Sunday, August 12, 2018

Building The Millennium Falcon: Outer Hull

Historical photos of the Millennium Falcon, original designation YT-1300 492727ZED has been unearthed from the Corellian Ship Yard archives.  This series covers all of them.

The outer hull of the Falcon is very rugged.  Over the course of many decades of adventures it has withstood a beating time and time again, but only came away with some carbon scoring.

Many of the hull panels were assembled off-site, transported to the construction site, and installed onto the main frame of the Falcon.  In this shot the top left mandible panels are being hoisted into place.

A workman cuts a bar of Durasteel to length.  Research has shown this panel is on the aft left side of the ship. right above the Dejarik board.

A small crew of workers install the louvers over the main engine vents on the right aft quarter of the ship. This painstaking process is hard to get right, but the attention to detail in installation is critical for the Falcon completing the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs.

Research into the history of the Falcon construction is still ongoing.  Stay tuned for more images as they are discovered.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Behind-The-Scenes: Hulkbuster in Smoke

A few weeks ago I got the chance to review the LEGO Hulkbuster: Ultron Edition set over on the Toy Photographers blog.  To support the review I created several shots with the Hulkbuster.

Here is a peak behind the curtain of how I processed one of the shots from that review in Photoshop. Its not super detailed as that would take way too long (there are 21 layers to this shot), but should give a bit of an insight into the process of taking a photo from in-camera to a finished shot in my world.

Hopefully by the end experienced Photoshopers will know how I did it, and newer folks will have a starting place to start looking up tutorials online on how to accomplish each step.

So, lets jump in.

To start off, let me set the scene.  I was in Ontario at my in-laws farm.  My father-in-law was thinning out some trees, and burning the branches in his fire pit.  The smoke from the smoldering fresh leafs created some epic smoke.  So first chance I got I set up the Hulkbuster model down-wind from the fire pit.  I used natural light - no strobes or reflectors used. This led to this out-of-camera shot:
The next step was to clean up the image by using the healing brush to clean up dust spots.

I then selectively sharpened the head and chest of the Hulkbuster with a high-pass filter on its own layer with the overlay blend mode, and a layer mask.
Then I added some more smoke to the image.  Using a white soft brush with low opacity and flow, and some creative blur filters on two layers.  One to add smoke to the background, and another layer for the foreground.  It gives Hulkbuster more of a sense of place.
Next comes the first of the special effects, which was to add the blue glow of the repulsor in the left hand.  I used a really soft brush on low opacity to slowly build up the lights.  It took 3 layers.  One for the while light, one for a general blue glow, and one for the light rays.  Putting them on their own separate layers allows me to adjust east part of the light without affecting the others, a real time saver.

The rays were created using the radial blur filter.  This is the trickiest technique and the hardest to explain in text, so If anyone is really interested I can do a separate tutorial on just that process.
The chest glow was done on their own separate techniques, but using the same basic techniques as the hand repulsor.
The eyes were done in a similar manner, except more basic - just a layer for the blue, then a layer for the white.  I painted the white in using a harder  brush at 100% opacity, the used a slight Gaussian blur to let it fade from white to blue.

I also added really basic glow to the knee repulsors with a simple soft blue brush with a transparent opacity.
Now that the basic structure of the image is there, time to dodge and burn.  My dodge and burn technique is to create a new layer set to overlay blend mode, then use soft white or black brushes with low opacity and flow.  I slowly brushed over things, building up the burns until I got the look I wanted.   This process helps selectively lighten and darken areas, and increases saturation.
Finally I used a couple brightness/contrast layers with some layer masks to brighten up the center and darkening the outside.  Basically a vignette around the edges, and brightening the center to make the lights pop.
So thats how it's done.  Pretty simple over all.  The secret is in knowing some basic image theory, and slowly building up using layers, brushes, and blend modes to make the image pop.

If you want more information, pop the question into the comments below and I'll do my best to answer.  If you want me to do this with any other images, let me know that as well!


Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Thoughts on Depression: Just Build Something

Insights about dealing with my depression comes from weird places.  For example, this exchange from Iron Man 3 gave me some insights.

To set the scene, Tony Stark just pulled over to the side of the road, suffering an anxiety attack due to PTSD from his previous super-hero-ing. He was talking to a boy, who was helping him out, on his cell.

Harley Keener: "You're a mechanic right?"

Tony Stark: "right."

Harley Keener: "Why don't you just... build something?"

That caught my attention.  "Just build something."

