Thursday, November 27, 2008

Fiddling with my Highway One Stratocaster

I spent Monday night making some tweaks and modifications to my Stratocaster. As it arrived, it had 9 gauge strings which are a little to spongy for me on a non locking guitar and it also had the standard floating trem, something else I'm not a fan of. There were a few cosmetic tweaks I wanted to make also. So I dug out the house tool-kit, found the Phillips screwdrivers and set to work. The guitar started out like this:

Highway One Strat Before

After a couple of hours I had flattened the trem against the body, added two extra springs to the trem block and screwed the trem claw further in so that the trem doesn't pull up even when I bend notes. Having done this and put a set of 10s on I needed to adjust the action and intonation accordingly. Whilst I had the strings off I took the opportunity to swap out the stock white knobs and covers for some after-market black ones which I think complement the big 70s style headstock and make it a little more individual. Once all this was done and the guitar was tuned up it was too late to give it good session through the amp so I had to wait until last night when I got home from work at a reasonable time and T was out having dinner with friends. This is what it looks like now:

Finished Body

I poured myself a whisky and played for a good two hours. I declare myself more than satisfied; I'm really chuffed with the sound and way it plays now. The extra mass in the trem and the fact it doesn't float anymore have really improved the sustain and beefed up the tone, something which the heavier strings have also helped with. The feel is much better with the guitar offering a little fight now in both the strings and the trem - just how I think a Strat should be. The extra benefit, which I hadn't counted on, was how good the guitar sounded with the volume backed almost all the way off through the Cornell amp. The tone cleans up really nicely, something which humbucker-laden guitars just don't do, and I was able to twang away once my overdriven Trower/Hendrix/Beck urges had been satisfied. It's really an absolutely super guitar now and I'm so pleased I made the effort to make those tweaks to make it "just so".

T is off to a big industry conference in a couple of weeks so I intend to use those evenings to maximum effect. I might even try and record something. Have mercy.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fiat Lux

Holy crap but I've been busy. It's not all been work work work, but even the fun bits eat up time. The main things occupying my time are getting our shots ready for a temp screening next week (just as well we don't celebrate Thanksgiving as we're going need all the time we can get) and also preparing two talks I'm giving one in a week or so to a big industry shindig in London and I'm delivering another one this Friday at a university whose computer graphics course is regarded by many as the best in the UK. I'm much more excited about the latter as I get more of a sense of fulfillment talking to students than I do talking to industry people since the former might be appreciative of some inside knowledge.

I spent all Sunday preparing notes and slides for the lecture, which wasn't my intention. I'd planned to spend about 4 hours putting it together but as these things tend to, time ran away with me and I finished at about midnight. The lecture I'm doing is on creative lighting in computer graphics, something which a lot of CG courses are none too good at. I'm lucky because I started out as a fine artist and went through all the training that comes with that. These days, it seems, students are encouraged to specialise much sooner and so they miss out on the broad brush strokes of visual learning and frankly I see that in their work. My plan is to give them 40 minutes potted art theory and history focusing on light and then colour and round it out with looking at a specific example. It was making the slides for the "specific example" that took the time.

The idea was to set up a scene and try and light it in a few ways to show what emotions and moods can be created with lights alone including some not so successful ideas and explanations about why they don't work. I decided to use a model of the goddess Athena I have and set her in an alcove as this makes the lighting challenge more difficult as you don't have much free freedom to place your lights as if she were freestanding. To complicate matters further, she's holding a spear which can cast nasty shadows reducing the freedom of light placement further.

Anyway here's how it would look if you lit it with just a camera flash mounted right on top of the camera:



And here are a few different takes on lighting her:








I'm pleased with the last one. I hope the students get what I'm trying to tell them. The talk's on Friday afternoon so I'm bolting out of work at 12, heading to the station, travelling for two hours, getting a cab to the college, delivering my talk, getting back in a cab, another two hours in a train and then back into work at about 7 if we have another conference call to L.A. And then I shall rest.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Angry Otto

Angry Otto
Originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity
I made this little fellow in Processing, a graphics programming language this afternoon. I was inspired by all the little monsters made using Processing on this page. In the video, the moving dot represents the location of the mouse pointer and Otto really hates mouse pointers. It's fun to make him chase the pointer in the actual application and to see his cross little face snap at it when he gets close enough makes me giggle every time. It's surprising how much life and fun you can impart in just 200 lines of code.

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

VFX T-shirt

VFX Artist T-shirt

I now have my VFX Artist t-shirt, it's no longer just a design in Photoshop. I'm quite pleased with the quality of the shirt, the print has easily withstood a couple of washes and the few other people who bought one also seem pleased. Bountee seem like a good site though they screwed my order up the first time. I get the impression that the outfit is run by a bunch of slightly stoned but well-meaning latter day hippies. Their hearts are in the right place but they can't necessarily remember what they were supposed to be doing, like sending me my shirts in the correct size. It's all good now and I have my shirt in medium as ordered. If you want to do t-shirts yourself and don't want the hassle of organising someone to screen-print them (and believe me, you don't) this seems like a good alternative. This is the link to my shirt so you can see how it all works at Bountee and what their site has to offer. I might even do a few more, non-cynical VFX artist, designs now.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Last Laugh

I Am Dry

On Saturday evening I met up with two buddies at the Tate Modern for a wander around the Rothko show followed by meeting up with two of their friends and dinner at a really lovely Malaysian restaurant near London Bridge. As the weather here has been filthy for the last few weeks with frequent, heavy downpours I took the precaution of donning my outfit as you see above. Many of my friends mock my Drizabone and oilskin hat as old fashioned and I must admit it was in part my general tweediness that led me to get them. There was a practical concern too and that was you can't get men's full-length waterproof coats in more modern fabrics and styling.

