Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Introduction to Digital Compositing, part 6 and final

Well, my digital compositing class is done. I did okay at it; After Effects is easy enough to use after you try it. My biggest gripe is that the version that is now available is a 64 bit program, and both my computers are still 32 bit. Actually, my desktop has a 64 bit processor, but the operating system is still a 32 bit, so I can't use it. Arrrg.

This is my final project. I'm still not happy with it; I'll be playing with this more as I go along (assuming I can continue using AE eventually). Hope you enjoy it.

Monday, March 28, 2011


I don’t remember the first time I saw a superhero. I know I was watching the 1960s Batman, thinking that it was the greatest thing in the world. I remember pretending to be Robin to Brad Gottschalk’s Batman when I lived in University Village, and when he moved on, I became Batman and my little brother – who was all of 3 – became my Robin.

We were fascinated by superheroes. My first real exposure to superheroes was the re-runs of the 1960s Batman television show. As a child, I thought they were great. Pow! Slam! We acted out the fighting, had our Mego action figures act them out. The show ‘Super Friends’ came out, we were hooked, and got up every Saturday morning to watch it. I adored the show. As an adult, though, I have tried to watch them both, and I am appalled and can now understand why adults around me would cringe at the awful dialogue, storylines, and things like walking on the spongy surface of Neptune may be a problem.

On one of the family trips, my parents bought me two comic books called ‘Marvel Super Action.’ They were re-prints of the Avengers, one of the premier Marvel groups. It was the time of ‘Cap’s Kooky Quartet’ – Captain America, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, and Hawkeye. I loved Captain America right away – had a strong patriotic sense as an eight year old; that has not changed appreciably, except I’m more cynical about the people in the government, but not the country itself (that will be a topic for another time…) I read, re-read, and re-read those two comics.

While at Dick’s Supermarket, I did find the comics rack. I was so excited! I had no idea that comics came out once a month, and they were still only 35 cents! My first stop there, I found Avengers 172. It’s got this big splash of Hawkeye on the cover. I bought it, and then bought the next one and the next one. I found the Thor comics and the X-men comics and Captain America comics, and more.

These characters have really become some of my role models.

  • From Captain America, I learned about patriotism, and that sometimes you have to stand up against the government if you think they are wrong about something (i.e. slavery; i.e. loss of constitutional rights).
  • From Thor, I have learned nobility and being worthy. Also, a fair amount of arrogance and pomposity in my nature comes from him, I think.
  • From Nightcrawler of the X-men, I learned not to be bitter about how the world at large affects me, and that being a Christian is an okay thing.
  • From the Beast, I learned humor and brains can go together.
  • From Wonder Man, I learned that you have got to face your fears.
  • From them all, I learned that caring for others is important, and with great power comes great responsibility.

Even though many people look at comic books as ‘kids’ stuff,’ I really enjoy the stories and the adult themes that the stories can have. The comic book is one of few truly ‘American’ literature and art forms.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Introduction to Digital Compositing, part 5

Of all the assignments I did, I was most satisfied with this one. I got to play with a lot of the pre-set special effects as well as play with with money. What can be better than that...besides actually having the money...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Introduction to Digital Compositing, part 4

As I come up on the end of this course, I'm going to be continuing to post some of the things that I have done in the course. For this particular assignment, I was to design an intro for a game show word game. I think I may have gone a little too spooky for a game show, though...

A Thoughtful Moment

I don’t follow too many blogs. Part of that is admittedly because I don’t which of my friends have blogs. If I knew who did, I would follow them. That aside, one of the blogs I did find is Raven’s Path. Raven is one of my college friends who is passionate for many different artistic pursuits. He is a writer, a creator, and a photographer.

His serious passion right now photography. Late last year, he said he was going to take pictures and post pictures every day. He was reading more about photography, and he was producing some pretty good pictures. The thing is, though, he got bogged down in ‘real life,’ and the photography and posting got to be that ‘one more thing’ that we all dread. He chose to stop doing the daily pictures.

