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!

Lost Temple Flood Animation

whales

A couple of months ago, when we were at the Noah Conference, we also visited AIG’s new Ark Encounter. It’s an amazingly full-sized accurate replica of Noah’s Ark on the outside, and, thanks to Kentucky building codes, a slightly less accurate replica on the inside (I’m sure Noah’s family didn’t have clearly illuminated exit signs and a 198B.6401 certified sprinkler system), but the craftsmanship of the timber inside is worth the trip.

I visited the workshop in January of 2015, just before construction began, and while designers were feverishly working on exhibit plans, there was nothing built. To see a completed Ark only 18 months later was simply astounding, and everything inside, from the living quarters to the the animals to the dioramas of the pre-flood world, is fantastic. I was inspired to create a little flood-based art of my own, and I used the week after the conference to do a quick animation.

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Make Your Own Cold-Brew Coffee Maker

ColdCoffeeDrip

In case our readers hadn’t noticed yet, it is now completely summertime (here in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway). Our air conditioning is running for a lot of the day, James is a little less excited about playing outside right after his morning nap, and Heidi and I are pretty much only drinking coffee that is full of ice.

We aren’t really coffee aficionados, but do we usually grind our own coffee and brew it in a French press like some coffee snobs swear by. Now that it’s warmer, we’ve begun cold-brewing our coffee, and despite the fact that cold-brewed coffee has a different flavor and possibly less caffeine, we like it. For those that haven’t tried the now popular practice, check out the how to video on BeantoCupCoffee.co.uk, cold-brewing involves steeping ground coffee in much cooler water for a much longer time. We use room temperature water and let it steep for about 24 hours.

It’s just as easy to make, as long as you prepare the coffee far enough ahead of time that it will be ready when you want to drink it. We’ve been making tomorrow’s coffee right after pouring today’s coffee that we started brewing in our French press yesterday. However, the French press doesn’t hold too much, and it doesn’t filter out quite all the grounds. As usual, I thought there could be a better way.

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Bluetooth Headset with Heads-Up-Display

Headset3D

Despite the underwhelming response to Google Glass and the overwhelming hype surrounding various VR headsets, it’s pretty safe to say that the future of head-mounted displays is very bright. And while most folks are excited about the gaming potential of immersive displays like the Oculus Rift, I think that transparent Augmented Reality displays like Microsoft’s HoloLens will get more overall use, simply because they can be used for more things.

However, all of these displays seem too expensive, too big, too delicate, and too early in development to have any apps for your personal job. I’d love to have a little screen sitting just under my right eye showing me my emails, camera viewfinder, CNC machine terminal, caliper display, and so on, but that technology is a little far off, and who knows how useful it would actually be in day-to-day practice? I think it’s worth building something that’s a little simpler to implement for the sake of experimentation.

I think that someone should build a basic Bluetooth headset with a little microphone boom which has a multi-color LED on the end. I don’t think it would need to be much longer than two inches to get that flashing LED into the wearer’s peripheral vision (try this yourself with a tiny LED and let me know what you find), and little plastic prism would direct the light toward the eye and away from other folks.

HeadsetHead

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6 Ideas for Lenovo’s New Modular Phone

MotoZconnector

Yesterday, Lenovo announced its newest addition to the Moto mobile phone line. The Moto Z is basically just a bigger and thinner Moto X, except for a very interesting addition to the back. Down near the bottom are 16 visible pogo pins, and a couple of invisible yet powerful magnets. Moto phones have had customizable back plates for years, but this data port enables the phone to snap on “Moto Mod” backs, accessories that add new electronic components.

LG introduced a modular phone earlier this year, but it required disassembly and a reboot to swap parts. Lenovo’s solution means that the Moto Mods just slap right on and power up. So far, the existing mods include a powerful JBL speaker back, a miniature projector back, and a basic extended battery. In order to encourage other developers to create backs for this new line of phones, Lenovo has offered a $1m prize for the best prototype, and Hasselblad has already announced a camera back. Let’s throw out a few ideas of our own, shall we?

