Sunday, January 28, 2018

Metasnap - a screenshot+note+palette app written in AHK

This was a little pet project that took a couple of weeks to implement in my free time. I wrote it in the autohotkey scripting language with the goal of pushing its gui capabilities.

I needed some sort a screenshot app that remembers the area I want to take a snap of and lets me leave notes in the metadata of the actual image files. While developing it I realized that I can encode other types of data inside the image files, such as color codes - so the tool mutated into a color palette editor and basic note taker on top of a screenshot app.

Before it was called "Metasnap" - I named it snapgrab. In any case, if you have cool ideas of data that can be encoded into screenshots,please let me know:)

You can download a copy from bellow:

- Take screenshots of the entire screen or a set area. The tool remembers the area between sccreenshots
- Pick colors and store them inside the screenshots you took. Picked colors are stored as both rgb and html color codes that can be easily copied to clipboard. Ideal for web developers and artists. The color palette is stored as metadata inside the screenshot file
- Leave notes about screenshots you took - inside the screenshot files metadata
- Tiny image selector with support for bookmarks

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Godot 2.1 - 1$ gesture recognition plugin

Some time ago I encountered a little charming google doodle game that uses the player's scribbles for input:

You can play it here:

That mechanic inspired me so much that I decided to try and implement it in Godot. Luckily I didnt have to start from scratch. The basic 1$ algorithm was ported to gdscript, but its bare bones implementation was not ready for gamedev. It was only a function that can be crashed. I added some commits to it. Fixed some game crashing bugs in common corner cases and added a bunch of cool features.

After porting it into a plugin, I added the ability to teach it new gestures and record them in a json file.
Added some extra optional features:
 The developer can set limited ink - to limit the size of shapes that can be drawn Upon recognizing a shape, it also emits a signal of what shape it is and how much ink was left when it was completed If the ink left is > 0, it will create a collision shape from the drawing, that can be used to interact with other parts of the game You can limit how many collision shapes can be drawn optionally.
Optional particle effect and ability to set line thickness and color Ability to set the allowed drawing area and change the mouse cursor to a pencil then it is over it

Here is a demo video:

It can recognize the following shapes out of the box (in the json file):
  • carret
  • v
  • pigtail
  • lineH
  • lineV
  • heart
  • circle
If you like the plugin, feel free to get a copy from (maybe even leave a tip in the jar ;) ):

Github page here:

If there is enough interest in it, I will port it over to Godot 3..
Might make a little game with it when I get the time :)

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

AHK scripting

It's been a while since the last post here and a lot has happened. It might take more than a few posts, but I will try to catch up. My current job has taken a way a big chunk of the time that used to be dedicated to creative tasks, however it allowed me to advance my programming skills and do some interesting things.

I noted in a previous post about what it entails- a lot data validation and entry. The company has allowed me to automate the majority of the processes via scripting. For that I chose Autohotkey- as it's the perfect windows api for macros and its open source.The AHK scripting language looks like Basic mixed with javascript and can be a pain in the neck in the start- but it's pretty cool once you get a hang on it.
Using it, I wrote a gui macro app that does my job's process automatically. Under the custom interface, the app holds a giant collection of macro scripts, web crawlers, logging and automatic data correction functions.
I called it "Sunlotion" - the name is a joke- for it fills in for all the flaws of the scheduling software that the company has been using- we shall call that "Soul Destroyer" in this article.

When I get a job request in an email or a spreadsheet, all I need to do is highlight the text and pop up Sunlotion's custom menu - it gives me the option to parse the text. Via a combination of regular expressions and functions, Sunlotion populates it's own interface's fields with the correct information from the text I fed to it. Who requested the job, who it's for, duration, date, project code, etc, etc

The date gets checked- is it on a weekend, is the date too soon (short notice jobs) , is it this year (believe it or not people make that mistake too) and so on. It gets converted to the correct format automatically- "fri 12 jan"  becomes 12/01/2018 - so as not to trip Soul Destroyer.
The duration also gets converted to the right format automatically- "2 days" becomes "15" hours. 1.5 hours becomes 1.30 hours. Project codes get automagicaly validated via a web crawler macro - when it receives it, Sunlotion  navigates to a website in the background, checks the status of the project code and if valid- proceeds. If not- it creates a reply email about the status of the code and sends it to the requester.
Another crawler macro checks what area the job is for (so it knows whom to email later) by navigating to another website and extracting the data.It detects if its fed a site code or a site name. If its a site name, the web crawler macro will retrieve the site code.

