This blog describes my journey exploring storytelling - words, images and the sensations they generate. The lot, basically.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Mari 3.0 - Unboxing

I am a texture artist. I work in film. That means for 80% of my work Mari is my home. Despite being very well aware that Mari is a commercial product developed and sold for financial gain by The Foundry, I still have very strong and warm feelings for Mari. Some software you are forced by circumstances to use at great frustration. Mari is not like that. Mari is home.

Since Mari 3.0 was announced and later released last year I have been eager to take the next full release for a spin in a real production setting.

Unboxing videos are all the rage (39,000,000 ones and counting on YouTube!). Personally I find them pointless, but taking Mari 3.0 for my first drive, I just couldn't help myself. Finally here was an unboxing I had been looking forward to. I am busy working hard, on what will doubtlessly be 2017 biggest summer blockbuster, but throughout the day I noted down my impressions in shorthand scrawl.

(Before any of this, I of course archived all my Mari 2.6 projects one last time)

I type mari& in my shell... and... an electric blue Mari logo greets me on the loading screen - I immediately dislike it, simply because that black and yellow logo has meant home for 4+ years.

Fearing the worst, I am happy to note that Mari 3.0 immediately accepts my custom layout of palettes across two monitors. I could rearrange my layout in my sleep, but I appreciate the effort to seamlessly pick up, where we left off.

I open my current asset and Mari starts converting it to the current version. I would say, I sat five minutes as patience was replaced with anxiety waiting for the conversion to finish. I went to the kitchen and fixed myself a green tea. No? Nervous jokes and comparing notes with my fellow texture artists. One had a delivery looming and had switched back to old Mari 2.6. Five more minutes of waiting at my desk and finally Mari comes around. Nervously I inspect all the aspects of my project. Apart from the custom layers from Ideascale, everything else seems to be operational.

As for (the indispensable) extension pack from Ideascale? You obviously need to update your installation, or convert old custom procedural layers to paintable layers in an older version of Mari. A nice nod to Jens Kafitz' impressive work is that Mari alerts you to the fact that you need to update your Ideascale node pack.

Starting to work on my asset, I notice that my color management toolbar across the bottom of my main viewport is gone. Hunting around for it, I find that color management is now a palette. I am not happy about that. Those 3-4 roll-out menus fit nicely into the bottom of my viewport and seems way too little to dedicate a whole palette to. It is certainly not a palette I will dedicate my screen space to on a constant basis. The split point slider is a nice little addition. For me as a texture artist, I work with a limited number of color spaces and a LUT is something handed down from above, so I don't really need to compare different LUTs or color spaces - I can tell the difference between sRGB and Linear blindfolded with both hands tied on my back. I don't really need a split point slider to help me tell the difference.

That said, I think it is a great idea. I do a lot of A B testing and comparisons switching between channels and switching layers on and off. A split point slider there would be an amazing function to clearly make out the differences and spot changes.

On the projection palette I am pleased to note that, again, my elaborate projection settings have been kept intact.

Mari's ambient occlusion is notoriously... low tech... so reading about the new baking tools in Mari 3.0 I had high hopes for the AO bake - something I use on pretty much every asset I touch, in one form or another. It doesn't seem that much better to me? I am surprised by this to the point, where I am wondering whether I have missed a trick? Maybe I am not doing it right?

Another thing I use constantly in my work is the 1-6 hot keys for zooming on selected components from different angles. In Mari 3.0 1-6 now zooms weirdly on not the entire selection but a single part of it. I have still not determined the logic behind what is going on there.

In the Export menu for channels, Export Current Channel Flattened is now number one in the roll out instead of two. Damn my muscle memory. That is going to take some time getting used to.

The thing I have been most excited about in this Mari release are the new nodes and the ability to get under the hood with node graphs. We already work very much in a node graph based fashion with other The Foundry products such as Katana and Nuke. It seems a very straight forward step forward.

However on a busy day, where you are mindful of your time and deliveries etc. I didn't have time to dedicate more than 5-8 mouse clicks to check out the new palette etc. I already try to cover as much ground as I can procedurally before starting painting. Many effects I produce over and over again, like dust, value and color variations, generic dirt in corner and cracks and the effects of the sun bleaching outdoor assets. I am very excited to find out more about nodes and start building a library of these effects and exporting them as gizmos.

