My Penny Arcade confessional

iaian7 » blog   John Einselen, 5.09.13    

I’ve read Penny Arcade pretty much every week for years. Sure, there have been some super-inappropriate comics, but I’ve appreciated the continual development of the artwork, the geeky humour, the occasional ode to love of literature. Their “reality TV show” Strip Search was, while at times certainly vulgar (not in the way you’d think, given the title!), a pretty fantastic web series about artists and writers.

The experience of a female gamer at Penny Arcade Expo, however, is far too disturbing and too serious to ignore. This sort of behaviour and this sort of mindset and stance towards abuse of any kind is nothing short of horrific.

And honestly, I should probably be horrified at my silent response to the initial comic as well. “Eh, it’s really not appropriate, but they’ve never been ones for super-appropriate topics…I’ll just move on. Tomorrow’s comic will be funny.” It was equivocating on an unequivocal subject, and I continued to support Penny Arcade, even donating to their Kickstarter campaign. I’m sorry.

In response to the renewed uproar this past week, one of the founders of Penny Arcade “clarified” their position (and yes, I appreciate that they have strict “booth babe” policies at events, that kind of respect at trade shows is hard to find).

But…they’re just sad people are upset. They still like the comic.

I don’t think I can or should be ok with that. Not any more.

It’s going to be a little weird not reading Penny Arcade tomorrow morning, and especially difficult given my obsessive nature (I watched all of Heroes season 2, for goodness sake, I just can’t leave something unfinished!). But…I’ll try to kick the habit, if for nothing more than the silent dissent of my own conscience.

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Marty the Monkey

iaian7 » blog   John Einselen, 24.07.13    

It’s been a long time coming, but one of the projects I worked on at Vectorform between 2012 and 2013 is finally public! Working in partnership with Kaiser Permanente, Vectorform helped create a series of mini games to assist clinicians with autism assessment. Based on some terrific illustrations by James Anderson, I was responsible for bringing a 2D character to 3D life, in no less than 130 different animation sequences to be used throughout the experience. Called Marty the Monkey, the character acts as a guide, encouraging kids to progress.

Marty the Monkey

To read more about the visual development and shader process, check out my Vectorform blog post Behind the Scenes: Creating Marty the Monkey. I’ve also included a download at the end of the article with edge projection nodes for the just-released Lightwave 11.6 update!

You can also read more about the application itself in Patrick Samona’s article.

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When it's the end

iaian7 » blog   John Einselen, 3.07.13    

Religion, salvation, and good works have come up in recent conversation, or more specifically, a deeply regretful movie I saw last night. Really, though, it’s one of the most important questions a soul can ever ask.

Is there eternity? Can I go to heaven?

If there is a God, holy and pure, and I’m only human, frail and filthy, how could heaven be possible? How could I ever be in the presence of that? Righteousness so supreme that everything else burns away like tattered paper in a nuclear blast? Even on our very best of days, eternal sinlessness is shockingly, pathetically, absolutely unattainable for such a mortal as myself…

But if God is both holy and loving, how does that reconcile? Knowing the chasm between sinful us and holy Him, he built a bridge. Jesus. And no, we can’t earn this kind of love, it can only be a gift. Nothing so profane as flesh could ever work enough to be worthy of such selfless sacrifice. I’ve tried, and after years of fruitless toil, I better understand now that it’s simply impossible. This doesn’t mean I don’t keep falling for the same old lies, trying on my own, time after time, but it really is miserable foolishness.

When you read the Bible, I think it becomes clear…

Jesus isn’t for the self-righteous, the posers and fakes. Jesus isn’t for the pseudo-perfect, the good-enough, or the just-ok. Jesus isn’t for the people who think they can make it on their own; acting faultless and behaving right, dying from the inside while somehow believing they’re still healthy on the outside.

No.

Jesus is for the shipwrecks, the train wrecks, the bloody messes and the tragedies. Jesus is for the lonely, the lost, the terrified and the broken hearted. Jesus is for the damned, the discouraged, the degraded, the destitute and the utterly, completely desperate.

I’m not a Christian because I’m good. I don’t seek after Christ because I somehow think I’m perfect.

I long for salvation because I know without a single shred of doubt that I am fully rotten through-and-through, sinful and hopeless and dead.

Yet somehow, in His absolute perfectness…

…God still loves me…

…and died in my place.

