The Thing You Follow Without Trying

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I’ve always wanted to produce a graphic novel, but I’ve tried and failed to keep the momentum up numerous times throughout my life. ITS FRAKKEN HARD. I’m not the best at drawing, but I like doing it… and at this point I’m good enough that I can crank out images without fussing over them too much. So I’m giving it a go once more.

The story I’ve chosen to tell is a cracked-out trip of an autobiography. It’s about the important events of my life, told through the dreams I had at those particular times. This is all mapped over a set of characters I’ve been drawing forever who live in a post-human word. It doesn’t make much sense unless you remember to think of everything as a metaphor… much like interpreting dreams, right?

For an additional layer of fun, I’ve only started illustrations after my second cocktail of the evening. This works to keep the storytelling honest while preventing me from getting held up over perfecting my drawings.

The project is called Gravityroad,which is a title I’ve used for a great many things. The comic was originally going to be called “Milktoast” as a nod to the story’s two main characters, also implying the drunken practice of drinking and drawing. Someone did eventually point out that “Milk Toast”… in its many forms of spelling is already used as a title for a few other comics that exist out there in the ether. So, as to clench uncontested domain, I switch the name to good ‘ol Gravityroad.

This is what I’ve been piecing together for a large chunk of the summer. It isn’t electronic, hackerie… or an actual robot… but the comic should explain the back story to most of the robots and gizmos I’ve made over the past five years (like Noodlefeet!). It is the spiritual history of all things Sarah. If that seems cool to you, or you just like seeing robot art, I encourage you to check it out. It is of course, science fiction flavored.

noodleFeet : Animating the Noodle

I’ve spent the last week learning After Effects. For someone who uses Illustrator on a daily basis, this feels a lot like discovering the magic hat from Fantasia. Among other things, AE allows you to turn a vector based 2D image into a fully rigged character for animation… and it’s even easier to do than you’d think.

I had the idea a while ago to make a series of videos about Noodle and his adventures to Mars… The original plan was that they would be stop-motion shorts, made with a tiny 3D printed version of noodle as the puppet. There is no better terrain to fake as the surface of Mars than our very own desert outskirts… but alas, it is HOT out these days. Even if I could handle the relentless sun (which I can’t because I am WHITE), the PLA that the tiny noodle is made out of cannot. So much for the stop-motion thing.

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For scale (his eyes light up and his feet can hold AAA batteries to power the LEDs):

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I still wanted to make the short videos, so I started thinking back to all the annoyingly complex animation software (like Flash) I’ve used in the past and decided to give AE another go. Since the last time I made an animation using After Effects, they added the puppet pinning feature. It allows you to animate a single layer image by creating a fancy deformation map inside of it that can bend and warp. This means, instead of needing to connect pieces on separate layers together through a process of parenting and careful organization of anchor points… you can just rig one happy image with some bones, and you’re ready to pose your character with cool jello-like properties.

This happened to work SWELL with noodleFeet, as he is essentially a creature of wobble wiggle nature himself. After a long day spent watching tutorials, I got off and running and managed to make my first animation last week.

I still intend to produce a few more of these, but we’ll see how far my patience goes. Though it’s easy to animate, it’s still time-consuming to do it right. Once I attempt to introduce physics into the mix, I may hit a wall… because I’m too cheap to buy one of the fancy addons you need in order to generate the effects of gravity. Bastards.

The best part about having animated noodle walking is that it actually may have helped me understand how to program real-life noodle to walk better. So really, this turned into practical R & D. Ha!

Enjoy getting to know my baby a little better. He is the feet.

Maker Faire 2015

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I’ve been home for almost two weeks now from our Bay Area pilgrimage and life has pretty much reset. I rewarded myself by binge playing Starbound all weekend and partaking in other mindless immersive activities I’ve been too busy to enjoy so far this year. It was a nice break.

But back to work! I’m going to close this chapter by recapping our big adventure:

Over all, Maker Faire went firkin awesome! Last year = shitty location + loud tesla coils + high maintenance demo + no place to escape for peace and quiet. Since we had ample time to plan, we eliminated all these stress points!

TRANSPORTATION

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Our project this year was three times bigger than before at 84 individual nodes, so smashing them in the back of Mark’s Kia wasn’t an option. We didn’t quite have the money to spend on buying our own permanent trailer either, so for this trip we rented one from Uhaul. Quite snugly, three stacks of four delta pallets fit like Tetris inside with the rest of our props and support material wedged around the edges. Add in a crap load of the giant plastic wrap and everything was tethered solidly in place. No sweat.

I had a drink before opening the trailer once we arrived because the freeway up the central valley was more or less one unending pothole from hell. Happily, in spite of the violent rattling, everything arrived just as it was stowed. (Stress test for the babies as well as mommy too!)

…And nothing melted either. We traveled on a cool rainy day… which was lucky because one of my fears was that the heat inside the trailer would exceed the low melting point of PLA and we’d have nothing but piles of yellow sticks upon arriving. >.<

SET-UP

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With more to show, I figured it was worth requesting a larger central location away from the chaos of the tesla stage… OH, and barriers. We were pleased to have been assigned an excellent spot in the middle of the dark room that had ideal visibility. On top of that, we sorta lucked out because Arc Attack wasn’t even there this year… which means I didn’t have to wear my Ryobi headphones to keep my brain from melting.

