Death Star Timelapse

I realize that there have been quite a few space animation posts recently, but bear with me. This is a personal project that I worked on with my brother. I enjoyed watching a little bit of Death Star assembly in Rogue One, but I wanted to see more. I was just wrapping up some stuff for the Challenger Center when I decided to mock up this Death Star construction process.

I came up with a very simple method of revealing geometry with Lightwave’s instancing tool, and since there was a lot of procedural animation, I was seeing a lot of interesting shapes appear that I hadn’t planned, and several layers of complexity that I didn’t need to create by hand. All of that helps the final render, but the thing that really pulls it together is the new score by Ben Botkin. That was when I decided I should actually finish this project out and post it here.

Almost every shot in this animation is just a different camera angle from a single scene that plays out over 1500 frames. Originally, I had planned to create this animation as a single shot, but as I moved the camera around my master scene I kept finding interesting things to show from all kinds of different angles.

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Challenger Center Comet Animations

This is a a project I did for the Challenger Center, an educational group that teaches kids about science, technology, engineering and math by sticking them in a simulated space station or NASA mission control room and giving them simulated math and engineering challenges, like Space Camp. When I was little, I was fascinated by 3-2-1 Contact episodes about astronauts and Space Camp, so it’s very fun to be working on something similar today.

Over the last few years I’ve created a bunch of bits and pieces for the Challenger Center; various planetary maps, cockpit animations, some models to be 3D printed in their labs, but this was the first major scenario I got to. In this mission, the students fly a routine spacecraft mission to observe an an incoming comet, where they find that a comet fragment is on a collision course with Earth. They have to assemble the CPU of a new probe that is then launched from the ISS to intercept the comet and try to deflect it using the thrust from an ion drive.

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The Great American Eclipse (animation)

I’ve been doing a lot of space animations lately, so while Heidi and I were talking about the upcoming eclipse this morning, I thought I’d try to simulate it in After Effects. This animation is completely procedural, and everything was built with AE’s built-in plugins, including a pretty believable fake moon. I looked up a lot of reference footage, mostly from the 2012 Eclipse that was best seen in Australia, but in the end I made something realistic, but a little more exaggerated in color and range.

A lot of different elements are simulated here, from atmospheric distortion, to solar flares, to corona effects. If anyone wants to mess around with this animation, I’m including the After Effects project file, which will work in CS6 or later. It doesn’t require any third-party plugins or images, and all the comps are 4k and HDR ready. Get it here: EclipseSetup.zip

This was a fun experiment, but I’m looking forward to seeing real footage soon!

Come to the Noah Conference in Ohio!

Heidi and I (and sometimes James, when we remind him of it) are anticipating a family adventure next month as we drive up to Cincinnati for the 2017 Noah Conference, partly because we’ll see Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter again, but also because of all the great folks that will be at the main conference event! We really enjoyed this event last year, and were extremely encouraged by the speakers that we heard. And we’re pretty sure that James will be able to soak in more this year, especially at the Ark, where we are looking forward to showing him all the exhibits and the biggest boat he’s ever seen. (Boats and fishing are some of his top interests right now, but he’s never considered anything on this scale!)

Registration includes tickets to the Ark Encounter on August 10th, and 2 full days at the conference held at a nearby church on the 11th and 12th. There will be messages from Kevin Swanson, Ken Ham, Scott Brown, Emeal Zwayne, Israel Wayne, and lots of others. I’ll be on a panel with my brothers talking about some of the lessons we’ve learned from the last few years of running T-Rex Arms, and Heidi will be on a panel about cross-generational faithfulness.

We are looking forward to a time of encouragement and fellowship, and an opportunity to meet new friends and catch up with old ones. And don’t miss out on the the free Saturday night pizza party to wrap up the event!

Educating for Real Life

A few months ago, we were asked to write an article for CHEC’s homeschooling magazine about how we were homeschooled. We have, of course, talked a lot about how we were raised, the ways we want to imitate our parents, the things things we would like to do differently, and the many differences that we see between our two families. However, when we sat down to condense all those conversations into this short article, we were a little surprised by how many identical conclusions our respective parents came to, and how many of them we want to stick to.

When Heidi and I were born, our respective parents began to pray about how we should be educated. When they choose to teach us at home, it wasn’t for lack of options; Isaac’s parents lived in Washington D.C. suburbs completely surrounded by private schools, and Heidi’s father was actually teaching at a well-respected Christian school in Ohio.

And even in those early days of home education, there were various co-ops and pre-packaged curricula that they could have used, ways of moving a “regular” education from classroom to home without any other major changes. These would have been easier, faster, and in many ways cheaper than how our parents ended up teaching us. But they wanted to give us educations that were completely different in their focus, not just their location.

To do so was hard, time-consuming, and expensive in many ways. We’ve watched our parents change careers, take massive pay cuts, and move across the country (or around the world) just so they could teach us diligently and according to their understanding of Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:7). Today, they would say that it was all worth it, and so would we. Their efforts have perfectly prepared us for where we are today, and what we are doing.

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Making Holsters on the CNC Machine

So, I’ve mentioned earlier about my work with our CNC machine, and a few tools that make that work a little easier, but I haven’t every really described that the work actually entails. Last week I made short video for T-Rex Arms’ Youtube channel showing what that looks like, and most of the steps involved.

