Thursday, March 26, 2009

Day Ten - I Like Balance

Just to balance out some of my "negativity" regarding the iClone pricing thing, I'd just like to say that after taking a bit of a look around there is a glimmer of hope.

As Ken pointed out, there are alternatives to Reallusion's Content Store. One such is CoolClones and I have to say that after taking a closer look at it, I can happily report that they seem to have a better idea of costs (in general) than the official site. In fact, I found some stuff on there that I think I will buy very soon, and I don't expect I'll need to take out a loan to pay for it!

Also, I'd just like to say that Reallusion aren't a bad company. Quite the opposite, really. Sure, they charge too much for content (and don't supply enough basic stuff for my liking), but they certainly go a long way towards balancing that out by LISTENING to their customers (do you hear that, Lionhead??)

You only have to hang out at the Reallusion forums for a short while to see what I mean. First of all we have Peter Edwards, who is (I believe) the official rep for Reallusion on the forums. And man, does he do a great job (I'm not just saying that, I really mean it). It seems that he reads EACH and EVERY post, and responds to virtually EVERY complaint in both a timely manner, and a respectful, helpful way as well. It really is a nice change to the LH forums (towards the end, anyway).

Throw in the fact that Reallusion TAKE USER SUGGESTIONS SERIOUSLY, and you have a winning combination. They recently posted a list of upcoming improvements to iClone, many of which (maybe even all of them) came originally from the users. One of my suggestions even made the list! (Make Camera Visible - Next Version)

So there you go. Hope springs eternal. Maybe they'll take my ranting about prices to heart one day. I can only hope!

Day Nine - A Day In Egypt

Day Nine was spent with my mother-in-law, my wife and her friend at a King Tut exhibit at the Atlanta Civic Centre (thus the day late post).

It was pretty cool, looking at stuff from 1000's of years ago: statues made of calcite, intricate jewellery of gold, etc etc. And yet the thing that sticks most with me was... (drum roll) A TOILET SEAT.

Yes, Roger would be proud. :) Of all the ancient relics and history on display, I was most fascinated by a square of marble (I think it was marble) with a slight concave depression and a "keyhole" shaped hole through about half of it (see above).

After that we ventured to another ancient site - a dodgy looking cafeteria that was once featured on "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives". It looked terrible on the outside (see below), it was horribly overcrowded. The food looked disgusting... and yet; it was very very tasty.

So much for my perceptions, huh? hehe

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Day Eight - Skewed Perspective

The last line of my previous blog read "Or maybe it's just me?" in regard to Reallusion's Content Store and the prices therein. After Ken's and Killian's comments (and some pondering on my own), I thought that maybe it really is a matter of perspective.

When you boil it all down, I want to buy all the content there is to buy. I WANT IT ALL. But I simply can't afford it. That same argument doesn't apply to others who CAN.

Having come from TMO where we all held hands, singing songs, dancing naked in the wilderness, it was a real shock to find the fresh fruit no longer appearing magically on the table in the mornings and being forced to venture out into the harsh neon light of the Real World and deal with the perils of a different, harsher land. :)


Let me tell you briefly what I did recently: I tried submitting some content for sale at the Reallusion Content Store. First of all, you don't have to prove you have any skills in modding or art or anything like that. You simply need to have registered a product with Reallusion and that qualifies you to sell "stuff".

The submission process isn't very hard, but you need to prep some things to do so, such as having images ready of the EXACT SIZE they require, and being ready to make up some fancy wording for your Ad.

My plan was submit an item for sale, and charge next to nothing for it. With this strategy I was hoping to prove that you COULD make a profit by selling something really cheap, but at a higher volume (I seem to remember hearing that in an old Bugs Bunny cartoon..."Mass prooooduction")

I made a stupid mistake, though. I took a Google 3D Warehouse item (a Skeleton) and was attempting to sell that as a CloneBone character. It didn't occur to me until after I'd submitted it that I technically didn't own it. I DID spend a lot of time fiddling it, resizing it, changing parts, etc to make it into a usable (and quite cool, I might say ) CloneBone actor (for more details on what a CloneBone actor is, read THIS.)

Naturally and quite rightly, Reallusion informed me that I'd have to contact the original modellers (there were two, one for the body, another for the skull) before they could put it up on the site.

But the real funny bit (the one that ruined my plans) was they said I would have to charge WAY more for it. You see, I wanted to charge $1.00 for my SkeletonMan.

