Life of a Stick


  • Category Archives School
  • Graduated!

    Just a post to announce that I officially graduated from a four year sprint at DigiPen. They will (eventually) mail me the diploma they gave me an IOU for at the graduation ceremony. The degree I graduated from is a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Production Animation.

    It was tight on a couple classes, but I managed to pass every class without failing one. I was just shy of a 3.0 GPA, but I’ll settle for just graduating.

    Longest four years of my life. Trying to manage business and school at the same time, taking summer classes to lighten the load on the normal school year — which was great, but meant I never had a break.

    I am extremely glad it’s over, and very excited to have actually graduated. I made a lot of friends, met a lot of talented, intelligent people, and learned a lot about art and myself.

    Here’s to an exciting future!


  • Fall 2009 Grades

    My grades were actually better this semester than I expected.

    In short:
    ART401 Concept Art: C+
    ART450 Portfolio: A
    FLM250 Post-Production: A-
    FLM275 Music and Sound: A
    INT390 Internship: Pass

    And the long of each class:
    ART401 – Concept Art
    Matthew Dudley was a bit harsh at first. He wanted something specific from our work, but (like me) has a problem communicating sometimes. So he was frustrated for the first few weeks — and so were we — until he figured out how to get his points across.

    He knew the subject — he’s a lead/senior character artists at Gas Powered Games. Like I’ve mentioned to a number of people before, skill at doing something and skill at teaching something are two separate skills. He picked it up quickly as the class progressed.

    Not sure if that was his first time teaching the class or not. He might have been a new hire at DigiPen. It seemed like he was new to it, though. He learned real fast if it was, though. If he keeps teaching it, in three or four years he’ll really learn the ins and outs about how to teach people effectively.

    There were a few people in the crowd, like Sarah Markley, who are looking to get into concept art after graduation. The class had a few frustrations for them, like switching assignments with someone else in the class and finishing what they started. But that’s how it sometimes works in the industry.

    ART450 – Portfolio
    Monte Michaelis is a pleasure to learn from, and is just a fun guy to have around in general. He recently got hired at Popcap and helps them with their hiring process now.

    There is no doubt this man knows his stuff. Kamal Siegel, founder of Digital Double, was teaching the other sessions of the class, and they combined their knowledge and created the perfect class.

    Besides learning about and creating the foundation of resources that will follow me through the rest of my professional career (portfolio, business cards, resume, demo reel, and everything about how to find a job) I had a lot of fun, and really looked forward to his classes.

    Sadly, all good things come to an end. And Portfolio’s end included bacon maple bars. Epic to the finish.

    FLM250 – Post-Production
    Post-production is what you do after a film is created or rendered. All those neat special effects, like the lightsabers? They’re added in post-production.

    The class was specifically an
    Riley Prigg taught this class. And while he really knew his stuff, After Effects is really one of those programs where the more you know how to do, the more you realize you don’t know. The amount of combinations and uses for effects are ridiculous.

    The class was fun, and a lot of the students created some really neat projects.

    FLM275 – Music and Sound
    Lawrence Schwedler is one of my heroes. If it wasn’t for visual art, I’d probably be studying music. The man is audio director for Nintendo Software Technology.

    There’s the saying: those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach. Well, there’s a third category, one I try to fall into myself. Those that are able to do so well, and have the knowledge so built into their lives, that they teach people by reflex, and sometimes by accident. Lawrence is the kind of guy who can write a paper and cite himself as the reference used.

    The class was a joy to participate in. It was like a DigiPen ART101 Lite, except for music. He taught principles, the foundational knowledge, that are useful no matter what you’re doing with music and sound.

    INT390 – Internship
    This really deserves its own entry. I’ll get around to it some day.


  • End Fall 2008 Semester

    The first half of my junior year at DigiPen has ended. It was a really rough road, and I think reflecting back on it has helped me notice some interesting things about myself and about what I consider to be some “universal truths” I’ve heard. I’d like to outline what happened, wax poetic about it, and then explain some principles that may help others organize and maintain their own lives.

    So the first mistake I did was a lesson I’d already learned, but didn’t properly plan to avoid. I did plan to avoid it, it just wasn’t properly planned to be avoided.