And after all the raw data is automatically organized, cleaned up, analyzed and validated by Sunlotion, I click on a button and it fires a macro that raises the job on Soul Destroyer, writes the email, attaches the right files, the right send to emails, logs the job to a spreadsheet and moves on to the next job. Rinse and repeat.
For some types of job forms I was able to completely automate the process , so my tool would raise a sequence of hundreds of jobs on Soul Destroyer without need of any supervision.

These are just scratching the surface though- there are so many macros, crawlers and functions, that it would take too long to list all.

Of course my managers noticed that this was freeing my time and gave me other tasks to keep busy. I started raising jobs that another department had to raise in the past. I wrote little apps for my department and other departments to save the company time by automating other processes(over 10 apps so far). The company in return gave me a yearly bonus and an innovation award.

There is no raise in sight, I am not technically getting a programmer's wage either, but the experience has helped me tremendously in becoming better at writing my own apps.
Since I can't show or share Sunlotion here because it was written in company time- I made another AHK app in my personal time for fun. It's called Metasnap.
You can check it out here:

I might write a post about in later on.

I have also been working on another app- that I am writing in Gdscript via Godot. Stay tuned- it will be more interesting to present :)

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Job applications - happy villager

I had a call from an agency a couple of months ago. They forwarded my portfolio to a studio in London. The studio was looking for an animator/rigger with experience in Unity3d and mobile games. My previous experience was close to what they were looking for and that got me to the interview stage. They interviewed me via Skype and explained that the final stage would be a test for which I have 4 hours to complete and send.
The test was on the following week. When I got the project file the clock started ticking. I didn't know what to expect prior to getting it. What I got was just body parts in black and white , and a reference image (on the right). The goal was to rig the character and animate a happy emotion that is up to 4 seconds long.
Rigging the character took about an hour. I arranged some elements into their own subfolders. The hierarchy of elements was key to getting the animation polished quicker. For example I put all face controls under a facedir node - that would allow me to turn her head with less keyframes to manage.
The minimalist character design was a good thing in this case - even with the imposed limitations -such as for example the lack of joints in the legs. I worked with what I had.

All and all they never did give me a call. Instead the agency told me that I have passed their test and they really liked my work. However the CEO has decided to hire somebody that they already know from previous projects instead.

Normally I wouldn't share work done for others, but given how I did not get paid in this case, how they didn't give me personal feedback and also that there was no NDA signed, I feel absolutely free to share this here :)

The animation has a drop in frames, because it is captured from Unity with capture software. When running, it is as smooth as butter 60fps. Thus why all I could get out of the whole experience is now the gif file you see above and the unity project.

If you are looking for an animator with rigging experience - who can do the rigging and the entire animation in Unity alone - I can send you this test file to review it yourself.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Using macros and a clipboard manager to automate data entry tasks

I recently starter work at Arqiva. My job involves a lot of manual data entry.
The software they have for that at the moment is really bad at repetitive tasks - which are common in this job.

It forces the user to click through drop down menus, input boxes and pop up dialogs in order to enter the data of a single job that needs raising.  You can't alter the data of multiple jobs at once. The entry boxes have missing mouse scrolling, basic text formatting and even a right click menu. It makes the software look as if it was made in the middle of the 90ies.

Example of such a task is raising a request for an engineer on the system - where I need to file over a 100 job requests for different sites that have the same description and other types of data such as date (hello pop up calendar), type (drop down list menu), codes (hello input boxes),all sepparated by a wonderfully annoying requirement to click on a 'next' button. It's very old school, lacks any design common sense. I am not sure if the guy who made it actually tried using it xD. Anyways...

All the people before me laboriously filled the same boxes a 100 times with the same information - for different job sites. Each job took over 30 repetitive steps by the data entry clerk. So 30 steps multiplied by 100 sites = 3000 steps to raise the 100 jobs.

