RenderMan Free For Non-Commercial Use

Pixar Animation Studios announced that the next version of RenderMan, their award winning render engine, will be free for non-commercial use. The non-commercial license will provide full functionality without any restrictions, watermarks, or time limits. And the next version is due out sometime soon (fourth quarter of this year, according to their website).

The render engine works with Maya, but currently does not work with LightWave. Some third-party developers are creating plugins for LightWave that will add RenderMan integration. I expect that once the RenderMan non-commercial licenses are available, there will be more developers working to make this happen (the non-commercial license allows for developing commercial tools and plugins).

In their FAQ page for the non-commercial licenses, they explain why they have chosen to give away these licenses. One of the reasons is exciting to see from such a leading studio:

“It is Pixar’s experience that limitations on software access have become an impediment to the development of the production industry, and that universal access and a set of common standards and practices can only stimulate further growth.”

Hopefully this type of open access for educational and personal use becomes more common, which I believe is good both for aspiring artists and the companies selling high-end software packages.

I am going to sign up for advance registration of the license, even if it might be a while before I get a chance to use it.

Postscript:  Here is a good good article on the new features and architecture of RenderMan (including the new RIS framework).

Improve Your Grammar with Weird Al

To promote his brand new record, Weird Al has created eight music videos and is releasing a new one each day. You can view the new videos as they are released at his website, WeirdAl.com (four have been released so far).

In Tuesday’s video he parodies “Blurred Lines”, a song I find extremely annoying and repetitive but with a music video I cannot help but enjoy (warning: NSFW). Weird Al’s version, “Word Crimes”, is a huge upgrade to the original song. Pay attention to the video and you might learn a little about good grammar!

Another great video is “Foil”, a parody of Lorde’s “Royal”. This one was created with CollegeHumor.com and features Patton Oswalt!

“Tacky”, his first video of the week, was produced by Nerdist and is one long continuous camera shot. Unfortunately, it is another piece of otherwise solid comedy that was fatally tainted by the addition of Kristen Schaal.  You have been warned.

Free LightWave Models

I stumbled onto a new 3D animation product website that also has a marketplace for 3D models.  The product is DAZ 3D and their site is daz3d.com. It looks like the software uses preexisting models and provides an interface for animating those models. But I was more interested in the model marketplace, which are provided without any restrictions for use.

There are a few models that are priced at $0.00. That’s free! Unfortunately, the site’s search features make it very difficult to find the full list of free models. However, I did find two model sets that are pretty cool, both of which are for cityscape buildings. The models are in LWO format (the native LightWave object format) and include textures.

Dystopia City Blocks Test Render
(click for full image)

Another good 3D model marketplace is TurboSquid, which has much better search features than DAZ 3D. TurboSquid also has a semi-secret way of filtering for only the free models: filter by price and set the min and max values to “0”. The only downside to TurboSquid is that a lot of the models are only available in 3DS Max format, which is proprietary and cannot be opened by LightWave or Blender.

Cowboy Bebop Returns to Adult Swim

Back in October, Adult Swim/Toonami lost the rights to air Cowboy Bebop (my favorite anime). Fortunately, that little problem was only temporary. Toonami announced that Cowboy Bebop will return in July, although they have not said the exact date (DirecTV does not list it next weekend).

Unfortunately, they are still expected to air the old standard definition version of the series (the HD version was released in Japan on Blu-ray last year).  That means they will probably continue to air the show without the regular end credits, which is a shame because the song, The Real Folk Blues, is a fantastic one. And the scenes shown behind the credits add important details about Spike’s past. Maybe one day Toonami will air the HD version and include the end credits again.

Calvin and Hobbes Fan Trailer

I found this cool fan-created movie trailer for a (fake) Calvin and Hobbes movie. I loved Calvin and Hobbes as a kid (still do) and the trailer does a great job of including a lot of small details from the strip, like killer snowmen and attacking food.  The creators also posted some behind-the-scenes videos, so you can get an idea of some of the work that went into the final product.  Enjoy!

