Tag Archives: linux

Why We Chose Ubuntu — Post by Michael J. Findley


Our very first computer was a Coleco Adam. Production began in 1983 with two tape drives. We were the only people in our user’s group (does anyone remember those?) with a floppy drive. It also had the power supply in a daisy wheel printer which sounded much like a machine gun.

After the Adam, we purchased a Tandy 1000 and then two Commodore Amigas, a 3000 and a 1200. The demise of Commodore forced us to the Microsoft Windows platform. To this day, I like the Windows 98 OS as their best operation system. Compared to the Coleco Adam and Commodore Amiga, Microsoft and Apple are both clunky, inefficient and open to security breaches.

Microsoft started off poorly and each version is slower, less efficient and more difficult to use. Every generation of windows requires a month’s learning curve to find out where Microsoft hid the features we had come to depend on.

Ubuntu is a Linux distribution. Linux is an operating system for personal computers. Development began when Finnish student Linus Torvalds released the source code in 1991 prohibiting commercial distribution. Though the coding is different, it follows the same philosophical approach as UNIX, so the name Linux combines the name of the original coder with UNIX.

Ubuntu can access the data from the Windows 7 partitions of the hard drive. Though it frequently requires a password, such as downloading anything and even entering the system, it is far more secure than either Windows or Apple.

Ubuntu loads in less than 20 seconds. Ubuntu has tools which work as well as the Windows tools, for our purposes, such as Blender, LibreOffice suite, Inkscape and GrafX2. The Ubuntu site has drivers which can be downloaded easily and to this point, flawlessly. Though every icon seems to be in a different location, they all work as well or better than the Windows equivalent.

One obvious fact is the speed. When Windows users get a new computer with no additional programs, it usually seems fast. But as programs are added and windows keeps sending updates, the computer will run slower and slower. Ubuntu does not do this; programs usually open instantly. Even a cold boot is under 20 seconds.

Ubuntu is the largest Linux distro available. To date, every download has worked without a problem. When we do not understand something, such as how to load a new font, there are detailed and accurate online instructions.

Probably the most satisfying and the most frustrating aspect of Ubuntu are the terminal (Windows command line interface) and the need to use it. Many things must be keyboarded through the terminal. These commands work well and allow you to have more control than any Windows OS ever had. At the same time, mistakes can damage your Ubuntu operating system and detailed instructions on-line can be difficult to find. So far, we have found many people willing to help. We are grateful for the help. It has been a real lifesaver.

Ubuntu is not perfect. We have run into unusual system crashes, but not many. We have also needed to restart the computer, but this is also rare. The initial install only required one restart after the entire system was installed.

Ubuntu takes time to get used to. Though it accomplishes the same work as any other Operating System, it requires getting used to. We chose the default Unity layout because it was so easy to install.

Since there are a few programs we must use which do not run on the Linux OS, we must use both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. Each time we use those, our appreciation for Linux grows.

Image Credit: Author Kaiiv. Original uploader was Kaiiv at de.wikipedia This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license.

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Joining the Ubuntu/Linux Community — Post by Michael J. Findley

linux penguin ubuntu

We left the MS Windows/Apple world. With very little knowledge of computers, you can too. Linux is a free operating system which was originally based on Unix. We have contemplated making this move for years. There will be a follow-up blog of why we made the move, but this is a how-to blog. Though there are thousands (an infinite number?) of ways to set up Linux, there are two very easy ways of getting Linux on a laptop.

The first is to purchase a computer with Linux installed by someone else. This is the easiest and includes tech support. Companies which sell laptops with Linux already installed include System76, ZaReason, Dell, ThinkPenguin, and EmperorLinux. This is more expensive. Though Dell frequently changes their product line, for today, here is a link to their $1200 laptop with a Linux Ubuntu operating system. http://www.dell.com/us/business/p/xps-13-linux/pd

We purchased two refurbished Windows 7 computers for under $800 from a shop which refurbishes computers. There are thousands of such shops throughout the United States. Refurbished Windows 7 computers are also available in many foreign countries and thousands are available online. Included in the price was repartitioning the hard drives with 50 Gig partitions for Linux. The dual boot system allows Ubuntu to access data from the Windows 7 partition. The Linux partition is only needed for the Operating System and Linux programs such as LibreOffice, Inkscape, Blender, GrafX2, Font Manager, etc. We found a dual boot system to be the easiest to install and use. Using Windows 7, download Ubuntu from here http://www.ubuntu.com/download/desktop.

