Gray days, grayscale

So Emma is now feeling gray – just going back to simple materials as details begin to take shape.

One of the things I have always been particular about are shoes. I think I see a lot of character models that kind of ignore them – they are after all somewhat tedious to model. Laces in particular are a study in contradictions – they repeat but are unique at a very granular level.

Laces across a shoe have to follow some rules in the way they repeat (if you have ever been in the military you know what I mean) and lace up. But when you look a them very closely, they have a unique shape as they follow the contours of the shoe’s leather and form.

Picky, picky. Haha!

Be sure to check out Stained on Comixology!

Plans within Plans

Other than wanting to quote Dune … just kidding. November and December are always reflective times, planning stuff and sometimes more importantly – abandoning stuff.

This has been a tough couple of years as an indie comics self publisher.  The market, if there ever was one, feels smaller for work like mine. Other friends of mine have been feeling the pinch as well.

We used to do all the local shows, and sometimes travel to nearby states for others. Most of us are in our 40s now and feel that most of those shows simply don’t need our ilk as much as they did when they started out.

If we haven’t already chosen not to do certain shows, they have certainly not noticed as it’s often said ” someone always wants YOUR spot.” If you leave it for a second, you lose it.

So yeah, I’m on more waiting lists now. But hey, I’ve been this patient. Every once in a while I walk past a table in artist alley and can see the same thousand yard stares on some people and you can often hear it in their voices and I say to myself, “that kid ain’t gonna make it without a serious attitude change.”

I have no evidence for it, but it’s a gut feeling. Sometimes, you push people away from your table with that look of sad desperation that says “I just paid hundreds maybe thousands of dollars this year to come to this convention and be ignored by thousands of people.”

And some kid, having barely published one book, is proclaiming that the world is so unfair. My reptilian tears have barely dried.

Kidding.

Independent comics are supposed to be tough. If it was easy money, there would be a lot more crooks, scum and douche-y middlemen scouring the market and plying indie comics to the rafters.

I have been reading a lot of Michael Lewis books lately but one aspect of “The Big Short” really sticks with me. That in order to spot any sort of financial bubble, you really only need to look at a few things and one of them is the amount of criminal activity associated with the sector accompanying that market.

I don’t imagine many independent comics completely rip off, fake, or otherwise otherwise graft their way to success. There just isn’t any money in it UNTIL you do things right.

That’s weirdly comforting.

So planning for the next year, I surf for deals on software I want to upgrade or try, ditch projects or finish them to a degree I can be comfortable with, and try to imagine what my fricking parachute color is. But I hate that metaphor.

I think it’s better to figure out what color your WINGS are. I don’t want to jump out of perfectly good airplanes, I want to be the airplane. But enough metaphor butchering.

SO I got my approval on being an Amazon influencer – I kind of don’t know what that’s going to entail other than me recommending things. Before I get accused of shilling, which it indeed is, I don’t plan on recommending anything I wouldn’t get myself – or that I don’t already own or have used. I simply don’t have the reputation to get paid for a recommendation like some less scrupulous social media butterflies.

I settled on finally digging into Substance Painter, getting a new graphics card and CPU, a bit more memory, and even – for the first time – raising funds to hire a colorist and maybe even a letterer for my books.

Don’t everyone jump up at once.

Hope to see some of you at shows next year (if I get off some of those waiting lists).

Emma’s Progress

That headline sounds suspiciously like a medical emergency, but since I don’t know anyone named Emma – other than the comic Stained’s main character – it’s a benign headline.

So while this doesn’t look like a lot of progress, a lot of what happened at this stage was planning and reference gathering. And another simple process – organizing the model.

In the previous post, the parts that were broken out in the Xpose view were only organized as they were imported. The latest version organizes the Zbrush subtools by name and discreet parts in a cleaner and more logical way.

I had mentioned colors would happen later, but it didn’t cost anything to apply some standard materials as I save some reference image links. Boots, jackets, shirts etc – I think Google now thinks I am shopping for women’s clothes.

Be sure to check out Stained on Comixology.  Or, you can follow David’s work on instagram or twitter @myzomibes or @451official.

Emma from Stained

Not too long ago I met David Baron, the creator of the mini series “Stained,” published by 451 Media.

I volunteered to 3d model and possibly 3d print a figure prototype of the main Character Emma, an technologically enhanced bounty hunter.

