Sunday, December 28, 2008

It's a Party for the Tardy

Sunday December 28, 2008

Hello again! It's another late post and the last one of the year. Holiday madness and a full couple of weekends have played havoc with my schedule. For this latest and belated update I have my annual list of my favorite games of the year. My top five for 2008 were:

#5. Civilization III. One of the best turn-based strategy games ever.


#4. Sword of the Stars. Space exploration and combat on a huge scale.


#3. Command And Conquer 3. 3D RTS with lots of varied units and depth.


#2. Unreal Tournament III. It's hard to go wrong with a good twitchy FPS.


#1. Forged Alliance. The sequel to Supreme Commander is pure addictive RTS goodness.

And that's it for this final report of the year. I'll be back with the first post of 2009 soon.

The loops of the week are a set of electronic percussion parts.

The picture of the week was created using Project Dogwaffle.

Click on the image for a full-sized view


The DVD/Movie of the week was The Squid and the Whale.


Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!

Friday, December 12, 2008

One Hundred and Counting

Friday December 12, 2008

Welcome Back! It's Friday once more and it's starting to feel more like Winter here. This week's posting is my 100th and it's hard to believe that over 2 years have passed since I relaunched Mark's Digital Arts. This week I'd like to thank all the good people who have contributed in some way to this web-log. I'll start with my lady love Bella who has always given me good suggestions along with hugs and smooches. My family, especially my highly creative nieces and nephew, have been a continual source of inspiration. Thanks to my BFF buddy Mark, who really should learn to explore his artistic side. Thanks for all the good reviews and kind words to C.K. Lester, a grand master of the Euphoria programming language and a heck of a good guy. A huge thank you to Steve, my sometime musical collaborator in New Zealand. You're a great guitarist and producer and I know you'll go far with your music. Thanks for all the humor and the serious writing to Ben of the Straight Scotch blog. Thanks for all the music suggestions and good vibes to April, of Dorkmuffin. I miss you kiddo. Thanks for including me in the band to Patrick, Michael, Randy, Todd, and Dutch of . Thanks and hugs to Alejandra and Patrick, the other 2 thirds of the Experimental Film Group. Finally, thanks to Mom and Dad, for encouraging me to make music, and to write, and to create art. Here's to the next 100 posts and lots more tools, techniques, sites and tips to share. Thanks again to one and all!


The loops of the week are a set of electronic percussion parts.

The picture of the week was created using Bryce.
Click on the image for a full-sized view

The DVD/Movie of the week was Amelie. This film, like it's title character is both eccentric and charming.

Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.
Bye for now!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Easy Peasy 3D Bliss

Friday December 5, 2008

Cool December greetings! It's a rather quiet day here in the Gray Cat's loft. The topic for tonight is computer graphics and the focus will be on Carrara 5 Pro. I've mostly used and written about the Bryce 5 and Anim8or because they're both good programs and available as free software. I acquired Carrara 5 Pro as a featured free program on a 3D Now magazine disk, but it should also be available at a good discount because there is a later version. The application has always had something of a reputation as a good lower-cost alternative to some of the more powerful and costly 3D packages. I like the marvelous range of options and presets in C5P. You can create a 3D scene quickly using a wizard or roll your own from scratch. Every aspect of creating still or animation from modeling to finished rendering is included as are a number of sample scenes, models and textures. I like how easy Carrara 5 is to use and the high quality of the finished 3D art. It takes a good amount of learning and practice to get good results, but the training time is worth it. Another very cool feature is that Carrara will take advantage of the 2nd processor on a dual-core CPU when rendering. The only drawback is that Carrara doesn't have quite the same recognition as the bigger programs such as 3D Studio Max or Maya. C5P is a great balance between price, performance, and features. If you can get your hands on a copy, then be sure to give this excellent 3D application a try.

Next week: Mark's Digital Arts turns 100!


The loops of the week are some sample generated strings.

The picture of the week was created using Corel Draw.
Click on the image for a full-sized view

The DVD/Movie of the week was Ringers-Lord of the Ring Fans.


Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Turkey-Fueled Retail Therapy

Friday November 28, 2008

Hello! November is nearly done and in a couple of weeks this humble web log will see it's 100th entry. That's right mi agigos y amigas, Mark's Digital Arts is hitting the century milestone and I'm already looking for some special way to celebrate the event. The topic for this week is shopping in honor of Black Friday and the big Thanksgiving Weekend. This year the annual retail shopping binge was far more understated than in years past. The current bleak economy meant fewer shoppers to tussle over the deals. I hit the stores fairly early in search of some gifts for family members and friends and as a seasoned bargain hunter I'd done my homework. Check the the online or newspaper ads for the best deals beforehand. Plan a route for which stores you intend to hit with the best deals and must-have items at the top. Be prepared for the inevitable disappointments if the items you want are sold out. This year parking and checkout were a breeze, unlike in years past when I'd have to park several blocks away from the store and wait in a long line to make the purchase. Circuit City, earned my dubious “bait and switch” award for having a number of full-priced DVDs and video games mixed into the bargain bin with the sale items. No wonder those guys are facing bankruptcy. I'm done with most of my gift shopping now and need to find time to write cards and wrap the Xmas goodies. And that's my report from the trenches on a rather quiet Black Friday. Feel free to send me any shopping triumphs or misadventures you might have experienced.

