Category Archives: personal

Monster Mash

This past January I had the incredible good fortune to fall sideways into a wonderful graphics research project. How it came about is pure serendipity: I had coffee with my advisor from UW, who’d recently started at Google. He asked if I’d like to test out some experimental sketch-based animation software one of his summer interns was developing. I said sure, thinking I might spend an hour or two… but the software was so much fun to use, I couldn’t stop playing with it. One thing led to another, and now we have a paper in SIGGRAPH Asia 2020!

Have you ever wished you could just jot down a 3D character and animate it super quick, without all that tedious modeling, rigging and keyframing? That’s what Monster Mash is for: casual 3D animation. Here’s how it works:

Bread and Butter Pickles

When life gives you gherkins, you make bread-and-butter pickles. At least, that’s what I’ve been doing. I started with this recipe, but as usual, had to modify it based on what we happened to have in our spice rack. I made a few rookie moves, like using the mandoline bare-handed (and let me tell you, that’s a mistake you’ll only make once. Those things are vicious!) But the pickles are so worth it. Sweet and spicy, great with a sandwich, or just straight out of the jar in your pyjamas (not that I’d ever do that, no sir.)

Four gherkins picked fresh from the vine.
These fresh gherkins have an amazing flavor, almost sweet, even the weird-looking yellow ones.
Sliced gherkins in a bowl.
Finally got an excuse to use the zigzag blade on the mandoline!
Spices and vinegar in the saucepan.
Cinnamon, turmeric, clove, cardamom, mustard seed, white peppercorns, chili flakes.
Gherkins and onions simmering in the pickling syrup.
3 pint jars of bread-and-butter pickles.
Two 5-inch gherkins, with 1/2 cup of pickling syrup, will just about fill one pint jar.

Growing and shrinking

Some gherkins grow, others shrink…

Our new hand-built garden enclosure seems to be doing its job perfectly: we used wire mesh (or hardware cloth as the pros call it) with 1/2″ holes, too small for rats and mice to crawl through, but still plenty of room for the bees that have been happily pollinating our cucumber flowers.

Vegetable gardening and timelapse photography turn out to be an amazingly good match, because they both seem to make me pay attention to tiny details that would otherwise escape my notice. I never thought much about male and female flowers before, but on this gherkin plant it’s really obvious which ones are which: the males have pointy petals, and the females come equipped with a proto-fruit, ready for seed. Much less obvious is how they behave after pollination: some fruits grow, some shrivel up immediately, and others grow for a while, and then seem to give up halfway and start shrinking again. (I’ve read that this last case is what happens when there are some fertilized seeds, but not enough to fill the entire fruit.)

Here’s that big gherkin from the timelapse above. It was delicious.

Dragon Wrap 360

An animated loop of the directors, producers and PDI-based crew of "How to Train Your Dragon", made from photos taken at the wrap party in March 2010.
Click the image to see the full animated GIF!

Here’s a thing that happened. Remember that crazy accidental stereo photo that we shot at the LA wrap party for “How to Train Your Dragon”, back in 2010? Well, not long after that, we had a second wrap party in Palo Alto, for the PDI part of the crew. At one point I was talking with Chris Sanders, and I showed him that stereo photo from the other party. His eyes got really big, and his inner ten-year-old, always very close to the surface but particularly so in that moment, looked at me very seriously and said “we have to do this again… right now… with EVERYBODY HERE!” Without any kind of plan, we just snapped into action, moving tables, herding animators, passing on instructions in a game of telephone as everyone gathered in a big circle with Chris, Dean, Bonnie and Bruce in the middle. Cameras and phones out and ready, on a count of three, we all snapped a shot– as simultaneously as a crowd of reveling filmmakers can manage (which turns out to be not simultaneous at all, but hey, we’ll fix it in post!) I got everyone to email me their photos the next day, and spent way too many hours truing them up over the following weeks. I even did some very bad morphing at one point. I never quite got it to a state that felt good enough to share, so this sat on my hard drive for the better part of a decade without anybody seeing it.

But the third chapter in the trilogy comes out today! So in honor of that, and all the amazing artists who were there in that room nine years ago, and the many others who have worked on these movies before and since, here it finally is, in the form of an animated GIF: Dragon Wrap 360!

Photos by: Jennifer Yip, Craig Rittenbaum, Kathy Altieri, Craig Ring, Gil Zimmerman, Andy Wheeler, Susan Hayden, Ronman Ng, Melanie Cordan, Jennifer Dahlman, Rebecca Huntley, Ben Andersen, Janet Breuer, John Batter, Andrew Pearce, Katrina Conwright, Toshi Otsuka, Lou Dellarosa, Nara Youn, Michel Kinfoussia, Kevin Andrus, Dave Torres, Michael Baula, Tanner Owen, Karen Dryden, April Henley, Kate Spencer, Cassidy Curtis, Ron Pucherelli, Scott LaFleur, Simon Otto, and Dane Stogner.

What VR feels like today

Here’s what the VR scene feels like today:

It’s the early 90’s. PDI is about to do Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video. Pixar is about to do “Toy Story”. ILM is about to do “Terminator 2”. None of these things have happened yet, but behind the scenes, amazing people are working on them. They’re meeting for lunch, hanging out at conferences, reading each other’s publications with great interest, playing volleyball together and throwing great parties. Nobody knows exactly where this is going, but everyone’s pretty damn excited.

That’s what this scene feels like today.

[I actually wrote this a year ago, but it still feels true right now. So there you go.]

Atlas of Emotions

For a few weeks last spring I had the tremendous pleasure of working with my dear friend Eric Rodenbeck on an amazing project: an Atlas of Emotions. Commissioned by the Dalai Lama, and based on decades of scientific research by Paul Ekman and his colleagues, the project aims to help people find a path through the complex landscape of their feelings toward a state of calm and happiness.

This was such a fresh and exciting experience. First, because Stamen is an absolutely lovely place to spend time for any reason. (Seriously: pineapple plants and bubble machines!) Second, because it forced a connection between parts of my brain that had never met before: emotion brain, meet design brain. Well, hello! My time on the project was brief and my contribution very small, but will that stop me from kvelling? No it will not! The rest of my feelings can be found right here.

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

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!