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The Scatter Shot Approach Doesn’t Work for Me

October 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

MyMostDifficultCaseIn the past I’ve run into trouble when I try to do too many projects at the same time. I think I’ve fallen into that again. I need to pick one project to focus on.

“The Barrier”

I left “The Barrier” for now. I’ll pick it up again when the new version of Xtranormal becomes available.

“My Most Difficult Case”

I started to work on “My Most Difficult Case” again. The files were very badly organized, so I tried to clean them up. To start I tried to get rid of duplicate files. I reduced the number of files from 42,109 to 21,789. I cut the number of folders from 716 to 265. The size of the files went from 324Gb to 187Gb.

There are still thousands of duplicates, but I’m not sure which I can get rid of. It also looks like I got rid of some files I should have kept. I generally hang on to all my intermediate files, so that it is easier to go back and fix mistakes. I got that habit when I worked in transportation planning. I think it is a good idea, but I need to document what I do better, so I can clean up the files later.

Triond and Wikinut

Some years ago I used to post articles on a couple of websites: Triond and Wikinut. I haven’t posted new articles to either for a couple years now. I haven’t had any payments from either of them for well over a year. I decided to cancel both accounts and repost my articles on my own site.

Wikinut doesn’t seem to have a “close account” function. I found some discussion of that on some web posts. Someone said that they will close an account if you sent them a message and ask them to close the account. I sent a message, but they haven’t responded yet.

There seems to be some problem with Triond. I can’t log in at all. I did a search and found that people have been complaining about problems with Triond since July. I will try again later.

I’ll likely wait for a while after I close these accounts before I start to report my articles on my website. I’d like to revise some of them. There are also a few that I think I just want to get rid of.


I want to do some work on my website. In particular I want to set it up to be more iPhone/iPad friendly. I use WordPress for my website and use a theme that I created from another theme. It is a bit clunky and I can’t see how I could easily modify it to be iPhone/iPad friendly.

I looked at some other themes, but I would need to make some major changes to any I choose. The last time I did a major revision, I set up an alternate website to test the new theme. I found that awkward to work with.

I wanted to see if it was possible to set up a site on my local computer and do the experimenting there. I found a couple of systems that seem to do the job: and XAMPP I don’t know much about either, so it is hard to decide.

Pick a Project

I think that I really need to get “My Most Difficult Case” over and done with. On the other hand I really want to redo my website. Maybe it will be easier to choose when I get up Monday morning.

“The Barrier” Version 0.6 Now On-line

October 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

I created a new version of “The Barrier” this week and posted it to YouTube. I made several changes to the first two scenes. Next week I plan to move on to a new project, or do some of the house work I’ve neglected.

Over the last week, I finished the first scene of “The Barrier” that I’ve worked on over the last month. Then I did a new version of the second scene of the movie. Finally I combined them with the rest of the movie to create a new version (version 0.6) of “The Barrier”.


Scene 1


I only made a few minor changes to the previous version of scene 1. I added some more cuts after the car passes the truck to give a more frenzied impression of what happens. Since I planned to use this version to replace part of the previous version of “The Barrier”, I used the same artificial voice from before, rather than my own voice. That voice is a little slower than mine, so I had to extend the background shot a bit.

I am sure that there is a lot more that I can do with this scene to make it better. However, I decided to call it done for now. I plan to redo the entire movie with real actors for the voices, and will have another chance to revisit the scene then. It is easier to see opportunities for improvement when you’ve had time to create some distance.

Scene 2


In the records I keep for the movie, I call the second scene 1.5. It is a fairly simple scene, so I decided that as long as I planned to revise the movie on-line, it would be an easy addition.

In the original version of the scene a woman passes Arthur on the street. She smiles at him, but he is caught up in his own thoughts and doesn’t notice her. Someone thought that she was a prostitute, which is not what I intended. I wanted to revise the scene so that people wouldn’t see it that way.

I had the woman sit at a table outside a coffee shop with a third character that I added. The two women are talking, although I don’t actually have them talk, just gesture at each other. When Arthur walks by, the woman glances at him, then turns back to smile at him. As in the original version, Arthur doesn’t notice her.

Version 0.6

When I uploaded version 0.5, it took something like 14 hours to finish! I didn’t want to do that this time, so I took advantage of YouTube’s on-line video editor. I combined the first two scenes and a short piece of the third scene, and uploaded the combined video. Then I used the editor to cut off the first two scenes from version 0.5 and add in the revised scenes.