It got me thinking about what I build.  The answer of course is, well, not much.  However I do create a lot.  Every toy image I make is me building my own world in pixels.

That led to thinking how my photography efforts are a form of therapy.  I mean I always considered that way to get away from my issues.  However it may also be part of my recovery as well.  i.e. it is not just something I really enjoy doing, but an actual benefit.

This means, of course, that I should try to do as much as I can, ya know, within reason.

Speaking of reason, some things have been bothering me lately, so I might as well bring it up here.  Lately it feels like I have an obsession with my toy collection.  Over the past month or so I have bought a lot of action figures, and a smallish amount of LEGO.  Normally I have a shot planned when I buy such figures.  However a lot of the recent purchases are just so I have the figures.

It makes me worry I am obsessing over my collection to paper over my depression.  It concerns me.

I mean, it's not like I am risking the family finances over it, or anything.  My kids are not at risk of going hungry over this.  In fact I have a budget set aside for my hobbies, which covers most of my purchases. 

So you may wonder why I even bother to care?

It's cause I worry.... which is part of my depression, I think.  I feel unsure of myself, so when I see a change in behaviour, I worry a bit about future implications.  Is this a sign things are going further off the rails, or a way for me to cope, or just because I am a geek, and this is what geeks do - collect things.

I should probably just learn to not worry about it.

Part of my desire to acquire action figures is the way the market for such things work.  There is a window of several months when the figures are normal shelf prices.  However after that they become collectors items, and the price sky rockets.  A figure that costs $15 in Walmart now, may cost $50 in a year.  So getting the characters I am interested in now can, arguably, be considered an investment in the future.

However if building things is part of my recovery, then I can justify things further by realizing that the creation process requires having the tools to create with, which in my case is action figures and LEGO sets.

Anyway, it is something I worry about.  If I end up buying a few extra toys but come out saner, it seems like a reasonable price to pay.  Time will tell.

Until then, I am going to try to create as much as I can.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Building The Millennium Falcon: Dejarik

Historical photos of the Millennium Falcon, original designation YT-1300 492727ZED has been unearthed from the Corellian Ship Yard archives.  This series covers all of them.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the famous Dejarik game was installed early in the construction phase of the Falcon. The reason for this is lost to the mists of time, but the prevailing theory is that the foreman's kids needed a place to hang out after school.

The main Dejarik module is built off-site, and installed into the frame of the spacecraft.

Once the game system was installed, high paid tech workers swooped in and programmed it.  It takes a long time to properly tune the game, as each creature in the game is trained like a Tamagotchi, making each game unique*.
It is due to the unique way this game is programmed that I don't think the game is installed early because the foreman needed a place for his kids to play after school.  However I do think it is likely that the real truth is that the foreman had a teenage nephew that he described thusly. "That boy is really good with those comp-u-tor thangs.  I can never figure it out me-self, but he knows how to make web pages for his pet tribble**.  He's a lazy mofo, but with comp-u-tors he's like a genius or something, so I did my sister  a favour and gave him a job with the game thinger."

Those of you in IT will also recognize this line of thinking on the part of the foreman as the likely cause for why the game pieces flicker a lot when playing.

I suspect similar stories are behind the high quality of the ships light speed drive.

* This is not an actual fact

** yeah, I know it seems odd for the nephew to have a pet from the Star Trek universe, when he is clearly based in the Star Wars universe, and you are likely all feeling smugly superior that you recognized that fact.  Good for you!  However I would point out that there is a lot of evidence that Star Wars is based in our universe, and you can, right now if you wish, visit the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk, USS Enterprise, making it also our universe, so it doesn't seem like that much of a stretch now does it, you smugly superior sum-bitch.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Portrait Workshop? Yeah, I did that.

Likely not a surprise to anyone who knows me that I do not shoot a lot of portraits of people.   It's not that my introverted self doesn't like shooting people (tho that remains outside of my comfort zone), it is that the traditional head shot style that I associate with portraits doesn't really stoke my creative energy. 

However I do believe that one can learn valuable insights that will help ones photography by learning about all aspects of the craft, not just ones preferred genre.  Plus, when the workshop instructor is as amazing and accomplished as Ron Clifford, I couldn't sign up for the workshop fast enough.

This is why, in the middle of my recent vacation, I found myself in a studio in Newmarket Ontario with my wife, 6 other photographers, a make-up artist, a model, and Ron Clifford, attending a workshop on natural and single-strobe portrait photography.

