Ethereality News & Weblog

September 29, 2006

Surf’s Up trailer online

Filed under: Art & CG,Audio & Music,Film/TV/Animation,My Life/Musings,News — Rob Chang @ 7:25 am

News:
Surf’s Up’s trailer is now online. As I mentioned before, I’m currently doing some work on Surf’s Up, so it’s extra exciting to see the trailer for it. I like how they set the mood right away with a sense of history, leading up to the premise. All the surfers will love this film, I’m sure. They should probably do the premiere in Hawaii, with guys in penguin suits walking around with surfboards. That’d be really something, eh?

Due to my current busy schedule with freelance work, I had to stop teaching at the Academy of Art University. I was just spreading myself too thin; I’m a perfectionist and want to do a kickass job, I tend to spend too much time preparing class material–time that I don’t have. I hate doing things half-assed, and since teaching isn’t my bread and butter gig, I had to let it go (at least for now). I do enjoy teaching though–it’s a great feeling to give back to the next generation of upcoming talents.

weblog:
Someone was selling a used Novation ReMOTE 25 SL on ebay, and the price was so good that I just had to do it. The unit itself is very nice–the semi-weighted key-action is by far the best I’ve ever seen on the market. Makes me wish Novation would release 88 or 76-key versions too (now they only have 25, 37, and 61, and one without any keys). I’m bummed that it doesn’t support automap for Sonar though (because Cakewalk has developed their own automap technology called A.C.T., and refused to cooperate with Novation). The included templates do work, but how well varies. The templates for the Novation softsynths are great, as are the ones for Korg Legacy Collection (one of my favorite softsynths), and the rest either varies in coverage or I haven’t tried much. Anyway, I’m not going to write a detailed review or anything–there are plenty on the internet you can google for, and I agree with most of them. Here’s what the ReMOTE 25 SL looks like:
Remote 25 SL

I took yesterday off to relax after finishing another deadline, and I spent it trying out some synths/workstations at Guitar Center (I really don’t do this very often, and it only seems I’ve been doing it a lot recently because I’m in the market for some new equipment, and I must do research). This time, I gave some fair play time to the Yamaha MO6/8, Roland Fantom X series, Korg Triton TR-88, Triton Extreme, Alesis Fusion HD-6, Casio Privia series, Yamaha CP-300, P-70..etc. To make a long story short, I think Roland and Korg should both up their game, as Yamaha’s new entry level MO series is extremely good, with a huge set of sounds that are excellent. It makes Korg’s Triton Le and its replacement, the Triton TR series, look dated and underwhelming. Roland doesn’t even have an entry level workstation–and I think they’re missing the boat on an entire market segment. The Casio Privia series are quite amazing for the price point–great piano-action and sounds (for the price). The best piano action I’ve played up till now is probably the Yamaha CP-300 and P-70–absolutely beautiful to play on. I’m not sure if the piano-action alone is worth the price of the CP-300, or the lack of modwheel/pitch-bend/aftertouch of the P-70 though. At this point, I’m more likely to get the CME UF7 for my semi-weighted master controller (it’s got breath-controller input!), and Kurzweil PC1X for my weighted piano-action 88-key controller (with the ribbon controller option). I wish I could find an 88-key semi-weighted controller with aftertouch, but no such thing exists in the market.

Watched V For Vendetta recently, and since I’ve never read the original Alan Moore graphic novel, I don’t have any point of reference for it. Overall, I thought the film was enjoyable, but it’s not nearly as profound as what I had expected. I do feel that the film’s a bit too mainstream in its execution style, and if they had taken a less commercial approach, the film would’ve hit a lot harder emotionally and intellectually. But as it is, the approach is a bit too heavy-handed and lacks complexity. I’m sure Alan Moore asked to have his name removed from the credits for similar reasons.

September 11, 2006

Cooking up some sounds

Filed under: Audio & Music,My Life/Musings,Site News — Rob Chang @ 6:13 pm

News:
I cooked up 24 fresh presets for Smartelectronix’s Galactix–a nifty little free softsynth VST with a big sound (click on picture to find out more about it/download the VST):

Galactix


You can grab my presets here, and here.

