Tuesday 29 January 2013

It Also Animates!

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I was given a Wacom Bamboo graphics tablet as a Christmas present, and I showed off my first piece of serious Bamboo-based artwork.  Today I decided to move ahead with another semi-related project which I've been thinking about for a couple of weeks: an experimental animation using the Bamboo, the GIMP and Sony Vegas.  I started drawing the test scene this morning, and finished animating it around mid-afternoon, and it came out looking like this:

As rumoured in the aforementioned previous post, the clip features Elbows Dude, a heavily-stylised character who had featured in just one previous work, a one-off comic strip from 2006 which was called The Short Adventure of Elbows Dude and was about Elbows Dude flexing his elbows a lot and generally being in a comic strip.  That's him in the picture above - no, he's the green one, silly; the purple ones are dead cows.  And to satisfy the historically-curious among you, here's his debut outing:

Fun fact: I've never published that thing before, perhaps because I thought nobody would get it.

I've got a few other Elbows Dude-related story ideas drifting around, which have been festering in my head since about 2010, and now (along with today's segment) have semi-congealed into something approaching a plot, albeit a really surreal one.  Hence the clip I've just made will - hopefully - go on to serve as the opening of a larger production.

Now, I could be all mean and make you wait for the whole film to come out, but I'm not feeling mean today.  So rather than keep you all on tenterhooks waiting to find out what the animation actually looks like, I decided to use the existing segment as a teaser trailer for the film.  Alright, hush the clamour already - here's your video:

Confused?  Yeah.  Me too.  I have no idea why it's raining cows in there.

Just you wait until you see the rest...

- The Colclough

Friday 25 January 2013


Having mentioned in my last post that I've finished video editing for Root Hill on Camera 2012, it occurred to me that I should stick the trailer on ye blog, for completeness' sake if nothing else.

Not much else to say here right now, only the trailer.  And if you didn't like it, then just be grateful you didn't see the first draft.  It was pretty terrible.

Normal blogging service will resume whenever it resumes.

- The Colclough

Thursday 24 January 2013

What the Wacom Can Do

After a minor case of unsubtle hinting, I was given a Wacom Bamboo Pen & Touch graphics tablet for Christmas.  I hadn't really used graphics tablets much before, and my last attempt (borrowing Tim's tablet, which is also a Wacom) produced this rather unimpressive bit of scribble:

A concept sketch for Fort Paradox 115: my first graphics-tablet drawing.  Srsly.

However, I was pretty sure that my initial failures were just teething trouble.  After all, I spent my first two or three weeks in The GIMP being hopelessly confused and (whisper it!) almost missing Photoshop, of all things - before it suddenly clicked one day, and I've been using the program for all sorts of things ever since.  I expected a similar thing would happen with the tablet, if I had one of my own and was able to get some practice.

It looks like I expected right.  This morning, I finished this (a rather better piece of scribble, if I say so myself):

Blue in the Firelight, January 2013

I almost crashed GIMP during the production process, as the image had so many layers; in the end I fixed the problem by separating the thing out into three different files - one with the initial compositional layers, a second to tidy up the line art, and a third to add the colour.  You can see a higher-resolution version of the finished picture on my DeviantArt page, and you might notice it cropping up as my new avatar on DeviantArt and on Steam.

Where next?   Well - here's a bit of good news for the Root Hill attendees among you - I'm very nearly finished the Root Hill On Camera 2012 DVD: the video segments are rendered, the disc menus are authored, and the print components have been designed.  All that remains is to produce the physical copies and get them in the post.  And once that little project (little... haha, right) is off my slate, I'm planning to try and get back to animating something.  So many ideas drifting around right now, including Papercuts episodes 5 onwards (waiting on script delivery from a guest writer or two), Arbitrary Stopframe Series 2 (waiting on... um... me getting round to it), The Murkum Show (working title, waiting on me figuring out what it's actually about apart from having lots of Doctor Murkum in it), and the long-planned Fishy Business remake Empire of the Pond (which has recently seen some movement on the test-illustrations front).  But more recently, the idea occurred to me that I should try doing a quick-and-dirty (that fatal phrase...) graphics-tablet cel animation featuring my little-known character Elbows Dude in a variety of improbable scrapes, which he solves with his elbow powers.  Right now, I honestly don't know which route I'll be going down next, but all five of them have some appeal, so I'll hopefully be picking one and getting down to business before too long.  Watch this space!