I certainly don’t understand it, I rather doubt many people do, but it’s somehow, unbelievable, incredibly true, despite my frequent doubts and fears.

Christ is for the shipwrecks, the desperate, the lost. I’ve been there, and really, still am every day.

But I’m placing my trust in Jesus.

And that’s why I’m going to heaven when I die. That bridge? It can’t be walked by human feet, you have to be carried.

And that’s incredible.

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”
Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT

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Apple's iOS7 Redesign

iaian7 » blog   John Einselen, 15.06.13    

Based on social media feeds, iOS7 seems to be hated by designers, but loved by those who have actually used it. Having not installed it yet myself, and being a rather picky designer to boot, my reaction certainly veers more towards the negative! Though I’m excited to try it out once the beta builds solidify a little more.

To read my full write up on the subject and what I think is needed for natural, intuitive interface designs, head on over to the Vectorform Blog.

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Open letter to Apple

iaian7 » blog   John Einselen, 31.03.12    

“The creative minds Apple once claimed to champion may well be looking elsewhere…to glimpse a terminal end is devastating.”

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World Nativity Project

iaian7 » blog   John Einselen, 24.12.11    

For years I’d been mentally tossing around ideas for a Christmas video, using character vignettes and impressionistic environments. It was a fun idea, but I never really thought about producing it until last year…

In 2010, Bridge Community Church held the first annual Come to the Manger event; an art exhibit with hundreds of nativities, nativity ornaments, and nativity themed decorations from around the world. Along with snacks, music, and other fun activities, we needed a video to introduce the Christmas story to visitors. Unfortunately we couldn’t find anything that worked well, and ended up showing a segment of the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Though there wasn’t time to create our own short film in time for the event, I started working on a script using Biblical passages with a blend of Old Testament prophecies and New Testament accounts regarding the birth of Jesus.

Preproduction

While progress was slow, I began working on roughing out each scene in Newtek Lightwave. With previsualisations for every digital and live action shot, I even mocked up the limitations of a 10×20’ greenscreen, splitting larger groups of people into individual pieces that could be put back together in compositing. Knowing that scheduling actors could be problematic, planning from the begining to shoot each character separately simply gave us a lot more flexibility.

Inspirations and references were found in classical paintings and religious artwork from around the world. Christ came for all, and the intention was to encapsulate that thought in every level of the production design. Clothing, architecture, landscapes; all were based in different cultures, periods, and styles from all over the globe.

We kicked things off at church with a massive meeting in July of 2011, where I laid out the vision for the project and showed a rough cut of the film using previs footage and a temporary soundtrack. From there, it took off! Dorothy Glasgow, a costumer who has worked for years in the Detroit theatre scene, agreed to head up costuming, while worship leader Scott Crecelius agreed to head up music. The crew quickly grew as other people from the church joined in, helping out with scripture copyright permission, casting, props, and so much more.

Live action

The church balcony was set aside for filming, and I set up a greenscreen stage using equipment purchased on eBay. Arrays of CFL lights ensured the production was environmentally conscious while also keeping heat manageable on set. Props were limited to items characters directly interacted with, and pieces were borrowed from congregation members and another local church. Several props were built by Jim Landback, including a custom manger that was matched with a digital model.

Each character was filmed separately, scheduled over a three week period. The angels were the most dramatic challenge in terms of setup; a custom bike seat was mounted on a wooden pillar covered in green fabric, multiple fans were added, and the camera was mounted on a 10.5’ stand! Other characters were challenging due to the sheer number of scenes needed in the 1 hour time slot we had for most actors. The magi, for example, had three distinct locations with major lighting changes. By God’s grace, it all worked out, and we got the footage needed to put the video together.

Effects and editing

After the shoots were wrapped up, the footage was processed in Adobe After Effects and Red Giant’s Magic Bullet suite. Noise removal, colour correction, rotoscoping (both manual and tracked), chroma keying, and beauty passes were rendered out to flat files for use later in the compositing process. Pre-rendering footage can speed things up considerably, especially when dealing with render intensive effects like grain modification and keying.

Unfortunately, by the time I finally got to creating the environments there was less than a month left until the 2011 Come to the Manger event! Using the temporary sets created during the previs process, I mixed photographic textures and procedural shading to quickly detail the locations. Some modelling updates were made, new pieces built where needed, and environments were fleshed out using matte paintings created in Adobe Photoshop.