At the end I even changed my mind, a little, about portrait photography feeding my creative spirit.

So, first some behind the scenes shots.

The workshop started with some math to cover the theory of cameras and light.

The math took about an hour, then we got down to actually shooting. First Ron would demonstrate the concepts:
Then we, the participants, were given the chance to practice the concepts, under Rons supervision.
The model used for both days of the workshop is Ron's daughter, Beth.  Over the course of the two days she, with the help of the make-up artist Dio put on several different looks. 

Beth was an amazingly good sport, and a lot of fun. 
Once I got over the social awkwardness of pointing my camera at new people, I got into the swing of things.  Me, being me, made it a meta game by asking Beth to do weird things, more to get her to laugh (and thus remove my social anxiety), but also cause of the theory that the natural smile of someone can be discovered the moment after they laugh.

It started with my asking her, while dressed up in a prom dress, to put on boxing gloves. I really liked the idea of a tough girl in a pretty dress.  Girl power and all that.

Someone else asked Beth to get on the floor for this post, but I jumped in and grabbed this shot anyway.

After a while everything got artsy.

This is my most favourite shot I got from the workshop.  I love her timeless expression, and that lonely chair in the corner.  This girl is alone somewhere in the world, with only her dog and a guitar to keep her company. 
So that was the workshop.  I learned a ton, had a ton of fun, and got some decent shots in the process.  Not a bad way to spend two days of vacation eh?

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Scavengers In Canada: Fire-ban, Schmire-ban

Sometimes one has to adapt to make the best of a bad situation.

Recently, during a shoot with Scavengers in Milbrook Ontario, in which I dressed up as Gandalf The Grey, I had an idea.  That idea was to have Gandalf holding a lantern, walking thru a dark, foggy night.

The original plan was to use smoke bombs to create a misty effect, however a few days before we headed off on the shoot disaster (for my idea) struck.  Due to dry conditions a fire ban was put in effect buy the local fire chief.  Since smoke bombs used fire, we couldn't use them.


I decided to try to attempt my shot and fix it in post using the wonder of the world that is Photoshop.  So I had the original Paul Howard shoot me in an action-y pose.  This is what it looks like:

Not a bad shot.  It has some problems, if I am honest.  For one there is no mist.  For another it is shot in daylight, and the concept is a night shot.  However it has good bones, so I begged, borrowed, and stole the image from Paul, and ran it thru Photoshop.

This is the result:

Not to bad, if I do say so myself.

It just goes to show one shouldn't let bad light keep them from reaching their vision. When one is armed with Photoshop, the world is your canvas.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Shocker! I Try Smoking Grass!

Since it is going to be 100% legal in Canada, on my most recent visit I decided to give "grass" a try.  

Personal conclusion: I really don't see what the fuss is all about.

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Scavengers In Canada: Being Fat Gandalf

Frequent readers of this blog are familiar with the Scavengers - a crazy group of photographers that met on Google Plus and have become a crazy tribe of like minded crazy artist types.

This past week a bunch of Scavengers met up in Toronto for some epic fun times.  The weekend started with a model shoot at this old train bridge thingy near Milbrook Ontario. 

We did some pre-planning.  Some local Scavengers lined up a couple of models.  I raised my hand and said I could dress up like Gandalf The Grey.

Before we left for Ontario my wifey sewed me up an awesome Gandalf robe, which I put on and modeled with one of the amazing models, Erin.  This is what a Scavenger photo shoot looks like (taken by Rita Ziestma):
Photo by Rita Zietsma.
And this is the result - taken by "Damnit" Gary Munroe:
Photo by Gary Munroe
While I was all gussied up as Fat Gandalf, my portrait was taken by the authentic Paul Howard.

Totally worth it.

I didn't take a lot of photos on this shoot, even tho we were there for a couple hours.  I spent most of it dressed up as Gandalf and modeling.  It was interesting being on the lens side of a shoot - something I've not really done for other photographers (just my own self-portraiture work).  It was informative, and I got to see what it felt like being a model (something that will come in handy in the next few days... stay tuned for details.) Specifically it helped sink in what it feels like to both get direction from the photographers, and to be left directionless - as a result I was more intent on directing models in front of my lens in upcoming shoots.

This shoot also underscored something I have observed about myself in previous experiences: I tend to lose all creativity when I am behind the lens when around a bunch of other photographers.  As such, getting this modeling experience, and providing my fellow Scavengers some camera-fodder (such as it is) was a lot more satisfying than struggling to take my own photos.