In his latest blog entry, Raven's Path said that was a mistake. He said he’s been reading and reading about photography, but personally won’t get any better until he actually starts taking pictures again. A photographer takes pictures. As I read that, it struck a chord with me. I am doing the exact same thing that Raven’s Path is doing.

I am a Renaissance Man. I write. I draw. I animate. I create. I network. I sculpt. I am good with technology. I am ‘passing fair’ at all of these things, but I am not doing enough with them.

I have not written a chapter for any of my books for almost a year and a half. Outside of my homework, I have drawn almost nothing. Outside of class, I have animated almost nothing. I haven’t added anything really new to my Castle Zierath world in a year. I barely keep in contact with friends. I haven’t sculpted anything since I needed a model head for one of my classes.

I am re-dedicating me to my creative self. I will be writing chapters again, and completing the final edit on my novel (and reviewing what my wonderful friends have edited). I will draw and animate outside of class (got my first three projects all set to go). I am currently working on adapting my high school gaming groups to the Castle Zierath world. I am going to keep in better contact with my friends and family – my ‘network.’ And I will get better at my knowledge with technology – this one will come easier because every part of my life is tied to technology.

There are two roles that will take precedence over all others. One is husband; the other is father. I will be supportive, reliable, and consistent as well as loving.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Villains and Vigilantes – round 1

While we were playing Dungeons and Dragons, Brad Gottschalk got a little tired of grinding through dungeons, and decided to play a superhero game. He introduced us to Villains and Vigilantes.

I’ve always loved superheroes. The idea of playing a superhero role playing really appealed to me and I jumped at the chance. One fun thing about the game is that you don’t necessarily get to choose which powers you get or even how many; you roll randomly for them.

For my first character I rolled I think it was five powers (a d6 plus 1), and then continued rolling randomly for the powers. I received Electrical Generation, Flight, Vibratory Attack, Heightened senses, and a magic spell (which you could create). I, being oh so original, named my hero Elektro. The magic spell I came up with was Alter Probability, which did not really work the way that I hoped it would. I literally stole it from Marvel’s Scarlet Witch.

The only other player I know for sure was there was Phil Sens. Phil was in my brother’s grade, which, at this point, made him an 8th Grader. Phil was not lucky with his roles. His character was weak, slow, and ugly. He had a light blast and paralyzing ray. Phil decided to call his character Barf Bag.

Brad ran only one adventure with these characters. He ran the module that came with the game. Our mission was to fight a group of villains who had captured the premier heroes of the world – the Crusaders. I don’t remember a lot of the adventure, but I know Barf Bag and Elektro blundered into some of the villains, including an armored villain named F.I.S.T. He pummeled us both pretty badly. BB was knocked out, and I pulled out my Alter Prob spell and made F.I.S.T. fall asleep, which he did. I thought I had put him to sleep for a week, so I had Elektro grab F.I.S.T. and fly outside to get him far from the other heroes.

Apparently, when you fly with an armored supervillain, you may jar him a little, and he might wake up. He proceeded to blast Elektro, who, at thirty stories above the street, fell to his death, and F.I.S.T. got away.

That was really my first experience with having a character die through my own stupidity. It’s a lesson that on occasion I’ve taught some other gamers. Brad did try to warn me; I was just too wrapped up in my own plans to listen to the Game Master.

After I died, I rolled up another character, who I initially hated because he was permanently shrunk to 6 inches tall, but he had wings and a power blast. I called him Bloodhawk, but I never got to run him in Brad’s adventures. We went back to Dungeons and Dragons the following week.

But that was not the end of my time with Villains and Vigilantes. Far from it. But that’s a story for another time.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Introduction to Digital Compositing, part 3

Working with Adobe After Effects is getting easier. I am really beginning to learn some of the tricks. This video is a lot of fun. It took a while to make it work, and you can still see where the various pieces of footage are cut together, but this is still a really cool effect!

This 'masking' feature is going to come in very handy as I am working on the movie my students and I made last summer. I have lots of background issues.

Hm. Maybe I should talk about the movie from last summer...

