Spinland Animation: New 3D Animated Logo

As my business associate and I were working on the look and feel of the new Spinland Studios logo we brainstormed a little about what kind of fun things we could make the elements do. One of the key notions we decided an animation should try to get across was the idea that “being flat” was too limited—and then dramatize the value added in adding that third dimension to a company’s branding.

From there we thought about flat things, and spinning (Spinland, after all) and the generally round shape of the logo’s double helix element gave rise to the idea for a coin metaphor. What happens when a (mostly flat) coin stops spinning? It falls over, of course!

With that concept as a framework the story line pretty much wrote itself. One requirement for this sequence was to keep it as short as possible while still telling the story, because a downsized version of the animation became an animated GIF and one of the tiles of our new web site’s custom-built interactive animated cover flow. The GIF version weighs in at 10 seconds while I allowed this full video version to run for 12.

What do you think? Please leave some comments below, and share this post (buttons below makes that very easy), then hire us to make your company’s image dance!

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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Spinland Studios announces new website roll-out!

We’re very excited to be able to roll out our completely-redesigned website. We feel it’s an excellent statement about our abilities in graphics and animation, as well as in behind-the-scenes web coding for fun and interesting custom effects.

Please take some time to check it out!

http://www.spinlandstudios.com

New site screenshot

New Site Screenshot

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine. Defy conventional marketing and let us bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples. Then hire us to kick your company’s marketing into the 21st century!

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Spinland Animation: Ski NY!

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: despite my love for Central New York I am not a Winter sports person. While some folks are keen to strap boards to their feet and go slaloming down some snow-dappled hill, bouncing over moguls and kicking up clouds, my idea of the best way to spend the snowy months is seated by a roaring fire with a dram of good Scotch.

That being said, I can appreciate the folks who are into playing Sundeck Charlie (follow the link if you don’t already get the reference) even if I’ve no desire to join them. That’s why when the Matt Brewery came out with a brew they called Black Bear Bock I absolutely loved the label:

Saranac Black Bear Bock label

Super Skier

I mean, come on! Is that Mister Adirondacks, or what? Of course I had to do something about it, and I already had a fun 3D bear model built and rigged from my Lake Placid lake piece. Time to play!

It was quick work outfitting the model with some ski equipment, and I decided he needed a nice flapping scarf so I had to configure some custom dynamics and wind effects. On review I realized the glossy black fur I created for the lake animation was just too Summery to work here, so I reconfigured the plugin so the fur came out a little longer, more matte and with some grey speckles for a more snowy Winter look. The scenery needed to be fairly large-scale along the major motion axis despite the fact I planned several camera cuts, because he’d be moving at a pretty good clip for one straight sequence. Thanks to the magic of CGI that was a lot easier than having to build on to a physical sound stage! I already had a nice collection of tree models covering a wide range of habitats so enter some firs; add procedurally-generated snow cover and we were ready to rock!

This was already going to be a goofy piece (seriously: a bear on skis?) so I figured I’d camp it up a little more by starting with a quiet, peaceful scene that suddenly and loudly breaks into the action sequences. Et viola:

And there you have it. I hope you enjoyed watching half as much as I did creating it. Please leave comments, share this post far and wide, and don’t hesitate to let me know if you’d like me to make something like this for your company (or even just for you; that’s cool).

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you just can’t get to any other way. Defy conventional marketing and let us bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples. Then hire us to kick your company’s marketing into the 21st century!

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CG Animation: Math Matters

One of the dirty secrets of working with CGI and associated animation is this: math matters. Remember in high school trig class, when you had to create all those tedious graphs of various functions? Yeah, that’s going to be important some day. Really. How about pre-calculus, when you needed to care about the instantaneous slope of functions at various points? Bingo: you’ll need that.

