Sunday, July 24, 2022

1972 - A Miller's Tale - 50 years in the making - well, sort of...

Basements are amazing things.  Sometimes they gather chaff and mold, and sometimes if you scrape some of the mold away, you can revisit your misspent past.  In 1972, while still in high school, it was a rural enough area that having a driver's license was not all that useful - one field after another - so why not try to animate a story that could be even more obscure than the source of the fertilizer the farmers used on those fields?  

Thus "The Miller's Tale," by Geoffrey Chaucer, ca 1390, came to be the subject of my third attempt at animation, making use of the same technology upon which the first attempt was built (see the entry in March, 2022).  This time, in COLOR!  But, alas, still on standard 8mm, editing practically nonexistent (aside from joining reels), and more painfully, without any single frame or framing flexibility.  Zooms and pans had to be drawn.  

Ignorance being bliss, 2300 drawings were constructed, again enlisting my little brother to help with the coloring, and the whole pile were photographed that summer, sometimes outside between the hours of 10am and 2pm (because the tree shadows would stretch over the picnic table in the back yard), and sometimes indoors when the fitful movie light wasn't burning out a bulb or flipping one of those new-fangled circuit breakers.  

It came in at over 20 minutes long, and even my sainted mother could only muster a nice comment about my penmanship on the titles.  It was also silent, except for the snoring.  So I packed the 8mm print away, tossed the stack of drawings into a shoebox, and started saving my pennies for a Bolex .  

The drawings were brought to light this past spring, and in testing the flexibility of a new overhead scanner (CZUR), the stabilization functions of Photoshop, and nudges within the video editor (Vegas 15), it became something less than 7 minutes.  And, since sound could now be added,  I made a mix from old recordings (now 50 years older) that would have likely been in the basement at that time.  

It is on my Vimeo account, with this link -

  https://vimeo.com/730098411    

The introductory company title,  "ORK" (for "Optically Reproduced Kinetics"), is kept to show the level of "focus" and effects available in 1972.  The "iris out" was produced by a series of progressively smaller circle cutouts.

It was a nice revisit, almost a conversation with a foreign self still grasping for a larger visual vocabulary.  I'm rather pleased with the outcome - always knew there was a cartoon in there, somewhere. 

Friday, July 22, 2022

Discord and Midjourney - AI but not so much I

     Oh those wacky beta-test sites.  Midjourney is an AI-driven image generator, coordinated by California-based Discord.
    Once you have logged into Discord, you must seek the Midjourney icon on the upper left of the screen (a sailboat), and then you have to navigate downward in the sliding column to the left once you’ve been put into Midjourney.  
    You look for a “newbie” site, click on it, and a long, long trail of generated images will appear in the newsfeed - these are the images already created by other “newbies.”  
    At the bottom of the screen is a prompt to “talk” to a newbie bot, where you type in “/imagine”, press a space, and the word “prompt” appears in a rectangle.  
    Type in anything you can imagine.  
    Anything.  
    Look at some of the already generated images to get an idea of the general discourse.  Lots of body parts, clowns, and grimoire. It’s often a goth paradise.
    In 60 seconds, you’ll be notified that your quartet of images is ready.  Scroll up until you find yours.  It will be highlighted with a bar on the left.
    You may choose to enhance/upscale one of the four, U1 - U4, or create variations on a particular favorite, V1 - V4.  Wait another 60 seconds and it, too, will appear in the feed.
    You have to do a bit of scrolling, and heaven help you if it’s a busy feed, or you waited too long.  It goes from a “bit” to a “lot” of scrolling very, very fast.
    The other thing that goes very fast is your limit of free samples: 25.  It’s a lifetime limit, so to get more for free, you will likely have to get additional log-on identities.  
    The monthly fee for 200 images/month is $10, and for unlimited use it is $20.  It is an interesting starting point to generate some ideas.  

Navigating the Beta-based Seas of Discord:
https://discord.gg/hh642PT5 will get you to the Discord page created by Orrin Scott, our resident animation bibliographer.  From there you will likely get an invitation to join and download a desktop application.  Discord will be an additional site for the ASIFA Central gang of high-fallutin’, rootin’ tootin’ animator chatsters.

Examples from yr hmbl typst are below.  No, I didn’t have a stroke.

Imagine - Art Deco Radio station, in Technicolor, 1930s era:



Enhance the clock and make some variations:


Woodcut, forest at dusk, unicorns:

Groucho Marx and Marilyn Monroe in a DeSoto convertible:

Groucho Marx and Vampirella in an Art Deco DeSoto:

Fields of wheat at dusk, Model T on a freeway:





I think the AI conveniently "forgot" about the Model T.
 

Follow Up - because of the repeating "outreaching" of the Discord software into the internet, including system slow-downs wherever it is "seeking for updates," especially when I turn off the WiFi to reduce distractions during work, I have removed the Discord software.  Nevertheless, it behaves like some of Microsoft products by never "really going away" (I can't rid the desktop of its icon link, for example, without serious mucking around, which is an added annoyance one can do without).

