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Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Making music part 1: I fell in love with a dying keyboard

Like many, I was forced into learning an instrument from a young age, and also like many, I did not care to do so. I've always been a more image-y kind of guy. My parents’ chosen instrument was the piano, but neither they nor the teacher could really motivate me to play. I even had a nice electric keyboard, but I rarely turned it on to do anything but laugh at the synthesized orchestra hits.

One day, I stumbled on a YouTube video of a guy called Jake Shimabukuro playing ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ on a ukulele and felt deep in my gut that this was a feat I had to accomplish.

So I bought a ukulele, found the tab, and it was the first thing I learned. To this day it’s still the most complicated piece I can play (mediocrely), though I'm in the process of transcribing Chopin’s nocturne op. 9 no. 2.

From then on, learning to play was a challenge I'd gladly face. Ukuleles are plain fun to use even if you're just pumping out musical gibberish, and taking it seriously presents a very unique kind of challenge, like learning a new language.

During uni I felt like rekindling my piano skills to see what I'd retained. But my uni dorm was small. Really small. Enough room for a bed, a desk and chair. There might have been space for an extra person, if they were standing and the door were closed. A keyboard would not fit.

After a little searching on eBay, I spied a keyboard with a few octaves missing (four instead of the normal seven) and snatched it up. Only when it arrived did I see that not only were there fewer keys, but they were smaller too. Truly the ukulele equivalent of a piano.

And it's gorgeous. Boasting nine instruments (including the world's simplest drum machine), it can be played out and about for the low low cost of six DD batteries. But the sound, oh the sound. The beauty that pours out of this machine is something hipsters can only dream of emulating.

I had no idea what I had bought but it was perfect. I didn't care that I'd retained nothing from my childhood because just pressing the keys was, and still is, a joy. The way the tones crumble when you press too many keys at once and how the circuitry is slowly coming apart produces a sound I find absolutely heartbreaking.

It may not be long for this world, so I quested to save it while I still can.

Over the last week I've been learning Ableton Live, a surprisingly approachable music program, sampling the whole keyboard to make digital versions of all the tones. With help from friends and tutorials, I’ve managed to get past the interface, learned the magic words, and come to terms with the software.

So here it is. It took me a couple of days to clean, trim and master, but if you'd like to play a digital version of my keyboard, now you can too.

Dropbox Link

Now that I can make any sound I desire, nothing should be able to stop me from writing my own songs, right?

Subscribe for part 2: If music is the food of the soul, I can only make baked beans.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

The lens into another place

Last year I found my art to be a bit lacklustre, I don't feel like i've gotten better since last time I had a crack at a drawing. So i decided to dedicate the start of the year to reflection and development.
Something I've found really facinating is Twin Peaks' depiction of two opposites existing in parallel, like being inside and outside at the same time. I tried to get that feeling here. While reflecting, I went looking for some new art and found a couple new artists that inspired breathed life into my own style:

Jules (@Cy_lindric)

Sachin Teng (@SachinTeng)

Over time i've collected a huge folder of reference images, as catalysts for concepts at a later date. One of which is a book on abstract photography called Shape of Light, with photographs from the Tate Moderns exhibition of the same name. I find abstract photos are high fedelity enough to give you an idea without describing any specific place or scenario. If you're having an art block, I reccomend.

In this year I want to check that folder more often, flick through, get inspired and clear asside time to make more thoroughly planned drawings. I haven't been satisfied with a drawing I've done in a while.

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Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Chevron Hakama Trousers

I was inspired by a piece of art I saw at the Jameel Prize 5 exhibition at the V&A earlier this year. The Jameel Prize celebrates contemporary Islamic art, and the work that inspired me was by Hala Kaisow.

Hala Kaiksow is a sculptural clothing designer who works with natural fabrics, naturally dyed and handmade. Her works have a natural emergent quality, as if they were either grown, or used to be something larger that became weathered over time. Her clothes have a nomadic aesthetic, and look like they are hung on a person, rather than enclosing.

They reminded me of Japanese traditional clothing and how they too feel like they drape bodies in cloth. A haori for example, feels like it rests on your shoulders, unlike a western jacket which feels like it's attempting to reshape you.

Hala's work re-stimulated my desire for more varied clothing, because men's fashion is a graveyard of jeans and t-shirts.

I've designed clothing, but never made any; this is my first atempt. I decided on starting with a pair of trousers because I didn't like the idea of figuring out how sleves work. Later I was told by friends who make clothes that as a starting place, I had chosen poorly.

And boy did I learn.

Fuelled by optimism, I started designing. They were going to be a sort of mix between the following clothes:

Some features that I wanted:
  • Loose easy fit - The gratuitous amounts of sweeping fabric never fail to look epic.
  • High waist - A lot of women's trousers have high waists and I am dead envious. They look like they give the hug equivalent of a waistcoat but for your hips and belly.
  • Loose crotch - So I can stretch in them and not be castrated by fabric.

Time to design, and the ideas were flowing. I was getting so into it that I thought maybe I could design a top at the same time? I mean, why not?? So easy amirite??? I decided not to for now.