    The lesson was that I can’t handle outside projects and go to college at the same time. At least not DigiPen. So when I was planning the schedule for the dragons I made in Second Life, I planned to be able to finish during the summer, a month before school started.

    Well, two months into the semester, I finished the project. It was actually only two months behind schedule, since I’d spend the first month of summer doing some work on Booster Logic. All in all, not very well executed on my part.

    Before I talk about the aftereffects of splitting my time between school and a project, I’d like to mention three things. One, how I tend to handle projects before me. Two, the “worker’s guilt” I grew up with. Three, the concept of three (or four) elements of the body and maintaining a balance between them, which you may consider a universal truth if you want to play with the idea and test it yourself.

    So first, when I approach a project I approach it single-mindedly. Eating, sleeping, whatever else — it gets in the way. Naturally this doesn’t work very well on long-term projects. Fortunately, I can dial my obsession back a bit and make it a “normal job” thing and spend a few hours each day relaxing (read: gaming) and sleeping, so I can preform the job better from a rested state. That tends to work well.

    Second, due to religion and other factors, I was taught to accept tasks, my own or otherwise, if I “could” do them. Working and staying busy is a good thing. However, when is the point where you can’t do more? To find your limit, just do as much as you can, and see when you can’t do more. Until now, I’d never found my limit. I was always capable of more.

    Third, I’ve heard say that the body has four… let’s call them reserves. Four reserves. They are: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. If you’re not religious, just lump spiritual into emotional. It’s important to maintain a balance between these. If we’re making it a game with little health bars, let’s say when the a reserve bottoms out, you can still preform activities that drain that reserve, but it drains all the other reserves twice as fast as it would the original.

    So here’s what happened. Those two months of doing this project and school drained my physically (no sleep), and mentally (full power to school and this project). My emotional and spiritual reserve then bottomed out, and I broke. For the first time in my life, I simply could not. I was bedridden for a week. The week after that I was useless.

    When I made it back to school, I was limping in everything. I could hardly focus or motivate myself on school tasks, let alone anything else. I’d “crashed” before, but never this far, this hard. For the first time in my life, when faced with the option of more tasks, I simply could not. I was barely able to do what I was already obligated to do.

    I’ve decided to take winter break off rather than try to do some kind of work. My reserves are totally shot, and hopefully I can bring them back up by having a real vacation.

    The whole situation is actually really scary, and hopefully something I’ve pulled a lot of lessons away from so I don’t make a mistake like that again.


  • Recent Events

    Last Friday and Saturday I went to the 2D or not 2D animation festival. It was awesome. I got to meet amazing people like Barry Cook and Dean Yeagle and Michel Gange. Of course, my DigiPen professor Tony White was there, seeing as he was hosting the festival in the first place.

    After getting an exclusive first look on Gange’s upcoming game and getting a bunch of stuff signed by him, and watching some fantastic shorts like Chicken Cowboy, and listening to an orchestra at close range (they took up half the big room the final mingle was in) I went back to my car and found a car window and my backpack missing. Whoops.

    Let that be a lesson to everyone: Don’t leave tempting unknowns sitting around where someone may see it. Save yourself some trouble. Now I gotta buy a new backpack, a new sketchbook, and some new charcoal. I feel kinda sorry for the guy who stole it… he risked the law for… well, nothing.

    So I got home, and my good friend tek_hed who’d lent me a Wacom tablet for the past many years, finally needed it back. So I was now tabletless.

    Feeling sorry for myself, and a bit stupid for getting my backpack stolen, I went and ordered a new toy. A 12″ Cintiq. Seeing as it was only $400 more than the $600 for a new tablet, I figured I might as well splurge. Man, this stuff is expensive. It should get here in a week or two.

    But wait, that’s not all!

    I got an email from Rick Simmons, CEO of Virtrium LLC about a press release he was making about my Seawolf dragons..

    I think I’m getting ahead of myself, as I haven’t mentioned the dragons here yet. The dragons link above should explain a bit about them. They’re an avatar available for Second Life that use a bug (that hadn’t been exploited previously) to increase the size of your avatar. I don’t have any size references images or even videos handy, so I’m just going to give a link to an image of the vendor location. The top of the smallest dragon’s head is about as tall as a normal person. If you have Second Life, you can visit the location inworld by clicking this SLurl.