That was my first day in Mari 3.0 - of course I am anxious get back tomorrow morning and start peeling back more layers of what Mari 3.0 offers. For starters, I really need to get that 1-6 hot key navigation sorted out...

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Lessons in Life: Affirmations

Can you write and determine the script of your life? Can you choose what kind of person you will be?

I want to talk about mental programming. A computer can be programmed to do what you want it to do; Simple instructions, which a machine will carry out to the best of its ability. What about our brains? The most powerful computer ever devised. How do we program it?

I know how it is often negatively programmed. Ever heard the saying 'garbage in, garbage out?' I know the child, who is told over and over by its parent, that  it is stupid, will be believe so, and be so. We even tell ourselves these things. I may tell myself that I am clumsy, and sure enough, my hands follow suit, starts trembling and dropping things inexplicably.

(For more about this, look up the Pygmalion effect - Harvard study from the 1960s: The essence is, expect the worst or best and you will get it.)

All the back chatter in our minds reinforce this. You get something wrong, and there pops up a voice "You idiot!" No doubt reinforcing and deeply entrenching existing negative programming.

How about reversing it? Can all the negative programming be disassembled and replaced by positive programming, which reinforces helpful and beneficial back chatter in the mind or beliefs about ourselves?

Why not give it a shot?

On the 14th of December 2011, I started writing affirmations to myself. Over the preceding months I had noted down what the negative voices in my head were consistently telling me. I took those things and turned them on their head and made them into statements. I added statements relating to my personal and career goals. The first shot was less than half a page in my journal. Over time as things have come to my attention and I have felt the need to be more specific in certain areas, my daily affirmations have grown. They now weigh in at around a full page and a half in my A5 sized journal.

A year later, I have completely eliminated all the negative voices in my head. You don't know what a lovely weight off your mind that is. Goodness knows, this life throws enough garbage at you. For you yourself to also lend strength to that and undermine yourself, that is just a great and needless injustice.

Writing this can often feel like a chore. But at the same time, I am also not quite myself, until I have done so. I feel unfocused and my thoughts are scattered. It is a bit like a mental shower. Showering cleans you. A single shower does no miracles for you. But over time the healthy habit of showering will keep you free of sicknesses and other problems. Or like paper. A single sheet has no strength, but as you layer sheet on top of sheet, day after day, the strength of the bundle of papers grows. You can punch through a single sheet of paper, but try punching through a phone book! There has been one or two days where I did not write my affirmations. Then I wrote twice the next day. Obviously this is not an exact science, but if I have told myself X times a day so-and-so negative thing, I would like to beat it back with at least the same amount of times - and whatever you can add on top, will now take us away from damage control territory and into a place where we start building ourselves up.

I write my affirmations on the train on my way to work. As you are literally opening up to your deepest desires and the things most important to you, it can feel a bit awkward with strangers sitting next to you; You feel emotionally naked. What if they helped themselves to a peek? But what I write may be deeply personal for me, but it is not harmful to others nor anything to be ashamed of.

The affirmations I write, and thus choose to program myself with, represent both dreams, goals and a to-do list; There are things I wish to achieve, things I want to remind myself to keep on keeping on with, things I generally want to aspire to and things I want to steer well clear off.

This is what I write every single day.

I am Marque Pierre. I am a brilliant artist. I am a brilliant writer. I am a brilliant storyteller. I am worthy and deserving to be the director. My gifts make the world richer.

Before anything else, I was an artist. It was my first conscious memory. But you can lose your way. In recent years, for a long time, I have spent a lot of time admiring other artists and storytellers - while dismissing my own efforts. Slowly, slowly over time you start daring to dream, that maybe one day your own efforts would be good enough to fuel and direct the needs of a production; That you could be the leader and guiding light creatively. It feels good to think such thoughts, instead of shooting yourself down: "No, I would never be good enough for this..."

I am a brilliant husband. I am a mild and patient father. I protect and teach my family. I am always approachable to my family. My family is happy.

I want to be. I love my family. For them I try to be my best every day.

I am a handsome man. I am insanely strong. I am happy with myself. I love being Marque Pierre.

A tough one to write, as a stranger may, or may not, enter your personal space. But definitely something that has benefited me to accept. It feels good being at peace with yourself. I added the "strong" stuff after a spell of intensive pull-up exercises. I found that my mind kept telling me that I couldn't do them, even if I knew that I should be able to. It is draining fighting yourself like that. Got to get rid of such negative beliefs.