I don’t want to scare away the wannabe animator, but if you want to belly up to the table you need to be able to handle what’s being served. An important aspect of believable animation is timing, and to get that aspect mastered you are going to need to understand how to interpret visual feedback on how the elements of your project are behaving. Every modeling and animation package worth notice will provide you the tools to evaluate graphically what your characters (and their animatable bits) are doing.

I’m going to focus on Lightwave 3D, because that’s my tool of choice. For this discussion we’ll need to imagine a very simple actor: a fly dropping down to a surface, lighting, then taking off again. NOTE: for an actual animated project, creating believable motion can be complex and subtle, potentially requiring multiple keyframes with varied timing. I’m going to keep this very simple: a single key frame depicting the instant of landing, and how you have control over how the character enters and leaves it.

Okay, first technical issue: this fly is simply dropping to a surface and then taking off again. All we’re going to care about, then, is the object (the fly)’s motion in the vertical axis: we’ll call it the Y axis. The graph we care about will depict the fly’s motion on two axes: its vertical position (with zero being on the surface) versus the time of the animation which will be the horizontal position on the graph.

The most basic graph of the motion is called “ease-in-ease-out.” For most practical purposes this style of motion will serve you well. In fly-landing terms, it means the fly will gradually slow its descent until it gently settles on the surface (where Y = zero). Then it ascends again, gradually picking up speed as time passes. This sort of curve shape is the most common for a lot of animation motion and all things else being equal yields some very nice results. How does a graph depict this? Well, if you think about the time elapsed in an animation as the distance from left to right of the graph, and distance moved by the fly (from up there to down here) as the distance from top to bottom, it is actually quite simple: if the curve drops steeply down, the fly moves a lot of vertical distance in a short amount of time. As the curve starts to get less steep, the fly moves less distance for the time the curve measures.

If you set your way-back machine to your high school trig (or pre-calculus) days, you will see that the steepness of the curve is measured at any given point in time by its slope. That slope governs the fly’s velocity at that specific point in time. Making the fly do what you want is then based on controlling the curve’s slope for each point in time across the span of the animated sequence. If you are using ease-in, ease-out as your main concept, the fly slows as it reaches the bottom of the curve, then moves initially slowly as it leaves again but accelerates over time until it’s moving fairly quickly again a short time after take-off. That behavior is evaluated by looking at the associated vertical motion curve and making sure the slopes at each point in time are appropriate.

Here is what the fly’s landing/takeoff looks like in the graph editor when ease-in-ease-out has been applied.

ease in ease out graph

Remember what I said about math? In those terms the slope of the curve as it approaches the key frame (where the fly ends up on the surface) decreases until it reaches zero—note the tangent of the curve at the touch down point is completely horizontal. The curve for leaving that point also starts at zero and then gradually increases (the curve gets steeper over time). In animation terms the fly descends, and that descent slows until it lightly touches down. In like fashion, it takes off again slowly, and accelerates in the vertical as it leaves.

Okay, so what if we want the fly’s landing event to be different? Simple: you just adjust the curve to get different shapes. Let’s say we want the fly to land easily, but then panic and take off again as rapidly as possible. Now, assuming you have defined the actual landing point as a key frame, for that key frame you have an ease-in situation, but not an ease-out. In graphical terms, the curve will gradually approach a zero (flat) slope as it approaches the landing key frame, but the exit from that frame will be abrupt and steep. You would use the tools provided by your particular animation software package to obtain a motion curve that looks something like this:

ease in bounce out

Are you starting to see how this works? Cool!

Okay, let’s expand our repertoire with a different scenario: in this new case the fly will do a “combat landing” onto the surface as quickly as possible, then (maybe it’s disoriented for an instant by smacking into the landing surface) linger for a fraction of a second to get its bearings before it makes a standard ease-out take off. Now your motion curve should look like this:

bounce in ease out

Cool, huh? Once you know what to look for this is almost too easy, isn’t it?