One of these times.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dungeons and Dragons: The Chronicles of Atlantis

The second major Dungeons and Dragons game that I played in was led by Mike Daniels. He, like Brad, based the adventures in a post-Apocalyptic world, set several years after Brad’s world (or at least that’s how it was in my mind…I could have made that up myself.)

This is one of my lowest points as player, in my opinion. I have always said how honest I am, and I am really embarrassed to admit this now, after so many years, but I was not completely honest with how I created my dwarven fighter Zinc. Oh, I rolled his stats, all right, but I kept rolling them until I got the stats I wanted. Of course, I think everyone knew and just ignored it, or kept on trying to kill Zinc. We got attacked more by bandits than any group I’ve ever seen, and Zinc was a hand to hand fighter. The archers would stand back and shoot at the bandits, and any time they missed the bandit, they would eagerly ask ‘Did I hit Zinc?’ and they did, on many occasions. Now, 30+ years later, I apologize to my gaming friends. I still feel bad about cheating my scores.

There were two groups that Mike ran in his world. The first group was made up of a fighter created by Rob Covert called Snake Plisken (gee, wonder where he got that name), who at different times was possessed by a magic intelligent sword; Warren Brewer playing Gertrude the female dwarven cleric, and a non-player character mage known as ‘Who Knows.’ Zinc joined them later in the adventures, as did several others.

The other group was made up of Dan Wang, Dave Wang, Lance Carothers, and myself, among others. I ran a human druid called MacDuff.

The most interesting character development, however, I thought, were John Wunderlin’s character Prince Thunderbolt, and a non-player character called ‘Galadriel.’ At some point, we had to get some information from Galadriel, and Thunderbolt started to flirt with her. We kept coming back to her, and Thunderbolt became her consort. Eventually, it was revealed to us that Galadriel was actually a silver dragon.

In some adventure or another, the two groups joined up and fought a ‘big evil,’ which had to do with extradimensional creatures known as the Slaad. We fought them, and MacDuff was killed in the battle, which I admit upset me; I get very attached to my characters, but part of it was Mike was trying to simplify and make it so everyone had only ONE character. Anyway, our remaining characters ended up a hundred years in the future, and Galadriel was still around, except she had a son…who had Prince Thunderbolt’s coloring. It was a fun twist. Mike did keep us guessing.

I’m hoping to get permission from Mike as well to ‘mine’ this world to create more background for my Castle Zierath world as well.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Introduction to Digital Compositing, part 2

For this class, I am using Adobe After Effects. Eventually, I'm going to be able to create some amazing effects, but now I'm just grasping at the edges of what I'm going to be able to do. The projects that we've been doing are guiding us pretty effectively, but I still have a lot of work to do.

This particular assignment was an add for a fictional airline. It needed to use photos and we were to use camera movements to give the illusion of movement. It's not bad. It took me a while to figure out how to add the music. The video jumps a little. I hope it's not too distracting.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Introduction to Digital Compositing, part 1

I'm actually about to start Week 5 of this 6 week class, but I thought I'd share a few of things I've been working on with the class.

The first assignment I was given was to create a short vignette of a holiday something, so I raided some images from Rankin-Bass shows and created this:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Avid Reader - February 2011

Pawn of Prophesy by David Eddings

Every 18 months or so I return to read my favorite series and my favorite author. My favorite author is David Eddings, and my favorite series is his stories of Belgarion the Great. It is a series of 12 books. The first of these books is ‘Pawn of Prophesy.’ The story starts with Garion, a young orphan boy who is being raised on a farm by his aunt Pol, the farm head cook. We are introduced to Mr. Wolf, an old vagabond storyteller, and Durnik, the farm’s blacksmith. Throughout his childhood, Garion is watched by a mysterious figure in black who rides a horse; no one else ever sees the rider. Garion’s time at the farm is cut short when Mr. Wolf uproots Aunt Pol, Garion, and Durnik and drags them on a search for a stolen magical object. The story is told from Garion’s point of view, and Garion is purposefully kept in the dark about many things, including who he is, what is being chased, and even who his traveling companions are. The other two traveling compansions are Silk the Spy (and a prince), and Barak (a huge warrior with a Doom imposed on him). The book is well written and does a good job of introducing various cultures. The characters are well developed, and the whole story is told with a wry sense of humor that has always spoken to me. I have to admit that some of my writing style has developed from reading Eddings. I am quite biased towards these books, and so I’m hard pressed to give it anything besides an ‘A,’ so that’s what I’m going to give it.