This is just day one of a full weekend of amazing photography with crazy scavengers - stay tuned to this very blog for more stories, and personal insights.


Thursday, July 05, 2018

Depression: Follow Up

It was about 4 months ago that I posted on this very blog that I was diagnosed with moderate severe depression, and was getting treatment.

Since so many of you fine folks have expressed concern, and wanted to be kept up to date, I decided to do a follow up post about it.

The short summary is that things are going OK so far.  I have some down days, and some up days, but they seem to be in the normal range - everyone wakes up on the wrong side of the bed every now and then, right?  However since I stabilized on my brain meds, I’ve not had any long term feelings of wanting to run away and hide, or a lack of ambition at work. Maybe the occasional string of afternoons of bleh, but that’s far better than the months of bleh I had before.

In short, things are going pretty well, all things considered.

I have made the following observations, which you all may find interesting.
I have a lack of trust in the past

I’ve noticed I don’t really trust my opinions on past events.  Basically anything in the year or so before my diagnosis are fuzzy opinion-wise.  Things like the project I was working on when I burnt out at work. Without going into too much detail, it was a project that made use of some new software tools.  I became one of the experts on the team about the tools, and developed some bad feelings about it. Since I burnt out I have had fewer reasons to work with those tools .  However when I am asked about my opinions on using those tools, I have a hard time knowing if my opinions are based on bad perceptions due to my depression, or if the tools actually are not that great.

Same with road trips - do I have bad feelings about some locations because the locations were bad, or because my brain is warped?  Is it both?
You can see how annoying that can be. I even feel that way about current events - do I dislike that idea because the idea is bad, or cause my brain is being a bitch today?

I am more vocal about expressing opinions

Unless I was directly asked, I used to keep most opinions about things - all things - to myself.  I tend to have a different outlook on things than others - this has nothing to do with the depression.  You know that expression about some people seeing a glass as being half empty or half full? I’m the guy who thinks the glass is the wrong size.  Just, different perspective, ya know? I got tired of having to explain why my opinions were odd, so it was easier to just not talk about em.

I have realized thru this process that I held a lot of stuff in as a result, and I think that contributed to the depth of my issues.  I mean, I am quite sure most of my depression issues is brain chemical imbalance, but it didn’t help that I kept myself marginalized and as a result not being understood.

Now?  I don’t care.  I honestly don’t give two craps anymore if people agree with my opinions, or even understand them.  If they are important, and will affect me, I am going to speak up about them. It is not that I expect to get my own way or anything - I really don’t.  I expect decisions that affect a group to be the best decisions for the group - but I refuse to let that decision be made until my views are expressed, even if they are ultimately dismissed.
Tho, I have found, that my opinions are not as marginalized as I expected they would be. So bonus there.
I feel fragile

I’ve never felt fragile before.  It is a new experience for me. I’ve had health issues before - injuries and illnesses that have knocked me on my ass for a few days or weeks.  However never anything that I felt I wouldn’t recover from. This depression stuff feels like it’s going to be with me for a long time - likely a lifetime.  

People do recover completely from depression, and get off the meds, so I may not be in this exact situation my whole life.  However I am a lot more conscious of my mental health, and I don’t see that ever going away.

Not that being aware of my mental health is a bad thing.  It is actually a good place to be - I just had to get there the hard way.  However I know my brain can break, and bring me down and that makes me feel fragile.  However that also makes me feel empowered to take steps to protect my mental heath, even if I never experience a bout of depression again.

Another thing that makes me feel fragile is that several times I have had friends check in on me.  I have never been “checked in on” before - at least I didn’t recognize it as such. Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate it when they did check in (you know who you are - thank you!).  It is a level of caring friendship I’ve not really experienced before, which is awesome. However the fact remains that they felt the need to check in, and I actually understood it, and welcomed it, and that just helps to sink home that I got some real problems going on.

Even tho things are looking positive, this shits real, yo. I am more protective of my mental space I have started changing my behaviour to protect my mental health. For example If I am feeling emotionally weary I'll take naps in the middle of the day, if I can. If I can't (like being at work), I'll change my environment (go outside, go for a stroll around the office etc.) to give myself a mental break. I have also dramatically lessened by consumption of current event news, and political social media consumption - especially stuff that doesn't affect me, or I can't control. I have silenced some folks on Facebook for 30 days if they get too uppity on Trump discussions, for example. (Don't get me wrong, I still think he is the worst thing to happen to the US politics since Jefferson Davis - but I can't vote, and most of his decisions don't affect my day to day life, so I tuned that twatwaffle out of my world as much as I can.) I am better off for it. Little things, but little things add up.
I am more open than ever

Since I have been posting about my depression on a public blog, this likely doesn’t surprise you that I am open to talking about my depression.  However I am open about it to folks in real life as well.