The loops of the week are some synthesized bass loops.


The picture of the week was created using Bryce.

Click on the image for a full-sized view


The book of the week is The Secret Man by Bob Woodward.


Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.
Bye for now!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

It's Late but Great

Saturday October 22, 2008

Good Evening! Ugh, I'm late once more this week but hopefully this will be the last time for the year. It's Saturday night and I'm here with a fresh new entry, hot and straight out of the oven. I'm pressed for time this week so there won't be any new music loops and the entry will consist of an update of all my current projects. The experimental film group has cast an actress and I'm continuing to work on the music for the film. Work on the CSS enhanced version of my web site is moving ahead, though I seem to end up spending more time on graphic design then I'd like. I've also started work on some animated titles for new video project. I'll be back in about a week with more stuff.


The picture of the week was created using Bryce.

Click on the image for a full-sized view


The movie/DVD of the week was The Blues Brothers


Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Musical Construction in Progress

Saturday November 15, 2008

Hola! It's Saturday night and I'm back with the belated hits and misses of the last week. The topic for tonight is music and the focus will be on composition. This week I've started in earnest on the score for a short film project that I'd been involved in. This is an entirely new challenge after only writing non-connected, self contained works. The first step was to start with the script. The most logical arrangement was to divide the story into 3 parts; beginning, middle, and end. The beginning part is orderly and regular. The middle suggested turmoil and growing chaos. The end would be broken down further into sub-parts, that all contain pieces of a greater resolution. The overall theme of the end is liberation through self-discovery. Based on those emotional cues, I started writing out chords and progressions. Major and bright 7th chords for the first, minor and unusual chords for the middle section, and complex chords for the finale. I'm still in the midst of creating this work, I'll post occasional progress reports as it moves and evolves. Stay tuned.


The picture of the week was created using Corel Draw.

Click on the image for a full-sized view

The loops of the week are some metallic percussion pads.


Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!

Friday, November 07, 2008

From Last to FIrst on a List of the Worst

Friday November 7, 2008

Warm autumn greetings! The topic for tonight are lists of art and creation that are the worst in their category. We're talking real bottom of the barrel sludge here so be sure to hold your nose as you wade in. I personally think it's harder to agree on the best examples then it is to name the worst. The first stop on our tour of the truly terrible is Web Pages that Suck. The intent of Web Pages that Suck is to help people improve their own web designs by showing examples of sites that,well, suck. Aside from sites that are only slightly ugly or hard to use there are a few standouts that are so bad they defy description. If movies are your thing then Wikipedia has complied a categorized list of what are possibly the worst movies of all times. Fate has been kind to me as that I haven't seen most of the stinkers on the list, but there are a few notable turkeys that I had the misfortune of catching. While album art has suffered with the demise of the 12” LP record, there is a site that lists the 100 worst album covers ever. It's a great site, the comments were funny enough to make the do a spit-take. The next site of interest is a list of the 25 worst sitcoms ever. TV situation comedy has always been one of my favorite types of programming, but the worst list reminded me of how many really bad shows have been produced. That's my list of the best lists of the worst. Check them out!

The picture of the week was created using Corel Draw.

Click on the image for a full-sized view


The loops of the week are some spacious synthesizer pads.


The DVD/Movie of the week was Still Crazy. You need to have been in a band to appreciate some of the jokes but it's funny enough for just about anyone.


Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Macabre Movies for your Halloween Holiday

Friday October 31, 2008

Hello and Happy Halloween! The topic for tonight is films and we're going to talk about some great movies for the Halloween holiday. The first film on my short list is the original 1960 version of Psycho. There have been scary movies since, but few have come close to the impact and suspense of Psycho. In Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock created a cinematic touchstone that remains a standard for the horror genre. Another good film for Halloween is Hellboy, the 2004 film adaptation of Mike Mignola's amazing comic series. Hellboy is a marvelously unlikely hero and the film is visually amazing, filled with strange creatures and locales. The last recommended movie for our fantasy/fright fest is Shaun of the Dead. Shaun of the Dead is a dead on (no pun intended) parody of zombie movies with the few tenacious survivors under siege by hordes of the shambling brain-eaters. And that's about it for this Halloween. Try one of these films for some good thrills and laughs.

The picture of the week was created using Bryce
Click on the image for a full-sized view


The loops of the week are some synthetic plucked string parts.


Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.
Bye for now!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Creating tiled textures

Friday October 24, 2008

Greetings! It's Friday night and time once more for my weekly share of artistic and technical rants and ravings. The topic for tonight is graphic and focus will be on creating tiled textures. I've been making a number of seamless tiled textured to use as repeating backgrounds. Repeating patterns are also useful as textures for 3D models. To create a repeating pattern I usually start with a blank page of any dimensions. Next do some drawing or cut and paste images onto your blank slate. If your paint program has built in rendering you can use that feature to generate a semi-random pattern. Now it's time to make the picture seamless. Shift the image by about half the width and height. The “break” should now be visible in the middle. There are a few different ways to smooth the image. You can use a smear or smudge brush to blend the edges. You can also cut and paste small bits of the image over the edge area. Use your imagination and the tools in your particular art program. It's rather satisfying to roll your own tiled textures. Give it a try!

The picture of the week was created using Bryce.

Click on the image for a full-sized view


The loops of the week are some more dynamic drum parts.


Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Great games for a lazy Friday

Friday October 17, 2008

Hello Again! It's Friday and I'm here with my weekly update of all things technical and artistic. The topic for this week is games and I'm going to share my current obsessions and time killers. MechQuest is a browser role-playing game with anime style graphics. I like pretty much any game that lets you fight it out with giant robots. The game mechanics are easy and the game can be played in short sessions that don't demand too much time. There are 2 RTS games that have been consuming my spare time at a ridiculous rate. Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars is a great game with a long lineage. The campaign is cool, but nothing is quite as much fun as starting up a skirmish against a few bloodthirsty computer opponents. The other RTS addiction of the week is Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance. FA is notable for sheer scale and numbers. It's quite possible to have hundreds of units engaged in separate actions across the entire map. Give them a try the next time you're looking for some fun and action.


The picture of the week was created using Bryce.

Click on the image for a full-sized view


The loops of the week are some weighty drum parts.


Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Styling and smiling with CSS

Friday October 10, 2008

Salutations! It's Friday night and once more I'm back with the usual mix of tech and creativity. The topic for tonight is web design and the focus will be on CSS (cascading style sheets). CSS were designed to add greater style control and to HTML web pages. Style is the colors, spacing, and fonts used in a web page, and CSS is all about controlling style. With style control you can create a web document that is far less generic and more artistic. I've been learning CSS and have embarked on a rewrite of my personal web site using style sheets. You can directly embed CSS style tags in an HTML document or you can link to an external file that contains all your CSS styles. With CSS you can design a web page with greater precision than is possible with plain HTML code. Everything works fairly well though I've found a few minor problems with Internet Explorer that don't occur when using Mozilla Firefox. Your mileage may vary based on which browser you use. You can learn more about CSS at the CSS Site. If you're looking to move beyond the basic functionality of HTML give CSS a try.

The picture of the week was created using Bryce.
Click on the image for a full-sized view


The loops of the week are some rhythmic synthesizer parts.

Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!

Friday, October 03, 2008

More Music and Free Glee

Friday October 3, 2008

Hello and Welcome! I'm back with the weekly dose of computerized merriment and artistic commentary. The topic this week is music and the focus is a on a great free sequencer. A sequencer program is the heart of a virtual music studio, in which you can record, arrange and edit compositions. Sequencers range from free trackers to costly and capable professional systems. I've advocated free and open-source software from the beginning of Mark's Digital Arts but I hadn't found a solid music sequencer with all the bells and whistles for zero bucks. Then this past week I stumbled onto MU.LAB from Mutools. MU.LAB comes in two versions; a slightly limited (6 tracks and 16-bit mixdown) free version and an “unlimited” version for a rather reasonable 50 Euros. MU.LAB free covers all the basic necessities (audio and MIDI, recording and mixing) and some advanced features (VST plug-ins). As will all music software you'll have to devote a little time to learning it but there is a complete HTML online manual and some short tutorials available at the Mutools site. The interface has a slick look and there is an included synthesizer instrument and some effects. I'm still experimenting and learning MU.LAB free so I'll have to save the detailed judgment for another day. Suffice for now to say that MU.LAB free is the only free music application I've found that approaches the sophistication of commercial offerings. Stay tuned for more about this intriguing and excellent free find.


The picture of the week was created using Bryce.
Click on the image for a full-sized view


The loops of the week are some synthesizer sequences.

The book of the moment is Teach Yourself PHP and MySQL. Any computer book with a black cat on the cover gets my attention.


Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Drawing on Versatile Vectors

Friday September 26, 2008

Greetings! It's another warm Friday evening and I'm back with my weekly report of creative and fun stuff. This week the topic is graphics and the focus will be on vector drawing applications. The distinction between drawing and painting programs is whether they're vector or pixel based. Pixel paint programs draw and store everything as pixels, or tiny colored dots. Vector drawing programs draw and store pictures as dots, lines, curves, and shapes. The advantage of drawing programs is that they create artwork that can easily be scaled with no loss of detail. It's helpful to have at least one vector art application in your tool kit. Inkscape is a cool open-source vector drawing program with lots of features and excellent support. If you have a slightly bigger budget you can try Corel Draw 9 (or later). Corel Draw has a wealth of features and there are lots of tutorials online to help you learn. The remaining vector drawing program in my arts arsenal is OpenOffice.org Draw. OO Draw is the drawing component of the excellent Open Office suite. The benefits of OO Draw are greater simplicity and good integration with the rest of the OO package. There are many other vector drawing applications available but these three are a good start. Whether drawing a business diagram or your next art illustration, give vector drawing a try.

