Learn All The Things

Never stop learning. Words to live by. At least in my opinion, which is pretty much the entirety of blogs that I write. They are about things that I enjoy, am fascinated by, things that I love. Sometimes that’s about work that I’m doing, or music that I’m into right now, or films that I enjoy or … well, you get the idea. Things I like, things I love.

In this case, it’s about learning in general.

I am eternally curious. I find everything and everyone interesting on some level. So a website like YouTube, which has endless hours of video of people discussing things, ranting about things, or just explaining things – it’s a bit like my kryptonite. I can and do spend a lot of time watching YouTube videos, usually coming away enriched by the experience. Now, I may not always agree with what I’m finding out about, but that’s where thinking critically about the things you are told comes in – learning about something is always only the first step.

Make-up tips? Not my thing. Discussion of historical minutiae with an astoundingly British accent. More my thing.

I wanted to highlight a couple of channels that produce content I particularly enjoy. The first is CGP Grey and the second is called CrashCourse.

CGP Grey produces interesting fact-filled videos that have demanded the death of the penny, highlighted oddities of geography, and really specifically detailed the relationships between certain nations (including the one I happen to live in).

He also did a video on of my favourite things ever – coffee.

CrashCourse takes a wider view. Hosted by brothers John Green and Hank Green, their videos feature a combination of pieces to camera, animated motion graphics and a tone that’s light but informative. I’ve watched the entirety of their historical output (World History and American History) and am finding time, when I can, to watch their more science-based content. I also really want to dip into their psychology material.

Of course a lot of the time on YouTube I’m watching tutorials – there’s a vast amount of content out there. Some of it is incredibly useful, some of it … less so. But with tutorials I always bear in mind not only the techniques someone is using, but ways those techniques could be adapted, tweaked, changed, so that it becomes a new tool in the creative workshop.


P.S. I am a fairly strong consumer of content as well as making it, so I’ll be doing some posts in future that are spotlights on things that I particularly love – books, films, music, whatever. These will be categorised as ‘spotlights’ over on the right so should make them easy enough to find. I’m sure you’re thrilled.

New Year

A year of changes, to be sure.

Before I jump into this post, I want to mention a podcast that I’ve tweeted about repeatedly but not mentioned on this site. Blu Mar Ten is a drum and bass artist in the UK, as well as having their own label and putting out some truly fantastic tracks. They have a podcast that comes out roughly once a month (they slip now and then) with a mix of music that’s brilliantly eclectic and I absolutely love them. You can find the podcast and old mixes from them on their site here.

And of course, check out the podcast on iTunes.

With that out of the way, some news about the new year – I’ll be moving into London at some point in the next couple of months. It’s all a bit uncertain at the moment, as I’m waiting to see if a room is going to be available in a friend’s house (if not, then SpareRoom here I come) – I’m genuinely excited about moving out, feels like the start of a whole new story arc for me. Am already making a list of free life drawing classes I want to start hitting up once I’ve found my feet a bit.

Just before Christmas I completed a film for Experian – working with my brother again – that was for internal use and unfortunately I can’t show it off anywhere. I was pretty happy with it, created some nice effects with particles (first time experimenting with them on a job).

I’m back to work on projects this week, for a theatre company based in Liverpool, and there’ll be more stuff for The Pioneers coming soon as well. I also have the second film that I did for them (that I haven’t posted about yet) to show off too you all, so that’ll be coming soon.

Love Cubed, my short film project, is undergoing a revamp. I’ve decided to move it into Modo and complete all the 3D work in that package (so modelling props, rigging, animating, the works). I love the lighting and rendering option in Modo, and with a recent upgrade to 701, feel like I’m in a good position to just bring everything into Modo rather than some convoluted Modo to Maya to Modo pipeline. We’ll see. I’ve been digging through various lectures from Digital Tutors about rigging in Modo and it all seems very straightforward (especially given the simplicity of the characters). I just hope I can get the expressiveness out of those little dudes that I want to.

Fun times ahead.


So on the 31st of July 2010, I officially graduated from Animation Mentor.  As I wasn’t able to attend personally, I ended up having to watch it online. Seeing people that I’ve only really known from their profile picture up on stage collecting their diplomas was quite an emotional moment, even though I wasn’t there in person. I think it’ll be a source of regret that I never made it out there.

How much of that is my own fault I don’t know at the moment. I’ve been wasting my time so much recently. So this is my statement of a change in direction and a change in attitude. Watching the graduation speech from Lee Unkrich, and hearing him talk about his own crippling fear of failure, was a bit of wake-up call for me. I am never going to achieve the things that I want, and get what I want out of life, without working for it – and being scared of failing, and so never trying, is a horrible self-fulfilling prophecy. Things that I have said in the past and not acted on. So this is my statement of getting my life turned around and headed in the direction that I want.

