Read below for a gripping and entertaining documentation of my experience with loan servicer EDGEucation Loans, in which I was locked out of my account arbitrarily, discovered they have no system of payment confirmation, made countless phone calls to their support, and was debited twice for the same payment.
Originally posted April 30th and updated May 1st.
Recently my student loan servicer was changed from Direct Loans to EDGEucation Loans. How cool and hip – it’s like they’re on the bleeding EDGE. I had little say in this matter, but I went along and created my online account so I could continue making payments.
As much as I complain about Apple codecs and Adobe products, occasionally a bug comes up that is truly mind boggling. Take Prores 4444 and alphas: “if the first frame has no alpha, then nothing passed it will have an alpha either”. Thanks, Apple and Adobe!
This problem was solved in After Effects by creating a 1×1 pixel mask on the first frame of everything rendered using Prores 4444. The mask moved out of the way after the first frame, and the alpha channels rendered intact for the rest of the sequence. It’s all voodoo, voodoo I tell you!
This bug was reported May of 2011 and nothing has been done yet (most likely because Adobe engineers threw up their hands and blamed Apple).
On a side note, this is frustrating because I like to use Prores 4444 to convert EXR sequences after rendering but before compositing (if the EXR’s only contain rgba information). Taking 70gb of EXR’s down to one 2gb nearly-lossless Quicktime file is a pretty good trade off. Except when the Alpha doesn’t render.
Extinction in Times Square - Photo Credit: Alek Rost
Last September I acted as visual effects supervisor for the local indie film “Extinction“. The film, which includes about 30 green screen composites, day for night shots and miniature smoke composites, was just featured in the NYC International Film Fest outdoors at Times Square. Here’s one of the shots, a greenscreen day-for-night.
And here’s the full visual effects breakdown video:
Think all you have to do in Maya 2011 to work linearly is set the two input/output options in the render globals? Wrong! Well, you’ll technically be correct. But you actually have to set three other options hidden away in the preferences, otherwise your nice 32bit linear EXR files will look totally washed out.
Several months ago I supervised a project called Speak and May the Plague Take You. This short film required some surrealistic imagery of giant clocks smashing into the ground, including an hourglass. After wrapping the project, I wrote this technical breakdown because I tend to forget everything. Since glass shattering is a somewhat common effect but not necessarily simple to achieve, I hope this breakdown will help other Houdini artists grasp the fundamentals and maybe save some time.
The hourglass shattering effect required a lot of exploration in Houdini DOP’s. The sidefx glass of water shattering tutorial (I hesitate to call it a tutorial) as well as the example files for the voronoi fracture OTL were helpful in giving me a starting point to build my effect.
With Strings Attached is a 3D animated short film by graduating senior Jerika Melgar in which I was tasked with rendering, editing and final exporting. Upon reviewing the set and shots, my head was flooded with ideas for cool lighting. Consequently I proposed to relight the project in addition to my other tasks. This was my first foray into lighting for animation and presented a number of challenges.
For better or for worse, I decided to take charge of the visual look of the project upon receiving the first round of animation. Jerika had no plan for lighting, other than the established set lighting that was done by another student previously, which I personally found flat, boring and impractical to render for animation. Having done a significant amount of lighting design for film productions in the quarters before, I felt I could do better.
Previous established lighting. Original modeling, texturing and lighting by Michael Devore.
There are very few artists with whom I endear so much trust that I will purchase an album without even previewing it. dZihan & Kamien were one band, along with dZihan’s wife, the singer Madita. D&K’s distinctive blend of Austrian/jazz/turkish/lounge music was ever-present during my youth in high school and early college, informing a lot of my musical taste. When Vlado dZihan married Madita and they recorded a record together, it was a great fusion of live-band bossa nova and D&K’s signature eastern/trip-hop ambience. Even with her second album, “Too”, those signature elements were still present, although subdued in some songs under heavy glam 80′s techno sounds. This combination wasn’t bad at all, in fact, there were many standouts on that album and it ranks as one of my favorites.
A two minute breakdown of shots created by Stephen Withers for the film “Speak and May the Plague Take You” dir. by Cody Duckworth. Creating the surreal falling clocks and hourglass vfx required extensive dynamics work in Houdini as well as a large amount of roto and comping.
Practical elements, including water and falling leaves/debris, were shot with the help of David Kendall. Michael Rogers helped out with some of the 3D modeling.
Speak and May the Plague Take You – Directed by Cody Duckworth, Visual Effects Supervisor Stephen Withers.
The highlight of this project was creating the surreal imagery of the falling timepieces during the dream sequence. The hourglass and sand were a very complicated Houdini simulation, while the other clocks were rendered out of Maya or were 2d cards. The roto work was pretty time-consuming as no greenscreen was used and there were multiple characters running in a single shot.
While many of the shots required not-so-subtle effects, Poseidon emerging from the water took the cake. I thought lots of splashes and water spray would be cooler than simply showing some bubbling (and ironically, easier to pull off). We shot some water elements in the back yard using some cups, a bucket and a hose. The water was back-lit so it showed up nicely against black. I comp’d it with background plates of the ocean. While there are some scale issues (I could only shoot the elements at 60fps) I think the shot serves its purpose!
Another roto-heavy shot required the addition of the looming shadow of Poseidon dwarfing the main character. Since Poseidon would theoretically block out the sun, this necessitated the removal of the shadow cast by the dwarfed main character. To accomplish this, I tracked the original footage and was able to generate a clean plate in 3d, having cloned out his shadow. This clean plate was composited with the original and an overlay of Poseidon to create the final effect.
There were a few spots where I had to clean up the original footage. I did pretty involved stabilization in After Effects for four or five shots, and in one case had to generate completely new reflections in one of the character’s glasses. These science-goggles were almost perfect mirrors, which made the task interesting. I was able to create a fake reflection in Photoshop having sourced from some photos of the set I snapped. I then tracked it in and did my best to give the reflection the feel of the original.
“Speak and May the Plague Take You” was certainly an interesting project, different than the usual fair. It presented a lot of unique problems to solve and as a result I have some work that stands out a great deal from, well, the rest of my work.
I’d like to give shout-outs to Michael Rogers, who did some additional modeling, as well as David Kendall, who let me borrow his camera and helped shoot the practical elements (and got a little wet). Also, I’d like to thank Oliver Palmer and Ryan Bowden from SideFX for their Houdini expertise.