The picture of the week was created using Corel Draw.
Click on the image for a full-sized view


The loops of the week are some dynamic drum loops.

The movie/DVD of the week was Burn After Reading, a dark comedy from the Coen Bros.

The book of the moment is CSS in Easy Steps by Mike McGrath.


Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Apt Animations and Comedic Candidates

Friday September 19, 2008

Aloha! It's Friday once more and I'm here with the weekly dose of artistic doings and computerized chaos. The topic this week is animation and the focus will be on political humor. 2008 is an election year in this country and the the overall effect is like being caught in hurricane when you're downwind from a manure plant. There are some fun and funny animation satire sites out there and I'll share some that I found topical and timely. JibJab gained lots of attention and got some major press in the last few years. The cool cutout animation and great music make for some prime political parody. Political cartoonist Mark Fiore has posted a number of very sharp and appropriate animations on his page. I like clean and slick drawing style and the slightly left-of-center viewpoint. Kevin Kallaugher (KAL) is the editorial cartoonist for The Economist magazine of London. His animated offerings give us a glimpse of the American political system from the outside. I was particularly impressed with the 3D animations, but all the works show a fine sense of style and British wit. And that's about it for this week. Send me a link if you find any other places on the Net to view animations or humor in a politic
al vein.

The picture of the week was created using Project Dogwaffle.

Click on the image for a full-sized view


The loops of the week are some expansive synthesizer parts.

The PC game of the week is MechQuest.


Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Retro Recreations of Innovative Instruments

Friday September 12, 2008

Greetings and Happy Friday! We're on the verge of autumn and the evening is cooler. The topic for tonight is music and the focus will be on recreating the sounds of old instruments and computers. There's something about the limited sounds of yesteryear to get the old synapses firing. The synthesizer plug-ins listed here are all in VST format, so they'll work with the majority of modern Windows music program. For a real 1980s flashback you can download Ymvst, a nice Atari ST sound chip emulator, or 38911, which does a splendid job of recreating the sounds of the Commodore 64 SID chip. I never had the bucks for a hardware synth way back when, but thanks to the efforts of some gifted preservationists, I can play with a virtual versions of a Minimoog and an Arp2600. MiniMogueva and Arp2600va are highly detailed and produce some marvelous sounds. The next time you're putting together a track, try adding a bit of vintage vibe to your mix with these modern emulations.

The picture of the week was created using Anim8or.
Click on the image for a full-sized view

The loops of the week are some retro synthesizer blips.

The book of the week was Death be not Proud by John Gunther.

Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Fine Art of UV Mapping

Friday September 5, 2008

Hi again! It's another warm summer evening and I'm here with the weekly dose of artistic and creative doings. The topic for today is Graphics and the focus will be on UV mapping. I gained an interest in UV mapping after reading about it in a chapter from a book on creating digital dinosaur 3D models. UV mapping is a graphics technique in which a 3D model is projected onto a flat surface image. You can then use the 2D flat map to apply colors or textures to the faces of the original model without warping or distortion. UV maps can also apply to bumps, specularity or reflections. If your favorite 3D modeling/rendering application doesn't include UV mapping you can use the excellent UVMapper program. The free “classic” version of UVMapper is comprehensive enough for all but the most demanding work, while the “pro” version offers more features. I intend make use of UV maps in my future animated efforts and 3D scenes. Give it a try!

The picture of the week was created using Spatch and Bryce.
Click on the image for a full-sized view


The loops of the week are some junkyard drum riffs.

The book of the week was Modeling Digital Dinosaurs by Ken Brilliant, a step-by-step guide to creating realistic 3D prehistoric creatures.

Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.
Bye for now!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Stone Soup from Free Loops

Friday August 29, 2008

Greetings and TGIF! I'm back on this fair if humid Friday evening with more interesting and creative stuff. The topic for tonight is music and the focus is making music with loops. I'm certain that most of you have heard the fairy-tale/fable Stone Soup. The basic idea is that a flavorful soup is created seemingly from stones boiled in a cauldron of water when in fact it is a collection of small contributions tha
t makes the complete meal. With that lesson in community cooperation in mind I set out to assemble a short song from free musical components. The first place I looked for free loops was Acid Planet. Acid Planet offers a weekly selection of free loops called an 8-pack, which has 8 related Acid-ready loops and a project that uses them. You can get the current 8-pack from the Tools menu on the main Acid Planet page. The next stop in our search for free loops is Free Samples n Loops. There's a small but tasty selection of categorized loops to be had here. My soup pot is starting to look full so I need just a few more ingredients. You're in luck cause every week at this very location I offer a set of Acid-WAV format free loops in a handy zip file. I went through the now vast catalog of loops that have previously been posted and selected some fitting parts. I used Acid to sequence the loops and Sound Forge to finish the piece and that was it. You too can make a short song in about an evening from free components that you find on the web. Give it a try and see if you can better my effort at making soup from stones.

