Stupid Flash Tricks, Part 3

Well, I finished up another Flash project–basically conceived and finished in ten days time.  Considering the last one took weeks, I’d say that’s some kind of progress.  Unlike the last two, everything (except for the audio) in this one was created entirely in Flash itself, with no PhotoShop imports.  Flash is still very primitive as a paint program, but I am slowly figuring out how to do things in Flash…something I never thought I’d say.  It’s nice to feel that I can do good work quickly–a nice feeling of accomplishment.

Here are some stills:

And the entire thing can be found here.

See you later, and thanks for stopping by.

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Stupid Flash Tricks, Part 2

Hello!  I hope everyone had a good Christmas and is looking forward to the new year.

I believe the first entry in this “Stupid Flash Tricks” series was over a dozen years ago  (I’m not going to look it up).  Since that time, Adobe’s Flash animation package has gone from ubiquitous hero of the internet to abandoned pariah, with some browsers (Google Chrome) saying they will no longer support it.

Naturally, this is the time I choose to decide I need to attempt to learn it again.  Much like PhotoShop, once you gain a slight understanding of how Flash works, you can appreciate the difficult curve you just rounded.  Unlike PhotoShop, though, Flash remains obstinate in its refusal to cooperate.   An errant mouse-click can undo all manner of carefully arranged work.  Things seem designed specifically to be time-consuming and confusing, precision is an absolute must, and in two key areas of film–sound and editing–it remains bafflingly primitive and difficult.

Sound–better have the sound just the way you like it before you import it into a project, because there’s no way to edit that sound in Flash itself.  Yes, you can’t even change the volume if it’s too loud.*

Editing–movies are made by shooting one scene, then another, and so on until you have the footage you want.  You then edit these scenes together to tell the story.  Within Flash, the only way to combine two different scenes (i.e., two separate animated scenes) is to sweep your mouse across all the frames in your second scene, copy them, open the first scene, and paste them into the frames after the first scene ends.*

Anyway, despite that, here‘s my latest Flash project, that I’ve been working on for ages.

   

It’s called “Look at me,” from the only line of dialogue in the whole thing.  Enjoy!  And as always, thanks for visiting.  Happy New Year!

*As indicated, I’m still strictly a novice in Flash, so there may be ways to do these things within Flash itself.  However, I did search for those ways diligently, and found nothing.   Third-party solutions are no way to go through life, son, but they do allow one to work.

ND Photography

“ND” refers to “Neutral Density” filters.  These are varying densities of gray, designed to block varying amounts of light in order to have long exposures during the daylight.  Normally, having an exposure time of 4 seconds or so would just give you a blank white image; that amount of time in sunlight would just saturate the camera’s CCD.  ND filters are designed to counter that.

The two most prevalent types of images taken with ND filters are those of running, foaming water (it gives the water a misty, dream-like look) and public attractions like monuments (long exposures mean that the people milling around never stay in one place long enough to register on the image).

You can find an excellent article on using ND filters here.  That same article also discusses a different way to get the same result–by using two polarizing filters, a circular one attached to the lens, and a linear one attached to that filter.  That gives one a bit more flexibility than a standard ND filter, which is usually a single strength.

So having read the article, I decided to try my hand at it.  My camera is a Nikon D70, and my lens is a Quantaray 18-200 zoom.  The filters are Kenko (linear) and Promaster (circular).  Of course, all of the shots below were taken using a tripod.  I couldn’t think of any local monuments, and I also couldn’t remember any areas with interesting running water, but I chose the latter nonetheless.  None of the shots below have been enhanced in any way.

The above was taken with the camera on Auto.  Exposure 1/125, F/5.6.  Below is the same area, also at F/5.6 but with an exposure time of 4 seconds.

In addition to making bubbly water mist-like, it can also smooth water surfaces.  Below, an “Auto” shot at F/5.6 and 1/125.

The same shot (slightly reframed, mostly via zoom) at 4 seconds, and F/32.