Burn the download to a DVD, then follow these instructions. http://www.ubuntu.com/download/desktop/install-ubuntu-desktop

Be certain you write down ALL USERNAMES AND PASSWORDS.

It really is this simple. Purchasing a new computer is actually more difficult to get particular features that you want, since there are many refurbished Windows 7 choices. Even with a dual boot system, which is much slower, the system boots up in about 18 seconds.

Anything which can be done on Windows or Mac can be done with on Ubuntu. The single greatest issue is a lack of tech support for Linux in general. However, to date, everything we have needed to do with Ubuntu is available by asking on Google.

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3D Animation Work

When a person begins work as a 3D animator, he has to keep in mind that he will be expected to work as part of a team and be productive. There are different methods of determining productivity, but usually he will be expected to come “up to speed” quickly. A military background, for example, should give a person an edge in understanding the need for being disciplined and prepared to contribute to the team from day one.

Two basic aspects come into play. One is that an employer will expect certain skills with a fair degree of mastery. The other is that additional skills which are not necessarily a spelled-out requirement will be a big help in increasing productivity.

Suppose you were hired by Pixar to work on the movie Monsters, Inc. While it would be nice to choose the storyline, the types of monsters, etc., in reality those decisions are made by people far above you. Since you are a new hire you will be on a team of 2-4 people doing something tedious, difficult, mundane but absolutely essential. When I make 3D animations and movies, they sometimes do not turn out as expected. But as a “solo act” I can say, “That’s still cool. I will change the story to fit it.” As part of a team you will not have that luxury. You must perform your assigned task and make it fit in with the team’s and with the project as presented.

Suppose your assignment is to make hair for Sully. In the real world this might not have been a separate assignment but this is an illustration. This will require a fairly thorough understanding of Pixar’s Renderman Software. Is the hair a plug-in module? How thick do they want it? How long should it be? How should it move in relation to the overall model? Stiff like a bristle brush? Like a horse’s mane? Will a special program be needed for collision prevention? Co-operation with other teams might be required if your project integrates with theirs. Some decisions must be made very quickly. Other things such as color might not even have been decided yet, but will need to be acted upon as soon as they are made.

Is it fur or hair? A 3D animator is expected to be able to distinguish certain things as soon as he starts a job, to bring certain specific abilities with him and understand certain things the first day.

1. Really boring stuff you have to know

High end 3D animation software operates on multiple computers at the same time. UNIX is a system designed to operate on multiple computers. Linux is a free (open source) version with many similarities. You must learn UNIX to be productive in this field. The book UNIX in a Nutshell is a good beginning for learning the commands. You will need a computer with UNIX or Linux installed in order to get familiar with the systems. There are differences between the two, especially the fact that Linux works with smaller systems and UNIX works with much larger, sometimes worldwide ones.

Most 3D animation programs are written in a high-end language called C++. While understanding C++ is not essential, since there will be others on the team who specialize in that, you need a basic understanding. Take at least a semester of a programming language, such as Pascal, and avoid programs such as Basic which rely on Spaghetti Logic.

While you don’t need to know Calculus all of this is based on higher math and you need a solid background in non-linear Algebra. All the talk about model placements in a scene are done through Cartesian co-ordinates and is the basic language you will use every day. While you don’t usually talk about vectors per se, every model, every light ray, every scene or set, and every motion is using vectors. You need a very thorough understanding of what they are and how they work. If you have no concept of vectors or Cartesian coordinates a good introduction is Albert Einstein’s Evolution of Physics.

Stephen Hawking’s book a Brief History of Time deal with vectors and similar subjects in chapters 2 and 3. The illustrated version has lots of cool pictures.

2. Really boring stuff that is helpful but may or may not be necessary

The instruction manual of whatever 3D program you are working with could be thousands of pages. At first you will be concentrating on one small section because you must begin producing before you achieve complete mastery of the program.

