Category Archives: fun

Inflatable Nudibranch Halloween Costume


After years of not doing anything particularly special for Halloween, this year we decided to start early and actually make our own costumes. Of course our plans were way too ambitious, so despite the fact that we started in August, by Halloween morning only one of our three costumes was actually finished.

photo by Jerry Kirkhart from Los Osos, Calif. – Spanish Shawl, CC BY 2.0

The idea: inflatable nudibranchs.  Nudibranchs (aka sea slugs) are marine invertebrates with incredible, psychedelic designs. If they look like something from a science fiction book cover, that may be because the designers of sci-fi aliens have been quietly stealing ideas from nudibranchs for decades.

I’d never made anything inflatable before, and barely ever used a sewing machine, so I learned a lot on this project. The material we used is this incredibly lightweight but sturdy stuff called 1-ounce calendered HyperD diamond ripstop nylon.  (I chose this particular kind based on one negative review where a customer had made a quilt, and complained that it was hard to stuff into a sack because it kept trapping air inside it. Which was of course exactly what we wanted it to do!)

We did a lot of experiments to figure out the mechanics of inflatable structures.  It’s pretty hard to visualize what 3D shape you’ll get from a bunch of flat parts until you’ve stitched them all together and filled it up with air. (Although I did find some interesting graphics research that solves the inverse problem!)

Body front (D1) nudibranch head, front and back point of failure

The trickiest part was figuring out how to attach the costume to a person’s body.  With most inflatable costumes you can buy in stores, your whole body goes inside the inflated part of the costume, with just your hands and feet sticking out of elastic cuffs. This seemed like it’d be really hot and uncomfortable over a long night of running around trick-or-treating.  So I made ours an outside-the-body design, with two belts of nylon webbing to attach to your torso, and a drawstring hood for your head. We found it wasn’t hard to rip the ripstop nylon at the point of attachment to the straps, so I reinforced those areas with a second layer, based loosely on how sails are reinforced at the clew.

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Without quilting around the fringe, the body puffed up into a gigantic potato. And the orange cerata looked more like a cow’s udder.

Fringe quilting detailOne part I’m pretty happy with is the quilting of the blue fringe around the body. Without it, the body puffed up into a big potato shape. But I stitched in a pattern of alternating lines to make a little zigzag maze for the air to flow through. The result was a pretty decent match for the crinkly fringe of a real nudibranch’s foot.

The air blower is mounted in the ventral side of the body, below the waist so it would have a chance at clear airflow. And for illumination we ran two strands of LED fairy lights down the interior, from the tips of the blue cephalic tentacles down to the tail. This was okay, but not perfect: I would have preferred to light up more of the orange cerata sticking off the back. (The lighting was pretty rushed, and definitely something I’d like to do better next time…)

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By now I am completely hooked on this inflatable costume idea. Which is good, because I’ve still got my own blue water dragon nudibranch costume to finish… but that’ll have to wait ’til next year!

Photo by Sylke Rohrlach from Sydney – Blue dragon-glaucus atlanticus, CC BY-SA 2.0

Back to Annecy (and the Moon)

I’m off to Annecy for another week packed solid with VR demos, film screenings and talks with the Google Spotlight Stories crew! I’ll be on a panel called “VR: the New Animation Playground” on Wednesday at 11am. We’ll be showing four projects at the Bonlieu Salle de Création: “Isle of Dogs: Behind the Scenes in VR” (Wes Anderson, with Felix & Paul Studios), “Piggy” (Jan Pinkava and Mark Oftedal), “Back to the Moon” (FX Goby and Hélène Leroux, with Nexus and the Google Doodles team) and also a sneak peek of the story I’m working on right now, “Age of Sail” (directed by John Kahrs, in collaboration with Chromosphere).  The creators will also be doing a panel Wednesday at 6pm: “Animation Everywhere!”

If you’re on that side of the planet, come hang out! (But bring an umbrella, I hear it’s gonna be raining all week!)

Quality Nonsense

I’ve long been a fan of nonsense. (It seem me who they look where to sit down one’s.) Unlike its near relatives—noise, lies, and bullshit—real nonsense is surprisingly hard to construct, because the sense-making instinct runs deep with us humans. So when I see a performance like Vanessa Bayer’s as “Dawn Lazarus” in this SNL skit I tend to take notice. Which then leads me down a rabbit hole of related arts like double-talk (which is easier if you do it in a foreign language) and good old Engrish menu fails. Meanwhile, the glorious internet digs up treasures from the pre-Google era, like the player names in Fighting Baseball:

Now, in 2017, machine learning comes on the scene and opens entirely new frontiers for nonsense-lovers. Witness this attempt to train a neural network to generate paint color names based on the contents of the Sherwin-Williams catalog (producing some names that could have come straight out of LiarTown, USA):

I wasn’t sure about machine learning before, but it’s growing on me.

Links via @golan, via @annaleen, and via the great glorious Internet, long may she reign.

Making Pão de Queijo

Pão de Queijo, done right

Every place has a certain food that you just can’t seem to get anywhere else. For New Yorkers it’s the bagel. For the French, the croissant. Pão de Queijo (cheese bread) is that food for Brazilians. For years we’ve gotten by on packaged dough balls from the frozen section of our local Brazilian market. But this weekend we found an old recipe from a friend, and realized we had everything we needed to make it from scratch at home.

Continue reading Making Pão de Queijo

Pluot captured in amazing new photo!

Pluot and its moon in an amazing new photo!
Pluot and its moon in an amazing new photo!

As New Horizons’ science mission reaches its suspenseful climax, researchers in Northern California are busy analyzing a flood of new data about this mysterious object. Approaching closer than ever before, we can see its dimpled contours and subtly mottled colors in unprecedented detail (click for the full resolution photo). Better yet, we have detected our first traces of the nearly spherical body’s atmosphere: a mix of tangy volatile aromatics emanating hundreds of micrometers from its surface. What an amazing day for science. Our team can’t wait to ingest all this new data!

Something New

Here’s something different: I have a new job! Today was my first day at Google Spotlight Stories. I’ll be working with some amazing filmmakers and technologists who are busy inventing a new kind of narrative visual storytelling uniquely suited to handheld mobile devices. If that sounds crazy, that’s because it is. It’s my kind of crazy. It’s exactly the kind of wild, inventive, “let’s try this and see what happens” attitude that got me interested in computer graphics in the first place, all those years ago. I couldn’t be more excited.

The video above really does a great job of capturing the delight of experiencing one of these stories for the first time. It’s almost impossible not to grin like a ninny. There’s not much more I can say about it right now, but there’s been some terrific press about the projects they’ve created so far. I’ll share more when I can!