    Oh, and Left 4 Dead came out. Valve’s latest masterpiece, and more proof that finding awesome people and buying them into the company is a very smart idea.


  • DigiPen Spring 2007 Schedule

    Here is the schedule I signed up for. It’s possible that a class or two may be shifted or changed slightly, but this is probably it.

      Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
    08:00 AM          
    08:30 AM          
    09:00 PM         ART 225
    09:30 PM CG 275   CG 275    
    10:00 PM          
    10:30 PM          
    11:00 PM          
    11:30 PM          
    12:00 PM     ART 251    
    12:30 PM          
    01:00 PM          
    01:30 PM          
    02:00 PM         PRJ 251
    02:30 PM          
    03:00 PM PRJ 251        
    03:30 PM          
    04:00 PM   CG 251      
    04:30 PM          
    05:00 PM          
    05:30 PM          
    06:00 PM          
    06:30 PM          
    07:00 PM          
    07:30 PM          

    And what the cryptic class names mean, though my 2006-2007 course catalog isn’t technically accurate anymore:

    ART 225 – 3D Design and Sculpture
    Credits: 3
    Prerequisites: ART201 or ART155
    Instructor: Becker
    Description: This course introduces students to the principles of 3D design using both traditional and digital tools. Students will become acquainted with additive, subtractive, and cast sculpture. They will consider the basic concepts of architectural space, interior design, landscape design, surface interplay with light, lofted forms, and skinning systems. The course will emphasize using modern polymer clays and building an animation maquette.

    Notes: There are rumors that Rossano will be teaching this class, since sculpture is her specialty. But there are always those rumors, and it never happens.

    ART 251 – Character Design
    Credits: 3
    Prerequisites: ART201
    Instructor: Kmiec
    Description: Students will leverage their drawing and anatomy knowledge to the creation of animation characters. This course introduces student to the traditions of character design and the basic structural strategies for creating animation characters. Students will explore simplification gradients relative to human, animal, and inanimate object-based characters. They will consider issues of costume, personality, and story interaction. The course will emphasize professional applications, techniques, and standards of quality. The work completed in this course will serve as pre-production design for PRJ 300, PRJ 350, or ANI 300.

    CG 251 – 2D Vector Graphics and Animation
    Credits: 3
    Prerequisites: CG201
    Instructor: TBA
    Description: This course examines the principles and practices of 2D vector graphics and animation. It will introduce students to industrystandard software, output options, and production strategies for using vector graphics in both graphic design and animation. The course will give special consideration to critical thinking and refinement strategies when modifying vector images. Students will examine methods of using vector-based tools for creating web and broadcast animation, and the course concludes with a series of applied problems in 2D vector animation.

    Notes: This is basically a Flash class, and the old Flash instructor, who was really good, should be returning to teach this.

    CG 275 – 3D Character Animation
    Credits: 3
    Prerequisites: CG105 or CG225
    Instructor: Crespi
    Description: Students will continue to explore and exercise the concepts and techniques of 3D animation through a series of assignments applied to characters. Exercises in this course will be considerably more demanding than those completed in CG 125 as they will be longer and require more refinement, subtlety, and creativity. The course will emphasize character development – the expression of personality, mood, thought, and attitude through motion and posing. It will also give special consideration to proper model rigging.

    PRJ 251 – 2D Vector Animation Production
    Credits: 5
    Prerequisites: PRJ201
    Instructor: Jazno
    Description: Students will build upon the foundations of their first two years by exploring a 2D vector- based animation production. 2D vector animations are found throughout the Internet, video game, educational software, and broadcast entertainment industries. Students will apply the production pipeline to a sustained project spanning an entire semester. The course will give special consideration to concepts in research, project development, workflow projection, scheduling, time management, administrative documentation, and quality control. Additionally, it will emphasize appropriate work habits.

    Notes: PRJ201 wasn’t quite what they said it would be, but the description of this class sounds closer to what’s planned.


  • Movie Reviews

    I think I’ll create a movie rating scale:
    1: Don’t bother seeing it
    2: See a friend’s copy
    3: Rent it
    4: See it in theaters
    5: Buy the DVD

    So last Friday I got an email from one of my professors at DigiPen. The faculty was skipping school to see a movie, and the students were encouraged to follow.