The reason for the reframing was (I think) something to do with the angle of the light.  Because when I tried to do the ND shot with the original framing (20 seconds at F/11) I got this–

–which is, in its own way, quite lovely but not really what I wanted.  Even messing with it in PhotoShop* didn’t really get me what I wanted.

So, it’s definitely not an exact science.  Which is one of the nice things about digital cameras–mistakes don’t cost you anything, and in fact are a good learning experience.

A few more examples below.

6 seconds at F/9:

20 seconds at F/16:

20 seconds at F/18 (slightly tweaked in PhotoShop for exposure):

15 seconds at F/20:

Now, to find some waterfalls…

Thank you as always for stopping by.

*The folks referenced in the link above make a really nice image editor called Zoner Photo Studio.  It has a lot of the same functionality as PhotoShop but is a lot less expensive.  It’s well worth checking out; alas, I’m pretty well wedded to PhotoShop for the foreseeable future…but I do have a copy of Zoner.  Who knows what might happen in the future?

Pipe Dream

Apparently there’s another rumor floating around that I’m dead.  Well, damn it, I’m not dead yet.  One of these days, though, I will be and you’ll be sorry that you laughed with me all cold and blue and rotting and starting to stink and hungering for brains.  Better shovel me into the trash when you can!  HEY WAIT STOP I MEANT WHEN I’M DEAD.

Anyway, here are some photos from the half-pipe that I built all by my lonesome.  The first photo shows the five pieces after they were cobbled together, but before they were assembled into one monstrous organism.   

Each of the end pieces (the two curved sections) is actually made of two parts, that haven’t yet been shackled together into oneness or something hippie-esque or equally unpleasant and in need of bathing.

In the shot below, the plastic covering has been put under the wooden bits, and they’ve all been assembled into one coalescent being.  The plastic is there to prevent moisture, grubs, worms and HORRIFYING ZOMBIES from damaging stuff that shouldn’t be damaged.  Mostly I like the angle on this one…

…because the picture below pretty much shows the same thing. 

Below, you can see the plywood flooring applied, as well as the plastic tubing stuff that goes at the top so, um, the, er, plastic tubing stuff can work.  And stuff.  And like that.

Finally, below is the finished product with the back fence-things applied.  AND IT WAS DONE AND FINISHED AND THE LORD DID SPAKE AND SAY YEA IT IS GOOD, THAT THING YOU DID, THERE.  AWESOME DUDE.

And I am still amazingly sore in all available limbs.  But not that sore GET THOSE SHOVELS OUT OF MY SIGHT!

So, I built a half-pipe.  And I lived to tell the tale.  (Soon to be an epic poem by Coleridge.) And yeah, sure, I’ll build one for you, too.

For fifty thousand dollarsHeh heh heh.

Just kidding.  I wouldn’t charge that much, and I’d never build another one anyway.

Speaking of anyway, next we’ll have more anime stuff!  Thanks for visiting, as always, and as always, GET THOSE SHOVELS AWAY FROM ME YOU OVERZEALOUS GHOULS!  Can’t a guy rot in peace?

We Cluster Around

Creating entertainment for children is always a difficult road to traverse.  On the one hand, you have to tailor your efforts to keep a kid interested—this is hard for an adult mind to do, what with us being all cynical and everything; on the other hand, you can’t make it too kid-centric, as it’s frequently an adult who has to put the disk in or open the book, and much as you want the kids to like what you’ve done, there should be a still small voice in the back of your head that hopes the adult isn’t thinking, Oh, crap, not this again.
 
Of course, children like the same things that adults do when it comes to entertainment—first and foremost, they want a good story, with characters that they can identify with, doing things that they themselves might think, Yes, I’d do that too, if I were there.  Or at least I hope I would.
 
Too often, children’s entertainment has taken the road of condescension.  Oh, it’s for kids, they don’t examine things too closely, it’ll work.  But kids do examine things, which is why they’re kids, and they examine them very closely indeed.  They know when they’re being sold a bill of goods, which is why half the things meant for kids fall flat, while the things that resonate—Harry Potter is a good example—defy expectations and succeed spectacularly. 
 