I never used the on-line editor before and I found it difficult to work with. It didn’t seem to have precision I wanted, although, that could just be my inexperience. I wanted to cut at the end of the short piece of scene 3 that I uploaded.

I fiddled with the cut for a long time. I couldn’t see any way to test it, except to create the whole movie, which took many hours to generate. Fortunately it turned out OK. I can see a slight glitch a few seconds into the third scene, but I think most people wouldn’t notice it. If I had managed to cut out one or two frames more, it would have worked just fine.

I don’t plan to do much in the way of promotion for this version. I want to save that for the “final” version I plan to do. I will leave this project until the new version of Xtranormal becomes available.

I have a bunch of unfinished projects I could work on next. “My Most Difficult Case” has been hanging over me for far too long. I would like to get it out of the way, so I can move on to other things with a clear conscience.

“The Barrier” Scene 1, and Xtranormal Updates 2014 October 12

October 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

I think the latest version of scene 1 only needs a few tweaks and then it is done. Xtranormal asked me (and many others) for feed back this week. It looks like they are nearer to a re-release.

“The Barrier”

I did another version of scene 1 of my transportation planning movie this week. I think it is very close to the final version.

It took Blender a long time to output the video. It is a big complex file and creates only about 3 frames a minute, so that a 4 second clip took over a half hour to create.

I made several changes for the new version:

  • I added some interior lights to the car so you can see the inside of the car in the close ups of the driver.
  • I modified the steering wheel; I had placed too high. I spent a long time fixing the steering wheel. It was joined to the car and I had to un-join it before I could do anything with it. I converted it into a child of the car and then moved it. It would have been easier for me if I had made it a child from the start. If nothing else, I am learning more tricks in Blender.
  • I did two versions of each of the close up shots. In one I added a purple screen where the driver would sit, to make it easier to add the driver. I’ve noticed that when I composited the shots that the steering wheel pulses, which I will have to fix somehow.
  • I changed the driver’s expression at a couple of points. I think that helped convey what I wanted.

When I watched the final video, I could see several places where I wanted to make more changes.

  • Near the end, where the car veers out of control, I think I need to cut back and forth between the cameras faster. I hadn’t out put the video from Blender that I needed to do that.
  • The truck currently has no writing on it, such as the name of the company. I did create some for the truck but didn’t use it: “Arrogant Jerk – Transport Services – Why should we care about your junk?” It seemed too flippant. On the other hand, it would pass by too fast for people to read it, so it wouldn’t make much difference.
  • I’d like to improve the sound effects. The car sound, doesn’t really sound like car to me. The tire squeals aren’t continuous, so I’d like to do something to fix that.
  • As I noted above, the steering wheel pulses in some of the close up shots. It is really distracting, so I really do need to fix it.

I had some positive feedback about my voice in the video I posted last week. I’m not a big fan of my own voice. Who is? It has me thinking I should do the voice rather than hire a professional. The one big advantage is that I work cheap.

The scene should be done soon, so I have started to think about what to do next. I would like to update the existing video on YouTube with the new scene. If I do that I want to redo the second scene as well, which won’t be hard to do. There are a lot of other changes I want to make, but I’ll leave them until Xtranormal is re-released.

Of course I have other projects to work on, like “My Most Difficult Case” and “Felix”. They are both projects that seem to drag on forever, so it would be nice to put them behind me.


This week, Nawmal send me an e-mail about Xtranormal. They asked for feedback from former users about what they’d like to see when they rerelease it. I wrote a long note and sent it off. They didn’t reply yet, but that might be a good sign, since it could mean they had a lot of responses. I am optimistic that a rerelease will be available soon.

Someone posted the letter on FaceBook:

“The Barrier” Update 2014 October 5

October 5, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

I’ve added the driver and some sound effects to the demo video of the new scene 1 for “The Barrier” this week. It isn’t done yet, but I managed to put together an early version of the scene that gives a good indication how the final version will look.

I added more trees and animated the river, but didn’t add them to the demo video yet. The car needs to be developed a bit further, so I want to do that first.

Some people suggested that I should get actors to do the voices, rather than the robot voices I had. It looks like I would need to pay for the robot voices in the future, and I would prefer to give my money to a local actor.

I recorded my own voice and use it in place of the original robot voice. I included two versions of the driver speaking; one with my voice and one with the robot voice I used before. I’m not happy with my voice or my acting chops, but I think that a real voice does work better. If I get some actors with better voices than mine, then it would make a big difference.

I would like to start contacting actors to see what it might cost me. If you can suggest people I would like to hear about them.