**Top Tip** If you're ever looking for sewing patterns for clothing, add the magic word "drafting", otherwise you'll just get lots of patterned fabric. That's right, I made my own pattern, because I have no self control. With pens, paper, rulers, and a little basic maths, it felt like I was making a map, so I found it super fun.

It wasn't until version 1 2 3 4 that I had something that was actually wearable.

There was a lot of trial and error, I'll spare you the detail, but as you can see below it took till version 8 till I had something that I liked. It was tricky to figure out where extra fabric was needed and where it was too much.

And here they are!! As a bonus, I added buttons to the ankles so they can be tightened, and an obi belt because they're so darn cute.

If you'd like to recreate these in your fit, I've made a clean version of the pattern you can download below. It's scaled to 10 pixel per cm. The red parts, just try to make a smooth curve as best you can. There was some improvising in cutting and stitching, but this was the pattern I worked to.
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Wednesday, 17 October 2018

New Winter Solace banner

It's been a while since I've made a new piece for Winter Solace and I wanted to make a new banner, or something. Every little thing feels like I'm working towards how it'll be when it's complete...Maybe I'll animate it...
I feel like the name needs to change. Though not sure what to. Suggestions?

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Learning to Unity 2: how I understood coding

Unity has some fairly cumbersome back-and-forths between different places in the program where you have to specify different things, a lot of important things are hidden, but that's mostly because there are just so many tools available.
There are plenty of good resources if you'd like to learn to use these tools or make a game in a following the steps kind of way. The problem came when I would try to make something of my own, I was absolutely paralyzed, unable to know where to start.

Until something clicked, and in an instant I understood what was going on

It's all about boxes.

In this order of a few steps, If you want to make a thing, you have to:

1. Decide what shape of box it will fit in.
2. Give your box a name.
3. Fill the box with that kind of thing.
4. Use or its edit the contents.

And the steps must be done in this order for something to exist and work.

 Let me break this down. When you see something like:

public int myFavoriteNumber;

What this is saying is that we have an "int"(code word for "integer") box called "myFavoriteNumber" which we can change from anywhere (public). (btw, the strange way of writing this is called "Camel case" and Unity will turn "myFavoriteNumber" into "My Favorite Number" by itself when you view it from outside of the code editor).

Then step three is to fill the box with something that will fit into it. you could do this in the script or let that be done in the unity editor:

Then step 4, since now that you have a box full of things and it has a name, you can ask for this box and it's contents from other places.

It's like if I want to give you a cup of tea, I first need to define what a cup is, call it something, and than fill it with tea. In code it would be written something like:

public cupoftea teaForYou = earlgrey;

Only then can you I give you the tea.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Learning to Unity 1: Sununu kills dinosaurs

So, I've been learning Unity this year, in order to make the games of my dreams. With the help of some friends, and a whole ton of youtube tutorials, I got to work making the simplest game I could think of, an endless runner. If you're looking to start learning unity, I recommend Games Plus James, his tutorials are simple and clear to follow.

After getting to grips with the interface, which was a bit overwhelming, I got to work on making sprites and concepts for the runner. And who would be a great running protagonist other than Sununu, the lovable scamp swinging fire at dinosaurs.

It's a one hit kill and you have to make it as far as possible, avoid the lava and get back to the future. Who's trying to stop you, but a swarm of dinosaurs controlled by your arch enemy Ben!

Unity is pretty good. if you're looking to make something simple or using common game mechanics, it takes care of a lot of things for you; things like gravity or collision detection. Though, most of the work needed to be done in code, and Unity works with C# and javascript. I chose to learn C# and will break down how that panned out in the next post. For now i'll just say it was hard. I needed to follow the tutorials meticulously, constantly repeating individual coding tasks in the tutorials up until the miraculous moment where it all just clicked.

I wrote scripts for two types of enemy, a passive and active one. As you run right they both move left, but when the pterodactyl sees you it dive bombs. Then I added in the oil mechanic: Killing dinosaurs adds to your oil-meter in the top left, which you can use up to boost.

It was fine to come up with neat mechanics, but the biggest challenge was one I had not considered: did it feel good to play? I spent days just trying to figure out how to make him jump in a satisfying way. The feeling of playing is so particular, the screen needs to move at a pace which isn't too slow/fast. The enemies hitboxes needed to feel fair/like a challenge. These difference in leaning too far one way or the other in any of these feels microscopic, and vary person to person. I can really appreciate how much work and playtesting must go into games that feel good to play, it sure isn't easy to get right.

The last addition was the cutscene. After playing for 10 seconds straight without dying, Ben shows up on a drone and you throw quips at each other. After the chat is over, semi-homing buzz-saw drones fly towards you.

Looking back, I remember how much of this had to be told to the program, nothing exists until you make it exist. Which platforms are generated next, the way the enemies turn red then disappear, what "jump" means... I'll go more into coding next time, and for more game making blogging you can go to wintersolacegame.tumblr to follow the making of my next project!