Just fyi: Reallusion take a significant chunk of the profit (up to 50%) and they only give you money back when your cut reaches $100. In other words, I'd have to sell about 200 SkeletonMen before I'd see a dime. Not a problem for me, but obviously one for them.

My Reallusion contact suggested a charge of $5.00 for SkeletonMan (once I had permission from the initial modellers), which I guess isn't too bad. Certainly a lot better than $96.00 *cough* (that one item really irks me, sorry).

So one day I might try again, but with something of my own (100%) creation. In the meantime, I'll just give SkeletonMan away for nothing, dreaming of the good old days when I used to hug trees, sing meaningless songs, and run around in my underpants, thinking I was a hero...


Monday, March 23, 2009

Day Seven - The Cost Of iClone

Recently, I purchased the boxed edition of iClone3 Pro, which came bundled with 3DXchange (for importing virtually any prop my heart could imagine). The software is brilliant, no doubt about it. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you get the basics down, you start to see the true potential of this software.

I almost didn't buy it, though. The reason: cost of extra content (and I know several other people that felt the same way and opted to take the Moviestorm route as a result).

How much does extra content cost, I hear you ask? (you know you did...) - put simply: TOO BLOODY MUCH.

The basic level of purchasable content is WAY OVERPRICED. Reallusion (the company that makes the product) charge very high prices for their content packs (of which there are many, I might add).

Take at look at their Content Store to see what I mean (I'll wait why you do that...)

OK, an example: The Wedding Planner Deluxe Pack costs a whopping $199.95, I kid you not (the same price I paid for my boxed edition of the base software). Sure it has a fair bit of content, but $200 bucks worth? No way.

They've managed to offset this by giving us BackStage, which is a system that allows you to trial and buy individual pieces of these packs, so you don't have to mortgage your house to make a 10 minute machinima movie. One of the problems I've noticed with that is that NOT ALL of the content is available through BackStage, so for certain things you are still forced to buy the entire pack, or go without.

This overpricing tendency seems to have bled over into the ranks of the individual content developers as well. One item (a simple, but unique variant of the ubiquitous CloneCloth system) is priced at a RIDICULOUS $96!! Just outrageous, if you ask me - it's just ONE ITEM!

Of course, it's not all doom and gloom. As has been said by many others before (including myself), the software comes with pretty much all you need to do, build and create everything you need. It just takes time and effort to do so (and did I mention skill, which you might not have?) But if you want to take the easy route, it's gunna cost ya, buddy.

In a recent email exchange with a Reallusion employee (I was doing a little experiment which I might touch on in a later blog), I suggested the obvious (to me) approach of selling the content for LESS, and thus making it available to more buyers. Seems to me if you sell the same item more times for less money, your profit will even out, with the added bonus of having more loyal and happy customers that can AFFORD the content packs (and future products).

Am I wrong in this assumption? I'm no businessman, but it seems very straightforward to me.

Honestly, I think they are shooting themselves in the foot by overpricing the content this way. Is it greed or ignorance? Or maybe it's just me?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Day Six - Music

A long time ago, on an old computer far, far away, I tried to make my own music in a program called OctaMED. This was a 'tracker' program, not a tradition musical notation system, and more suitable to a person who had very little 'real' musical knowledge (I'd had piano lessons as a kid, but it didn't 'stick'). The Commodore Amiga had many of these tracker programs, and the results were quite impressive.

My results were tragic, however. I played one piece on my stereo system, and my mother heard it in an adjoining room, commenting "What was that terrible sound?" I didn't try again.

Wind the clock forward about 20+ years, and I got the urge to try again. This time I bought Sony's ACID Music Studio software: much like the old tracker programs of old, but a lot more friendly to use and a lot more powerful as well.

The results this time were very good. In fact, I was stunned at just how good my first attempts came out. Inside a few hours I had a nice Spanish Guitar piece, a hip Drum one, a light, fluffy Classical piece and several others.

So I then aimed my sites on my machinima movies (the real reason for making music, in this instance). And now I find myself doing the scores for all my flicks. I like the results, and it avoids all those nasty copyright problems many of us suffered (or avoided) back on TMO (where the laws were strict, and the communication nil).

I've also done some other people's films (at least in part). My first was JudyAnn88's latest Hercules film. I got to do the entire score for that. I've also done tracks for Cecil_Evan's Mortal Coil film (and his up coming flick as well, which I won't disclose just yet). I even inadvertently worked with GoofParade on a song for tehpoptartkid's SirFartsALot film. I made up some music, and TPK send it to GP who amazed me by making it into a song. (The man is brilliant, I tells ya!)