So my first step is always digging through my personal model library looking for similar models just to block in the figure and possible props. Some of Emma started with a model I had made of another comic book character for an animation test. Female, same basic proportions and clothing.

But I would need fingerless gloves, weapons, a holster, a different hairstyle and lots of custom cybernetic details later. These were the base elements I cobbled together to plan out the figure. Dig the floating eyeballs:

Zbrush has a feature I don’t often see used other than to show that it’s a feature. In most default interface setups of the current versions, the XPose button hides at the bottom right of the model window.

What it does is temporarily transpose all the subtools into an exploded view so that you get the above layout or something similar.

Useful? Well, since I have not seen too many people use it, I guess people don’t find it very useful. But in my case, it’s useful for picturing at least in a very early way, the discreet parts which will require different treatments for 3d printing. Sometimes, it’s good at showing me parts that need special attention because some of their geometry has been hidden. It can also tell me I am using too many subtools.

If you’d like to read more about Emma’s adventures, check out Stained on Comixology. Follow David’s work on instagram or twitter @myzomibes or @451official.

Trying to get organized and …

Still trying to get the new hosting setup to work smoothly. I should have most of the old posts online but since my old webservice simply refused to backup my old wordpress install properly, I mostly have given up trying to reconstruct it. Maybe save that for later.

More PLA quality issues

Getting good prints from PLA (Polylactic Acid based filament) is usually pretty easy – as long as you have a well calibrated extruder and good quality filament.

I once ran into quality issues with filament on the SAME filament reel. On the first limited test run of my Pencase, I started with a pale blue Matterhackers spool that went well, but then turned into total garbage by the end of the reel.

Since it was a new reel, or at least a newly ordered reel, I thought it was a material issue given the printer itself was also freshly calibrated, cleaned and maintained.

Hey, it happens. But the relative youth of a consumer or even pro-sumer 3d printing marketplace is going to have these kinds of hickups.

It’s one of the reasons I have always enjoyed using Protopasta filaments – the consistency of a material throughout it’s usage and lifetime in your shop is really important. And it’s clear from a sampling of materials that pricing might not reflect quality, but when there is consistent correlation between price and quality – you build some loyalty.

This sounds like more of a marketing blog than a 3d printing rant, but it cn be really tiresome trying to salvage a bad roll of remaining filament with different settings to compensate for brittleness, adhesion, clogging or other difficulties that come wwith inconsistent filament properties.

For instance, I actually sat next to my printer once with my finger on the temperature dial adjusting the filament temperature AS it was printing. If I saw or heard strain in the extruder I would adjust pressure slightly, or if I saw under extrusion I would briefly increase temperature, or even adjust speed. JUST to save on buying new filament.

I’m likely not going to do that again. It’s beside the point of having a robot in your living room, right?

Switching off and on

I had a bunch of web hosting stupidity happen over the last few weeks. Going to switch web hosting soon and I don’t think it will interrupt anything, but I realized how long I have had a website when it’s just not as cool or common a thing any more. I don’t want to give up my url ever and was considering it in the light of how easy it is to not have one any more.

Host my demo reel? Just go to online video free services.

Host my artwork? Choose a platform?

One stop for all your content? Yeah, that’s still a harder proposition but hey, hyperlinks still connect everything so why keep my own url?

I’m damned stubborn, but the I have become kind of fond of the wordpress platform and less impressed with other web platforms. I’m still a feature guy, and things like twitter and Instagram are dumbed down they kind of make me anrgy by default at how little they offer in terms of features and control.

Thankfully, platforms like wordpress seem to be holding strong and other blogging and CMS platforms still have something to offer.

Hammers and Nails

I’ve been drawing a lot less lately, preferring to go directly to digital for some product designs. It might sound like it would be a little slower, but the results are more conclusive.

That’s not to devalue a drawing, but when you want to manufacture a shape and not just make an accurate drawing, sometimes the digital approach is faster.

Here’s the thing I think some people, who are still romantic about drawing, don’t realize – it has some cognitive and physiological costs.

Say you draw something, you go through a dozen sketches, maybe spend an hour doodling and then hit the CAD program and realize “Hey this wouldn’t work in the real world.”

Going back to drawing can sometimes makes sense, but if you saw something that didn’t work in CAD, why leave your CAD program? It used to make sense when CAD programs were run on giant workstations, heating the very rooms they occupied.