After doing this for a day - even with some copy and pasting from a notepad, I found it to be error prone, laborious, boring and slow. After repeating the process 50 times, one can forget to paste something or click something wrong.

I had to do something as this started to drive me nuts. I came up with a simple macros + clipboard manager solution.

Since tech support wouldn't let me install any software without waiting for months, I decided to use an open source portable version of whatever I could find. I didn't have much time to look into all the options out there - but what I found did fit the bill!

tiny Task - for recording and playing a macro:
It automatically selects menus, clicks on buttons and enters text for me.

When you combine it with a clipboard manager - it becomes a very powerful automation tool!
One such nice manager is Clipx:

ClipX stores multiple slots of information that can be recalled to be pasted when required - via an appointed keyboard shortcut and selection.

They are both tiny, need not be installed or administrator privileges, and are free/open source.

Thanks to these two, I have successfully created myself a nice little data entry AI that does 85% of all the work for me. It has 95% success rate when set right.

Its not like I just browse facebook as it is doing all the work - I still overlook the operation for any errors - those 5% are important! I also do need to fill in the manual parts of the forms that do not repeat - if such are present.

The end result is an over 30 step process being reduced to two clicks.
So a 100 jobs would take 200 steps, rather than 3000!
Huge improvement if you ask me. And instead of going crazy clicking, now I get to calmly drink my cup of tea while the whole thing is done by the AI.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Texturing PBR materials in 3D Coat and exporting to Unreal 4

3D coat generated an ambient occlusion and a curvature map for each object I painted in it - that way it knew how to paint in crevices that are stored in the imported normal map.
It was excellent in this regard as I found out that it can handle memory quite well when compared to Substance Painter. In 3d Coat I was able to get over 40+ layers on 2x2048 maps of 3 paint objects - with all channels + normal map. In substance painter - it just crashed on the second or third layer I made (preview texture set to a miserable 512).Even though my laptop is 7 years old - 3d coat handled this one quite gracefully.

For the skin I used one of the leather pbr shaders that came with 3dc and heavily altered it to make it look more like human skin.
Of course it is really difficult to fake SSS in real time. Unreal engine - which is the target engine for this character does have a SSS shader, but since the character will not get any closeups and not much of the skin is really revealed- I decided to be cheap again and stick with one material for the entire character. Before texturing the body I made an import test of the head/spray mask texture.

I set the texture maps in unreal in a way where the alpha channel of the diffuse is used to store the roughness map pass. I also wanted to use tha alpha channel of the normal map to store the metalic pass, but I found out that Unreal 4.10 does not allow using the alpha channel of a normal map texture if the file is a png. A few forums noted that it will work if I use targa instead - but targa is a huge file size and I thought i wont be saving a lot that way.

I imported my character with the unreal rig applied to it.
Here is the model - you should be able to preview it in your browser:

For the spray cans in the game I used an rgb map to split it into three areas - cap, sticker and can . The alpha channel of the sticker controls the sticker's mask in this case. That way the programmer on the project - Steve Stavrev can control the color of each instance of the spray and even change it dynamically during run time to create some interesting effect. 
His pose and animation is not my work - it is using one of the unreal project examples. Since my binding pose and the source binding pose are slightly different, the actual animation is a bit screwed up on the target. Unreal 4 supposedly has nice tools to adjust binding poses and when this issue is at hand, but I discovered that as I am writing this (4.10.4) there has been a bug for over an entire year that nobody from epic fixed that stops the users from doing that. I had to blindly set up the bones in blender, but the fingers are still screwed.
The best thing to do here for my portfolio is to actually make the animations myself, but unfortunately the freelance nature of the project dictates that we make do with this.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Some notes on baking Normal maps again

Flipping UV islands is a common way of getting more pixels to cram in detail. What you do is for each symmetrical part of your model, you take the left side and flip it over the right side.