- The Colclough

Saturday 19 January 2013

Landmarks, Challenges and Ze Future

Okay, I missed it.

As in, I wrote my 150th post on this blog, back on Tuesday, and didn't even realise I was doing it.  In my webcomic Cylinder and Miserable it's a long-standing joke that the characters stop to comment on the passage of strip numbers every 50th episode, or more recently they make a point of complaining about the long-standing joke, or just make a point of refusing to comment altogether.  But over here on A White Horizon, I didn't even know I was doing #150 until after I'd hit the 'publish' button.

Still, you could argue that 150 is only a half-landmark, and the next 'proper' one is #200 (which I'll try and make a point of doing something special for, although I'd probably be hard-pushed to do anything as impressive as Sam's 200th post back in June), so I'm not too upset about my failure to spot it.

That, and Tim said he nearly died laughing at what turned out to be my 150th, and I guess a blog post that almost kills your best friend is fairly momentous, even if not quite in the right way, so you could say the landmark didn't quite go unmarked after all...

That was the Landmarks bit.  Now for a comment on Challenges.

As you may have noticed, my first blog post of 2011 was my first of 11 submissions in the "First 11 for '11" challenge against Hannah, and my first blog post of 2012 was my announcement of the free-for-all "First 12 for '12" challenge, which I ended up losing pretty badly to Hannah, Sam and Tim.

As you may also have noticed, this is my third post of 2013, Sam and Tim have also been blogging since the Auld Lang Syne was sung, and none of us have mentioned any "First 13 for '13".  Which is because it isn't happening.  I'd forgotten about the whole thing, Sam had opined that a speed-based challenge probably isn't the best approach (and I've been thinking he's right), and Tim said he's too busy to take part in any blog challenges this winter.  So all things considered, we decided not to bother.

It's also worth noting that Hannah hasn't blogged once since the 24th of last February (almost 11 months ago, do the math), and sad as it may be, it rather seems that the world's greatest sheep-obsessive blog is dead.  Particularly poignant and stuff for me, as hannahlikessheepbaa was really the blog which inspired this one in the first place.  It's largely her fault I blog, and largely my fault Tim blogs, so A White Horizon and OpenCGDA have lost their spiritual parent and spiritual grandparent respectively.

And that leads me on to the last of my three points: Ze Future, or Ze Lack of Future, for a certain other blog.

In light of the impact made by hannahlikessheepbaa.blogspot.com, I think it would be fitting for the blog's surviving friends and relations to give it a dignified send-off, and to that purpose I intend to arrange a virtual funeral.  I was thinking that everyone who has appreciated Hannah's blog over the years could join together on the anniversary of its last known sign of life (i.e. on the 24th of this February) to pay their respects by writing about the general significance of Hannah's blog to them and about which of her posts they liked best and why.  I thought we could also propose a selection of music which would embody the memory of the departed and express our feelings at their departure, and round the whole thing off with a virtual post-funeral lunch comprising food items chosen for their relevance to Hannah's blog.  I'm nominating This Is Gallifrey and fish-custard in the latter two categories...

I seem to remember discussing the funeral idea with somebody already, but I can't remember who it was.  Anybody who has any fondness for Hannah's blog will of course be welcome to attend / participate.

Obviously, if the corpse suddenly comes back to life then that would radically change the funeral plans (maybe rework them as a resurrection party?), but until that happens, I'm planning to proceed on the assumption that the funeral is a thing.