From the get go… we engineered our installation to function as a fort capable of fitting two people comfortably inside. So when you look at these pictures, imagine me sitting on a stack of moving blankets with a table, fridge and laptop around me. That’s right, we made a DELTA ROBOT IGLOO. And it was the coolest part about our installation this year…

THE SHOW

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Due to the fact that our installation was automated rather than interactive (and completely caged in by barriers), Mark and I didn’t have to babysit the deltas and actually got to walk the rest of the show!

Here is Mark’s tour of all of the neat stuff in the dark room this year:

Instead of having our robots run slave to a Kinect, which has only been grounds for trouble in the past… Mark figured out how to control all of the robots as light fixtures in a pieces of DMX software called QLC+. This enabled us to orchestrate ‘shows’ consisting of preset motion and light patterns that the robots would circle through all on their own.

As for feedback, who wouldn’t like a mountain of dancing robots with twinkling light? Our display went over pretty well with the attendees… and we had a couple of fun moments in the limelight getting interviewed by press and the like.

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Once everything was said and done, we loaded the pallets up onto a pushcart, four at a time, and walked them out to the trailer in the parking lot (which expedited the deconstruction part). I was sad to see our nest get dismantled, but eager to get to the Bringahack dinner and have another drink.

This trip was infinitely less stressful thanks to some better planning and all the help we had from our friends. (Thank you!!!) I have great memories to immortalize through illustration over the next few weeks. I’ll also be posting about the fate of Noodle soon.

<3 Thank you for being with me on the summit of my shit mountain. It’s taken a lot of support and sacrifice from the world to pull this into reality for which I am extremely grateful.

Pinhole Day

I would like you to meet “crappy box” :

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Without ritual, life lacks meaning. Whether it be a drink every evening at 5 to celebrate the day conquered, or watching the playoffs each season to show pride for your hometown… the little things we assign significance to reward us with moments of privately observed fulfillment.

The last Sunday of April each year is World-Wide Pinhole Photography Day. On this one day, people take strange, unique and beautiful pictures with hand-made cameras and then submit one to an online gallery archive. When you think about it… this is a pretty frikkin awesome thing. Somehow every April thousands of people all over the world remember to try out their newest pinhole creation or photographic technique and then upload a single image to represent an idea from their life on that day. It’s a collaborative snapshot of the world as a whole, and its become one of my life rituals.

I should probably mention that I hate photography. I hate it. I took black and white back in high school and never really grew to love the process. There were too many variables, too many smells, and at the end of the day… my self developed images just didn’t look interesting enough to warrant all the fuss.

So why is this different?

Long ago… when I was still a young college beast, I crashed a number of my friend Keith’s art classes one semester. Regardless of being enrolled or not, I decided I was going to do all of the projects he assigned particularly if they were things I didn’t think I’d like doing. Building a pinhole camera was at the top of that list for me.

Along with the rest of his class, I built myself a Populist from a cereal box, loaded it with film, and started taking arbitrary pictures with it everywhere I went. By the time I got to the end of the roll… I came to really care about the exposures inside my crappy box, because they represented a journey I had gone on stitched together by blips of moments I’d otherwise have forgotten. When I dropped the roll off to be developed, I stressed myself into a ball hoping those memories survived and were more than a blurry over-exposed mush… mishandled by the Walgreens photo department.

The camera did work which made me happy, but that’s not what made the experience important. Some of the exposures didn’t turn out as I had anticipated. The ones I spent a lot of time eye-balling and setting up were less interesting than some of the ones I just took without aiming at anything special. A lot of the exposures overlapped and created weird effects that weren’t intentional, but awesome.

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roll 2, spring 2010

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roll 3, spring 2010

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roll 4, spring 2010

Just as unexpected as my favorite pictures on that roll was the weird transformation that had occurred in my head while toting around my camera. I started out passive and by the end of the process really enjoyed the times I stopped to steal a moment in time. So much so, that when Keith boasted about pinhole day, I jumped on board and took a picture for the occasion:

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roll 3, spring 2010

Since I led into this post talking about the importance of personal ritual I wish I could wrap up stating that I’ve been participating every year, – BUT the honest truth is that I have not. I have however taken the crappy box with me everywhere I’ve moved in the past x amount of years, knowing that one day it would live to take pictures again…

And this was the year. I had to remember how to load the thing with film and perform tiny bits of maintenance just to get it to work again, but I’m glad I did. It brought me a ton of joy to go through the motions of the forgotten pinhole ritual… and I have really awesome vintagey images of my robots! Now to decide which one to submit for the Pinhole Day gallery this year:

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roll 5, spring 2015

Another cool thing I noticed was that many of my pictures from 2010 were of robots (I like robots), but they were of little stationary models and statuettes that I built. This year I took pictures of robots I’ve made again, but they’re REAL big kid robots that actually do robot things.

So, what’s it about to me?

