to be a simple power cycle solution, to which I was GREATLY relieved. Simply turning the Cintiq on and off made it right at rain!

I will need to get a cloth glove at some point. The screen does get incredibly hot after a few hours use, and when I wear long sleeves I can pull it over my hand. Not only to protect from the heat, but also to ensure smooth gliding over the surface. When it gets hot, my hand gets a little damp, and tacky, which makes smooth flowing lines a challenge. A glove will solve all instances of that eventuality. Until then, I’ll wear long sleeves and kick up the AC.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Spread the Love

One of the blokes I follow on Twitter has joined the club and snagged himself a Cintiq. Check out his Tweets for his thoughts on the new acquisition. @smashcut_media

Me, I didn’t spend ANY time on the board yesterday! I had one of those nights where there’s just so much to do, your brain seizes up from mental constipation. There was just too much trying to go through at once. I DID finally create the new video blog I’ve been whining about for forever. Check it out:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Getting Back to Zero

I was only able to spend a few minutes with the Cintq last night, but the time was wonderfully spent, of course.

I worked on character sketches for a potential series with the working title ‘Lil’ Monsters’. I’m still experimenting with the graphic style of the characters, and the Cintiq gives me the opportunity to get in and be as detailed as I need to be.

I enjoy being able to sketch extremely light strokes, barely 10% or 15% gray. In ‘real life’ I have a pretty heavy hand, and have a hard time getting really gentle tone on the paper. The Cintiq allows me to compensate for that with a simple adjustment of the hardness of the brush, or the opacity of the brush, or the size of the brush, or a myriad of other helpful tools I haven’t even discovered yet.

I have always appreciated using a digital tool like Photoshop for drawing because of the ability to ‘get back to zero’. I can draw a line and erase right back to the pure white of the ‘paper’, as if there had been no line there at all. I find that this is somewhat of a confidence builder, as I’m not constantly reminded of the ‘bad lines’ as I’m working! The Cintiq makes it exceptionally easy to swap back and forth between the brush tool and the eraser – I’m almost to the point where it’s subconscious. I get that way with short cut keys. I use them so frequently that if I were forced to slow down and explain what I was doing, it would completely throw me off! I don’t think ‘command + z’ anymore; it’s just a roll of the wrist between the thumb and the forefinger.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The First Big Thing

Saturday, June 7th found me very tired and unmotivated upon awakening. I got up at 9:00 am and took the dog for a walk. The walk was good for getting some of the lethargy out of my system, but when I got home I wasn’t ready to get back to work so soon. I wanted to indulge in the fact that my time was my own, so I opted to cook John pancakes for breakfast. This is a major accomplishment for me since I do NOT cook. All in all, he took it pretty well, once he got up off the floor.

I procrastinated even further, waiting for just the right moment that I would be full of motivation and inspiration (maybe a sugar buzz from all that syrup?), but nothing came. Fargo’ was on, and I actually got into it in spite of the commercials. I had seen it before, but not with my full attention. It’s actually a good film!

At every commercial break, the nagging feeling would creep in because I had an animation due for church in the morning. I would look at the clock, ‘procrastination-math’ would zip through my head ‘if I start now, I’ll be done by 6:00 tonight’. After 3 or 4 commercial breaks of mental attack and mathematical defense, it occurred to me that I was working harder at sitting on the couch than I would actually ‘working’. So, one final stab at procrastination in waiting for the illusive ‘inspiration’ – and I went back to work.

I spent some time doing more detail work on the character for ‘The Academy’. The original sketch lacked a lot of detail in the clothing, so I spent a lot of time on the shirt collar and tie knot. I knew they had to be tight and straight, but I kept getting more of a European type color and skinny tie. If we were doing something for the ‘Fab Four’ it would have been dead on!

Working with the specialized buttons on the Cintiq tablet made experimenting with different lines extremely easy. I was able to draw lines with the ‘brush’ tool and with a touch of a button right on the tablet, switch to the ‘eraser’ without even looking away from the sketch. I prefer to do my exploring and experimenting in separate layers, so I programmed one of the buttons to add a layer when pressed. This keeps my mind focused on that illusive ‘inspiration’ that I tried to capture with pancake syrup.

The ‘zoom’ slider on the back of the Cintiq doesn’t thrill me. It’s pretty sensitive, which is nice, but the increments are too large. When I slide my finger along the strip to zoom in or out, it jumps too much, I can’t get it to exactly where I want it without playing with it for a few seconds. When everything else is so fast, this drawback becomes a little annoying. So, I resolved the issue by programming two of the top most buttons to the ‘zoom in’ and ‘zoom out’ keystrokes. This allows me to get in closer, or take a step back, in the increments that I’m used to.

I continued to work on the character for the rest of the afternoon – still doing my procrasti-math for the next day’s animation. When it got to the point that I would be up until midnight, I felt the time was right to finish up the character and move on. I was shocked when I drug the image from the Cintiq to the computer monitor and my character was suddenly a jaundiced mess! I had color calibrated the monitor during the initial set up, but it was no where near that of my computer monitor. It was horribly too magenta.