- The Colclough

Tuesday 15 January 2013

What's a Desktop?

I got one of those phone calls this afternoon, where they claim to be from Microsoft and want to talk to you about your computer problem (taking advantage of the fact that most people who have a computer have Windows and/or a problem, usually both), with a view to getting you to pay for some alleged 'repair service' which will actually do more damage to the machine than good, and let the perpetrators run off with your credit card details.

I spotted the guy immediately - the combination of a thick Indian accent and the (always dubious) opening line "Hello, I'm calling from Microsoft; am I right in thinking you are the primary user of your computer?" - and since I knew the Accented One was a miserable low-life trying to pull a fast one on me, I decided I could justify wasting a few minutes of his time by pretending to be a tech-illiterate moron.  Five minutes spent trying to help me find my own mouse would be five minutes less for the cad to maraud around and prey on someone more vulnerable.  That, and I thought it'd be fun.

Needless to say, I fully appreciate the irony inherent in the notion of me playing the tech-illiterate moron, seeing as the computer is by far my most frequently-used tool, and I basically got my current job (coming up to its one-year anniversary next month!) on the grounds that I can speak HTML and I showed promise at navigating the shop's database.  But just for a few minutes, I carefully suppressed years of deeply-ingrained Windows-user know-how, and pretended I didn't have a clue.

"There's this thing out there that will infect your computer as soon as you go on the internet.  It affects all versions of Windows," the Accent informed me in apparent earnest.  "Oh dear," I muttered in fake worry, "that sounds pretty bad.  I guess I'd better let you give me a hand..."  And so we began.  I don't claim that what follows is a verbatim transcript, but it does summarise the more interesting points.

"Can you be in front of your computer right now?" the Accent asked me.  I was already there - having been using it when the phone rang - so I decided not to bother over-complicating that step.  "Yes," I said, "I'm there".  "Good," said the Accent.

"Right: is it a desktop or a laptop computer?" the Accent asked me.  "What's the difference?" I replied.  After making him explain two or three times, I finally 'deduced' what I'd known all along: it's all in separate bits spread all over the desk with cables between then, so it's a desktop.  I then feigned surprise at the 'realisation' that a desktop computer is called that because it's non-portable and stays permanently on the top of the desk.

"Which version of Windows do you have?" the Accent asked me.  "How do I find out?" I replied.  And then I muddied the waters further by saying I'd heard that there was this thing called Linux which you could get instead of Windows, and how would I know if I had that?  Mumble, mumble... we never did work out that I'm running Windows at all, never mind getting down to finnicky details like XP x64 Pro.

I pushed the OS question a bit further by asking "What happens if I've got Linux?  Will it still get The Problem?"  "Yes," the Accent said, "it'll be much worse."  Oh, really - I thought - well, thank goodness I'm not running Linux in your imaginary scam-world then.  I could have been in trouble.

"Could you go to the screen that comes up when you turn the computer on?" the Accent asked me.  "Oh," said I, "but I always have the screen on when I turn the computer on.  Otherwise I can't use the computer!"  Apparently put off for a moment by this unfortunate spot of ambiguity in the English language, the Accent changed his tack a bit: "Can you go to your main screen?"  "Um... I've only got one.  Some of my friends have two, but I don't."

"What can you see on your screen right now?"  I happened to be staring at Windows Media Player 11, so I said in dim-but-happy mode "I can see my music!" and merrily launched into a string of pointless questions as to whether the quantity or even the selection of music could affect the computer's vulnerability to The Problem.  I even started reading out the contents of my library, but only got as far as "some Adiemus albums, and the soundtrack from that Portal 2 game, and" before being interrupted by the next question.

"How old are you?" asked the Accent.  I feigned worry again and asked if I was going to be in trouble because of a legal minimum age for using a computer, to which the Accent said "No, no, I'm not talking about anything illegal."  This remark provided me the opportunity to slip in the knowing question (albeit still disguised under the vapid manner I'd been keeping up for the previous few minutes) "Are you sure?"  I don't know whether or not he picked up on the subtle aspertion being cast against his alleged Microsoft credentials, but if he did, he didn't let on.