 That doesnt mean that the entire left side should be the same as the right - if you do that your model will of course be a bit bland. So plan in advance which parts you want to have symmetric and which not. You should plan it right from when you start making your high poly model.
In my case, I sculpted the nude in Zbrush completely from scratch, but used marvelous designer to create his outfit:

Making the hoodie was a  gotcha moment.I had to first stitch it in neutral pose over his head and run the simulation to get it to wrap around it naturally, then I puled it down to fall over his jacket during another cloth simulation. He looked good with a hoodie on, but the final design was planned  with a hat on instead.
Marvelous provided some really nice realistic cloth simulation which resulted in a good starting point for wrinkles and detail. Bringing the clothing back to Zbrush - I added detail to it - more wrinkles and a zipper here and there, the shoes and shoe laces. The hat, the hands and the respirator mask are all made in blender - where modelling them made much more sense. For the mask I used modifiers heavily. Wireframe modifier was perfect  for the cage.

Naturally the generated cloth mesh had no symmetry. So then when I started doing retopology in blender - the plan started forming more. For the outfit I will keep the middle part asymmetric, but will reuse the texture space of the sleeves. Same goes for the pants. His face will be completely unwrapped, but I will reuse uv texture space of the neck, the the cap shade and the shoes.

So I did the model accordingly in two stages- first retopo the asymmetric bits, then do the ones that reuse texture space - with a mirror modifier. I had to cut the hi poly model import from zbrush and marvelous designer into body parts and make the planned ones symmetrized for the high poly mesh - where there was no symmetry for the clothing. Thankfully blender has wonderful sculpting and modelling tools that make that part a walk in the park.

 When baking a normal for a target model with flipped islands that overlap their counterparts, you are most probably going to get seams.
If you want to avoid it, but still be able to reuse texture space via flipped uv islands, it is important to do this: Select all islands that overlap other islands, and move them in X + texture.width.

As a side note you need to consider that this UV technique does not work if you need to bake a lightmap on the model - which is usually the case for static background objects.

For the mask normal baking, I arranged the uv islands in a way that it will bake the bars perfectly horizontally and vertically. It is generally a good practice to arrange your islands in a way where you will get less diagonal lines on the bake - try to avoid diagonal straight lines as a whole. Horizontal and Vertical lines have  no anti-aliasing you see - so geometric detail such as this looks much crisper on lower texture sizes. If you look at model rips from old video games - you will see that they utilized this approach quite successfully to get some good looking textures as small as 256 or even less. I was also being cheap again with reusing UV space  with a vertical mirror. Whenever you can, and especially for detailed parts with repeating elements - try to reuse texture space!

In most cases, you will still need to clean up the bake result.
The normal cleanup was done in Krita, as 3D-Coat does not allow cleaning up external normal maps. Their import layer is locked and limited to very few operations.
 It was however quite good at further detailing them during texturing with your PBR materials. Next post will be about that =)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Feature proposal - vector eraser that erases strokes up to intersections

Very often when cleaning an ink drawing, the artist will need to clean up line overshoots. A good example of this is hair, but it applies to many places in a drawing.
In vector software, we tend to favor line overshoots, because that way we know for sure that our shapes will be closed off and ready for the bucket tool.
The first time I see this idea applied in an open source project is in  OpenToonz - the 'Remove Vector Overflow' command. This is where this command is supposed to come in and save the day.

It however hardly works. Very often it does noting at all.In fact almost 80% of the time when you select two overshooting individual lines, nothing happens, or it erases parts of the lines you want to keep.
My suggestion here is to add two new modes to the eraser tool - when you are using it on a vector level. These two modes can already be found in other software such as toonboom, clip paint studio and last but not least - inkscape:

A. Erase up to intersection - This can be found in both Toonboom and clip paint studio. What it does is it erases the lines up to the intersection point - where they intersect with another line. Clip paint studio has it as an eraser tool mode and it works excellently.
Toonboom has two strategies to deal with this. One is the one clip paint uses. But as a second strategy - there is an option in the brush tool - to always create a new node where the stroke you drew overlapped another stroke. From there on it is easy to erase all the nodes exactly to that point and you dont need to move nodes around to get them to overlap. Another strategy with the brush tool is to automatically snap the beginning and end of a line to a closeby node of another line or the line itself (toonboom). Inkscape allows you to continue previously drawn lines - but unfortunately works at the end points of lines and is very limited.