Life often turns out differently than we were lining up. Sometimes in spite of careful planning, all is lost and there is nothing to show for your efforts… though occasionally, you get a happy accident that works out better than anything you could have schemed or organized. Either way, *and I’ll shamelessly quote Rush now*

…THE POINT OF THE JOURNEY IS NOT TO ARRIVE…

So find the meaning in everything you do while you’re doing it.

Exposures from last week (spring 2015):

 

Exposures from spring 2010:

As a final note, I scanned my negatives on the same machine I used back in ’10. (Thank you, Keith!)

Light Play : Half Way There

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I’m tired. I will forever look at big art installations and wonder with silent reverence if there were two people at some point sitting on their couch at three in the morning assembling parts to the thing by hand.

Any how… WE’RE HALF WAY THERE! Two days ago everything came together at last. One by one we tested and plugged the new babies into their happy little nests. We even named a whole pallet after our favorite characters from Create TV, which we’ve had on in the background while doing a lot of the manual labor.

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Long story short, Mark fired up his Netbeans GUI and everything just worked. With a little tweaking over the weekend we got the 42 little ones to behave more or less like we were imagining. Mark even figure out how to turn off the stupid thing in the Kinect example code that waits for a hand wave before tracking. This means, it will just follow any hands it sees all on its own. Wish we knew about this last year >.<

After our appearance at the Science and Technology Festival tonight, the countdown resets for the big Maker Faire in a little less than three weeks. We have another six pallets to ready before then… not to mention the challenge of solving exactly how we’re going to get a gang of robots all the way up to Silicon Valley safely.

Wish us luck or something. After May is over I’m going to curl up in a blanket with my soft delta and watch the hobbit… and I don’t mean Mark. ;)

The art beast is a monster that wears its own face as a mask. We’ve gotten acquainted over the years, but as much as I think I know it, at the end of the day there is something else underneath that I can’t see. So in reality, I still know nothing of art.

noodleFeet : Looks Like a Noodle

HEAD : I can’t find a damn semi-transparent mixing bowl to appropriate as Noodle’s noggin. So, I went with a plastic bowl I bought a while back because it was Robot Army gray and yellow. The size isn’t right, but tilted at an angle with his eyes poking out it looks a lot like a helmet… and I’m okay with that.

SHOULDERS : I went to the store with Mark yesterday and searched through all of the collars in the pet isle to find a replacement for his old harness which no longer fits around his new planetary gear assembly. There were many small kitty-sized bands with big jingly bells… but not a single one was in neon yellow. So I didn’t bother getting any.

In leu, I smashed noodle’s old harness back onto his gear box so that if needed I can still hook him into the leash hanging from the ceiling above the work table. It lacks a proper bell… but fashion is second to safety.

KNEES : I think noodle needs socks.

TOES : He needs socks because I still haven’t been able to locate some of those stupid squishy stress balls which I plan to halve and mount to the bottom of each of noodle’s feet. These should help give him some traction as he attempts to walk. Someone pointed out that the foam material of the noodle was just sliding on the smooth surface of our table which was why he didn’t get very far during his first test run…er- walk.

Any how… the socks will keep the bottoms of his noodles clean until they’re capped with said squishy foam balls… Because tomorrow I’m taking noodle on his first ever outing into the big wide world.

He’s far enough along to show off at this point, walking or not. Speaking of walking… here’s some footage of him taking his first steps:

Light Play : Brains Nerves and Butts

This past weekend Mark and I got a bunch more work done for the installation. We finished glueing and painting all the shiny black honeycomb pallets, so all twelve of them are now stacked neatly waiting to receive delta babies. …which means we need to build lots… and LOTs of delta babies. Thankfully, as I sit here and write this, that part is mostly done. For the past week or so the living room has transformed into a birthing chamber of plastic bins and Create TV.

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At an average of 15-20 minutes a piece, we built around 50ish more base assemblies. That’s the acrylic bit with the three motors attached.

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Obviously, they aren’t full deltas yet. They’re missing their snazzy yellow arms and blinky LED on top, but we wanted to get the hard part out-of-the-way first. The next step is to calibrate all of these little delta butts, and then screw all the grey paddles onto the gear hubs. >.< Which will also take a bit of doing.

Mark spent a crap load of time crimping custom cables which will tie the deltas together as one big happy collective consciousness. These will connect a series of relay boards to the individual brain PCBs of each robot:

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So yeah, brains…. less exciting, I’m soldering brains again. Boo. With all the other cool things to work on, its monotonous melting all the same pieces over and over to blank PCBs… but alas, it must be done sooner rather than later.

As the brains are tested and flashed with all of the knowledge of how to be a good little inverse kinematic thinking soldier… we’ll be gifting each baby with a brain one by one, and then adding them to their shiny honey comb home to dance the mightiest robot dance.

I even squeezed out some new art which we had sent away to become postcards. We’ll be handing them out wherever we happen to show things at for the rest of the year. I say all of this tantric preparation does sorta feel like jumping out of a plane with a skirt on… so the image is appropriate. PROPAGANDA!

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Our first gig of the season is in a little less than two weeks during Las Vegas’ Science and Technology Festival. Here we come!