Weblog:
I’ve been working my butt off recently, and decided to take a couple of days off this weekend (gee, imagine that–resting on the weekend–what a novel idea!) and get my hands dirty with some music-related activities. One of them was to buckle down and design some synth presets, as I’ve been meaning to bite the bullet and do some serious learning about synthesis. I picked Smartelectronix’s Galactix as my first try–it was really just a random pick, since the interface didn’t seem all that intimidating. After an afternoon of non-stop programming, I learned about using the right kind of waveforms for specific sound characteristics, how changing the filter envelop’s attack would totally alter the feel of a sound, how subtle tweaking of cutoff and resonance can make a lot of difference, how detuning various oscillators at various settings creates a totally different feel (dissonant or pleasant), and some other cool and educational tidbits. It was a lot of fun designing those presets (and grueling as well when you are trying to shape the sounds you hear in your head with all those parameters, but learning as you go). I predict I’ll be designing more presets from now on–maybe I’ll do some for Synth 1, Oatmeal, and Superwave P8 next–maybe even a couple of commercial synths.

The second music-related thing I did this weekend was to terrorize the local Guitar Center…again. Since we’re still living at the temporary place and haven’t moved to a new apartment yet, I have no room to add any new gear, so I can only content myself with researching, testing, and comparing potential candidates. This time around, I tried out more 88-key weighted piano action midi controller keyboards, portable 2~3 octave controllers, some synths, drumpad controllers, mixers, and studio monitors.

88-key controllers:
As I’ve mentioned in the past, the M-audio stuff will never be on my shopping list, however, I’ve come to realize that I’d need a semi-weighted or synth action 88-key controller as well, since certain sounds can only be played well on a non-weighted keyboard (for example, fast repeated 16th notes, drums, organ sounds..etc), and some of those sounds in my libraries contain keyswitches. For those of you that understand, using keyswitches for realtime performance without an 88-key controller is pretty much a stupid thing to attempt. So, it looks like M-Audio’s Keystation 88es might fit the bill (M-Audio says it’s semi-weighted. Like hell it is. That’s like saying a 6-shot revolver is a “semi-automatic pistol”). I suppose I could always spend more on one of the Studiologic’s semi-weighted models, but it appears they’re either missing a mod-wheel or a pitch bend (which is baffling), and none of these semi-weighted 88-key controllers I mentioned have aftertouch. WHY do manufacturers do that? I wish these companies would start including the standard mod-wheel, pitch bend, velocity sensitivity, and aftertouch into every single keyboard.

Although I like the key-action on some of the digital pianos, most don’t have mod-wheels. It’s not a deal-breaker, as I can just use the mod-wheels on my other keyboards (and I plan on getting a portable 2~3 octave controller to place on my desk anyway–I can stack that on the digital piano for extra set of controls), it is kind of annoying to be playing/recording a passage and have to reach to another keyboard (no matter how nearby it is) to use its mod-wheel. Also, part of me really don’t want to pay for onboard sounds I’ll probably never use, although it’ll be nice to be able to turn something on and start playing/practicing–without turning on the DAW, wait for it to boot up, and load up some resource intensive highend piano library.

2~3 octave controllers:
Once again, majority of the M-Audio ones were just pathetic, with the new Axiom line being the exception (I mentioned before that getting bought out by a giant corporation has forced them to up their quality level, as not to embarrassed their new parent company). I couldn’t believe that Guitar Center didn’t carry any of the Novation Remote SL series (then again, they don’t carry most of the products I’m interested in, like Parker guitars, Studiologic controllers, and a bunch of other stuff), since those are some of the hottest products in the midi controller market.

Synths:
I spent some time tweaking and playing some synths, and most were quite nice. I personally think it’s really hard to make a bad synth today, as the synth market has evolved to a point where even a cheap little synth can make stunning sounds.

The Roland SH-201’s design looks too much like a “synthesis for dummies” tutorial, but the sounds were quite nice. Of course, I gave some love to the Access Virus TI, and man, what a lovely synth it is. Not only does it sound brilliant, it also looks super cool. The Alesis QS6.2 was a bit of a surprise–I thought it might suck in a “Hi, I’m the cheapest products from my company. I’m here to fill the needs of the lowest common denominator” way, but it wasn’t all that bad. The infinite rotation knobs were annoying though–I personally hate them.