How the hardware works is another area where you will be unable to achieve complete mastery before becoming productive. Has the program hung up simply because it is ray-tracing? Does it need to be reset to free up the computer? Will you wipe out the work of several other teams if you hit reset at the wrong time?

Do you know how to compile the program? Usually someone on the team, or on another team altogether, specializes in that. But if you have a basic understanding you will be more productive.

Probably no one will ask how well you type or at what speed, but you will be more productive with fast and accurate typing skills than someone who lacks them.

Personal discipline means you can’t spend time on Facebook, chat or emails but take your assignment seriously. Pieces of hardware that you might be more comfortable with or familiar with will increase productivity. Trackball versus mouse, something as simple as desk height, easy ability to stand up and stretch or get some exercise. Interpersonal skills, the ability to communicate, will make everyone’s job easier, or perhaps possible in the first place.

How well do you get information out of other people? No torture techniques, but the ability to obtain needed information rapidly by asking the right questions, making only a minor interruption in the other person’s productivity.

Do you understand the goals and objectives of the company you work for? Do you enjoy your work? It’s possible to be productive and good at what you do without enjoying it, but enjoyment helps you and the people around you create a better work environment.

3. How 3D software operates or works

All 3-D Software programs have certain ways of operating, certain divisions of labor. Different programs use different names for the same thing. The first thing that needs to be done is to build a model. It could be something as simple as a ball, as complex as a person, or a spaceship. Most programs use a system of connecting polygons where the program will render the polygons. Hash Animation Master uses splines and patches. Others use nurbs and metanurbs.

If you are making a chocolate donut with sprinkles on top, you will begin with a primitive called a torus, deform it and add to it. You can add each individual sprinkle, made of polygons or patches. You could also apply a decal of sprinkles to it if it need not be as detailed.

Once the model is made, it is placed in some type of scene. Hash calls this scene a choreography. Bryce makes the scene separate from the model. Setting up a scene can be simple or difficult. Scenes are often a flat panel with a video background. Shadows of objects that cast on the scene give a realistic cue to the eye to make people see the object as part of the scene.

Determining motion is the next consideration. The donut might only move if someone picks it up and throws it. The camera might move around it. In the example of hair for Sully in Monsters Inc., it must be attached and move when he moves, when the wind blows, when others brush up against it, all in realistic, believable fashion. A particular patch of skin might need 10 hairs. Or would four be enough? Will you need 100? All of this must take place with the least amount of rendering time and computer processing power.

After putting the models in the scene, figuring out the motions, completing it as a scene, the computer must be told how the light should fall and what it will look like to the camera. Usually the largest team working on a 3D animated movie will be the team responsible for lighting.

Once all this is done, rendering of each individual frame takes place.  Many quick renders will be done along the way to make sure all the parts work together properly and the details are correct. The final render should be a large scale version of the quick renders.

4. Putting It All Together

A movie director will have many things going on at the same time which must be coordinated. 3D rendering is the same way. The leader of the team or teams has to put them all together. The scenes with the simplest sets and the fewest number of actors or models will be finished and set to render first, since rendering takes the longest time. Meanwhile more intensive projects taking more “people power” will be allocated and coordinated after those are set up and running.

Staying with the Monsters, Inc. example, Mike has no hair, only one eye, and he is sometimes seen talking in a relatively bare scene with no one else present. Such simple scenes can be set up and rendering while more difficult characters like Sully are being worked on. This also applies to more difficult scenes like many doors running on tracks in all directions.

Many skills operating all at once must come into play with 3D animation. The desire for this career might begin with learning to play video games. But loving video games, even being good at them, will not make you a 3D game designer.

Some people want to be automotive engineers when they don’t yet even know how to drive a car. There are drivers, there are mechanics, and there are engineers. It’s a process, an acquisition of various levels of skills. These skills have to be learned and used together or nothing is accomplished. To progress to a higher level in a career, you must take the first step to acquire the first skill. But you may not be able to do anything with it until you master the second skill. If you can get these skills down and make them work together, 3D animation can be very rewarding.


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