What gets me is how quickly the music comes about. I think I did Judy's film in just a few hours (OK, the film was relatively short, but it was my very first musical 'score'). And it's remarkably satisfying to make it. I think if I ever give up movie making, I'll probably still make music. It's just so much fun!

While I don't go out of my way to make music for others, I usually try and help those that ask. So if any of my machinima friends (or future friends) are in need of some music, just ask me. The worst I can say is 'no'...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Day Five - Biggs Darklighter

I'm a Star Wars fan. There, I said it! Actually, I'm a Science Fiction fan, but Star Wars just happened to be 'the big thing' (and still is) when it came to sci-fi as I grew up. I know, there's Star Trek (BiggsTREK anyone?) but Star Wars always seemed to overshadow poor old 'Trek (for me). And yes, I DEFINITELY know that there is life beyond these two franchises. In fact, in a lot of ways, they are possibly the WORST representations of the genre. But that's a topic for another day.

Somewhere along the road I noticed that many people seemed to "latch on" to one particular character or another. One friend seemed to really like Luke, while another had a thing for Han. Someone else had a wookiee thing (that sounds bad... lol). I guess I felt like joining in on the whole "dedication" thing, so I opted to take on Biggs Darklighter. Someone obscure, yet interesting. I even tracked down the plastic figure of Biggs in a toy store.

A few years ago I was watching a LOT of Star Wars Fan Films over at TheForce.Net and I got really excited at the thought of making my OWN Star Wars fan flick. Having already dedicated my Star Wars life to Biggs Darklighter, I knew it would have to be about him. Of course, I had no idea how to make a film, nor did I think I could easily find the people and resources that would be required. That didn't put me off, though. But it did make me pause.

I knew I'd at least need a story to get the ball rolling. Once upon a time I made up a fake Star Wars crawl, telling the Star Wars story if Biggs Darklighter had been the star. That would have been a silly idea for a film (it was much too compressed) but it spawned the idea of telling the previously untold tale of Biggs Darklighter (just what did he get up to en route to joining the Rebellion?) (Actually, it has been told in a Dark Horse comic series, and a couple of other fanfics, but I prefer mine...)

I had no idea how to write a script at the time (I still don't, really, but that doesn't stop me!) so I opted to write the story as a story. After much scribbling, and rewriting, even adding a romantic element to it (and humour), I came up with 'The Adventure Of Biggs Darklighter'. If you'd like to read it, here's a link (the pictures do the same):

Not terribly long after that, I started work on a sequel (the original was received well enough, and I had some more ideas I wanted to do.) And so eventually 'Biggs Darklighter ii - One Dark Future' was born. Weighing in at twice the length of the first, it was a much more complex tale, venturing into the fun world of an Alternate Universe (though not really... you'll have to read it to get what I mean):

Plans for a third and final installment got underway not long after that, but unfortunately I haven't sat down and done it yet (got some cool ideas jotted down, though). You see, I found a little product called 'The Movies'... and all my spare time got sucked up!

Of course, one day, I hope to come full circle and actually MAKE the first Darklighter story into a movie, just as I originally planned. Only it'd be machinima. That's still a little ways off yet, but one day, one day...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Day Four - Just One Week Ago

Just one week ago, Cosmo didn't wake up. It's a funny way of saying "he died", though it obviously means the same thing. I guess it's the politically correct, or sensitive, way to say it. Anyway, that's not what I want to talk about.

The two pictures in this blog are the only ones we saw of him before meeting and subsequently adopting him. As you can see from the one above, he was a skinny thing. I think that picture was taken shortly after the original "rescuers" found him on the side of the road. They soon discovered he suffered from heart worm (which used to be fatal just a few years ago). Six months of treatment later, isolated in the foster family garage in a large cage, he came out looking like the picture below. As you can see, he was a very handsome boy.

Knowing nothing of his past, they called him Hercules, or Herc for short. A nice name for a big dog, but not one we wanted to use. So we set about thinking up an appropriate name for him.

Spock was one I came up with, and for about 3 or 4 hours that was his name. But it didn't really seem right. Then I guess while watching Seinfeld, we came up with the name Cosmo, after the character Kramer (if you watch the show you know what I mean). It really did seem to suit him. Cosmo was crazy (both of them!) and yet endearing (OK, Kramer might have lost his shine after a certain incident, but you can't win 'em all!)

Just one week ago...