Ok, I have a bone to pick for a moment–it’s something that really bugs me. Why is it that all the drumkits in most synths are terrible? I mean, if all the non-drum sounds are programmed to have evolving filter cutoffs, resonance, and other timbre changing goodies, why can’t the drum sounds have timbre changes depending on how hard you hit them? Most of the synths have drum sounds that are just one flat layer–no dynamics whatsoever. I mean, at least program some kind of amplitude/filter change that happens at a harder velocity, so that playing these drum sounds can be more interesting.

The Korg Radius was really nice. If I had money to burn, I’d get one. Like the Virus, a sexy beast with both good looks and lovely sounds.

Drum pad controllers:
I might be the only person on the planet who feels this way, but I actually prefer to play midi drums on a synth-action keyboard than one of these drum pad controllers. The pads just seem really stiff and unresponsive, and the layout isn’t very efficient for using all your fingers for playing (which is what a keyboard is designed to do). I tried the Korg Padkontrol, M-Audio Trigger Finger, and Roland’s Handsonic 10, and all of them disappointed me. I guess I’ll stick to either keyboard drumming or my Ddrum 4 kit.

Studio Monitors:
Testing studio monitors is always so much fun. You get to bring your absolute favorite music in the whole wide world and listen to them on some of the best studio monitors available on the market (well, limited to what the store actually carries. Guitar Center, unfortunately, is not exactly highend in that regard. You will not see the more expensive monitors there, except on very rare occassions). I already have a list of candidates that I’ve shortlisted from past testing sessions, so I just focussed on those (the rest of the monitors they carry I’ve disqualified during past testing sessions). The candidates are:

Event Studio Precision 8
Mackie HR824
Yamaha HS80M

and two new additions:
JBL LSR4328P
JBL LSR6328P

Every once a while, I’d throw in a lesser monitor just for comparison (and a good laugh). The KRK and M-Audio monitors are always good for a laugh or two (ok, I’m being mean now. I’ll stop).

Before I start listening, the first thing I always do is ask the salesperson to flatten all the monitors so no frequencies are hyped, and also to volume match them if possible. I always try to move them into suitable listening positions too.

My experience this time is a bit different from the previous tests. For one, there are two new candidates, and let me just say right off the bat that the JBL’s really impressed me this time around. They just sounded so pleasant–almost too polite. I guess that’s a sign that it’s totally flat and neutral, without any noticeable hyped frequencies. The front panel controls are a really nice touch (it’s got a remote too!), and the automatic self-adjusting feature (a special mic is included for measuring your room’s acoustical characteristics, and the monitors will automatically adjust itself through the onboard DSP algorithm to remedy any frequency anomalies) is like a thick, sweet icing on the cake. I see it as–you can spend lots of money treating your room’s acoustics, or you can buy the JBL’s and be able to use them in any location that has no room treatment. (The JBL’s only take care of the lower frequencies though–for the higher frequencies, you’d still need to treat the room for reflections.)

As much as I like the Event Studio Precision 8’s, I just can’t get over the lack of the bottom end. In all the reviews I read, it is always mentioned that it’s got a full bottom, but in all of my listening tests, it has the least bass compared to the other 8 inch monitors. Maybe I should adjust it’s settings next time and boost up the bass a bit.

The Yamaha HS80M on the other hand, had too much bass this time around–to the point of obscuring certain sounds. For example, one of the tracks I used is “Chinese Burn” from Curve, and it’s got these pounding drums that are industrial/noise-esque. On all the other candidates, I can hear the consecutive bass drum notes that are placed closely together, but on the Yamaha, I can only hear the first note clearly, while the subsquent ones were blurred. I did some adjustments to the Yamaha’s–cutting the bass, and when that didn’t help, I boosted the mids–neither worked. I guess at this point, the Yamaha’s will get knocked off my candidates list.

The Mackie HR824’s weren’t as enticing as they once were. This time, I felt the mids and mid-highs were a bit lacking–which although gives it a dynamic sound, isn’t good for accuracy. I think there are adjustments I could make to it in the back, so I’ll try that next time.

Overall, I really liked the JBL’s–particularly the LSR4328P’s, as it has the automatic adjustment feature that the LSR6328P doesn’t have (it does come with a testing kit, but you have to manually make adjustments after getting the test results). They aren’t cheap though–the LSR4328P’s are $1,399 each, so that’s $2,800 a pair.