    The movie was Ratatouille (pronounced “rat-a-tooie”). It’s Pixar’s latest, and is the story of a rat who wants to be a cook. The animation was wonderful, and I loved the story.

    There were a few odd parts. For example, the rat can’t magically talk to the humans, so when he’s interacting only with humans he doesn’t speak. Then we get some narrative overlay of the rat talking, and it’s a bit startling, as you haven’t heard his voice in a while. They also played loose with some time transitions using a narrative overlay to pass time, which felt a little out of place.

    The movie was hilarious, heartwarming, and had great lessons in it. I couldn’t help but parallel the rat’s learning to cook with my learning to draw.

    Raratouille is a definite must-see. I’ll be buying it when it comes out on DVD. I’ll give it a five.

    Then, on Saturday, Mort and Bin from Booster Logic fame invited me over to see Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. I’d heard a couple negative reviews about it, but went and saw it anyway. It wasn’t a waste of my money, as I enjoyed seeing it.

    It wasn’t a meaningful movie like Ratatouille, but it managed to keep itself interesting enough most of the time. My friend Ryan wrote a review that said there wasn’t enough action. I complain that what fighting there was is difficult to follow.

    The movie did the typical “stretch time out way too far” when the horrible things were happening at the end, but I’ve gotten so used to it that it didn’t bother me that much and I was able to enjoy the movie without it doing more than slightly irritating me.

    If you like comics, the Fantastic Four series, or “save the world” movies, then you should see this in theaters. Otherwise, it’s probably worth a rent later. Three point five.


  • Eureka!

    I’m not sure if this is the “It’s past three in the morning and you’ve gone mad” phase, or “It’s finally clicked” event, but I think I’ve got something important. Probably very basic, but important. Especially in relation to art. It’s one of those “It’s so simple, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it” kind of things that everyone says they would have thought of themselves, but no one did for some reason.

    There’s been a great many things I’ve learned at DigiPen in the last year I’ve been there. I’ve put this knowledge to use when working on my own art and working on other pieces of art, and I’ve seen that it’s effective and proper. The latest one is a lovely little critique I left on this piece.

    Last night… or tonight. I can’t remember… I was speaking with Mr. Maglot. The problem we both expressed to having was that even though we can learn all this amazing and wonderful knowledge about art, when we draw the drawing just “happens.”

    I’ve talked with my friend Ember about art, and he said something that Betty Edwards mentioned in her book that a lot of people experience. When you’re doing art, you lose track of time. You’re making something, then BAM, it’s suddenly hours later and you find yourself with something finished on the page.

    The problem Maglot and I were expressing is that during that multi-hour “BAM” that’s occurring, there isn’t much “left brained” or logical thought going on. We go into auto-pilot for drawing, and just draw.

    So basically, the situation is thus:
    -Art knowledge is awesome and excites and is so very, very useful.
    -You can’t actually use any of that information when you’re drawing.

    When I was younger, my church would also talk about making your choices before you did them. Being a Mormon, we don’t do things like smoke, drink alcohol or coffee, have premarital sex, kill people (without good reason), and other things some people put as commonplace or acceptable. They taught us at church to already make the choice before the event happens. If you’re never in a situation where someone offers you alcohol, great! You never have a problem. But if you haven’t decided that you won’t actually drink it, you may find yourself trying to decide whether to have some or not during that moment.

    It’s very similar to the “say no to drugs” thing, except it explains the principle behind it and says “make your choice” instead of “say no.” Though I guess they did want us to make the no choice anyway. Right, back on subject.

    The whole making up your mind beforehand method is actually very effective. And it works with lots of other things, too. Which brings us back to art.

    One of the first things they taught us at DigiPen was “WTF.” That means “What’s that for.” Whenever you start a picture, that’s the question you ask yourself.

    Something else they mentioned, after giving us all sorts of knowledge about art, is that it’s just a big toolbox, and like any toolbox, there are some tools that are right for the job. You’re not going to be using 50 different tools to change a light bulb. You’re going to want a stepladder, and maybe some heavy rubber gloves if you’re really paranoid. And maybe some sunglasses in case you forgot if the switch is on or not. But you’re not gonna pull out the crescent wrench, and the left-leaning gyroscopic horseshoe tuner, because you don’t really need those. Yeah, they’re useful, but not for this job.

