Monday, June 26, 2017

copy morphs from actor to another

There were a couple hits recently with the above as a search term.

It is relatively easy -- if you read the question on way (and much harder if you read the question the other).

Morphs in the Poser universe are a set of deltas. Poser meshes are .obj files (or .obj format imbedded in a Poser native format like .pp2) that define a 3d surface via a set of vertices connected by edges and filled in with faces. Each vertice has 3 Cartesian coordinates; x, y, z.

A morph file must have an entry for every single vertice of the mesh it will be applied to, in the same order (called "winding order") that they are listed in the .obj file. Each of these entries is a move in the x, y, and z directions.

This is what give morphs their flexibility. A single morph can be applied at a fraction of the full move, a multiple of it, or even as a negative of that move. They can also be combined; the final position of the target vertice will be the result of the addition of all the vectors.

With that out of the way; to move a morph from one file to another merely involves copying the big chunk of text that lists all the deltas. Plus a control. So, basically, copy the entire channel; everything within the brackets following "targetGeom nameOfMorph".

I should note that as of...I think Poser was possible to store the actual morph data in an external file. I never worked with those in my prop creation so I can't advise there.

There were also and probably still are third-party helper applications, some of them running within Poser itself using Poser Python, to copy and paste (and also delete and rename) morphs for you.

However. The morph has to be for the same mesh. The exact same mesh. Even one missing vertice will cause it to barf. I have to make particular note of this because in the Poserverse, "Actor" is the name for an individual part. A leg or arm or individual gear in a gearbox or whatever. Poser uses the term "Figure" (or prop) to refer to a fully rigged instance within the workspace. And, no; a morph designed for a leg will not work on an arm, any more than a morph designed for V2 will work on V3.

Ah, but there is more. It may not be possible to copy a morph, but there are ways to duplicate it. Manually, by using magnets and other deformers in the Poser workspace or mesh modeling tools outside (again, be very, very careful not to change the number of vertices or their winding order). There are also automated tools. PhilC makes some amazing ones that run within Poser itself (using Poser Python, natch).

Saturday, June 17, 2017

No More One-Man Jazz Trio

I got rid of my drum kit. Gave it in a long-term no-conditions loan to a friend at work. I hadn't even realized (until I got home) that with the recent acquisition of the Kala U-Bass I actually had piano, bass, and drums in the house.

That's the old-school Jazz Trio. It is a great blend of instrumentation.

The drums weren't great, anyhow. Roland SPD-20 "brain," a Roland FD-7 hi hat pedal and one PD-8 that I usually had set up as a snare. As a kit, it needed a lot of work yet. The hi hat controller had a lousy feel, there was no kick pedal, and no-where near enough pads, even including the surface of the SPD-20 itself. But even if it was complete, that's simply not the direction I'm going now.

See, that particular arrangement of controllers is to simulate this:

The pic above is a render of a kit I created in 3d. (Complete with multiple options, textures, fully adjustable and animatable...but that's not the point). The point is that an element of the sound is placed to be triggered from each limb. The right foot tapping the kick on the 1 and 3, left hand on the snare at the 2 and 4, heel-toe on the hi hat pedal on the quarter notes, and right hand laying down eighths on hat or ride (on the kit above, that's a hybrid crash-ride).

And many, many variations thereon. It's all about the coordination, and the idioms descend from the physicality, from what is easier to reach in conjunction with what or which movements naturally coordinate. And the best way to get it is to have those controls with that response in the right positions. You pretty much need something, whether it is an actual acoustic drum kit, or a set of sensors, sprawling out and taking up space in that arrangement or close to it.

Which is partially what my friend was looking for. But also, honestly, even if you are simulating timpani or tin-pan, bongos or part of a gamelan, having big pads to swing a stick at is better than trying to do it on piano-style keys. Or even those cute little baby touch pads on some keyboard controllers.

Thing of it is: you can study and simulate the idiom, but even the way a timpanist mutes the drums with their fingertips to control the long sustain requires an extra effort to simulate. To replicate the kind of intimate complex interaction of the player with a tabla or bodhran or the jazz standard of brushed snare is much, much harder.

And the natural sounds are not there. All the ways the tones interact, all the side noises (wanted, unwanted, or merely accepted), are part of the character of the instrument and the intimacy and presence of the sound.

It might seem like the electric bass and violin, and the Behringer 61-key, are counter to that idea. Don't be deceived by the terminology. Both my first violin and my new bass are electrically amplified, but the sound of the sound is entirely physical. It is the same vibration of strings as a true violin or an upright bass.