I can sense the sheer terror of my wallet already.

But look at them–they sure are pretty:

JBL LSR4328P

September 9, 2006

Sonar 6 is here! *drool*

Filed under: Art & CG,Audio & Music,My Life/Musings,News — Rob Chang @ 2:28 pm

News
I just started teaching a class at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco (it’s a graduate class on texture creation). It’s only one class a week on Thursday evenings, and I’ll see if I can get some illustration or sequential art classes to teach as well, as that interests me more.

I did some contract work for an upcoming CG feature animation that Sony Pictures Imageworks is doing titled “Surf’s Up.” You can see the official website here. I can’t show anything yet though–you know, NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) and all that stuff. I’m told that my next contract will be another Sony Pictures Imageworks film–in fact, a gigantic blockbuster sequel (since I haven’t started on it yet, I don’t want to say what it is until it actually happens. If you’re a smart cookie you probably have a good idea what it is).

Weblog
My old co-worker from Z-Axis, Todd Robinson, is the head of the game department at the Academy of Art University, and it’s been over five years since I last saw him. When he asked me if I wanted to teach at the Academy, I said yes right away. I was quite impressed by the school’s facilities when he showed me around–the school is definitely doing very well financially. I mean, these students are working on computers that are on the bleeding edge–most studios don’t even have computers that fast. The students at the Academy are noticeably more quiet and introverted compared to the students at the Art Institute (at least based on the classes I’ve taught at both schools), and one of the tech support guys there confirmed that it wasn’t just me–that’s just how it is over there.

A lot of the instructors are veterans that’s worked on high profile film/game/animation projects for big studios, and decided that they no longer want to deal with all the negative aspects that production work involves and prefer to take it easy and teach for a while. I don’t think I’m at that point at–I still have quite a bit of room for growth, so I guess I’ll have to fight some more battles in the frontlines for a while.

Did you know that if you’re over the age twenty, you won’t be able to hear certain frequencies that people under twenty could? It’s because as we age, our hearing degrades–it’s something that just happens, and you can’t do a thing about it. Want to test how that works? Get people you know who are over and under age twenty to try this out.

Since I’m on the topic of hearing and sound, I should mention that Sonar 6 is finally unveiled! Click on the pic and take a look at all the kickass new features:

Sonar 6


The new feature that’s got me the most excited is the Active Controller Technology. Cakewalk couldn’t have implemented it at a better time, because I was *this* close to buying one of the Novation Remote SL’s (click on pic to find out more about it):

Novation Remote SL


To be honest, the Remote SL series isn’t exactly sexy looking, and my only reason for getting it was for the automapping feature, which I won’t need anymore since Sonar 6 has the ACT feature now. I suppose if I worked with other sequencers a lot, I’d want automap still, but Sonar is pretty much my main host and I try not to use other softwares unless I have no choice. I just like keeping my projects all in one software because I hate dealing with exporting/importing stuff, or memorizing hotkeys for a bunch of different apps.

I came across an awesome website that catalogs all the software emulations of hardware synths ever made. I was surprised by how comprehensive the list is. Check it out.

The rearview mirror of my car keeps falling off–I’ve used industrial strength glue on it twice already, and I decided to use something else that’s not specifically made for auto parts and see if it works. Strange thing is, it didn’t just fall off–the original factory adhesive actually took off about 1/4″ of glass with it! There’s a crater in the glass where the rearview mirror used to be, leaving a thinner layer of glass left. I know the best thing to do is to just go to the auto shop and have them replace the entire front windshield, but I just want to make sure I’ve given it a shot on my own first. Seriously, why pay for a whole front windshield when you can just glue the damn thing back on yourself?

I’ve noticed that every dentist I go to, they never listen to me when I tell them a new filling or crown needs to be filed down more because it sticks out too much. They always tell me “why don’t you try getting used to it for a while first, and if it really sticks out too much, we can file it down later.” Well, every single time I let them talk me into it, I’ve never magically “gotten used” something sticking out too much in my mouth–everytime I bite down I can feel it. So why don’t dentists listen to me when I tell them that? It happened again today, and I’m going to have to go back and get that sucker filed down. Man, what is it with me and doctors recently?

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