Lighting and lens effects were created using Video Copilot’s Optical Flares plugin, and final grading was handled in Magic Bullet Looks. Without Apple’s full Final Cut Studio on my laptop, I ended up editing narration audio in Garage Band and the video in Final Cut Express.

Release

The second annual Come to the Manger event was a huge success and a lot of fun. I’m not sure how many people came through, but the turnout was even better than last year! Groups of all ages enjoyed the exhibits, food, and music; from young families to residents of the local retirement communities. The World Nativity Project was shown in one of the side rooms as visitors finished up the experience.

The video is released online, free for anyone to use in their Church or Christmas event. You can download an HD media file from Vimeo (if you are signed in), or directly from Dropbox. Please remember that copyright notices must remain in place, and the film should not be modified, but otherwise, share and enjoy!

Finished…almost

There are still plenty of pieces left to be done. Extras haven’t been added yet (villagers in Bethlehem, field workers in Nazareth), and environments need some work. A number of languages are spoken at Bridge Community Church, and portions of the bulletin are even printed in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, and Tamil. Right now the soundtrack is only available in English, but we’re planning on expanding to as many languages as we can get permission for and record, along with adding subtitles for the hearing impaired.

Thank you to all – for your help, hard work, encouragement, and support. It’s been an incredible project, and I’m hugely thankful I got to be a part of it!

Merry Christmas to all, and God bless.

Ben, 20.01.12

Was thoroughly impressed with your manger video, amazing visual work! Great job, very well polished and a ton of work. I also am pressed with the work you have done on media box, slipped it into a site to replace my current lightbox, very well executed, very impressed again. Just wanted to give you props! Keep making cool stuff!

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Asset management tools

iaian7 » blog   John Einselen, 21.02.11    

I work with a lot of files as a digital artist; while most assets are project specific and management is simple, I’m also always collecting images for research, reference, and inspiration. Wouldn’t it be lovely if I could catalog and tag my collections to more quickly access a wide range of subjects? Especially as I want to better organise and consolidate my research on, say, historical costuming for Roman legionnaires, architectural inspirations from ancient Asia, painting styles of the Renaissance, typography from the 1920’s…

There are quite a few options in OS X, but no clear winners for me when reading the available reviews and website articles. Not that there aren’t some great reviews (such as the comparisons over on Minimal Design), but none of them seemed to address the issues and needs I was seeing in my own workflow. Setting out to test the apps myself, I’ve documented my (admittedly limited) impressions using the following list as a baseline for features and functionality.

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Find & Replace

iaian7 » blog   John Einselen, 16.02.11    

Though I rather like Safari’s find feature (command+f brings up the search bar, or command+g to find again without even opening the UI), there are countless times when I’ve needed a good find & replace function. Copying content into TextWrangler just to do basic text replacement is a huge hassle! Though a dedicated extension would be really nice, I figured a simple bookmarklet could do the trick. Sadly, after a few minutes of searching via Google, I didn’t find much; a few examples, but they attempted to modify all page elements, or were incomplete. I needed something more reliable for editing content only within the currently selected input or text field. So I wrote my own.

The following code should work in most modern browsers (though I’ve only tested it in Safari), and even escapes most regex special character to help prevent weird errors (solution via simonwillison.net).

javascript: var el=document.activeElement; if(el.value){ var findVal=prompt('Find this:',''); if(findVal){ var findRegex=new RegExp(findVal.replace(/[-[\]{}()*+?.,\\^$|#\s]/g,'\\$&'),'gi'); var resultsNumber=el.value.match(findRegex); if(resultsNumber){ var replaceVal=prompt('Replace with:',''); if(replaceVal){ if(confirm('Are you sure you want to replace '+resultsNumber.length+' occurances of %22'+findVal+'%22 with %22'+replaceVal+'%22?'))el.value=el.value.replace(findRegex,replaceVal); } }else{alert('Sorry, no matches found for %22'+findVal+'%22');} } }else{alert('Sorry, no text field is selected');}

To use it yourself, just drag the following link into your bookmark bar (the script has been compressed for brevity’s sake).

Find & Replacebrowser bookmarklet

Keep in mind this is offered with no guarantees; you accept full responsibility, and I recommend saving your data first, just in case.