    So lemme try and bring this all together in an actual lesson we call the “oh no it’s 4am and I haven’t gone to bed yet” lesson on art.

    In order to apply the art knowledge you have into your actual art practice, you must decide before you even start the picture what your goal for that picture is, and what tools you’re going to use to reach that goal.

    The choices of what your goals can be is an entirely different discussion.

    According to the Modified Bloom’s Taxonomy Accordion Diagram (which I have never mentioned before now but it is a stepladder of learning things) everyone starts out on any given topic as ignorant, and eventually becomes better and more knowledgeable and practiced until they internalize the knowledge and it becomes second nature to them at the top level.

    To start, you learn of the existence of the left-leaning gyroscopic horseshoe tuner and all about its greatness. Then you find a situation that’s a good use for it, pull it out of the box, and go… what the heck do I DO with this thing? You stumble around with the knowledge you have, because you know it’s a good tool, and after 10, 50, or a thousand drawings specifically trying to use it, you finally reach the point where you you don’t even have to think about using it because it comes naturally. So you pull it out when you’re changing a light bulb and crank an extra 50 watts out of a 60 watt bulb without even breaking a sweat.

    Another thing I’ve learned tonight is that obsession is respectable to limited levels, proportional to the person’s own desire for the subject, until it passes a certain point and the level of respect plummets.

    That is: To someone with a Beanie Baby desire level of 5.0, they will respect a Beanie Baby collector’s obsessive tendencies to the level of 8.0. However, the average person has a desire level of 3.3, which only allows them to respect to the level of 6.3. Therefore, the original Beanie Baby collector has a respectable hobby, and the later has an unhealthy obsession.

    This principle is why gamers think staying up all night playing games is “cool,” while parents think it is “not cool.” If the parents had a higher desire level for games, they would also see it as “cool,” baring other crazy ideas like “growing boys need plenty of sleep.”

    I need to make graphs for this later, and not talk about it at 4am. They would probably help it make more sense. Or not make any sense at all, so I could stop trying to explain it.


  • DigiPen Fall 2007 Schedule (And Summer 2007)

    For the summer, I’m only taking one class: Sequential Art, ART 234. Fridays, 1-4pm. Don’t really think we need a visual schedule for that.

    This is my planned schedule for next Fall:

      Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
    09:00 AM          
    09:30 PM   CG 201   CG 201  
    10:00 PM          
    10:30 PM          
    11:00 PM BIO 200   CG 225   CG 225
    11:30 PM          
    12:00 PM          
    12:30 PM          
    01:00 PM          
    01:30 PM          
    02:00 PM          
    02:30 PM         PRJ 201
    03:00 PM   ART 201      
    03:30 PM          
    04:00 PM          
    04:30 PM          
    05:00 PM     PRJ 201    
    05:30 PM          
    06:00 PM          
    06:30 PM          
    07:00 PM          
    07:30 PM          
    08:00 PM          

    And here are what the classes actually are:

    ART 201 – Advanced Life Drawing
    Credits: 3
    Prerequisites: ART 125, ART 151
    Instructor: Robert Kmiec
    Description: This course builds upon the anatomy and drawing courses students have already taken. Students will continue to improve their ability to capture kinetics in humans and animals. By engaging in a series of exercises designed to enhance their visual memory, students will build the foundation for drawing accurate figures from their imagination. They will also explore putting the figure into an environment, figurative composition, and introductory sequential figurative composition.

    BIO 200 – Animal Muscular, Skeletal, and Kinetic Anatomy
    Credits: 3
    Prerequisite: BIO 150
    Instructor: Dr. Chuck Wood
    Description: This course introduces the major skeletal and muscular structures of animals. Students will extrapolate their knowledge of the human form to the structure and form of a variety of animal types, specifically focusing upon the impact of locomotion and feeding strategies upon form. Additionally, students will consider terminology, structural arrangement, and kinetic function. The course also considers standard locomotion cycles and the relationship between humans and various animals. It will give special emphasis to adapting this knowledge to the needs of artists and animators.