Just because a book is meant for kids doesn’t mean it has to be aimed at kids, and I’m happy to report that there’s a great “kid’s book” out there that anyone, from your eight-year-old nephew to your eighty-year-old great aunt can enjoy: Flap Doodel and the Incredible Kibbll Caper, by D.K. Wolfe. 
 
It reminds me in great measure of a book I loved as a kid, and still re-read from time to time:  The Runaway Robot, by Lester del Rey (I’ve heard second-hand that Mr. Del Rey didn’t actually write it, but that’s irrelevant here).  Like Runaway, Flap Doodel is also more in the science fiction camp than Harry Potter, which I like just fine—while the science isn’t hard by any means, it’s kept within a fairly plausible framework, and it means no one’s going to use the “wave magic gems and everything is all right again” spell to Deus-Ex-Machina the heroes out of whatever mess they’ve gotten themselves into. 
 
And while Flap Doodel does have a couple of messages it wants to convey, mostly about tolerance and open-mindedness, it doesn’t hammer away at them; they’re there to be taken in, but only as seasoning, not the main course.   The main course is imagination, and fun.

Imagination is a pretty rare quality found in present-day entertainment; most folks are content to rearrange a handful of standard tropes over and over again and charge us money for the privilege of seeing how well they’ve absorbed trends in modern culture and shoveled them back at us.  (Cough.  Pardon my cynicism.)  True invention is hard to find.

I pride myself on having a pretty-well developed imagination, but mine tends toward the dark side—“Wouldn’t it be horrible if…”  How nice, then, to find in D.K. Wolfe’s work the contrasting, “Wouldn’t it be fun if…”  Imagination and fun, what more could one ask?   Well, how about humor, well-drawn characters, and an intricately developed universe? 

The story concerns our hero, Flap Doodel (“Flappy” for most of the book).   He’s a young hybrid creature, born of two races—a rather leonine race of powerful predators (Looprevians), and a more humanoid race of kindly thinkers (Junans).  He looks pretty much like a regular young boy, except his ears are wing-shaped.  His heritage gives him abnormal strength from the one race (though he’s not superstrong by any means), and a certain native genius for “figuring things out” from the other race.  

Flappy has lived his entire life on a rather isolated farm planet, so when he wins a scholarship to the Spacexchange school, we get some exposition chapters, allowing us to learn about this universe at the same time that Flappy does. 

This is always the best form of exposition—we see everything as the character sees it, rather than get flung some handfuls of “Isn’t it great how, in the future we’re living in, we get to fly spaceships!” that always sound so forced and artificial.  The character-finds-out method gives us the same viewpoint Flappy has, so when he’s surprised at something, so are we.  It also humanizes him, so instead of seeing him as an exotic alien, we can identify with him and see ourselves in the choices he makes, based on what he learns (since we learned it at the same time).

Anyway, once at school, Flappy gradually goes from being an awkward outsider to making some friends (literally, in one case) and trying to fit in on his new world. 

Then, Flin shows up, and the plot begins in earnest.  She’s a member of a third race, a rather war-like, nasty bunch of folks called Antags, though she’s very different from their norm.  Still, mistrust is high and it’s only Flappy who takes an honest interest in her.  It’s at this point though—and especially when Flin is apparently kidnapped—the story goes into high gear and doesn’t let up. 

I read the entire book in a few hours, and after Flin’s kidnapping, I literally could not put the book down.  The events come fast and furious, though the story is well-rounded with some very nice humor, some realistic set-backs, and some additional detailing of Flappy’s world.  For example, there’s yet another intelligent race to contend with…

While Flappy is the character who drives the plot, author Wolfe doesn’t make this into a one-man show.   There are a number of supporting characters, on both the good and evil sides, who contribute major arcs to the plot.  And Flappy is not above making mistakes; while they discourage him, he simply looks for another answer.  And there’s a smart-alec robot.  Now, now, before you groan, “Not a smart-alec robot!” Stufzinger is actually hugely entertaining.   (Don’t tell him I said that.)  One member of the bad guy’s team also seemed headed for a change-of-heart, and while that didn’t happen, who knows what future books will bring?  (There is another book in the series currently being prepared.)