The calibration process was pretty tricky. At first, I worked with the basic calibration tools that came on the iMac, but I was still getting too much magenta. I then tried adjusting the calibration settings directly on the Cintiq. I was getting closer, but I couldn’t get rid of the magenta AND have rich contrast. I fumbled back and forth between the computer tools and the Cintiq settings, and after an hour it was BETTER, but it certainly doesn’t match my computer monitor. If anyone knows of a good calibration tool that I could use on both monitors to calibrate them to each other, I’d love to hear about it!

By then my procrasti-math told me I was going to be up until 1 am to finish the project due in the morning. I emailed the character drawing to the producer, and started in on the church animation. Right from the start the whole process moved much quicker. The actual drawing time was just a little bit faster, per frame. I was very surprised when I completed principle drawing within four hours. The Cintiq allowed more control over the drawing of the frames, and I was able to quickly create additional frames with the ‘new layer’ function I had programmed into on of the keys.

Even testing in the animation pallet went a little faster. It still was a very repetitive process (I’ve never been able to get the ‘make frames from layers’ function to work to my satisfaction), however it was much quicker to just tap and tap and tap my way to several frames of animation.

I finished the whole project and was able to start the DVD burning even before I went to bed. I slept pretty good that night, knowing my Cintiq was just the tool I’d been waiting for all along.

See the finished animation in the column to the right.

Monday, June 9, 2008

That First Night

So the night of Friday, June 6th I had my first ‘real world’ test of the tablet. I recreated a character for the upcoming animated trailer ‘The Academy’ by Micheal Tabb from Burning Tree Films. I’ve been project managing this piece for the past few months, with my contributions being limited pretty much to critiquing other artists work and delegating tasks. We’ve been fortunate to have many very talented volunteers jump on board, so there hasn’t been much need for me to ‘get my hands dirty’ so to speak. But, with this new Cintiq, I wanted to give it a try.

It was an absolute pleasure to work with. I was able to get much tighter detail, much smoother hand drawn lines than I ever was with the Intuos. I had to work with it a bit, to get the pen to the right hardness, but it was very easy to just jump in and start drawing.

I worked on the illustration for about 5 hours. After the first hour and a half, I found it necessary to get up and walk away for a moment. For some reason I was forcing my work, and that never provides good results. I walked around the house a bit, chatted with John, and after about 15 minutes went back in and got to it. At that point I noticed that the screen does get pretty hot. Not intolerable in the general drawing areas. However, in the upper right corner – I wouldn’t be able to rest my hand in that area for very long without to the extreme discomfort, at the minimum distraction. Fortunately, I’m left handed, so that never became an issue.

After another 2 and half hours of working I was actually getting tired. By then it was midnight, and I had been up since 5am. But, I didn’t want to go to bed yet, I was having such a satisfying time with the Cintiq. I went out and sat on the couch and ‘watched’ John play ‘Legend of Zelda’ from behind my eyelids. 20 minutes later, I felt rested enough to get back in and give it another go.

This time I had turned the monitor off before I left the room, so when I returned it was warm, but not overly so. It occurred to me then that I will LOVE this thing in the winter when my hands get so cold!

I continued drawing for a while longer, until I was forcing the issue past my own fatigue, At that point it was time for bed, and I was looking forward to getting back on again in the morning.

The Cintiq Arrives

The Cintiq arrived on June 5th at John’s work. He sent pictures of it from his phone as soon is it got there. I was all pissy because work wasn’t going well and it looked like I was going to have to stay late instead of getting out early like I’d hoped.

I got home first and straightened up my office for the impeding arrival. I didn’t feel terribly excited – I guess I didn’t want to get my hopes up and then be disappointed when it didn’t do what I thought it would do – make detailed drawing easier and faster.

When he brought the Cintiq home, it was larger (and heavier) than I expected. We carefully unpacked it, and carried it into my office. It takes up almost all my desk space when laying flat at about 15 degrees. Anything larger and it would have been too big.

I took a look at the manual because I didn’t want to break the thing the day I got it! It specifically said to get it set up as a monitor first, then as a pen device. So, we plugged everything in and turned it on. So far so good – we got a mirror image of my desktop picture (me and my nephew, Spencer!). When I moved the mouse around, the default set up was computer monitor on left, Cintiq on the right. Meaning, when a pushed the mouse off right side of my screen on the computer, it would show up on the left side of the screen on the Cintiq. Well, I needed it to be the reverse. Because I’m left handed (yeah lefties!), I needed the computer on my right so I could use the keyboard and mouse functions while holding the pen tool with my left, and thereby not loosing my place on the drawing!

We went into the System Settings dialog box for the Mac, and in the monitor setup preference, we were able to find where to dictate what monitor goes where and how. In truth, it took a bit of swapping this and that with this and that, so I’m not exactly sure how we got it to work. But, after a few moments, both monitors were set up in reference to each other perfectly.

Then came the time to plug in the usb cable, and activate the tablet aspect of the Cintiq. We turned it off, plugged it in, and I went to install the drivers only to discover the drivers I had downloaded for my baby Intuos tablet were newer than the once on the CD! I balked, and asked John what I should do. He recommended to leave it, and use the drivers I had. So, I left the CD with the message ‘you have nothing to install’.

I then turned the Cintiq back on. With a flicker, and a glow, it came to life. Just like a monitor laying on it’s back! Needless to say I wasn’t that impressed. I played around a bit testing the pen tool and its sensitivity. I tried to calibrate it to my iMac monitor and got it pretty close. But other than that, I didn’t do a whole heck of a lot with it that first day.