Well, sort of. The tone on both (the U-bass is a solid-body model) is simpler, lacking the full body resonances of a primarily acoustic instrument. But they do share -- in fact, because of this same lack of natural acoustic amplification, they even have more -- of the finger noise and bow noise and fret buzzing and all of that.

In short, both have a tone that is far too expressive. Every move my fingers make, intentional or not, is broadcast by the instrument.

You might think the keyboard is the odd one out here, but not exactly. The majority of keyboard instruments share one dirty secret; they are mechanical. If I fret on the bass where I place my finger and how I place my finger matters in the resulting sound. If I play a note on the plays. So a MIDI keyboard sacrifices very little of the nuance of the performer.

(I hasten to add -- that's when it is used to mimic keyboard instruments. It captures fairly faithfully a piano or organ performance. It fails to deliver the necessary control and thus nuance of a string or wind performance when it tries to mimic one.)

So I've been seeing a lot of stuff done with novel orchestration, and with hand-made and improvised instruments. I am still intrigued by the idioms of specific folk musics, of how a bluegrass fiddle is different from a klezmer violin, of the kinds of flourishes typical of an Irish penny whistle, but I'm becoming a lot more cosmopolitan in my arranging.

I'm just as happy, now, putting together groups of instruments that sound good, with whatever interesting techniques each player can muster, as I am with trying to "play the game" and stick with the style, idioms, and expectations of a classic jazz trio.

And in any case...I won't have the piano I want until I've gotten around to hooking up that Raspberry Pi-based keyboard module.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The First Time's the Best: The "Civ Problem"

There's a problem in most computer games. It first came to my attention while playing the Civilization series. Once you've isolated it, though, you see it occurring over and over.

It has to do with the way certain things -- from building a city to opening a treasure chest -- become by the middle of the game rote, boring, and annoying, with too many button clicks and a long animation to sit through. Paradoxically, in the early game these tasks are fresh and exciting enough you as the player find yourself wanting even more. More choices. Longer animations. More detail.

In my opinion, the choice to try to strike a balance is the wrong one. I think games need to do something different. The question is how the design team can afford it.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

We'll make it your way

I work at a company that is essentially using Just-in-time manufacturing technique. Our product line is nimble and always changing, and our catalog is deep, so ww essentially build each order as it comes in. And as a necessary adjunct to this, we only keep enough stock on hand to fill known orders.

That's basically what I was doing. However, the lead time on acrylic, PCB boards, small parts, etc. is enough that I had to anticipate Holocron orders somewhat and purchase those materials ahead. Unfortunately, I guessed wrong. It looks like I'm going to be stuck with unused parts. Whilst, simultaneously, being short of what I need to finish the remaining orders.

The problem is largely one of changes.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Friendly Plug

Nathan McCree, the wonderful composer behind the first four Tomb Raider games, has launched a kickstarter to get a suite of fan-favorite selections from those games recorded by a full symphony orchestra.

At Abbey Road Studios. Well the full support of Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix.

Check him out!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

All U-Bass is Belong to Us

Once or twice in the past I've thought about getting a bass. Certainly not an upright -- those things are huge, and expensive. But even a traditional bass is rather large and cumbersome. Too much, I thought.

Well, not necessarily. And certainly not as of 2005.

Nathan East with his California 5-string, courtesy of Kala

The small-scale hybrid bass concept is not entirely new. The Ashbory came out in 1986. It uses polyethylene strings to cut the length down to about half that of a standard bass. And then there's Paul McCartney with his Höfner 500/1 (a bass neck on a violin-like body.)

One of the many experimenters over the years is Owen Holt, and he combined a baritone ukulele body with pahoehoe strings (manufactured under his own Road Toad branding -- which name is a reference to the infamous Cane Toads, by the by). He then took the new instrument to Mike Upton at Kala, who had learned ukulele building in Hawaii before returning to manufacture them in California.

The first u-bases were acoustic-electric, constructed not unlike a baritone ukulele. There was some experimentation with truss rods along the way, as bass applies new stresses to the standard uke construction. Somewhere around 2011 Kala brought out a solid-body four-string, and in 2015 had five-string options (as well as fretless and left handed options).

Bass players are converts (or, at least adding it to their collections). I saw a used one at the local music shop and was struck by how odd, cute, and friendly it was (in that, at least, it clearly shows its ukulele heritage).