Report from an Austere and Adamant Animator - ASIFA Central Retreat Newsletter - 2022

"In a Fog, Not in the Cloud"


    It’s not being a Luddite that prevents my use of the latest and greatest technology - it’s the pernicious policies invading software that no longer permit you to own a copy of a license, but rather, perpetually rent one, thereby never really having free access to your own work.  Instead, you are always relying on an ongoing fee (certainly this is the business model of certain operating system vendors who crave to poke a finger into any intellectual property deed that crosses its cloud).
    As a result, I still use Flash, Photoshop, and Sony Vegas, but only in the forms that rest upon a hard drive that hums in front of me.  Living in a fairly remote region where the internet can be woven a bit loosely, there is an additional advantage to not relying on an amorphous storage space to suddenly become inaccessible.  
    The downside is, of course, that latest and greatest “advances” aren’t always available.  The upside is I get to wonder if they’re even necessary, or if work-arounds can obtain the same results.  I should use the word “hacks” to keep current.
    So I have discovered a hack with 4K creation and rendering.
    Flash, now known as Adobe Animator, does not offer 4K in its final iteration to own, CS5.  It maxes out at a work screen resolution of 2800 x 1575, making it about 75% of a 4K.  Let’s call it a 3K (I have noticed that this version of Flash has an “Animator” menu which is very much like their current software iteration). But it can do 2800 x 1575!
    It can also render out nearly any size gif, jpg, or png sequence of files, including 3840 x 2160.  That means I can draw in “3K” and render out as 4K (3840 x 2160) (Export > export movie > jpg sequence).
    This “3K” series of images can be brought into the Photoshop CS6 (again, the last one available for outright purchase) and then adjusted for any unwanted artifacts, and saved out at 3840 x 2160 again.
    However, I have also found that my Sony Vegas 15 video software (later versions exist, but after #16 they are utterly dreadful) will import my faux 4K from Flash just fine and export at 4K resolution, and all looks well.  I use the Sony video edit product because it offers the functions of After Effects that I actually use without causing the office lights to dim.
    My final observation has been that whenever I use these three software products - Flash, Photoshop, Vegas - my hard drive just starts spinning and the internet bandwidth begins playing.  In some cases, especially with the Flash program, it seems that it is reaching out to Adobe and things quickly jam, and occasionally crash.
    Solution?  I disconnect a WiFi dongle on my “grandpa box” desktop computer when I start or continue a project and, gee whiz, things seem to work out just fine.  
    This is a work-around - sorry, hack - to be sure, and ultimately I’ll have to succumb to some online experience, but it buys me time while I explore some other open source substitutes for Flash (Krita shows some current promise) for 2D.   I’d rather use my time to complete a few ongoing projects rather than stop everything to learn which compromises to my workflow I have to accept for the sake of newness (and don’t even get me going on cars without key locks).

To summarize:
 (mainly for my benefit, on a 3x5 card near the keyboard)
4K “Hack”

1. Disconnect WiFi (it’s a distraction when drawing, anyway)
2. Draw in Flash CS5 with a workspace of 2800 x 1575
3. Export image files in batches of 100 (each one is about 1000kb) - prevents software/hardware overloads
4. Use with File > Export > Export Movie > jpg sequence (or png sequence or gif sequence)
5. Set export size of image files to 3840 x 2160 when prompted
6. Import to Photoshop or video editor (set Preferences > Edit > import 0.08 seconds for 2fps in Sony Vegas)
7. And party on!

And save ALL DRAWINGS in a safe place, multiple hard drives, archive.org, or printed out and put in a basement shoebox!!!

This bit of a tirade is not presented to slam any particular product, but, rather, the business model that obstructs aspiring animators - they need to have better access to resources that won’t present yet another hurdle to their lifelong career.  Painters don’t have to rent their canvases or acrylics, after all.



Monday, May 30, 2022

1978 - The Self Made Man - Reconstructed from Fragments

Eight years after my first animation attempt, with 4+ years in pharmacy school as an interruption, I made use of my attic apartment in southeast Michigan as a re-training ground.  At night, I filled prescriptions for the nocturnal wanderers of the area, and for a few hours during the day, until I couldn't stand the movie lights, I held 1200 drawings in place with a wood frame and masking tape as a guide.  Rotoscoping was accomplished by a mirror reflecting a short film clip, projected from beneath onto a frosted glass pane.  Then to the lab, then to view, then to edit, then to the lab again for a soundstripe addition, then to ... you know the drill if you've tried this with 8mm film.

Anyway, it was all random, it was all without a storyboard but a lot of sketches, and I sent it off a year later to a couple of festivals I read about in Super 8 Filmmaker magazine, and it was graciously given recognition in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and Jacksonville.  France's Antennae 2 included it with a student showcase for a brief moment as well.

Then an odd mold began appearing on the emulsion, and it became rather unviewable - and the soundtrack was a mix of Ellington and Henderson materials that were hardly in the public domain (things were a bit more casual in the 70s, because nobody made squat with their little films back then), and the lack of a cohesive narrative (even for me) relegated it to a storage bin while I worked on other things (and moved out of southeastern Michigan).

48 years later, I gave the mold a light scrub, sent the ruins out for a digital transfer, and edited out the more damaged portions with a different soundtrack, using an acoustic version of Petrushka from 1924 as an audio distraction.  

Here is the result.  The file is a bit large for the blog, so it's posted on my Vimeo page:

1978 - The Self Made Man - reconstruction

(c) 1978 Jim Middleton, The Animating Apothecary
 

Monday, May 16, 2022

Regular 8 in '68 - Two kids playing with a camera

The first portion of this epic bit of film making was too large for the blog, but Instagram came through, so here's a link-

1968 - A Trip to the Magician's House 

Then, over Christmas break in '68:

 

(c) 1968, 2022 Jim and Dave Middleton

The theme continued with "I, A Wizard," a title inspired by "I, A Woman" of similar vintage, suggested by the cinematic muse contained within my brother.  It, too, was a bit large for this blog, so Vimeo generously offered its space for a reasonable rental fee:

 The camera still exists.  Last week I discovered that there is a roll of film in it.  Uh Oh.

And the hi-tech projectors of that time - hand cranking and automatic scratching!



 
And this titling device, ca 1968, became the animation stand, moderately effective, if somewhat limited in focal length, camera movement (or stability), and stable framing.  But, hey, the footage was getting shredded by the projectors, anyway!