All my close co-workers know about my issues.  If I am having an off day and I think it’s related to my crazy brain, and it’s relevant to what I am doing (stressful oncall week, or having an in depth conversation and I am feeling overly cranky or sensitive), I’ll let them know.  I feel it is only fair to let them know that any frustration I may be expressing isn’t their fault but my own brain.

When it comes to personal interactions, I do the same thing, and for the same reasons.  If I am hanging out with a bunch of friends for a weekend, I am not afraid to say “Hey, I need to get some quiet time right now ‘cause of my mental health” or something similar.  Again I think it’s only fair to let them know that the reason Dave seems miserable is cause his brain is wonky, not cause of anything the group is doing.
In conclusion

So that’s where I am right now.  I am generally in a good head space, but I feel different than I did 6 months ago. I feel less sure of myself, and more cautious about things that seem to bring me down. However I have a better awareness of myself, so I think overall it’s a more positive change.

As always, if you have questions, comments, witty limericks, or a snarky retort, feel free to drop it in the comments, or send me a private note.


Monday, July 02, 2018

The Birth Of Thanos (Action Figure Edition)

Warning: Worst animation ever coming your way!

The Marvel Legends series of action figures are really good choices for toy photographers because they are highly articulate and very detailed.  They release them in various series, with the clever marketing ploy of putting a piece of a second action figure in the box - thereby encouraging folks to get the entire series so they collect all the parts for that extra figure.

I decided to dive whole hog into this evil marketing ploy and bought the entire series to get the pieces for Thanos.  Why?  Cause Thanos, man! Thanos!

I decided to put together a GIF of his birth as an action figure, which happened right in front of my eyes, on my wife's quilting desk.

So, worst animation ever of Thanos's birth:

Saturday, June 30, 2018

A Sudden But Happy Realization...

Chatting with my wife while solo shopping at Walmart, when I had a sudden but happy realization...

Yep! Toys equal art supplies in my world, baby!  Truth!

Monday, June 25, 2018

Building The Millennium Falcon: The Main Frame

Historical photos of the Millennium Falcon, original designation YT-1300 492727ZED has been unearthed from the Corellian Ship Yard archives.

This photo shows the back frame being attached to the main spine of the ship.  Notice the large crane elevating and moving the large structure into place.  Also notice Bossk in the bottom left, during his early years he supplemented his bounty hunter income by working as a delivery boy in the shipyards.

Once the frame was maneuvered into place, workers welded large bolts to firmly attach it to the giant spine of the craft.

After a hard days work, the crew enjoys a well deserved lunch break.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Scavengers In Asheville: The High Places Of The Blue Ridge Parkway

This weekend I spent in my happy place.  That happy place is hanging out with my tribe of crazy photographers known as the Scavengers.

About 25 of us gathered from all over the US in Asheville North Carolina for a long weekend of trouble and mayhem, photographer style.

On Friday we took a trip up the Blue Ridge Parkway to some of the highest peaks this side of the Mississippi, Mount Mitchell.

I have been up Mount Mitchell many times, but this is the first time it was not socked in with fog.  Being the highest place in a mountain range known for producing a lot of mist and fog, it is often obscured by clouds.  Luckily not this time.

So we spent a bunch of time looking around, and showing the kids which direction our house was... hint - it's over there: --^
 One can drive almost to the very top of Mount Mitchell, so it is an easy place to access.  Our next stop in the Craggy Gardens was more of a hike - 0.7 miles of an uphill climb over rough rocky terrain.
However the view from the top was incredible.
I was surprised the kids made it up well before I did.  I arrived at the summit to find Zeke already waiting for me, at the top of the world.
As is my nature, I grabbed some toys from my pack and started taking photos.   Some strangers started commenting on how cool it was (personal affirmation:  I am cool) and asked to take photos as well.  Spreading the art of Toy Photography one hike at a time!

After we got back to the car we drove back to town for some lunch, and some more urban-based hi-jinx.  That evening I processed one of the photos I took from the hike, and it ended up looking like this.
Not bad for the start of a long weekend, eh?