The picture of the week was created using Project Dogwaffle.
Click on the image for a full-sized view

This week I'm sharing the short Stone Soup composition made from free loops. The file is an MP3 format download. The loops of the week will return next week.

The book/graphic-novel of the week was The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

The movie/DVD of the week was The Terminal starring Tom Hanks.


Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Bounty for Bibliophiles

Friday August 22, 2008

Hail and hello to all! It's Friday again and topic for tonight is books and reading. This summer I have a backlog of books to read both fiction and otherwise that are filling my shelves. Most were bargains and blowout sales or plunder from book sales at the local library. As much as I like finding a book on the cheap it's even better to get your reading material for free. To that end I've found some sites where you can read or download previously published works. You can find a well researched list of sites at the Aussie site Free Books. The links are all quite current and the libraries are varied. Project Gutenberg is perhaps the best known repository of public domain books. This is a good place to find classic works in plain text. Authorama is another very cool site that offers a good selection books in HTML format. I've been a science fiction reader since my teens and I was delighted to happen on the Baen Free Library. Aside from the generous number of free offerings at Baen there are also books offered for sale. Take some time to read a new book, either printed or electronic, and you'll be the better for it.

The picture of the week was created using Project Dogwaffle.

Click on the image for a full-sized view


The loops of the week are some big bass parts.


The PC game of the week was Unreal Tournament 3 again.


Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Euphoria Rocks and Musubi Rolls

Friday August 15, 2008

Greetings! It's another fine Friday and I'm back with usual mix of mirth, pith and ideas. The topic for tonight is programming and once more I've turned my attentions to the Euphoria programming language and my long-delayed Musubi/SDL project. Musubi is a project I started a while ago to simplify the use of the SDL graphics/multimedia library and the related SDL libraries with Euphoria. This week I've jumped back into coding the remaining demos and writing the manual. There are some 52 functions and procedures I've included in the Musubi and as of this writing I've added over half of them to the documentation. I really don't know why the project had stalled for so long, but I think that like all artistic endeavors it is a matter of mood and timing. In any event the project will likely be wrapped and ready to go by month's end. Euphoria remains a rather obscure open-source language and I don't know what the response will be, but I'm driving on to complete it for the sake of closure. Even belated, I like to finish what I start if possible. I'll post a link here on this blog, and add an entry to my web page when it's ready. Stay tuned!

The picture of the week was created using Bryce.

Click on the image for a full-sized view


The loops of the week are some exotic percussion loops.

The PC game of the week was Unreal Tournament 3 again.


The book of the moment is Irish Folk Tales, edited by Henry Glassie.

Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Tutorial Trio for Graphics Greatness

Friday August 8, 2008

Hello Again and TGIF on this lovely and hopefully lucky 8/8/8. The topic for tonight is graphics and the focus is on tutorials for my favorite free/open-source applications. First off there is a very comprehensive set of lessons on using the POV-Ray 3D/Ray-tracing program at the Online POV-Ray Tutorial page. Users of Project Dogwaffle and the various descendants and variations thereof can try a wide range of tutorials that cover the gamut from starting out to mastery. The last of my suggested sites for the week is a very cool selection of tutorials on Jonatan Bijls' Anim8or site. Jonatan has included lots of links to other Anim8or tutorials in addition to his own. No matter what your skill level is, it's good to learn something new, and these tutorials will give you a lot of info for just a small investment of time and effort. Give them a try and send me a comment if you have any other free graphics tutorials or applications to plug.

The picture of the week was created using Project Dogwaffle.

Click on the image for a full-sized view


The loops of the week are some simple piano loops.

The PC game of the week was Unreal Tournament 3.


The DVD/Movie of the week was Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.


Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Orchestral String Theory

Friday August 1, 2008

Greetings! It's another warm Friday night and I'm back with more stuff to share. The topic for tonight is music and the focus will be on squeezing the best string sounds you can out of your sequencer or studio software. My choice of instruments and samples has customarily been limited by budget constraints, though a lack of bucks shouldn't be too much of an impediment to the resourceful computer musician. I generally start by using a good GM string patch. These won't convince anyone that they're real strings, but they're good enough to add a bit of character to a piece. More lifelike results can be obtained from a sampler and a few choice orchestral string samples. You can find some good quality samples in soundfont format at homemusician.net. Samples can be very convincing when applied with a bit of subtlety and a touch of effects. The remaining option for producing string sounds in your music tracks is to use either a specialized or generalized synthesizer. Big Tick software makes Cheese Machine, A good free VST string synthesizer. These strings will definitely sound artificial, but they hav
e a certain charm of their own and are sometimes just what your composition needs to fill in the empty spaces. Try all three methods either singly or in combination and see what some string sounds can add to your music.

The picture of the week was created using Project Dogwaffle.