"So," I blustered on, "does the computer know how old I am and behave differently based on my age?" I was somewhat taken aback by his answer - in retrospect, I think the Accent must have decided I was really stupid and thought it would be easier to just play along: "Yes, it does."  "Oh," I mumbled.

Anyway, I honestly don't know why he felt he needed to know my age, and I didn't much fancy telling him.  So I decided to bend the truth.  Well, alright, I guess misquoting your age by seven years goes beyond 'bending the truth' and counts as outright fibbing, doesn't it.  I claimed I was 17, and I think that was the point where the pudding got over-egged.  His Accentedness didn't buy it for one moment.  "No, you don't sound 17," he said.  In retrospect, I should have asked how old he thought I sounded - was he going by the timbre of my voice and cottoning on that I'm actually in my mid-20s, or was he going by the implausible stupidity of my responses to his questions and thinking I was more like 7?  I guess I'll never know.

I claimed I was really 17, but I have a throat condition that makes my voice sound unusual. And at this point, the Accent had obviously had enough, because he muttered something which I couldn't quite make out for certain, but which sounded a lot like "I think you've got a few other conditions as well," before telling me to "Have a nice day, sir," and hanging up.

One can only speculate as to how much longer I might have been able to keep it going if I'd come clean and said I'm 24...

Looking back on the conversation, the best bit was probably one of the earliest ones, but I thought I'd save it for last in the writeup: when he asked if I was the primary user of my computer, I said I was, but I said I sometimes let the hamster have a go too.  Needless to say, the Accent seemed to have trouble knowing what to make of this.  But while it may sound like the least realistic thing I said in the whole phone call, the beauty of it is that it's arguably true, at least in a manner of speaking.  Okay, so Dusty doesn't exactly 'have a go on the computer' as such, but he does sometimes walk across my keyboard and accidentally press the odd key with his feet.  So you could say he's 'on the computer', even if only in the crudely physical sense of standing on the controls.

As a coda to the story: once I hung up, I found myself shaking.  I suspect it was a physical reaction to the strain of suppressing my usually-dominant honest streak and telling barefaced lies for a solid eight-and-a-half minutes.  Strange and fascinating.

Anyway, shakes aside, I very much suspect (and certainly hope) that my Accented friend had the worst of the conversation!

- The Colclough

Monday 7 January 2013

From One Weeks' Vantage

Okay, been a week (what, already?) since 2012 shuffled off its mortal coil.  I always said the Mayans were wrong and I'd make it to Event 2013, and here I am.  Here, more to the point, we all are.

Thought I'd do a little write-up on the past year, and have a brief ponder on what might be coming up...


I turned 24.  I remained weird.  I also remained single.  I didn't remain unemployed though, as you might have read in these pages back in February.

I nearly lost my computer.  But it got fixed in the end, so all's well, and all that.

We obtained our seventh hamster back in January, and he has been entertaining us with his nuttiness ever since.  And chewing the carpets.

The Jubilee happened.  Celebrations in my area got rather washed out, but sometimes that's life.  Now I'm busy rooting for Her Majesty to reach the end of her 64th year on the throne and overtake Victoria as the longest-reigning monarch in British history.

The Olympics happened.  I enjoyed the event, mostly.  It was interesting to see that that at one point the USA decided to report the medals table using a different algorithm to everybody else in order to pretend that they were on top, when really we all knew China were leading - almost as if the whole nation was throwing a huge collective strop because being in second place out of 200-odd nations just wasn't good enough for them, dammit Jim.  Us Brits, meanwhile, were perfectly happy with third rank - or at least I was.  I thought the closing ceremony was a washout - okay, it's some overpaid morons singing naff songs; even Imagine is massively over-rated, what's the fuss about here? - but thought most of the opening show was brilliant, and the actual sporting in between managed to grip even me, who hasn't a drop of sporting blood in my body.