The only quibbles I have are minor.   Early on, we’re given a list of every store in a shopping center, and while it does give a nice view of what the Junans consider important, I’m not sure we needed to know all of them.   There’s a similar bit later in the book when we stop at a bakery, and I was thinking, “Guys?  Um, shouldn’t we be worried about the enemy troops?”   Finally, a long-standing dispute between two tribes is resolved so quickly I had to slam on the brakes and re-read to be sure I hadn’t missed something.  But like I said, and as you can see—these are very, very minor and in no way interfere with the entertainment on hand.

Of which there is a lot.  If I were to try to recall a book that gripped me as tightly as this one did, the only title that pops up is…The Runaway Robot.  As previously mentioned, that book has stayed with me for decades.   Well, here’s to a long life, then, so I’ll enjoy Flap Doodel and the Incredible Kibbll Caper again and again for an equal span.

Incidentally, author Wolfe does double duty as illustrator Wolfe, and the illustrations at the beginning of each chapter are charming without being overly sweet.   If I were to voice a complaint about the illustrations, it would be this:  there aren’t enough of them.  Still, I’d rather have the grand adventure than pictures of folks I can picture clearly in my head, but I don’t think you can have too much of a good thing in this instance…

I highly recommend this book.  Give it a go, and remember what a sense of wonder is like.
 
Incidentally, the book has managed to spark my own creativity a bit.  For the first time in umm a rather long time, I’m writing a story that has nothing to do with NaNo and isn’t an assignment.  Of course, given my nature, mine is something of the “Wouldn’t it be horrible if…” though slightly tempered this time around.  You couldn’t have been expecting anything else, yes?

Retained a Sense of Theatre

In the past five days, I’ve submitted over 40 cartoons to the Spamusement Forums.  Some of these are multiple-panel jobs, some are comment drawings, and some are remixes, but still–over 40 since the 16th.

That’s about eight a day.  Let’s not even talk about creative work–I don’t think I’ve ever done forty things in five days, except maybe “take breaths.”   What is it about drawing cartoons that’s so attractive?   

Well, they’re quick and they spark the imagination, without taking themselves seriously.  I can draw one, submit it, and that’s the end of it.  There’s no pressure.

But there are nice rewards.  Several folks have made comments that add to the idea, and one fellow forum member consistently–and I mean every time–takes an idea of mine, no matter how mediocre, and turns it into something incredible.   I think I’m seriously in love, man.

Plus I’ve learned what V1agra really looks like.  I had no idea.

Anyway, here’s a bonus drawing that shows how I get my ideas for the silly things.  You’re the only ones who’ve seen this, so feel special, damn it!

Merry Christmas to you all, and if you don’t celebrate Christmas, then Happy However.  Thanks for visiting!

(PS: I’m out of town, using my laptop with the iffy keyboard, so I can conveniently blame any misspellings on it.  Works like a champ!)

Nan06:21

Current word count: 36,555

A nice looking number.  I’ll be out of town probably through Satuday, so updates here will be pretty much non-existant as I’ll be where there’s not much internet access.

I’ll still be able to write, though, so with luck I should be able to hammer in a few more words.  I think I might be able to reach 45K by Saturday’s end.  And there’s still revising to do.

I wonder how much NaNoWriMo is actually killing the writing.  Because I’m trying to tell a good story, but I’m also trying to get wordcount.  So when I go back and see an awkward phrase, I don’t think “I should delete that.”  Instead, I think that I should surround it with more and more words until it works (which is sometimes never).

I was kind of surprised last night, that I took out a whole section that simply didn’t work.  Of course, I immediately turned around and started typing in other sections, trying to make up for lost wordcount.

Ah well.  I doubt what I’ve got is publishable in any form, anyway.  The process does nag, though.

Later: Current word count: 37,173. Another nice looking number.

And until later, then…stay safe, keep writing, and I’ll see you all very soon.