Click on the image for a full-sized view


The loops of the week are some airy string parts.

The PC game of the week was Roller Coaster Tycoon 3.
Speakling of Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, some twisted types have used the game to orchestrate the most diabolical crashes imaginable and have posted the results on YouTube. (There's more here)
Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Gratifying Graphic Novels and Transcendental Trade Paperbacks

Friday July 25, 2008

Hola! We're back again with more fun and hopefully fascinating stuff. The topic for tonight is comics in honor of the massive Comic-Con International in San Diego this weekend. I'm going to focus on some of my favorite titles that have been reprinted as trade paperbacks and are available at your local book shop. The first stop on our tour is the year 1986 when Frank Miller wrote and illustrated his remarkable graphic novel Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. The Batman of TDKR is an alternate future version of the familiar hero. The book succeeds at both celebrating and reinventing the superhero genre, by returning Batman to his origins as a tough, brooding, dark character. The next book to peruse on our virtual tour is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill. This series was notable for the inclusion of several notable fictitious figures from the era. The ill-fated 2003 film proved to be a dud that failed to capture the steampunk vibe of the book. The last recommended read for the evening is Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. The original series was written by Gaiman and drawn by several different artists and is now recognized as one of the high points for illustrated fiction. Gaiman's work on Sandman was a departure from the norm and helped boost DC's fledgling Vertigo imprint. These days I don't buy individual comics anymore but wait for the reprints in book form. Give them a try and see if your eyes and your mind don't open a bit for it.


The picture of the week was created using Project Dogwaffle.
Click on the image for a full-sized view

The loops of the week are some stylish rhythm synth parts.

The PC game of the week was Future Pinball once again. Thank goodness this game doesn't eat quarters like the classic pinball games it is based on.


Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!

Friday, July 18, 2008

What's new NVU?

Friday July 18, 2008

Good evening and welcome back! It another humid Friday night here and the topic of the moment is web design. This week I took a bit of time to revisit NVU and complete the rewrite of my web page. NVU is a very nice open-source, WYSIWYG HTML editor. It's suitable for beginning to advanced web designers and I gave it lots of bonus points for being user friendly and easy. Those qualities made it possible for me to devote time to creating appealing graphics and to think more about the design rather than wrestling with the raw HTML tags. I went for a rather spartan, no-frills design this time out with a few visual accents. Special care was taken with regard to colors, to make the text more legible and to give each section a unified look. If you're looking to put together a web page quickly, I can recommend NVU without hesitation. You can check out my newly revised page from the links over on the right hand side of this blog or by clicking above. What I'd like to do next is to further refine my page using CSS and PHP. Stay tuned for more updates and changes as I grow and try to grow my web presence with me.


The picture of the week was created using Project Dogwaffle.

Click on the image for a full-sized view


The loops of the week are some systematic bass parts.

The PC game of the week was Future Pinball again.


Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Text as Art and Visual Verbage

Friday July 11, 2008

Welcome and a most jolly July to all! It's Friday once more and the topic is
text as a visual art. A very early example of combining text and graphics into a single artistic statement is the art of illuminated manuscripts. The handwritten letters were embellished with beautiful patterns and decorations that blended illustration with calligraphy. Concrete Poetry is a form in which the placement of the words on the printed page is used to convey and accentuate the poetic content. Concrete poetry evolved into (and overlaps) a form known as Visual Poetry in which the text may form an image, further reinforcing the intent. A modern web-page is an example of how content and style interact and combine. The idea is to emphasize the words by selecting their placement, font, size/weight, color and other attributes. The good news for those wanting to create their own visual/concrete poetic masterpiece is that it takes little more than a PC and a decent word processing or publishing program. Try composing an ode to nature in the shape of a tree or a minimalist sonnet that forms a neat triangle or square of text.

The picture of the week was created using Project Dogwaffle.

Click on the image for a full-sized view


The loops of the week are a set of drum/percussion parts.


Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of
it. Bye for now!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Ample Samples of Found Sounds

Friday July 4, 2008

Greeting and Happy Independence Day! It's a hot summer evening and I'm back with more stuff of interest to computer geeks and artists of all types. The topic for tonight is music and I'm going to discuss recording and using your own simple samples. For this exercise I used a cheap headset microphone, a small plastic soda bottle and the excellent Audacity open-source sound editing program. If you're trying this on your own PC make sure the mic is plugged into your PCs sound card before you begin. I started up Audacity, got the mic positioned and pressed the “record” button from the row of icons near the top. To make the a sound to record I simply blew over the mouth of the bottle to make a nice hollow note. Press the stop button to end the recording and you've got a raw sound file. I was able to trim the sample, tune and adjust the pitch and save it as a WAV file within Audacity. I repeated the process a couple more time with varying amounts of water added to the bottle to produce a higher pitched note. Once I had 3 samples, I was able to import the WAV files into the Orion sampler. The sampler will automatically detect and map your samples to a range of notes. Finally, we're ready to play the samples as an instrument either with a MIDI controller or through step-editing. It's fairly easy, and very fun and you can get some unique and highly usable sounds from this technique. If you haven't done it yet, give it a try.