I think I am close to the point where I am done with this project for now. Before I can redo the rest of the movie, I will need to wait until Xtranormal is rereleased, and I can get a licence.

“The Barrier” Scene 1 Progress 2014 September 28

September 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The new scene really started to come together this week. I posted a test video that I think gives a good indication what the final version will look like. You can watch the test video here:

I think I’ve got all the vehicle movements done now. Although I might need to do some tweaks later.

I spent most of my time on the set up of the cameras. Most of the cameras were fairly easy, but a couple were more difficult. One of these is a point of view shot from the driver, while the other is a close up of the driver. I plan I need to have them to stay in the exact same position relative to the car and that turns out to be very finicky work.

The point of view camera is a bit easier because I can eyeball the position reasonably well. The close up camera is a real pain. I plan to composite in the driver and to make that easier, I need the camera settings to be very precise.

It is OK when the car moves in a straight line, but when it changes direction it becomes a night mare. I developed a formula to convert the relative coordinates of the camera to the coordinates after the car changes direction. The one I came up with was a bit too simplistic and I’ll need to work on it some more.

I was quite happy how the sequence looks when I cut it all together. I can improve on the continuity though. I also wonder if I need to add more trees and maybe some ground cover to the set.

“The Barrier” is a movie about a transportation planner. You learn a bit more about it here:

More Fiddling with “The Barrier” Animation – 2014 September 21

September 21, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

I made a little more progress on the new version of scene 1 for “The Barrier” this week. I have both a truck and a car for the scene now. I added a lot of trees and played around with the terrain a bit. I posted a test animation.

My first task Monday was to design and create the truck. In the current version of the movie, Arthur calls the truck a semi, but I decided it would be easier to do a cube van.  It was easier to do than the car and went fairly quickly.  When I imported it into the Gladstone set, it came out huge and I needed to scale it down. Later in the week, when I did some modifications later in the week, I did the rescale before the import. I did the same for the car. I did a test animation with both the car and truck.  I messed up the animation of the truck and it jumped around a bit, so it was hard to get at a good idea how it would look.

I made some changes to the truck Tuesday, including some headlights. I modified the car as well. I added a steering wheel and head lights  to the car.  I modified the car’s front bumper as well. I pulled the revised vehicle both into the Gladstone set.  I had to fiddle with scale, but it wasn’t as difficult.

On Tuesday and Wednesday I modified the set extensively. I trim out sections of the terrain that I didn’t think I needed. I added hundreds of trees, I wanted to give some of them different colors, but I ran into trouble with that, so I just let them be. The terrain still has some open spaces, but the forest does look more realistic.  I added some rocks along the river and gravel along the side of the road. They didn’t look very good. I will have to try something else. I modified the water so it would be move so it would looks like flowing water. All these additions to the set slows down the animation render quite a bit.

Thursday I revised the animation plan. I calculated the positions of the car and truck at key points on the time line. That proved to be slow tedious work, but I think I have it right now. It will come in handy when I start to work on the animation.

Friday I discovered that the car, the truck and the elements of the set were of different scales. The truck was easy to fix. The car wasn’t so easy. After I rescaled it, the car looked too squashed down. I didn’t want to rescale the height, because then the tires would look oval. Instead, I moved the top of the car up relative to the rest of the car. I think I might raise it up a little more. I was worried that the trees were out of scale, but when I did a test animation, they looked OK to me.

One thing I still don’t really understand about Blender is how the co-ordinate system works. I had to work out how to convert the co-ordinate system for the roadway to the co-ordinate system for the whole set. I need to do that so I can use the time and positions of the car and truck for the animation. After some fiddling about, I came up with a couple of formulas to do the conversion.

Saturday I put more detail into the animation plan for what happens to the car after it avoids the truck.  I suspect that once I have everything set up, that I will need to make some further adjustments.

I am still not very sure how I will handle camera movement. Three of the five cameras I plan to use for the scene have track the car and will need to move during their shots. One idea I had was to link the camera to the car but I am not sure that will work. I’ll have to experiment with that. My other idea is to set the first position of the camera relative to the car and then do the same for the end point. That should give it the same speed as the car and have it not move relative to the car.

One camera is a close up of the driver’s seat and I expect that will be the most difficult. I plan to composite in the image of the driver, and if there is any relative movement, the shot won’t work. On the other hand, the drivers point of view shouldn’t be very hard.

Finally, I created a short test animation to see how it all looks. It isn’t a shot I plan to use in the final scene. Please have a look at the test animation and let me know what you think of it.