1. Solar Battery Pack

While InCipio is already making a smart rechargeable battery back for the Moto Z, it would be neat to have one with a built-in solar panel. Previous attempts to add solar panels to phones have been unsuccessful for several reasons, mainly because a cell phone is usually in your pocket or being held in your hand or away from sun, because cell phones usually overheat when they are in the sun, and because a phone-sized solar panel doesn’t provide enough juice to power a phone.

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Adding Elastic Pockets to a Camera Strap

SonyRX100

I’m used to travelling with with a lot of camera equipment. I like having a kit of several lenses, some audio recording equipment, and at least one backup camera, just in case. However, now that Heidi and James are with me, and James requires a pretty sizable collection of accessories, support equipment, and backup clothing just of his own, I tend to carry a lot less production gear. Of course, if I’m travelling for work, I generally have a bag or two like this one, but on our last family trip, all I brought was an H2 recorder and a tiny point-and-shoot camera.

CameraStrapPocket

Of course, I still wanted to take along spare batteries and an extra memory card. The problem was that I didn’t really want to throw all this extra stuff in my pockets along with my phone, wallet, knife, and then James’ toys, pacifier, teething gel, extra socks, discarded shoes, bits of windscreen that he has chewed off of the H2, etc. And so to make all the camera gear fit into a single, easily grabbable item, Heidi made these nifty pockets for the neck strap. Each pocket is simply a loop of 3″ elastic threaded onto the strap, sewed shut on the bottom, and then sewed partly shut on the top. That little bit of stitching at the top of the pocket keeps card and batteries extremely secure inside.

CameraStrapComplete

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Must-Have CNC Machine Tools

CNCtools

Now that I’ve been working with our CNC machine for a little while, I’ve begun accumulating various tools to make my various jobs easier. I’ve tested a lot of different types and makers of bits, experimented with a bunch of different ways to mount work to the table, and here are several things that I use every day:

  • Freud Straight Flute bits: great for thinner sheet plastic
  • Countersink Bolts + Wingnuts: for attaching jigs
  • MDF & HDPEiolp;’./;

    IAsign

    Two young people from our church are getting married this weekend, and here’s a quick sign that I whipped up for the wedding. A nice v-carve bit and a few simple toolpaths made this a five minute job. I’ll be using a table saw to help make it go faster. If you are looking for a great table saw then check out these table saw reviews. Painting it will take more time than cutting it. When I first started messing around with this CNC machine, it seemed like everything it did could have been done faster by hand. Now that I’ve figured out my process a bit better, it’s obvious that the bottleneck was me.

    ampersand

Art Deco Poster Design

Spotlight-Poster

A couple of weeks ago I got to design the main poster for the annual Remembering WWII event in Linden, TN. This is a local event organized by some good friends, and lots of folks from our church participate in it. Its main purpose is to honor WWII veterans, and let them teach important lessons from that war. There’s live music, lots of vintage vehicles, and an ever-growing battle re-enactment. I was really happy to get to work on this poster, and I gave it a late 1930s Art Deco style.

Obviously, actual American propaganda posters from WWII were painted in the 1940s, and the most iconic posters have a style and design elements from the 40s. There wasn’t as much Art Deco influence at that time, partly because design fads are usually short-lived, but also because of advances in printing technology. As cheap, mass poster production moved from basic screen printing to four color half-toning, poster design moved from simple geometric shapes and minimal colors to full color paintings, often by brilliant illustrators like Flagg, Barclay, and Rockwell.

ArtDecoPosters

However, an Art Deco poster is much easier to imitate than a Norman Rockwell painting, and much more retro. It’s instantly recognizable as something from the past, which is why movies like Captain America usually lean more heavily on the flamboyant and distinctive styles from the early 30s than the more utilitarian designs of the 40s. Have a look at my vector draft after the jump:

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