Okay, let’s try one more basic variant: the fly drops to the surface as quickly as possible and, without a pause, bounces back up and onto its takeoff trajectory.This is also similar to how you’d shape the vertical motion curve for the ubiquitous bouncing ball animation exercise. Behold:

full bounce

Aaaaand, guess what? Pretty much all nuance of animation is a variant of these principles. Your actor will probably not be a commando fly; more likely the curves you’re looking at will control things like wrists or ankles, elbows and knees, fingers, and so on. The basic approach is the same: how will the curves “sell” the type of motion you’ve decided best fits the motion path in question?

Now, aren’t you glad you paid attention in high school trig?

A special thank you to Mister Gwin Harris, who tirelessly beat these principles into my teen-aged head at Pensacola High School in the mid-70s.

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you just can’t get to any other way. Defy conventional marketing and let us bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples. Then hire us to kick your company’s marketing into the 21st century!

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How Not to Market on Social Media

Today comes a lesson in how not to market your business on social media. This morning I tweeted a gripe about over-use of “(some number) shades of” in marketing, and got a (probably auto-generated) pitch to come see the the site of a “website factory.” I’m sure all they (or their software) saw was the key phrase “web design” in my tweet (which was part of the offending title and irrelevant to my point) and BAM, they hit me, a cold contact, over the head with a sales pitch right off the bat. Yes, inviting people to the sales funnel that should be your web site is, indeed, making a sales pitch.

Not good.

Twitter fail!

Twitter fail!

There was no social aspect to that response, none at all. No sense they were responding to the context and meaning of my tweet, no acknlowlegement they even understood my real “pain point” and were seeking to address that. They made no attempt first to persuade me even to care they exist before pitching to me. If they don’t have a social media manager, they need one. If they do, he or she is not worth whatever they’re paying.

If you think scanning (either manually or automatically) a social media stream for key phrases and then firing off a reply keyed to that phrase is effectively marketing your business, you are dead wrong. All I feel right now about the brand in question is put off—not to mention if they’d taken a few minutes to look me up before they approached me they’d have realized I already provide many of the same services they offer so I’m not likely to be shopping for what they do.

Come on, people: that’s not even social media specific—it’s Basic Marketing 101. You find people in pain, and then convince them you can alleviate that pain. What was my pain point in that tweet? Certainly not anything related to needing someone to build me a web site—in fact, my pain was related to lazy marketers over-using trite approaches. This brand’s knee-jerk marketing response to something I didn’t even really care about just made the pain worse.

Social media marketing is hard. It takes time, patience, and empathy. Social media is a medium through which you discover potential clients by searching out the people whose pain you can solve, and then developing a relationship with them to the point they are no longer just a contact—rather someone who honestly cares about who you are and what you can do for them. It is patently NOT just another pipeline for the equivalent of “email blasts” or “cold calling.”

Please don’t be “that guy.” Please also feel free to share this post everywhere you can; I think it’s a message that needs to be spread.

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Fly the Angry Skies!

“Here be dragons.”

When I start putting together artwork for the fun of it that statement is often kind of a given—have you noticed?

There’s not a ton of thought behind this piece; no deep significance at all, really. One day I just decided I wanted to create a dangerous, forbidding animated scene and, after I’d gotten partway into the process, I concluded it also needed someone to live there—someone bad ass enough to feel at home in my little pocket nightmare.

Voila:


As for the creative process, this animation came together in several steps. The first stage was getting the sky and clouds into place to fit what I was seeing in my mind’s eye. For that task I turned to my favorite sky and atmosphere tool: an exterior environments creation program called Vue. I built the cloudscape in several layers then created the atmospheric effects to get them roiling in a suitably angry fashion. Finally came the lighting rigs to get them (and the sky) into the right mood.

The volcano is a vector drawing created in Xara Designer Pro. I brought that and the sky animation into Adobe After Effects, where I employed a particle effects plug-in to add the volcano’s smoke plume as well as the falling meteors.

