Saturday, December 23, 2006

Granny Squares

Luckily, my niece Ayeka can't read yet, and her dad and mom don't read my blog often (as far as I know), so I can post this picture of what I made her for Christmas.

I started crocheting the baby blanket in August right after Ayeka was born. The plan was to send it a few weeks later, not at Christmas, which is good because if I'd planned on sending it at Christmas, it wouldn't have gotten finished until Easter or her first birthday.

My original design idea was to make the whole thing out of granny squares. But about three squares in, looking at the stack of little pink potholders and calculating how many dozens more I'd need for the whole blanket, I sunk into a funk of sysiphean demoralization, since every time you finish a square, you start all over on a new one, and the pile never seems to grow very fast. So I decided to make the blanket one big granny square and incorporate the ones I'd already finished into the design. Easier to see progress that way.

I crochet the way I write--lots of revisions along the way and unravelling of work already done.

But it's finished now. Yay! Now if I could only say that about a few other things.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Cat Tales

I came across this today:

"Cat Tales, which will launch in 2007, is seeking fantasy and suspense stories of 500-5,000 words involving cats. Cats must be portrayed in a positive light. No talking cats -- yes, this is a firm rule. Payment is 3 cents/word for First North American Serial Rights."

This is so my market. If only I had a cat story...


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Muse on Strike

Apparently the best way to stop any writing progress whatsoever is to give myself a deadline. The Muse doesn't deal well with pressure. Oh sure, she's happy enough to play along when it's all just fun and games, but hit her with a deadline, with the possibility that this time the story is "for real," and she disappears faster than a Wii at Best Buy. (My stepdaughter really wants a Wii for Christmas. Ha.)

For a good three weeks I was cruising along, writing every day. Little freewriting exercises mostly, which sometimes ended up being not so little--over a thousand words a pop, often enough. Then the guilt started. You know, that little voice that whispers like the snake in Eden, ever so helpfully, "This is all well and good, but you haven't really finished any stories yet. Nothing to send out to market. How are you going to be a real writer if you don't send anything out? If you don't finish anything?" Those two words, "real writer," are the killer.

So, not wanting to be a poseur and a bit overconfident from the recent rush of progress, I put aside the writing exercises and set a deadline for finishing the Real Story. The one I was supposed to be working on. It wasn't even a tough deadline--a simple "finish the story before New Year's"-- but I've gone from averaging 700 words a night to averaging nil over the past week. A new approach is called for.

I thought it'd be interesting to look over the results of my freewriting exercises to see what I write about when the subconscious get full rein. So far I have:
1 murdered unicorn
1 pedophiliac school principal and 2 no-so-human little boys
1 whispering doll and 1 girl locked in attic
2 falling angels
1 Yeti
1 posse of dwarves
1 guardian lawn gnome, who I think might become a lawn flamingo in future drafts
2 mermaids out-of-water, in 2 different stories
1 time travel love story
1 possible alien invasion (with laser-beam eyes--woohoo!)
2 stories with no hint of SF anywhere (yet)
Lots of blood, death, and violence, especially murder
1 Muse who likes to play around with SF cliches

We're headed back East for a week during Christmas, during which time I will be negotiating work terms with the Muse. I hope we can reach some sort of accomodation.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Fix It In Post

My life these days consists pretty much of eight solid hours a day of work, throwing some words at the page for a half hour to an hour a night, and sleep. Which means I don't have much of interest to blog about. So I'll talk about work instead.

I'm a junior compositor on the film I'm working on now, which at this company apparently means I'm qualified to paint out wires. At other places, that just makes you a paint artist, usually lumped into paint/roto artist. Which is what I was before. Same job, different title.

Wire removal. Which sometimes involves taking out stray cameramen, boom mikes, cranes, etc. as well. Not a job I'd ever envisioned myself having, seeing as how it is time-consuming, tedious, and requires little brainpower. Strangely enough, I like my job, though. There's something satisfying about creating these pristine film frames, with no trace of wires or intruding cameramen. Painting people out of existence--that's power for you.

Paintwork requires a handful of basic strategies. The most obvious is to paint out the offending object frame by frame. Avoid this if at all possible. Besides the apparent painfulness of this option--shots can run a couple of hundred frames and you'd often have to paint each and every frame--it's very hard to maintain consistency across the frame range. Even if you were to make just one paint stroke on each frame, that would mean you'd have to make the exact same stroke every single time. Otherwise, you end up with crawling, squiggly noise, which would be just as distracting as a wire. Personally, my hand is just not that steady.

The other strategies are mostly variations on a theme. You patch over the sections of the frame where the wires are with a section that's already clean. The clean areas can come from moving over a section of that same frame, pulling from an earlier or later frame, or painting one clean frame to use in the rest of the footage. Basically, you want to try and copy another piece of footage and paste it over the wire, all the while making sure that everything lines up consistently. Did I mention a good measure of meticulous perfectionism comes in handy for this? Depending on the software you use, you can also paint a single stroke and then track that in over multiple frames, which can avoid some of the problems with hand-painting frames.

Having said that hand-painting is to be avoided as much as possible, I've spent most of the past week painting out wires frame by frame by frame. The wires in my shots this week were thrashing around in front of a big, smoky explosion with lots of camera motion. When things are changing that much with every frame, sometimes you have no choice but to hand-paint each one. Luckily smoke is easy to paint. Good times.

Usually, though, you use a combination of strategies for every shot, depending on where the wires are and what kind of motion is in the footage.

I figured I should come up with a clever way that wire removal can be used as an analogy to something writing-related, something related to my recent rethinkings about my writing process. Here it is: Writing is like film-making. There's a lot of grumbling amongst visual effects artists (like me) that on-set filming involves too much use of the phrase, "Just shoot it. We'll fix it in post." Who cares that the wire is obscuring the actor's face the entire scene? Just get it on film--some poor schmuck can fix it later. I grumble because that poor schmuck often ends up being me, but as far as getting a film done on time and within reasonable bounds of the budget, that's often the way you need to work. Get it on film--we'll clean it up later.

Same with stories. Get the words on paper. Worry about cleaning it up, editing it tighter, making it pretty later. It's a little harder when you're writing, because you know the poor schmuck getting stuck with the dirty work is going to be you--but there's a different joy to be found in doing that kind of work, I've found. (Although, sure, it's still tedious and damn hard.)

So don't worry what loose wire are showing in the first draft. Just get it on paper. We'll fix it in post.