Spend Game by Jonathan Gash

Spend Game is an extremely dark Lovejoy novel. Lovejoy is more driven and loose than ever. He is facing some of his own demons locked in the past from his time in the army (which I didn’t know he had until this time), and he is harsher than ever with those around him. The story starts with Lovejoy and one of his women in the back seat of his dilapidated cars witnessing a friend of Lovejoy’s being forced of f the road and being killed. Throughout the book, Lovejoy has ‘time’ with at least five women, four of them married women, and loses his temper with one of them, the wife of a police officer, so much he strikes her. I found that shocking, but what surprised me more is that she continues to help him. This is the most dark of the Lovejoy books I have read so far. The mystery part of it itself seemed a little drawn out. I had quite a bit of it figured out by the time Lovejoy did, and some of the moves he made were incredibly stupid, and he should be dead because of them, but miraculously survives his own stupidity. I didn’t enjoy Spend Game as much as his others. I give Spend Game a C.

Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn

Dark Force Rising is the second book in Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars Trilogy. As I mentioned in my previous Avid Reader blog, Zahn’s trilogy is the benchmark that all other Star Wars Expanded Universe novels need to live up to. The exploration of Luke’s force abilities is very interesting, especially as he starts to come under the power of the mad Jedi clone Joruus C’Boath. There are several stand out character moments for the newly introduced characters. Mara Jade, the former Emperor’s Hand, starts to come to grips with the brainwashing that the emperor did to her, and she manages to not kill Luke because she needs him to rescue her boss, smuggler Talon Karrde. Karrde shows his ability to help while still trying to remain neutral, and we learn more about the political rise of the New Republic’s president Mon Mothma and her distrusting fellow rebel Garm bel Iblis. Overall, the book is very well written and holds together with the existing canon very well and started really developing the Star Wars Universe into a much more ‘real’ place. I give Dark Force Rising an A-.

Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings

The second book in the Belgariod series picks up where the other one left off. The novel introduces the southern countries of the West – Arendia, Tolnedra, and Nyissa – as well as important characters from those countries as well; Lelldorin the archer, Mandorallen the Knight, Sadi the Eunuch, and Queen Salmissra. We are introduced to a small, red-haired fireball Imperial princess of Tolnedra CeNedra. She quickly becomes perhaps the second most important character in the series for various reasons. She is, however, a very spoiled young woman who has very little sense of the importance of others in the world, and watching her match wills with Polgara is entertaining. We also see Garion coming to terms with his innate powers and the terrible things he could do with those powers. Eddings wrote in his supplementary book that for a protagonist needs to be one of two things – either he’ll do everything so great that he is a hero, (which he said can make for a very boring hero), or a very stupid (he preferred ‘naïve’) hero who is coming to grips with his abilities, which makes for an interesting character who can grow into something more. Eddings was able to do that with Garion, and to a lesser degree, with all the other members of the quest. I enjoyed the book, of course, and I am still biased towards the series.. I give Queen of Sorcery an A.

Wicked by George Macguire

I started to read Wicked with some relish; I’d been waiting a while to read it. I knew that the musical ‘Wicked’ was based on this novel, and I enjoyed the musical. Wicked, of course, is a revamp of the Oz world, explaining why the Witch, now known as Elphaba (the original author’s initials L F(rank) B(aum), is wicked. The story was adequate. I struggled my way through it, in all honesty. I found that this Oz was much, much darker, and it is not a place I would like to live. It was interesting to watch how the Wizard and his cronies manipulated populace into finding a scapegoat race (the talking Animals, in this case), and reflected the rise of Nazi Germany very effectively. There were dark secrets, attempted rebellions, illicit love affairs, and then, of course, the house crashing down on Elphaba’s sister. Overall, the book is okay, but the musical ties everything together much better – some of things I was waiting for in the book didn’t happen. Of course, I do believe that the 1939 movie is the finest interpretation of the bunch, probably better than the original book. I give Wicked the book a B-.