The flying dragon was animated and rendered in Lightwave 3D, and then I brought all the video sequences and graphic elements into Adobe Premiere Pro. In Premiere I added the musical theme (created using Sonicfire Pro) as well as some public domain clips for the extra sounds. The meteor effect required stretching and then clipping a recording of a missile launch, while the dragon’s “whoosh” was used unchanged.

And that’s the scoop!

Please let me know what you think in the comments section below, and share this post to all your friends (and even not-so-friends).

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service 3D modeling and animation studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. Defy conventional marketing and let me bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples.

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Jonesin’ for Spring

According to the calendar it’s technically Spring, but when stepping outside I’m not buying it yet, not at all.

One of the wonderful things about living in Central New York is our proximity to The Adirondacks, a massive park that IMNSDHO (In My Not So Damn Humble Opinion) is one of the great natural wonders of the world. Yes, the Park is a winter wonderland of snow-friendly activities (Hello! Lake Placid?) but in all honesty I’m not into them. I’m one of the Boys of Summer, and I’m all about shorts, sunshine, and the things you can do in shirt sleeves. As I look out on my lawn, and see the snow hasn’t finished melting away, and note that my home golf club hasn’t yet opened for the season, my thoughts turn to longing for that good ol’ fashioned warm weather.

To help move those sunny thoughts along, here’s an animated piece:

Since I also use this space to go into a bit of the background behind the stuff I create, this post will be no different. The general theme is a riff on a television commercial ad campaign that ran a while back, commissioned by the Matt Brewery (our hometown brewery and IMNSDHO another wonder of the world) to advertise their Saranac Pale Ale.

saranac_pale_ale

In the original ad, a casually-dressed fellow lounged on a porch in the Adirondacks, mellow music playing as he used a hand-carved opener to pop the cap. The whole setting gently eased into the closing caption: “Unwind.” I loved it, and I wanted to make something that captured that feeling—but ditched the human dude.

With the magic of CGI at my command I decided that few characters say “Adirondacks” like a black bear…so there it was. Another thing I decided, since I was calling the shots, was I would break one of the cardinal laws regulating alcoholic beverage commercials: my character was actually going to take a swig. Being that he was a bear, I also decided that he didn’t need no steenkin’ bottle opener.

For my setting I picked one of the many photos I’ve taken over the years while visiting the Park. I’m not 100% positive but I believe it’s a shot looking at part of Mirror Lake by Lake Placid (do I really need to link that?). The original photo was heavily Photoshopped because I needed a much larger panorama than it provided and I wanted nothing man-made in the scene except what the bear was using. The final image was projected onto a large curving surface for the backdrop of the digital stage while a second, horizontal plane was textured with a grass pattern to add some parallax to the terrain as the camera pans right.

The butterflies that flutter through the scene near the beginning are an actual Adirondack species (thank you, Wikipedia) modeled with articulated wings for flapping. Their flight pattern is animated using a cool feature in Lightwave 3D called “flocking” that creates realistic-looking crowd and flock behaviors you can define and then guide along a particular path. The bench, bucket, and beers are modeled in 3D, as is (of course) the bear character itself. The bear’s fur is created using a very powerful plug-in called FiberFX that renders every strand of hair realistically, including gravity, inertia and wind effects (though those aren’t evident in this piece because the fur is so short).

For the environmentalists out there I wanted to make it very clear that the bottle cap ended up in the bucket, not littering the ground. Oh, and the label of the beer he’s drinking? Why, Saranac’s Black Bear Bock, of course!

And there you have it. I hope I’ve helped you think warm, happy thoughts and may Spring finally really get here! Please leave comments below, and share this post all over the Internet! I’d like that.

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service 3D modeling and animation studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. Defy conventional branding and let me bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples.

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Spinland Static Art: Battlecruiser

Okay, today’s post is all about porn—spaceship porn, that is. No self-respecting geek can get into 3D model building without making at least one spaceship model, and I’m no different.