Las Vegas Aerial Photos

I went to Las Vegas a few weeks ago for a short vacation and  flew in a helicopter for the first time. I took along my DSLR camera, which I bought a few years ago and rarely use (unfortunately), so I was able to get some pretty nice shots while up in the air. I have a Nikon D90 with a kit lens (AFS Nikkor 18-105mm, 3.5-5.6 aperture). I forced myself to use manual mode during the entire trip to get more familiar with the camera and photography, and I think it payed off with the aerial night shots.

Here are a few of the pictures I took:

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Syfy Adapting Frank Miller’s Ronin

Syfy is adapting Frank Miller’s Ronin comic book story as a series.

I have not read Ronin, but the story sounds pretty interesting. It is about a 13th-century masterless samurai with a magical sword that is suddenly thrown into a dystopian 21st-century future, where he tries to track down and slay the demon that killed his master.

Sound familiar? It should, because it was a big part of the inspiration for Samurai Jack. The show is scheduled to air next year, so I hope I remember to check it out.

CrashPlan Cloud Backups

I just bought a one-year subscription to CrashPlan, a cloud backup service. I am in the process of backing up 145 GB of data to their servers, which the desktop client estimates will take about 2 weeks at my current speeds.

I have used Mozy for years, ever since my brother had a massive hard drive crash and I realized that I didn’t have a good backup plan for my own data. At the time, the only real options for online backup were Mozy and Carbonite, and Mozy was a much better product. Unfortunately, over the years they have changed their plans to make it more expensive without any obvious improvements to the service to justify the price increase. When I first started using Mozy, you could back up an unlimited amount of data to their servers. Now, I have to pay extra for the 125 GB of storage they are willing to give me.

I have been hovering just below the limit for a while, purposely excluding some data so I don’t go over and have to pay even more per month. So I finally decided to look around for an alternative and found two solid options: CrashPlan and BackBlaze.  Both have excellent reviews online and it seems like you could flip a coin between them and end up with a great backup service. Both have unlimited data backups, encrypted transport, encrypted storage, and a bunch of other nice features.  And both are around $5 per month, depending on your payment plan.

My main reason for choosing CrashPlan was because it stores unlimited versions of  your files (BackBlaze only stores versions for 30 days) and some reviews said that the CrashPlan software had more advanced options.

Dan Harmon’s Story Circle

Dan Harmon's story structure diagram, with the one-word plot points at each important step.
Dan Harmon’s story structure diagram, with the one-word plot points at each important step.

A few days ago I had a conversation about Channel101.com and found out that Dan Harmon was one of the creators of the network. I knew about Channel101.com, somehow knew that Rob Schrab was one of the creators, but never knew that Dan Harmon was involved. That conversation sparked a memory of some good articles on story structure on the Channel101.com site and, after a quick search, I found them and realized that Dan Harmon wrote them, which makes it even worse that I had no idea he was involved with the site. Oops.

The articles are a great summary of how to write good story structure. Dan Harmon distills the concepts from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces into a simple diagram. He argues that all good stories follow his diagram, whether they are epic films like The Matrix and Die Hard, television shows (following the diagram within each episode and, hopefully, longer arcs between episodes), sports games, or even simply stories about your day.

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Tim’s Vermeer

This is the painting that Tim Jenison recreated, first by building a copy of the physical scene and then by painting it.
This is the painting that Tim Jenison recreated, first by building a copy of the physical scene and then by painting it.

I found an interesting article about Tim Jenison, the founder of NewTek (owner of the 3D animation software I use, LightWave 3D). The article explains how Tim Jenison spent quite a few years studying the artwork of Johannes Vermeer (a 16th century painter), came to the conclusion that he must have used a “camera obscura” (mirror and lens contraption to project the scene onto his canvas), and then recreated the scene from a Vermeer painting to test his theory.

And now you can watch a movie about the entire process. Working with Penn and Teller (apparently Tim Jenison is a good friend of Penn), they financed and created Tim’s Vermeer, which chronicles his recreation of the scene from a particular Vermeer painting and then using the camera obscura to make his own version. The movie has already been released to theaters — I hope it winds up on Netflix streaming!

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