More Blender Animation for “The Barrier” – 2014 September 14

September 14, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Sept14Image2I continued to work on the revised opening scene for “The Barrier” this week. Progress has been slower than I hoped, but I enjoy most of the work, and I’ve learned quite a lot from what I’ve done so far.

In the opening scene, my hero, a young transportation planner drives down a road and is almost hit by a truck. In the scene in the current version of “The Barrier” this isn’t very clear. I hope to get a much more impressive opening scene with Blender.

It took me most of the week to create the car for the scene. I wasn’t happy with the first version I did, so I scraped it. I did learn a few tricks when I did it though that helped me when I did the new version. When I did the second version, I based it on a specific car. It didn’t look much like it when I was done, but it did look more realistic. I don’t want it to look too realistic though. After I got the initial version done, I added some seats. At first I made them a dark brown, but then decided a light tan would look better.

I gave the windows for the car a slight blue colour, a little reflectivity and a slight opaqueness. I thought that looked good, but then ran into a problem where the inside of the car was too dark to see anything. I made the windows more transparent and even deleted some of them. I lightened the colour of the seats, and moved the Sun so that it would better illuminate the interior. Finally I put a light inside the car. I was reluctant to do that because I was concerned that it would look wrong. However, it didn’t look too bad.

I did some more animation tests, mostly to see how the car looked when I travelled down the road. One of the issues I have to solve is that car can fly up above or drop below the road unless I get the key frames right. That is finicky work. The river beside the road is static, so I did a test to see if I could animate it as well.

At the end of the week I started to work out the animation plan in more detail. I need to know where to put the car, the truck and the cameras for each key frame. I have the car worked out, but ran into trouble with the truck. I’ll try again next week. I haven’t done anything about the cameras yet. The ones that move need to stay in the same relative position to the car throughout the scene. I hope that I can find a way to link the cameras to the car, so they move when the car moves. I find it difficult to work with the co-ordinate system in Blender. It seems like each object has its own system.

I wanted to add new objects to the animation, so I searched for a video demonstration on-line. I’ve found that videos about most everything I need to learn about Blender are available on-line.

I still have a lot of work to do before I’m done with this video. I need to finish the car: I want to add head lights and a steering wheel. A rear view mirror would be nice, but I think I can skip that. I also would like to add some detail to the interior of the car.

The one major piece of work I have to do is create the truck. In the script I have it as a semi, but I think that would be too difficult to animate, so I think I will do some sort of van. That will be a bit trickier than the car. I don’t think I will need the interior detail, which will help.

I’m not sure how much longer this scene will take me to complete. Every week I start with the thought that I’ll get it done this week. It turns out to be wishful thinking.

“The Barrier” Test Animation 2014 September 6

September 7, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

My goal is to create a new version of the opening scene for my movie, “The Barrier”. In the current version of the opening scene it isn’t clear what happens. I completed a short test animation this week.

So far I’ve concentrated on building the set, but also did a test animation. I used Blender to build the set and do the animation. At one point I got very frustrated with Blender. It seems like I get something the way I want it, and then it stops working after I made some more changes. Late in the week I seemed to find a way around that and got a test animation done. You can watch it here:

I’m a long way from completion. I plan to add more trees and some vehicles. I may also add a yellow stripe down the center of the road or more detailed trees. I don’t want the set to look too realistic because it would look odd when I combine it with the Xtranormal animation I used in the rest of the movie. I plan to shoot the scene from several different cameras and then cut them together in Premiere Pro.

“The Barrier” is the story about the struggles of a transportation planner when he tries to do what he thinks is right.

Sketchup, Blender and “The Barrier”

August 31, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

demoscene1aThis week I tried out both Sketchup and Blender for a revised version of scene 1 of “The Barrier”. Initially I thought Sketchup was the better choice, but then changed my mind.

I used Blender to do the backgrounds of the public meeting scene in “The Barrier” and had planned to use it to do a new version of scene 1. In the current version it is difficult to understand what happens, so I want to make it more obvious.

I found it difficult to learn how to use Blender, so I decided to see if I could find an easier alternative. I found some reviews on-line and they help me identify several other programs I could use. From what I read it looked like the best option was Sketchup. The reviews said it was easier to use, which was my primary goal. The reviews did note that the output quality isn’t as good as Blender and it doesn’t have the flexibility of Blender. I decided it sounded good enough.

After I installed Sketchup, I tried it out with some simple figures. I found it was easier to learn and I was able to get results quickly. I felt good about it and prepared to move on to work on the actual scene. Before I did, I checked the licence restrictions again. I had thought I could use the free version, but it turned out that I would have to buy the commercial licence. They cost about $600, so I decided to try Blender again.