The picture of the week was created using Bryce.
Click on the image for a full-sized view


The loops of the week were created from the previously mentioned bottle samples.

The book of the week was “3D Toons” by Steve and Raf Anzovin. It isn't a detailed guide to creating toons but it has some excellent and varied examples from different artists. This book was also my bargain of the week, cause I got it at the local 99 Cents Only Store for the princely sum of $0.99!

Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.
Bye for now!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Hitting your Morph Targets

Friday June 27, 2008

Hello Again! It's another lovely warm summer night here in the old gray cat's loft, and I'm here with more stuff to share. The topic for this session is Graphics and the focus will be on a very useful 3D technique. I've been working on a project in Anim8or that required some facial animation. I decided to make use of morph targets to move the characters mouth, eyelids and eyebrows in a convincing manner. To use morph targets you define the start and ending positions for the points (vertexes) of a 3D object. The rendering software can then fill in the intermediate in-between positions, creating a smooth animated sequence. It's just the thing for lip-syncing recorded speech to an animated mouth. One of the drawbacks to this technique is that it becomes unwieldy when dealing with more than a few points. A partial solution is to define your object as a subdivision or spline surface, reducing the number of points to translate. Try it for yourself the next time you need add a bit of expression to your animation.


The picture of the week was created using Anim8or.

Click on the image for a full-sized view


The loops of the week are a set of synthesized samples.


The PC game of the week was Travian once more. I've been recruited into an alliance and now stand a significantly better chance of survival.


The Movie/DVD of the week was “Hellboy


The diversion of the week was Sudoku.


Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.
Bye for now!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Consequential Clones of Gratifying Games

Friday June 20, 2008

Greetings! We're on the verge of summer and the topic for this hot evening is games. I'm going to focus on a couple of free/open source clones of classic turn-based strategy games. I'll start the session with FreeCiv, a very faithful reproduction of Sid Meier's classic Civilization II. I like the tough AI, wide range of options and depth in FreeCiv. I don't like the long time it takes to play but that's common of most good 4X strategy games. The graphics are clear, but 2D and a bit understated. You really don't need 3D gob-smacking graphics to enjoy Freeciv, just a good brain and lots of time and patience. The other freebie find of the week is Empire Allegro Advance; A Windows clone of the popular Game Boy Advance title Advance Wars. I like the cartoony graphics, the low system requirements, and the fact that it comes with a map editor and source code. I don't like the slightly cheesy vibe of the project and the fact that it is too easy to beat the computer opponents. I'll have more of my favorites on display here in later posts. In the meantime, give them a try and have some fun!


The picture of the week was created using Project Dogwaffle.
Click on the image for a full-sized view

The loops of the week are some more beat-sliced drum loops.


The PC game of the week is still Future Pinball. My favorite table is the recreation of Bally's Wizard from 1975. The last electro-mechanical tables from the mid 70s were the best IMHO.


The movie/DVD of the moment is “Juno”.

Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Beat Slicing (not sliced beets)

Friday June 13, 2008

Hello and Happy Friday the 13th! Tonight's timely topic is music and I've an interesting technique to share. In past blog entries I've described the use of looping in music to create pieces from short instrument or synthesized samples. Beat slicing is a related electronic music technique, in which a loop or sample is divided into separate beats, usually some even increment such as 1/16. Each subdivision can now be played independently of the other so that you can now play the entire phrase at a different tempo with little of the distortion associated with time stretching. You can also reorder the segments (slices) to get a completely different musical loop. Beat slicing is most often used on drum patterns, but you can also use other instruments or vocal loops for different effects. The first and most famous beat slicing tool is ReCycle, but you can use a number of different music applications and plug-ins to get the job done. My advice to the uninitiated is, as always, to try it and see if you like it.

The picture of the week was created using Bryce
Click on the image for a full-sized view

The loops of the week are some beat-sliced drum loops.


The PC game of the week is Future Pinball. Future Pinball is a both a detailed emulation of a real pinball table and a flexible construction set. The coolest thing is that it's a free program. The 2nd coolest thing is that there are a lot of user-designed recreations of classic tables available for download.


The book of the moment is The Art of Computer Programming volume 1 by Donald Knuth.

Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.
Bye for now!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Dogwaffle DIY Devlopments

Friday June 6, 2008

Greetings again! The topic for tonight is graphics and the focus is on creating your own extensions for Project Dogwaffle. I recently acquired and started using the tBDW thinBasic Dogwaflle scriptable interface. This package allows you to create your own plug-ins for Project Dogwaffle using the ThinBasic scripting language. There are only about a half dozen statements and a like number of equates to get your head around, so getting started is relatively easy. Your thinBasic script can either render a completely new picture or modify an existing one. I've written some simple scripts to convert color pictures to b&w and to generate mathematical patterns. It's fast, fun, and easy so I'll recommend it to anyone looking to expand the basic functionality of PD.