B. Object mode eraser- very often the artist would require to erase entire strokes of a drawing - every stroke is a vector object. Right now in OT you have to go to the select tool, select the strokes and hit delete, then go back to the eraser tool to continue working. In inkscape the eraser tool can also erase entire strokes like this:
The implementation in OT almost never works in practice. It works when you draw a simple square, but when you draw a character and start trying it out - the one in clip paint does the job , while vector overflow in open toonz fails
I wonder how clip paint does it. It's the best one I've seen so far. Strokes there dont create nodes at intersections - so they must be somehow figuring out where the intersecting points are:
Here is my theory
--when the stylus starts a stroke in vector eraser mode:
1. Vector erase stroke collects a list of lines (like inkscape does in example B.) that you touched during the stroke.
--On release the following happens:
2. Instead of deleting the entire lines (which is an option also), it splits them all up at intersections points (cache result)
3. Using the result from step 2 , It marks the parts of the lines that your stroke has touched and deletes them
4. The lines that were split up (in step 2) are connected again
5. All the lines in the list of lines from step one are deleted and in their place are created the lines created by this operation.
To the user it looks like lines were deleted up to the intersection - just like it happens in the gif of example A .
Anyways, if i knew c++ i would have tried to figure out a way to make this. Hopefully a more experienced programmer will be interested.
So in order to implement a vector eraser mode that deletes lines up to intersections, you will first need to implement a mode in which it can collect a list of all the lines that it has touched.
You get two awesome vector erase modes in one!

Inkscape developers are much closer at achieving this tool, as they posses the main elements.
The default eraser tool mode already collects a list of lines that the stroke has touched.
The 'Cut Path' command can split a line where another overlapped it, it however deletes the line that overlapped it - which is something we do not want in this case!

Krita Developers - Are actually currently trying to collect funding via kickstarter to improve the vector tools in it. There is no statement made in the campaign that they are planning on adding such a mode to the vector eraser. It is not a stretch goal either. But in any case, I found out that some of them are quite aware of this tool in Clip Paint Studio. Whether we see it in Krita or not - only time will tell. It currently needs an entire rewrite of the vector system, but for that to happen they need your help:

If you haven't seen krita yet, feel free to give it a try. Downloads to the latest version are available at the kickstarter campaign page.

OpenToonz - The development of opentoonz is active as I write this, we will see if in the future they improve this feature. In any case, I filed it here #287 in their bug tracker.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Opentoonz adventures - mini review

When I heard that the software that ghibli uses is going to be open sourced, I became so hyped about it that I went through all the features that it will bring before even getting the open source version.

I kept stalking internet for more information, kept waiting for the day Dwango will release it on github - looking at what time it is in japan and for footage or livestream of the conference.

Opentoonz did get a release and it was a bumpy one.
On the day it came out, everyone thought that the developer is just dumping the code for someone else to maintain.
Compared to the latest version of toonz harlequin, open toonz turned out to be quite unstable, full of bugs and missing features.
The features were apparently removed by ghibli developers who thought that they get in the way of traditional animators.
Naturally all the features missing were the ones that paperless/cut out/2d rig animators cant do their jobs without. :D

I fell in love with the thing, but became disapointed at first in the same time.
I wanted it to get better, so every bug found -I reported at the bug tracker. Almost 30 reports there as I write this are mine:

I had a couple of false ones - which I closed myself. almost all of them - regressions created by alterations made to toonz harlequin.

And in the end - only one minor bug that both harlequin and opentoonz share:

The japanese developer (mainly Shun Iwasawa) has fixed a lot of them and brought back most of the removed ones. He seems to be the most active contributor and has patiently explained the reasoning for the changes in the software here:

But there are still a couple of very serious ones.
Namely, it is no longer possible to edit sub x-sheets in place.The curves editor's interface has been made a pain in the ass to use.

The default layouts are broken - toolbar missing, nonsensical room layouts hiding vital editors - if you are a paperless animator. So If you do give OT a try, make sure to download these premade layout files I made:
You might still need to add some menus back.

Development hasnt been active for a while now. I hope that devs are taking a vacation and not just abandoning it.  I really like the tool, I think it has a long way to go to be on par with toonboom - but it is already the most advanced open source traditional animation package out there.

It puts both krita and synfig in the dust. Not to mention pencil2d.

I might continue my review of the tools once they get on par with harlequin. My biggest hope is that OT continues to grow and even become something more than harlequin. Right now it is still something less. But things are changing.