I am famous for my kindness. People admire my joy. I speak with mildness and discretion. My gratitude makes me happy. My surroundings are refreshed by my company. Jeg har mere overskud end Bassen selv.

These sentences were added during a particularly trying time at work. I felt myself growing more and more bitter, and I had to start pushing back on that. Instead of bitter and sharp, I'd like to be refreshing for my surroundings. The last sentence, I really only could write in my native Danish. Even if English is my adopted language, there are still words that can't really be translated to my satisfaction. "Overskud" means surplus. It is often used in Danish for a surplus of energy and confidence; when nothing can faze you; you are just ready for it all. The sentence reads: "I have more 'surplus' than even Bassen himself." Bassen was the nickname of the grandfather of my friend. In his youth he was a master salesman and throughout his life, by far the most positive person I have ever met; A gentle giant and a true inspiration for handling any difficult situation with ease.

I am full of confidence, libido, lust for life, energy and power. Every wish, dream and goal I have, come true. I can see clearly into the future, and everything I set out to do, becomes a success.

Yes, please. Of these things, you can never have enough.

My work excites me. I can't wait to start on my work. I work fast and efficiently. People are instantly impressed by [my work]. I make more money than I can spend. I am well on my way now.

When I work, I want to hit the day hard. I work in a field, which is incredibly competitive; a field which is very hard to break into. I never want to forget how grateful I am, and should be, to be where I am. No matter how glamorous it was at first working in the film industry, everything eventually becomes common place. But I have worked too hard and overcome too many obstacles to be where I am today, to throw it away on complacency, so I need this reminder.

I love my talents. I love my art style. I create only to thrill myself.

Do you ever look at other people in your profession and wish you had their talent and not your own? Pointless. I'd love to be Pete Docter, but I'd be a crap Pete Docter. I have a genuine chance to be the world's best ever Marque Pierre. You are you, make the best of that. It will never change. I remember reading an interview with Director Andrew Stanton from Pixar, where he mentioned some other film makers that he admired. He said something to the effect of, these film makers were busy making things, which were cool to themselves, and that made their work interesting to others as well. As opposed to wasting your time trying to second-guess, what others would think is cool and making something half-baked that neither you nor others would enjoy.

I concentrate easily and deeply for long durations of time. I avoid all distractions and I am amazingly productive.

Flow, sweet flow. Flow is the sweetest drug of them all. If I can increase my ability to sink into flow and stay clear of distractions and procrastination, then that deserves a place in my daily affirmations.

I enjoy learning new skills. I learn fast and intuitively. 

Learning brand new skills is hard. Your old skills are calling you; Whispering in your ear, how easy it would be to forget all this newfangled nonsense and just revert back to your old ways, while you are tearing your hair out trying to navigate a new system which makes no sense. Lovely.

I have a lot of friends who are brilliant artists and creators in their own right. We inspire each other and actively contribute to each others' success. 

No man is an island. Nor am I. Creating is often a solitary exercise, but to share these things with your peers and friends brings so much joy. 'Iron sharpens iron, likewise one man sharpens another man's face', says the Bible (Proverbs 27:17). I always want and need more of such friends.

I can actively shape my life to become exactly what I want and need it to be. My life is great and I am enjoying every moment of it! This is the best day of my life!

Here comes the grand finale: To firmly establish that you can shape your life into exactly what you want it to be. The penultimate sentence was for a long time, the conclusion to my daily affirmations, which is why it ends on an exclamation mark. I find that when I write the very last sentence, I force my mind to come up with plausible reasons why today indeed could be a very, very good day. Those thoughts are a lovely way to start the day.

Post Script

After a particularly trying time at work, I found myself peppering my affirmations with a new sentence. I was in a position, where I found myself constantly doubting my own abilities and judgments. Things that really should work, just didn't work. So you start feeling like an idiot. Already working as an artist is hard at the best of times - you constantly see flaws in your work; never have enough time to realize your vision; and your mistakes are being sharply pointed out by your peers and supervisors. Yep, it is not for the faint of heart.

So I added this sentence: "Jeg er god nok, som jeg er."I write this in Danish, my mother tongue, to make sure it will hit home as deeply as it can. The sentence means, "I am good enough, the way I am." For an artist, and a working artist at that, to get to that point of simply accepting yourself and trusting, that you are enough - just the way you are - is to be at peace.

What about you? Who do you want to become? What life do you want to script for yourself? Write it down. Every day.