Firstly, I will spend my time more effectively. No more sleeping in until noon and staying awake until three in the morning noodling around on the internet. I’ll also be spending more time on the Animation Mentor site, getting involved in the forums, getting involved as a peer buddy, for at least an hour a day. There’s a book I’ve been reading recently called 59 Seconds that suggests laying out a step-by-step plan, saying this has been more successful than just visualising your perfect life (which can actually be counter-productive). That’ll be up as a post later today or tomorrow. I’ll also be using this blog more often, as a kind of public documentation of what I’ve been doing and how I’ve been spending my time. Hopefully that’ll be another thing that’ll keep me on the straight and narrow.

I want to end this little missive with a massive congratulations to all of those who graduated from Animation Mentor on the 31st. Well done to all of you, I know just how hard it was, and a massive thank you to all of those who ever gave me feedback and kept me going. Thank you to all the mentors that got me through the last 18 month of work, especially Kenny Roy. You are all a massive inspiration to me. Finally, thank you to Shawn, Bobby and Carlos for creating AM in the first place and giving me a chance at getting the life that I want.

Developer Speaks!

Lots of them do, actually. A friend of a friend has created a blog about blogs – specifically, those about game development. Well worth a visit if you enjoy that kind of thing. And if you like that kind of thing, definitely check out Irrational Games. They’re the game studio behind, most recently, the BioShock series. Their podcasts are excellent, well-produced, and definitely worth a listen.

Oh, one of the blogs on the GameDevBlogs site is by a mate of mine, talented bloke by the name of Daniel Lim. Don’t tell him I told you that though.

Bad Science

While I can’t recall exactly who pointed me at the website of Ben Goldacre, an NHS doctor, regular Guardian columnist and author, I’m very grateful to whoever that person was. His website is called Bad Science, and so is his book, which I’ve been reading.

It is, in a word, enlightening.

I’m like most consumers, I’ll admit, as much as I’d like to think I use my brain. I see branding and packaging as important, I trust the opinion of people that know more than me and I tend to take stuff written in the more reputable newspapers as fact. I think it’s fair to admit that I’ve never really had the right mental toolkit to appraise things that I read in any kind of rational way. Building this toolkit, or at least letting you know of it’s existence and that you should probably use it, is the book’s primary goal. Along the way it takes apart many of the current fads and ‘bad science’ that’s floating around in the media and that’s perpetrated against us on a daily basis – such as the wild claims of various nutritionists, including by one well-known personality into the benefits of chlorophyll, or the studies into the educational performance benefits of fish oil that were promptly buried as soon as it became apparent that there actually weren’t any.

The other thing that I find fascinating is how litigious these people get as soon as you dare to contradict them. In general, if you’re getting sued by someone in one of the alternative therapies, it is entirely down to the fact that you have pointed out a massive hole in their argument and they’re cynically trying to cover themselves. If they’re a proper scientist, behaving in an adjusted and ethical manner, they will either argue back in a rational fashion, or if they are shown to have made a mistake, formally withdraw their research. Quacks just sue. This doesn’t mean that they don’t do libellous things themselves, as recent experiences with Twitter have shown (briefly reported on by Bill Thompson).

I won’t attempt to summarise the book, I’d just advise you to read it.

There are two elements that I would like to highlight. The first is the distinction between lies, truth, and bullshit, as laid out in the essay ‘On Bullshit’ by the philosopher Professor Harry Frankfurt of Princeton University.

To quote:

“Under his model, ‘bullshit’ is a form of falsehood distinct from lying: the liar knows and cares about the truth, and is deliberately trying to mislead; the truth-speaker knows the truth, and is trying to give it to us; and the bullshitter neither knows nor cares about the truth and is merely trying to impress.”

I think the ‘bullshitter’ label can be applied quite freely to a lot of people these days, because there’s money to be made in the hills of our health, and a lot of people are (cynically/manipulatively/destructively) mining our interests for their net gain – and selling us a lot of bullshit along the way.

The second thing that I wanted to highlight was the existence of the placebo effect, which is far more interesting and mysterious and fascinating than anything at all that’s being peddled by all the quacks, hacks and bullshitters put together.

As a first step, I’d advise checking out the website. Then follow him on Twitter. I humbly suggest it’s definitely worth your time. Feel free to disagree.

The Success of Pixar

I found this as part of an interview that Victor Navone did for some blog – a decent interview but one answer caught my eye. I thought it neatly summed up why Pixar is so successful, and why their films have always done so well.

This answer here: The company is run by creative people – John Lasseter and Ed Catmull – and not by business executives. They know how to make movies and how to support artists, and they’re not willing to release mediocre films just for money. We have a very collaborative culture, a spirit of openness and communication between artists and departments. There’s not as much politics and manoeuvring as you will find in a typical Hollywood studio.

A lot of different people have commented on how successful Pixar is, and why. I think Navone nailed it pretty well.