You used to need to highly skilled and rare operators for those workstations, spending time translating your doodles into recognizable and annotated diagrams for someone else to interpret.

Now you can download apps, use in browser CAD programs, or highly accurate off the shelf vfx apps to do your CAD. If you have the skill level, there is no speed benefit to switching cognitively between the two processes. Unless you have highly internalized skills in sketching as well as computer aided design, then you have the trifecta when added to 3d printing knowldge. I’ve been developing those matched skills my whole life and having spent 3 years in additive manufacturing things are really coming together.

I’m just nagging and bragging now. After all, if you love your process, if you think it works for you, fine. But not questioning your process now and then is surefire stagnation fuel.

A line I read in a book pairs well with another popular aphorism. First, “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Add that to “When you believe in the problem more than the solution, which do you think will ultimately prevail?”

Altered just slightly, sometimes we can believe in a process more than the product, and you can tell when that happens. It’s when you get emotionally attached to the work done BEFORE the product than the product itself. Were you sad that the final product didn’t capture your sketches? You missed the point.

Were you disappointed that the spontaneity in your drawings didn’t translate to the printed or manufactured part? You missed something for sure.

That last quote comes from Ryan Holiday’s book “The Obstacle is the Way,” which became popular for sports teams, business leaders etc. in the last few years. It’s quickly become one of my favorite books.

The Meta Cognitive Training Bracelet

Time Ferris, author of the 4-hour series of books and more, posted an article a while back about the use of Rubber bands as cognitive training tools. Like many things in meta cognitive training, an action, a behavior and an object are blended into a simple program which has become popular with personal development enthusiasts and trainers.

You can read more about that program in Tim’s post here:

Meta Cognitive Training

I happen to like the idea of meta cognitive training but as a designer and 3d printing nut I wanted to add something to that mix. While the rubber band bracelets were truly inexpensive, I thought a much more mechanical “switch” would be more symbolic and perhaps safer in a way.

That thought occurred to me while driving to work. Since the original meta cognitive program in Tim’s post was about complaining, I thought many people would be wearing these rubber bands while driving. If you add rabid cell phone use to complaining about traffic, the act of switching the rubber band from one wrist to the other as instructed in the training protocol above spelled disaster.

You can just see the disdain on the police officer’s face – “You see officer, I was just following my meta cognitive training protocol …”

The biggest advantage to the rubber bands, of course, is that they fit a much wider range of wrists without modification. Perfect design. But my next version of this bracelet may include a flexible wristband as I want to start experimenting with flexible 3d printing filaments.

It’s a little odd that I have not done so in the few years I have been printing. I have never liked the fact that many of these filaments’ early versions were in fact difficult to use and often ended up requiring a hardware upgrade to the printers before being truly usable.

But after the latest reviews of some of the latest flexibles, that may have finally changed. I’ll know more by the end of summer.

You break it, you print it

I have had one case for my glasses which I liked – but it also had a property I disliked.

I liked that it opened from one end instead of lengthwise – it helped with unintentionally dropping my glasses or the fact that they would pop out of the lengthwise case too easily.

The thing I didn’t like was that the cap was rounded, the base was flat and it was chrome plated – in other words, it looked like a dildo. There were a number of odd glances my way when I would produce the case in public.

But I have had a 3d printer for several years now, and last week, having installed a new extruder I was looking for new projects.

I started designing the next case for my glasses years ago, but it evolved into the Pencase project which you can purchase here.

Although the current design for the case only shows the basic exterior it is no way going to be a business as usual case. I want this thing to be as desperately impractical as possible – more of a toy than something meant for the avid glasses switcher. Whatever that is. Whoever that is.

I am in other words breaking one of those tenets of good design (again) – that something be designed for its purpose as closely as possible. Braun designer Dieter Rams would be furious, but I feel that 3d printers are precisely and particularly fit for this sort of task.

The real purpose I find is in the way design itself is accessible, not it’s final products. There is a fantastic saying floating around the conversation of any technology but especially mobile technologies and I would add 3d printers to it – that what we design, ends up designer us in return.

The feedback from the objects and apps in our lives changes us in return and to be aware of that, act within it and take it as the true process is more important to me lately.

Mostly because I have to find a way to justify spending so much money on 3d printing! Hubris! Have fun out there if you live is LA – triple digits everywhere make for easy melting.