I made good progress with Blender. I found that what I learned from Sketchup helped me work out how to get what I wanted from Blender. As a test, I created some terrain, a road, and some trees. I also made a short test animation where a vehicle drives down the road. It was actually just a block and not a car, but after all it was just a test.

I created the roadway for the scene 1 set, based on some calculations I’d done earlier. I found the roadway awkward to work with. I found it difficult to move around, and image. Sometimes, some of the roadway would vanish for no reason I could come up with.

The set is about a kilometre long. I think that I need to redesign the set somewhat, and maybe change the scale as well. I did some calculations and think I can cut the size down quite a bit.

At the end of the day, this exercise made me feel more confident about Blender.

Lessons From My Early Writing

August 24, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

smilingcorpse_300This week I reread some of my earliest writing attempts from 40 years ago. I hadn’t thought about them until the last few months. Although they were failures for the most part, they taught me some lessons.

In Stephen King’s book “On Writing”, he says he began to write when he was very young. It took him many years to become successful. I came away with the feeling that since I had not started that early, that it would be harder for me to get into writing.

Recently I found some stories and notes for stories that I had worked on when I was in junior and senior high school. While I did not start as early as Stephen King, I have certainly tried to write for many years.

While most of my writing at school was various types of essays, a couple teachers did give me opportunities to write short fiction. More importantly, I wrote stories outside of my school assignments. I also began to make short movies when I was in high school.

One story that I did finish was “The Sleeper in the Dark”, an attempt to emulate Lovecraft. I posted that on my website at:

In high school I wanted to write a novel. I remembered that I tried twice, but when I looked at my old papers I found notes for several other attempts. None of these produced more than outlines or a few pages of text.

The first attempt I remember was to do something like “Lord of the Rings”. Needless to say, that was a poor choice for a first book. I began with a time line of events, from which I would later extract information for the story. I worked on the time line when I had free time at school.

The problem I ran into was that there was nothing that happened in the time line that lent itself to being  the core of a plot. I started without any idea where the story would go and just drifted. In essence the character just existed, didn’t change or develop and nothing important happened to him. I abandoned that project.

The other attempt I remember was a Doc Savage book. Since I had read a number of Doc Savage books, I felt I knew the characters and how the stories went.  I gave the story a title: “The Smiling Corpse”.

I found four typed pages, comprising Chapter 1 and part of Chapter 2. When I converted it to a text file, they ran about 2,200 words. I don’t remember if I had any kind of out line or notes. I didn’t find any kind of notes for the story. I found an outline I did for “The Lost Oasis”, although I’m not sure that I did that before or after I wrote “The Smiling Corpse”.

When I reread it, I couldn’t see where I was going with the story. I say that Doc was off in Hong Kong, but the story was set in New York. One thing that struck me was that the victim/smiling corpse was a poet, who was a friend of Doc’s. I wouldn’t think many people would associate Doc Savage with poetry.

I dropped this project because I didn’t think that the dialogue I wrote was very good. I felt I needed to have a much better understanding of the characters if I was to see any improvement.

I liked the title “The Smiling Corpse” and reused it for a short movie I made a few years later. It was silent, so didn’t have any dialogue.

Out of curiosity, I did a search on the title “The Smiling Corpse” and turned up several different books and a short movie with that title. One book was a detective story published in 1935 by Philip Wylie. Wylie co-wrote “When Worlds Collide”. The main characters in the book are well know writers, so I think it was something of a satire.

I gave up on writing a novel for a few years. Then in the early 1980s I tried a story I called “Conan the Accountant”. In some ways it was a repeat of my experience with “The Smiling Corpse”. I didn’t develop an outline, or plan, for the story and it drifted away from the original idea. I found 11 typed pages, with close to 5,700 words in total. I can’t remember why I dropped that one, but when I reread it, I cringed at some of what I wrote.

In the 1990s I dropped the idea of writing to focus on film making. For some reason I film easier to do. Partly that was because the films I did were shorter, but I think that I am just more comfortable with film as a way to express myself.

In the last few years I have started to make more use of outlines and story plans in my writing. I feel that has helped me move beyond some of the problems that stopped me years ago. I really feel it is important to have a very strong idea how the story ends before you start to write. Too many of my ideas have failed because I had no idea how to end them.

I haven’t come up with an approach I can use to create better dialogue and characters, but I think that my skills have improved. It is easy to get over confident, and I know that when I do, my writing suffers.


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