Make sure the desired text field is active, then click the bookmark to start the process. If it’s one of the first nine bookmarks, you can even use a keyboard shortcut to activate it by pressing command+[number key] (bookmarks are numbered starting with 1). The script will ask for the search term, the replacement term, and confirmation (along with the final number of terms being replaced). You can cancel at any point by simply pressing the escape key, and the script double checks the validity of the input at every step. For example, if you enter a search term that’s not present, the script will interrupt before you waste any time entering the desired replacement term. Nice!

There is one known limitation: it doesn’t work with text fields inside an iFrame. Without helper scripts embedded in the parent page, it can’t tell there’s a completely different HTML document it should be paying attention too.

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Identity

iaian7 » blog   John Einselen, 1.10.10    

Earlier this year at Bridge Community Church, Pastor Vinson preached a series on our identity in Christ. Though various ideas were tossed around in one of the planning meetings, an illustration concept was eventually developed based on the concept of reflections revealing truth. Proverbs 27:19 likens our hearts to pools of water, reflecting the real us. So what does that mean for Christians?

Ephesians 5:8 NLT
For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!

It’s transformative! Our identity need no longer be defined by our past, by our failures, by our dirty sins. Washed clean, our identity is all holiness, righteousness, completeness in Christ. Even living in a dark and crumbling world, our spiritual reality is far different.

Romans 3:24 NLT
Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.

Titus 3:7 NLT
Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.

It took a couple weekends of test shots, and several more to get the final photoshoots completed, but the illustrations slowly came together. Using a medium format lens and my DSLR, local rows of trees were captured then stitched together into a high resolution 16bit comp. Depth mapping was hand painted to help merge the trees with stock photography for the dramatically unreal skies, and along with shots of a nearby grassy bank, the environments took shape. Jim and Adrianne graciously volunteered to model, and yet a few more weekends later, the final compositing was done.

Complete in Christ::Adrianne   Complete in Christ::Jim

As I’ve written before, this is a concept I’m still struggling to grasp myself. Some days it seems too good to be true, and I deny reality; how could God be that forgiving? Other days I’m simply too distracted to remember who I am; living not as an adopted son of wealthy means, but as an ignorant pauper. Pastor Vinson calls it divine amnesia, forgetting what we’ve been freely given.

Ephesians 1:18 NLT
I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.

1 Corinthians 4:18 NIV
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

And yet, amidst all the glory of our identity in Christ, there’s even more yet to see! Speaking again of mirrors, Paul likens in 1 Corinthians 13:12 our current understanding to a dim reflection; incomplete and incomparable to the vastness of what is to come!

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I don't know how to stop!

iaian7 » blog   John Einselen, 25.09.10    

I’ve been seeing and hearing more about the illusion of multitasking in the human brain for several months; after the publication of a research paper or two, there was the NPR special on how the human brain works…then I heard about Vitamin R, an application designed to segment work break schedules, and other apps for minimising distractions. Today Andy Ihnatko’s article on distractions and multitasking was posted to the Chicago Sun-Times website; Multitasking is a Lie – Your Brain Needs a Break

For me, the phenomenon of digital distractions is quickly and devastatingly compounded by my reticence towards…well, just about anything that might be work. And I don’t mean my job – I can be a terrifyingly hard worker – but rather anything that requires emotional expenditure or any sort of discipline. I do what I want to do, and I don’t do what I don’t want to do.

Some days (or scandalously longer) this means I’ll avoid cleaning the bathroom.

It also means there’s a 4 month old tomato left abandoned in my refrigerator.

Almost always, though, it means I put off dealing with issues unless given no other choice, typically by an outside force. I will ignore the need for human interaction and sequester myself into self absorbed hermithood. I will deny spiritual malaise and pretend things are ok. I will stifle any emotion for fear I might have to face it head on. I will do anything to distract, amuse, preoccupy, and otherwise block myself from dealing with anything that might require effort. Or honesty. Or a serious look at how I live my life.

In the end it’ll leave me suffocated, underdeveloped, dead. It’s hard to close any more chillingly than with Jonathan Acuff’s article from Wednesday; A Near Life Experience.

I pray God continues to wake me up, albeit slowly it seems, to the ways in which I sabotage my own life! Having just now taken out the trash, it’s a relief to know there’s no longer a tomato dissolving into patchwork moulds in the refrigerator. It’s also a really beautiful day out; a bit cloudy, but an invigorating breeze and fresh clean air. How much am I missing out on right now by stifling and ignoring the emotional baggage that needs to be unpacked, taken care of, sorted through, and dealt with via healthy disciplines?

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