Both my wife and I agree that it feels a lot longer.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Day Three - Howard Phillips Lovecraft

It's no secret that I'm currently working on another H. P. Lovecraft movie, 'The Haunter Of The Dark'. In preparation for that, I've done a little research into Mr Lovecraft. Not a lot, but enough to get me into the right 'mindset' to work on his story.

As I write the script, I've kept reading his short stories (not just 'Haunter, but any and all I can get my hands on) and I've noticed that he certainly did love his home of New England (or maybe he hated it so much that he wanted to haunt it with all sorts of evil critters?) And, as an aussie, I find it amusing that he has thrown Australia into the mix every now and then. It's nice to know, for example, that under the desert sands of Western Australia lies the ruins of a mind-faring race of beings from another time and place.

Another observation (and a pretty obvious one, for those that have read his stories) is the language differences. For instance, the word "show" is written "shew" and "shown" is "shewn". I noticed the same kind of difference in another novel of about the same period, 'When Worlds Collide' (by Philip Wylie & Edwin Balmer) that used the word "bowlder" instead of the modern "boulder". I guess I find that kind of thing fascinating.

Right now, my script writing is on hold (due to Cosmo's death - I just can't make myself do anything 'fun' while I mourn his loss) but I am still reading the Lovecraft stories I've downloaded to my Kindle (more on that device in a later blog, I'm sure). I like the fact that pretty much all his work is now in the public domain (or whatever the correct expression is) and readily available for reading/download on several sites.

Lovecraft came up with some cool ideas. I like the fact that they aren't the typical 'Demons' or 'Angels' that we get in many horror tales. They are more science fiction than horror, in my opinion. Or maybe a good mix. Apparently the man was an atheist and wanted to write stories that would scare Christians. I have a funny feeling he succeeded.

And man, was Lovecraft ugly or what?! (Sorry HPL...)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Day Two - Sci-Fi becomes SyFy... no, seriously!

Stupidist thing I've read in a while. The Sci-Fi Channel has announced that it will change the name of the channel (and website) to SyFy. Might just as well start calling it the SyPhilis Channel (insert your own jokes as appropriate).

Seriously, as a dedicated sci-fi fan for over 40 years, I find this a bit insulting. I have no real problem with them changing the name of the channel, but why make it a stupid, nonsensical name? It's like insulting the entire genre. Why not something nice, like, um, Phoenix or something? I'm sure if I put my mind to it, I could come up with something more appropriate.

What they really should consider is changing the crap programming they have. With the very obvious exception of Battlestar Galactica (the best piece of TV sci-fi in years), they really don't have much to brag about. That stupid "reality" show Ghost Hunters should be the first thing to chop. And the pitiful weekly Saturday Premiere movies should be scrapped and the money to make them funneled into a SINGLE DECENT FILM. Honestly, those weekly films are... weak.

Last comment: The little line below SyFy: "Imagine Greater"... what the hell does that mean? It's not even grammatically correct! Bloody idiots.

OK, I'm good now... just had to get that out of my system. :)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Day One - Farewell Cosmo

Hey all (meaning those 2 or 3 of you that might actually read this), I've considered doing a blog for a while now and I guess today I finally made that choice.

I don't want to start off on a 'downer', but I'm afraid that's the way it's going to be.

Just last week (Friday March 13th, 2009) my wife and I woke to find our beloved Cosmo (a beautiful Great Dane) had passed away during the night. He was in his usually sleeping position, eyes closed and he looked at peace. I can't think of a better way to go.

We adopted Cosmo about three and a half years ago (I believe it was the Labor Day weekend of 2005). No-one knew anything of his past, but based on his skittish behaviour, he must have had a rough time at some stage. However, also based on his weird love of being dressed up (I'm serious!) and very eager desire to go visit little girls, we think he was also loved at some stage, by someone.

Cosmo had a good life with us. Actually, he was spoiled. lol My wife and I have no kids, so Cosmo was effectively our child. You can imagine that he received a lot of attention as a result.

As I mentioned earlier, he had some "issues", and saying he was skittish is an understatement. He was terrified of thunder (as many dogs are) but Cosmo was clever enough (and stupid enough) to associate lightning flashes with thunder - and camera flashes! As a result of that, he would run away and hide if you tried to take a picture of him (which sadly means we have very few pictures of him). In fact, one of the best pictures we have of him is one where he is hiding behind a tree because we tried to "snap" him running towards us (he promptly ran to the back of our yard and hid (see below)).

I have many stories of Cosmo that I could tell, and I might share them now and then as I try to deal with losing him so suddenly. For now I'll leave you with that picture.

We both miss him very much. The house is a very empty, quiet place without him.