So, yeah, I bought it. And it is, fortunately, one of those instruments that is easy to pick up (all instruments are a lifelong project to learn to play well.) Ukulele skills translate, as do, oddly, violin skills; the former is in the fretting and plucking, the latter is in the sensitivity. This is not a an instrument requiring you to haul down a thick steel string by sheer finger strength. It is an instrument that registers every fretting finger, every brush, every tap.

The one I got is the Kala sunburst SUB. It looks like a baby electric guitar. It has that Fender solid-body shape -- but an oversized headstock and four thick black gummi-worm strings that look like something that belongs on a toy. Internal pre-amp with volume and two tone control knobs on the front and it is just slightly larger than my e-violin.

It is tuned like a four-string bass and with the 20" short-scale has almost the same range. You can hold it like a ukulele but finger plucking is easier with a guitar strap. With those Road Frog Pahoehoes it has a jazzy upright bass quality (particularly if you thumb-pluck and use the heel of your hand to further reduce the sustain). I'm told that with the optional wire-wound strings you can get more of the aggressive bite of a bass guitar.

It is also almost completely silent when not put through an amplifier. You can't even practice it unplugged (but VOX makes a cute headphone amp for guitars and basses).

I do have what appears to be a set-up problem, possibly inherited from the previous owner; my middle strings rattle. I've emailed Kala and will probably be replacing the nut. The low tension means bending is difficult and snapping doesn't work (slap bass technique). It has frets so slides have that fretted sound and you can't really do vibrato. However, the sensitivity of the pickups makes hammer-ons and pops extremely simple. In short there are still plenty of techniques open to exploration on this instrument.

So I've rethought how I will be approaching bass in my next recording project. I've been aware for a while of the true expressive quality of the bass, a quality and a realism that synth patches are a poor substitute for. Well, my playing isn't much better. But the u-bass makes it just possible I can do those parts live now.

And a u-base doesn't take up a lot of space.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Bassic Instinct

I got a chance to play with an Bass Guitar* recently. I am starting to understand many things about bass players that puzzled me in the past.

First, though, was mild surprise at how quickly I figured out "where the notes are." The bass is tuned in fourths, and unless you have an "extended" bass, the strings are in the same order (but sound an octave lower) than the four lowest strings on the guitar.

So a consistent interval, and certainly simpler than the reentrant tuning of a soprano or concert ukulele, but still it takes only moments to adapt and figure out where the next note you want it. I still don't get, in fact, why there are fingering charts for single notes (as there are, and many indeed, for the violin). But then, I'm not usually sight-reading. So I don't know I'm on a G, and I don't have to go through figuring out that the next note will be a B, so where is that...instead I just know I need a note that's a seventh above, and I go there.

In any case certainly beats the fork fingering of a recorder (where half your notes require a combination of fingers with holes left open at various places along the body).

I did somewhat "err" in going for thumb plucking at first. This is uke instinct; you hold up the Uke with your fingers so thumb pluck or strum is easiest. But turns out some bass guitar players use this to sound more like an upright bass -- and by the time I'd read this, I'd already discovered the associated trick of using the heel of your plucking hand to dampen the strings (you rest it on the bridge, in fact).

Fingers work, too, but for that I needed to use the neck strap. In any case, finding the simpler walking bass lines and so forth were dead simple.

Which is the first thing learned; getting them to sound clean is another issue entirely. Like violin, every tiny bit of noise is amplified. Every hammer-on and lift-off is audible, as is every time you brush against another string. Plus unlike the violin, where the sympathetic vibration of the open strings is part of the desired sound, those fourths really clash if you don't make a point of muting the strings you aren't using.

The second thing is how hard it is to hear. I couldn't even get my tuners to recognize it at first. You really need an amp to hear yourself well enough to play.

And it is really all about tone. The difference between the right tone for the song and the moment and the almost right tone is like Mark Twain's "Lightning and lightning bug." And, yeah. You don't hear that tone -- the essential elements that make that tone -- without some serious horsepower in your bass amp.

A 10W practice amp is just barely enough, and that's with it cranked up to max.

So in just a little playing around I suddenly have way more sympathy for the bass players and their amps and their constant adjustments in the name of tone.

Heck; I'm not even sure that you really find your notes through what comes over headphones. The violin communicates when your intonation is right in part through vibration that you feel directly through your skin. I can believe that you know what pitches the bass is making -- at least on the lowest string -- by the low frequency vibrations you feel in your very bones.

The bass is more like a piano than it is like violin or woodwind or brass; you can pretty much produce a note-like object the first time you pick it up. But like all musical instruments, making that note sound good, and adding expression to the performance, is lifetime study.

*sorta bass guitar. Details to follow.