The last laugh came as I walked home from the restaurant. The heavens opened and I saw many folks diving for cover, even those in fancy Berghaus all-weather jackets as their jeans got soaked. I, clad in my old-school garb, down to my solid, no-nonsense English heavy leather shoes was able to carry on, warm and dry, until I got home. Sometimes I am accused of being a recalcitrant, old-fashioned git. I'm not sure that's entirely fair. I tend to think it's also a matter of quality. To those who accuse me thus, I might point out that I embraced digital cameras and CDs early as they are in most practical respects superior to the formats that preceded them. On the other hand I have stuck with tube guitar and hi-fi amps because I have yet to hear a transistor amp that gives me the sound I want, and the same considerations come to the fore with clothes. I like the older styles partly because they are generally better made and will last a lot longer than fashionable high-street stuff. In the case of the Drizabone, for example, it is a design that has been refined over many years from practical experience and from Saturday's sojourn I'll take well-made and thought out old-fashioned duds every day.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Genius Playlist

Here is a Genius playlist, by which I mean one generated by the new "Genius" feature in iTunes rather than a particularly good playlist. That said, I'm quite intrigued by it:

The Count Of Monte Cristo The Noisettes
Horse and I Bat For Lashes
Serotonin Simple Kid
Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me The Pipettes
Sleep On the Left Side Cornershop
Come Follow Me The Answer
Miss Modular Stereolab
Mojo Box Southern Culture On The Skids
Heroes And Villains Brian Wilson
Tangled Up In Plaid Queens Of The Stone Age
Black Cherry Goldfrapp
Rumble Link Wray
Darlene Led Zeppelin
I'm Free The Soup Dragons
High School MC5
May This Be Love Jimi Hendrix

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Friday, November 07, 2008

More Pinhole

In lieu of words, which seem to be failing me at the moment, here are another couple of pinhole experiments:

Pinhole 4

Pinhole 6


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Digital Pinhole Camera

Sisoftroos very kindly got me a cardboard pinhole camera kit for my birthday. I am putting a roll of aged 35mm colour film through it now and I shall be intrigued to see what, if anything, comes out from it. But this set me thinking about making a digital pinhole camera. At first I was over-complicating the issue by planning to make a pinhole camera that was focused onto a ground glass and then using a macro lens on the digicam to take a photo of the image projected onto the ground glass. This is, of course, way too fussy. A quick Google search showed a far more sensible approach:

  1. Take a body cap for your type of camera.
  2. Punch a hole in the centre of it.
  3. Using a needle, make a tiny hole in a piece of adhesive aluminium foil.
  4. Stick that over the hole in the body cap.
  5. Put the body cap onto the camera and...
  6. VoilĂ , you have a made a pinhole camera.
Here's what I've ended up with at the moment:

My latest Canon "lens" in situ.

And this is from my first test at taking a photo with it:

Pinhole 3

I'm really quite pleased. It's very soft; I think a slightly smaller, more carefully punched hole ,will produce better results but it's not bad. The pleasing pin-hole quality of infinite depth of field is there and these days with Photoshop and such we can add some contrast into the otherwise rather flat images the pinhole produces. I'll try and improve the quality of my pin hole and take some more photos over the coming weeks. I might even try and shoot some time-lapse video.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

We drink and then we drink


It's been a fairly boozy weekend. On Friday my pal Dr H hosted a Halloween party at her flat. She left it rather late to tell us it was to be fancy dress and I'd been pretty busy with work and hadn't had time to plan (or write blog posts. Sorry.) On Friday morning I had a tiny brain wave. I have a yellow t-shirt with a 70's style print of a woman sunbathing on a each and "Amity Island" written underneath. All I needed was the shark to make it complete. And so it was that I bought a large sheet of grey cardboard from an art shop and after work charged home ready to do some papercraft. I was sensible and did a maquette first on a sheet of paper. It was just as well as my first idea of how to fold and stick it didn't work and had gone straight for the proper version I'd have been screwed. I figured out what I needed to change and then when my little paper maquette looked sharky enough I transferred the pattern to the full-size card and cut it out. The idea was to have the shark around my left leg so that the jaws were around my knee and the shark body wrapped around my calf so it appeared to be biting me. It actually worked pretty well. After about a bottle of red wine I decided, and it seemed sensible at the time, that the shark should now have fully devoured me and therefore I should take it off my leg and wear it as a hat with my happy, tipsy little face peeping out from the maw. Here is me, looking very sober having been eaten by the fish:


On Saturday I had arranged to meet up with friends in a local pub. I always make it a very relaxed affair telling everyone which pub I'll be in and from what time and then leave it up to them when and if they show up and for how long they stay. The first pub started out well and we were comfortable and a couple of pints in when we saw a large P.A. being brought in and installed followed by a load of disco lights. This pub is normally an extremely quiet Victorian boozer and this did not bode well. The bar staff then went around putting printed notices on every table to the effect that the pub had been booked out that evening for a party and we were welcome to stay until 7.30 after which time we could all piss off. This came as a shock. I have walked past the pub every weekend since T and I moved to Holborn and it never has more than about three people in it on a Saturday. It was for this reason I didn't try to book it myself, I didn't think that there'd be any need. The tipping point arrived when the P.A. was cranked up and a super tinny sounding "Red Red Wine" by UB40 came blasting out. Enough was enough. We all decamped across the road to The Dolphin where we spent the rest of the evening.






We left after eight and a half hours solid drinking and T and I came home where, as an unexpected treat to round off the day, I found that my football team, Stoke City, had beaten Arsenal 2-1. TO put that in context, it was about as likely to happen as an under-9s side is to beat Brazil. Amazing. And so I went to bed feeling very happy and a little wobbly.

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