The picture of the week was created using Project Dogwaffle.

Click on the image for a full-sized view

The loops of the week are some boogie drum loops.


The PC game of the week is still FreeCiv. This TBS game is an open-source clone of the classic Civilization 2 PC title.

Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.
Bye for now!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Polished and Portable PC Gems

Friday May 30, 2008

Friday Greetings! It's another nice late spring evening and I'm back with more of the good stuff. Tonight's topic is computing and I'll focus on portable applications. A portable application is a program that can be that can be installed and carried around on a portable storage device and used on any Windows computer. What this means is that you can take a small suite of your most used programs on a handy USB flash drive or portable hard drive and have them ready to work wherever you go. PortableApps.com has collected a number of free/open-source programs with a handy launcher application. The set includes portable versions of Mozilla Firefox, the OpenOffice.org productivity package, and ClamWin anti-virus. Being the artist/musician/geek that I am, I was also interested in graphics, games, programming and music applications. For 2D drawing you can use GIMP, or Project Dogwaffle. For 3D graphics, Anim8or and a few different portable versions of Blender are available. For music you can use the brilliant and free Audacity sound editing application. For games you have a fair selection of low calorie, limited resource options to choose from. Programmers can use the Decimal Basic programming language to create small applications. As an exercise I put together a bunch of portable stuff that took up only about ½ of a 2gb flash drive. It's perfect for computing and creating away from home. Give it a try!


The picture of the week was created using Project Dogwaffle.

Click on the image for a full-sized view


The loops of the week are some fat bass parts.

The PC game of the week is the classic puzzle game Bejeweled.


Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.
Bye for now!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Making Musix or the Distro Disco

Friday May 23, 2008

Hola! The topic for tonight is music and the focus will be on a unique all-in-one solution for music making. In the past I've tried a few different Linux distributions, most recently settling on Suse. While I've had some success with most applications, the one area that really favored the Windows OS was sound and audio. Getting my Terratec EWX 24/96 audio card to work with Linux proved particularly problematic. This past week I found the Musix Linux live CD distro and decided to give it a whirl. Mus
ix is a single CD containing both a Knoppix Linux OS and a slew of music and media programs; a sort of portable music/graphics studio on a CD that has the added advantage of being FREE(!). I downloaded the ISO image, burned the CD and proceeded to try Musix on a number of machines. On the first PC (Athlon XP) Musix was able not only able to run, but properly configured my “problem child” Terratec card. I immediately got some music running through Jack and Rosegarden. Next I went on to the more powerful Athlon X2 PC with the Emu 1212M. This time Jack couldn't configure the sound card, and after a few fruitless minutes I gave up and went on to the next machine. The 3rd computer I tested is a lower spec AMD Sempron machine, with a Terratac DMX Xfire 1024 sound card. This time Musix was defeated by the LCD monitor I had hooked up. The resolution/frequency was out of range so I wasn't able to test it properly. So the final score for this outing was 1 out of 3. Musix might work on the other 2 systems with a bit of research and effort, but that's been one of my major beefs with Linux from the start. It's still kind of a computer geek's OS rather than a easy consumer product like Windows. I'll continue testing Musix, but in the meantime I don't see it replacing my other commercial music packages like Orion, Acid, and Music Creator.

The picture of the week was created using Project Dogwaffle.
Click on the image for a full-sized view


The loops of the week are some static synth runs.


The PC game of the week is still Travian.


The book/graphic novel of the week is “Preacher: Gone to Texas” by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. I can't believe I missed this remarkable series (and Neil Gaiman's Sandman) during it's first comics run in the late 90's. Thank goodness for trade paperback collections.


Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Learning to Layer

Friday May 16, 2008

Hola! It's Friday once again and I'm back with more stuff and fun to share. The topic for tonight is graphics and the focus will be on layers. Layers in computer graphics and animation are a part of most 2D applications whether commercial or free/open-source. You can think of a layer as a drawing on a transparent sheet. When you stack a number of layers, those closest will appear to be in the foreground. You can superimpose one image over another, or build a scene comprised entirely of overlapping images. In the case of animation you can create the illusion of motion by moving an upper layer around a background. This technique was the cornerstone of traditional animation in the days before computer graphics. Each frame of every scene was assembled from transparent cels over painted backgrounds. Thousands of cels would need to be meticulously hand-painted to create the finished animated film. Layers in 2D graphics are important enough to have inspired at least one book on the topic of using layers in Adobe Photoshop. Layers are also a key feature of Anime Studio 5 and Corel Draw. If you're using a 2D graphics editing program, check the documentation and help files for layers. You might have a wealth of untapped graphics power at your fingertips. Check it out!


The picture of the week was created using Project Dogwaffle.
Click on the image for a full-sized view


The loops of the week are some funky drums.


The PC game of the week is still Travian.


The book of the week is still The Poetry of Robert Frost

Send your comments and feedback and I’ll read it all and respond to some of it.

Bye for now!