The Last Command by Timothy Zahn

The final book in the Timothy Zahn trilogy is another well-written book. In all reality, the Star Wars Expanded Universe books need to thank Zahn’s expansion for much of their success. The richness of the characters and the interactions between the original characters and Zahn’s new ones is very natural. It also answers the question of what happened to the lightsaber that Ben Kenobi gave to Luke Skywalker at the beginning of a New Hope. We seen the birth of Han and Leia’s twins, and Mara Jade’s breaking of the Emperor’s brainwashing. The book holds together very well, and it ends very appropriately. I give The Last Command an A.

The Magician’s Gambit by David Eddings

The third in the Belgariad series allows us to see into the mind of another one of the characters rather than just Garion. We see the world through the eyes of CeNedra, the Imperial Princess of Tolnedra. Her thoughts unaccountably always seem to return to Garion, and she purposefully picks fights with him, much like I witness with young people who don’t know how to express themselves. She thinks of herself as a master manipulator, but she is pretty transparent at this age. We get a little more insight into her, and then we switch back to Garion’s point of view. Of all the books, this one is perhaps the most contrived. The second half of the book is primarily about fetching the Orb of Aldur. We are introduced to Ctuchik, one of the disciples of the dark god, and he’s supposed to be a very powerful and intelligent henchman, but he makes several rookie mistakes that you wouldn’t expect such a character to make. Despite that, the book is entertaining and still part of my favorite series. I give the Magician’s Gambit a B+.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Cosmic Dust

Ah, memories. I have recently shared my first stage experience with the Tommy Knockers, written by Margot King. My next experience on-stage was also written by Mrs. King. It was a play about astronomy called Cosmic Dust.

I learned an incredible amount about astronomy during that play. I learned about the ancient Egyptians beliefs about the world. I got to play one of the Egyptians - a learned scribe. I got to talk about the goddess Nut whose body is stretched up over the earth. I remember that Margot's daughter Julie (who was in my grade) was the goddess Nut. I always had a bit of a crush on her. It seems to me that Kristin Karrman was my counterpart in the Egyptian myth, but I could be remembering wrong. I am really trying to remember who else was in it, but I am drawing a complete blank.

I learned more about astronomy being in that play than I did when I took it in college. Of course, this was the material I found interesting. The history and facts about the planets and universe. I learned about the Greeks belief about how the universe was put together, and the early church's belief of the spheres surrounding the earth. I learned about Copernicus's heretical belief that the earth goes around the sun, as well as the eccentric - and fascinating - astronomer Tycho Brahe who believed that the sun went around the earth, but all the other planets went around the sun, and Johannes Kepler who figured out that the orbits of the planets were ellipses, not circles. I remember watching the scene where the Hersheys discovered Uranus, and then the mathematical discoveries of Neptune and Pluto.

The show ended with an interpretive dance about the Big Bang. Yes, I was in an interpretive dance, and yes, I wore tights for that dance. I remember being a little mortified at that, but I got over it.

The play was produced in the City Hall. It had this big old theater in it with a balcony and an orchestra pit. The orchestra pit went back under the stage to these spooky halls and dressing rooms that were a lot of fun to startle people in. The whole stage area had a particular scent to it, kind of a musky sent overlaid with dust and old paint.

I don't think I ever really thanked Margot for the love she instilled in me of the theater. She was a very important person in my life during my junior and senior high life. She taught me piano - I was a terrible student - and she challenged me with my drawing and writing. I owe her for the encouragement and for her ability to see the potential that was within me. I like to think that is what I do in my job with Upward Bound. It is the only way I know how to re-pay her; by doing for others what she did for me.