    CG 201 – 2D Raster Graphics and Animation
    Credits: 3
    Prerequisites: ANI 151, ART 101, ART 125
    Instructor: Robert Kmiec
    Description: This course introduces students to the industry-standard software and practices of raster graphics and animation. The course begins with basic information such as interface organization strategies, system components, bit depth, resolution, memory management, and output strategies. Then it explores techniques and critical thinking skills for digital painting, scanning, still compositing, and texture creation. Additionally, it looks at basic interface customization options and strategies in 2D raster graphics.

    CG 225 – Introduction to 3D Animation
    Credits: 3
    Prerequisites: ANI 151, ART 101, ART 125
    Instructor: Adam Crespi
    Description: This course introduces students to the industry-standard software and practices of 3D animation. The course begins with basic information such as interface organization strategies, equipment options, and production elements. Then it introduces techniques and critical thinking skills for texture mapping, modeling, rigging, lighting, cameras, and animation. Additionally, it looks at basic interface customization options and strategies in 3D graphics, culminating in a series of applied problems in 3D production techniques.

    PRJ 201 – 2D Sprite Animation Production
    Credits: 5
    Prerequisites: ANI 151, ART 125
    Concurrent Courses: ART 201, BIO 200, CG 201, CG 225
    Instructor: TBA
    Description: PRJ 201 introduces students to the basic concepts of the production process utilizing smallscale applied problems in 2D sprite animation. These digital artists heavily employ sprite animations in hand-held devices such as watches, cell phones, PDA’s, and hand-held game platforms. Sprite animations are also a cornerstone of Internet graphics and fundamental to animated texture maps. Their restrictive nature makes them excellent teaching platforms because they cannot be readily solved through brute force. Digital artists must account for each pixel and thoroughly plan for issues such as color management and movement. Students must successfully navigate the production pipeline in order to achieve professional results and hone their professional critical thinking skills.

    Only five classes! 17 credits! This is gonna be a piece of cake.


  • DigiPen Spring 2007 Grades

    Edit: I AM AWESOME!

    Got three in so far. I’ll update this as I get the rest.

    Animation 125 – Acting for Animation – B+
    Animation 151 – Advanced Animation – B
    Art 125 – Tone, Color and Composition – B
    Art 151 – Basic Life Drawing – B-
    Bio 150 – Human Anatomy – A
    Film 151 – Film Analysis – B

    ANI 151, ART 125, and BIO 150 don’t have grades posted yet. I expect to get a B, C, and A in them, respectively.

    My current GPA is 3.06 3.13 (down up from 3.09). If I get the grades I expect, it should shift a little further towards 3.0.

    I passed my Freshman year!


  • Current Game Plan

    I want to lay down for myself (and so others can see) what it is I currently have planned. Please keep in mind that while I’m getting better at judging what I can do and when, this list is subject to me being lazy or busy or both. If there’s something you like on the list, cross your fingers. Or bug me about it. Either way. My current attitude is shifting more towards a focus on Gimpystick.

    Immediate plans: Sit in the magic massage chair for a good 10 minutes, then finish the Anatomy assignment due for class tomorrow. Then sleep.

    Weekish plans:
    -Catch up on my schoolwork that was painfully effected by the snow (More snow by morning! Woo. … Yay.)
    -Add the necessary polish to the Seawolf boats in SecondLife to get them released
    -Finish up Trivium and put the closing capstone stuff on it so it’s over

    Pre-summer plans
    -Pass all of my classes at DigiPen.
    -Update Gimpystick (quick and easy usability features)
    a) Make comments easier to use and reply to
    b) Auto-scale image option on upload
    c) Spell-checker
    -Do Morrowind Comics whenever able (probably not)
    -Play Ocarina of time when I’m lazy and not busy

    Summer plans
    -Start and complete the next Seawolf project in SL
    -Finish the Morrowind Comic
    -Update and universalize look and feel of website
    -Get fun new features into Gimpystick
    -Beat Ocarina of Time if not done yet, and Wind Waker
    -Beat Twilight Princess again
    -Spore, UT2k7, check out Stalker

    I don’t think there’s enough time in the summer for all of that, but I can’t think past summer right now so it goes there.



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