My generation of geeks grew up boldly going “where no man has gone before.” One thing that might set me apart from many of my fellow Star Trek fans was that the Enterprise wasn’t my favorite starship—far from it. I never thought it fair that the antagonists, the Klingons, got the cooler-looking ships. In fact, the original battlecruiser design, born of genius Matt Jefferies (and known by Treknologists as the D-7) is, and always has been, my favorite fictional spaceship design of all time.

This is my tribute to that venerable staple of science fiction lore:

Klingon Battlecruiser

I actually built this model before I became a regular Lightwave 3D user, so it was constructed in the modeling/rendering application I was using primarily at the time: Rhinoceros. That application (usually called just “Rhino”) is better-known in the physical design world, where it is widely used to design objects from custom jewelry to luxury yacht hulls. One primary aspect that sets Rhino apart from most modeling applications is that you work not with points and polygons, but with what are called NURBS, or “Non-Uniform Rational Basis Splines.” That’s a mouthful for what is basically working in pure, mathematically-modeled curves and surfaces. By contrast, most of the time a curve in traditional modeling is actually made up of a series of linear segments which, if they are short and numerous enough, can look smoothly curved. Similarly a curved surface is actually faceted into flat polygons. Shading tricks are then used to make such facets appear smoothly rounded.

Although it’s kind of nice to be able to work with pure, smoothly-curved shapes, for most practical applications the final results still must be “meshed” to be compatible with standard rendering formats, game engines, and the like. It’s a black art to mesh a NURBS model without the polygon count climbing into insanity, so for the most part it’s not a very popular modeling style. It does, however, excel when the final product will become an actual physical object that’s just as perfectly smooth as the digital version, such as the aforementioned jewelry or boat hull. I first began using Rhino many years ago when I thought NURBS were “da bomb” and I had access to a steeply discounted student copy to play with. I still have a copy (upgraded to a commercial license and a more current version) installed on my Windows 7 virtual machine (I’m a Mac user these days) but I mostly use it for converting engineering-oriented file formats that nothing else I own can handle.

And that’s the scoop. Please leave comments below, share this post far and wide (See, there’s even a share button below to make it easy!), and check out my other work (both static and animated) at my website, spinlandstudios.com.

Happy geeking!

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service 3D modeling and animation studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. Defy conventional branding and let me bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples.

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Spinland Static Art: Wino Dino

Okay, this is going to come close to pegging the silly meter, but indulge me—plus, as an added bonus, there are no dragons involved!

Once upon a time I was walking through a somewhat less-than-upscale area, and I started paying attention to some of the various down-and-out people scattered about the landscape. I also noticed how others, the “regular folks,” were studiously tuning them out.

That got me thinking: if you were going to hide in plain sight would adopting the appearance of someone folks would rather ignore be the perfect disguise? Are extraterrestrials really among us, clutching their bottle of Mad Dog in a paper bag, hat pulled low with a cardboard sign and a cup of donated change by their feet? What about the dinosaurs? Where did they really go?

From there this image practically created itself:

Wino Dino

Could they just be blending in?

Please tell me what you think in the comments below, share this post far and wide (there’s even an easy peasy button below to help you out), and then go check out my web site at www.spinlandstudios.com to see more art like this (as well as my animated work).

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service 3D modeling and animation studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. Defy conventional branding and let me bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples.

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Happy St. Patty’s Day from Spinland!

This is pretty much just a personal note, because this time of year has special meaning for me. On Friday, March 13th of 1998, I met the woman (who was in Utica visiting her family for the St. Patty’s Day weekend) who would soon after become my wife. Since this year also boasts a Friday, March 13th, it’s kind of a Big Deal for us.

In commemoration, here’s my 3D render of my good buddy Dooley, who’s clearly ready for the festivities!

Dooley Mug Render

Dooley is ready to party!

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