That video describes making a specific holster for handguns using the Inforce APL weapon light, but the process is the same for every holster that we make on the machine. First, a precise 3D model is constructed of whatever weapon or light we are making a holster for. Then we adjust the dimensions of that model ever so slightly to give ourselves the right friction and retention and mounting hardware that the holster needs. This adjusted model is carved out of a high density plastic, and then we can vacuum form hot Kydex directly onto this mold.

When the kydex cools, it gets slapped onto a second mold that is still bolted to the CNC machine, and a special endmill drills all the holes and cuts the kydex into the finished shape. As I mentioned in the video, each of these steps takes a couple of tries, but it doesn’t take too long for very precise, very identical holsters to made very quickly.

Tennessee’s Proposed Gas Tax Reveals Our Lawmakers’ Priorities

This week, many of our senators and representatives are doing their best to pass a large, unnecessary, expensive, and unpopular tax bill, mostly as a favor to our Governor. As usual, Republicans who ran on promises of lower taxes are finding themselves pushing a large tax increase that will damage their constituents. Watching how they respond to this difficulty is very educational, and we should be watching closely when this bill reaches the House floor tonight.

Rather than oppose the bill, which was proposed by Governor Haslam and will add a substantial tax to all gasoline and diesel fuel sold in this state, many have engaged in all kinds of misdirection, chicanery, and nonsense to disguise the bill’s true purpose and intent. For example, last week the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee renamed the bill “The 2017 Tax Cut Act” even though it is the literal, exact, complete opposite of a tax cut.

The bill’s supporters have added and retracted various amendments at strategic times as it sped through its various committees, violated congressional procedure to expedite its passage, and done everything possible to force Republican support. At one point, for example, it contained a small property tax cut for some military veterans, until the CVA demanded that politicians stop using vets to guilt other reps into taxing non-vets.

The events surround this bill are so shady that the kindest and most complimentary thing that can be said about it is that it is completely and totally superfluous. After all, this is a bill to raise taxes when our state is enjoying a $2 Billion surplus, and it’s raising the tax to build roads when Tennessee is ranked second (or third, or fourth, depending on the study) in the nation on our road quality and infrastructure. Of course, some have argued that our $2 Billion surplus was collected for other things, and Tennessee is “too honest” a state to just reallocate that money as we see fit. This sounds like a good and noble argument… until you think about it.

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Build Your Own Real-Time Filesharing and Automatic Backup System

A few months ago, Heidi and I bought a desktop computer. We each have working laptops, and while my trusty old Surface Pro 2 shows no sign of slowing down, I’m doing more with 4K video these days and needed something with a little more power. As fast as today’s laptops are, yesterday’s desktop computers offer considerably more bang for your buck, especially with the ability to cheaply add more RAM, more screens, more hard drives, and more GPUs, which are pretty useful for video production.

Since Heidi and I were going to share this machine, I wanted a way to put all of our laptop files on it, so each of us would have all of our work available, regardless of which computer we were using. The tricky part is keeping all of those files up-to-date, so that any change that Heidi makes to a spreadsheet on her laptop get synchronized to the copy of that spreadsheet sitting on the desktop computer. The easy way to do this is simply to store all the files on the desktop and let the laptop just open them over the network, but then she wouldn’t see any of her files if the desktop computer was off or she wasn’t connected to the network.

Today, most people solve this problem by storing files on Google Drive or Dropbox, or some other file sharing service in The Cloud. In addition to keeping files synchronized between as many computers as you like, it also lets users see those files from any web browser. This is handy, but there are several downsides. Dropbox is not secure, only as fast as your internet connection, and, if you’ve got hundreds of gigabytes of video files for each project, kind of expensive. Even for smaller files, it’s remarkably inefficient. From here in Tennessee, my data usually has to hop through more than a dozen servers just to get to Dropbox in San Francisco. I’d rather not send a sensitive document all the way across the country and then back, especially when I’m just moving it to a laptop sitting five feet away.

The best solution I have found is FreeFileSync. It is, as the name suggests, free, and it’s also open source, and operates without ever needing to connect to the internet. Its main downside is a lack of comprehensive documentation for what I wanted to use it for, so it took me a bit of experimenting to get it set up, and that’s why I’m writing these instructions now. If you want real-time file-syncing between more than two computers, read on.

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New Remembering WWII Painting

SuribachiPainting

Last year, I created a poster for the annual Remembering WWII event. The 2016 event had an Air Force theme, and I went with an Art-Deco design that had a kind of “Golden Age of Flight” feel to it, like some of the posters from early in the war. This year’s event centers on the Marine Corps, and there is no more visually iconic moment in Marine Corps history than the Iwo Jima flag-raising on February 23 of 1945.

I painted a version of the famous Rosenthal photo, with just a few alterations; opening up the flag, shortening the flagpole, and increasing the height of Mount Suribachi. The painting style should also be more reminiscent of some of the illustrators of the late 40s, but I didn’t really have time to copy anyone specific, unfortunately. The end result does look like fast oil illustrations of the day, though, especially when placed in a poster layout that is much more like the later War Department posters from 1945:

RWWIIpaperPoster

Joe Rosenthal’s famous photo is actually of the second flag raising. Marines had planted a smaller flag when they captured the mountain earlier that morning, but the larger second flag was visible from the beach and greatly improved morale. Despite the fact that the island of Iwo Jima is only four miles long, it took five days of hard fighting to reach its 500-ft high summit.  Even after Marines captured the mountain, the battle raged for another 20 days, claiming the lives of three of the six flag raisers.