I made some interesting discoveries about animation - most importantly, the fact that paper cutout animation is actually a lot slower and more difficult than you might think.  My animation output for 2011 comprised 13 episodes of Arbitrary Stopframe, but 2012 managed only 4 episodes of Papercuts.  Although to be fair, Papercuts episodes feature dialogue (with the consequent burden of lip-synch work), and each have three times the runtime of actual animation (i.e. not counting title and credit sequences) of an AS episode, so when you do the maths they work out relatively close.

That was my film output - what of the intake?  Records indicate (yes, I keep records) that I went to the cinema four times in 2012, to see The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (visually top-notch, as one would expect from an Aardman feature, but disappointingly weak in the story department, and less funny than it should have been), Avengers Assemble (don't get me started, I could eulogise for ages, especially about Phil 'Agent' Coulson), Brave (not quite Pixar's best, but still pretty good), and finally The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (overlong, yes, but largely enjoyable, especially the performances of Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis.  Sorry about the inevitable disagreements betwixt us, Sam, but I did like it).  I've lost count of all the things I've seen on TV / DVD / Blu-ray, but highlights have included Galaxy Quest on Blu-ray, Sherlock season 2, the first half of the first season of The West Wing, my first time watching full seasons of The Apprentice (s8) and Young Apprentice (s3), and of course Seven Samurai.  Not so much a highlight, but still of note, the first few episodes of Star Trek TNG.  So far, at least half of them have been really awful - but I kept watching because I'm a bit of a completist sometimes.  The Dreaded Moffat has been very cruel and only given us six episodes of Doctor Who this year, instead of the 14 we should have had, but at least the first half of Series 33/7 has been an improvement over the sloppily-written debacle of 2011's Series 32/6.

I finished publishing Cylinder and Miserable Series 2, and started on Series 3.  Didn't end up resuming Grace and Caffeine or starting my planned Brothers in Shells prequel spin-off yet.

I also met a guy called Wayne, and we've been writing a sitcom whose basic premise is The Screwtape Letters mashed up with The Terminator, and laced with a liberal dollop of up-to-the-minute financial corruption.  More on that later, maybe...

And to round things off, I won 2 out of 5 podium spots for best post, and second ranking on the Best Blog of the Year list, in Sam's 2012 blogroll review, which I have to say was a very nice cap to the blogging year.


In short, goodness knows.  There are 51 more weeks to go before 2014 starts, and 51 weeks is a very, very long time, both in politics and elsewhere.

On the animation front, I'm hoping to get X-Battles GT5 finished soon.  Beyond that, Papercuts episodes 5 to 9 are all in various stages of being written, but none are ready to go yet, so I might be taking a break from the show and producing something else next.  Possibly more AS, and/or possibly the long-brewing Empire of the Pond, given a helping hand by my new graphics tablet.  Or maybe something about Murkum, animated entirely in Lego - but I don't have a workable screen story for that project yet, so you'll have to wait.  On a related note, Tim, Sarah and I finished Alpha One's Winter Wonderland back in the summer, and shot a fifth X-Battles GT short in October (nearly finished, just waiting for some more sound-editing work).

Hoping to finish writing Cylinder and Miserable Series 3 this year.  Might get round to doing one of those other comic-strip things I mentioned.  Might not.  Don't know.

Looking forward to Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Monsters University, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  Waiting to see what the reviews are like.  Need to catch up with Skyfall on DVD/BR sometime.

I've known people who took less than 51 weeks between meeting their future spouse for the first time ever, and getting back from their honeymoon.  Not to say I expect to marry in 2013; far from it, I've long since given up any actual hope or expectation on that front, but I know enough about probability - and about God's sometimes inexplicable sense of humour - to recognise that I can't absolutely rule out any traces of possibility.

Can but wait and see!

- The Colclough