We went out and saw Star Wars. Don’t worry, if you are, statistically, one of the 6 people on the planet who hasn't seen the new Star Wars movie, I won’t be spoiling any plot details. After rolling it around my head for a few days, I do have one observation.
The prequel Star Wars films are almost universally hated, unfairly so in my opinion. They aren’t great movies, and they have problems, but they are entertaining. Entertaining is several rungs up the ladder from interesting. Interesting is about as good as most works of art ever achieve. A movie that is entertaining occupies pretty rarified air.
I have the art books from the prequel trilogy, and I have devoured them many many times. The volume and quality of artistic design, the consideration put into every detail of every set and every character, is humbling. It’s beautiful in a way that few works of art can hope to be. Not just visually pleasing, but thoughtful. The world created by the Star Wars prequel trilogy is perhaps only rivaled by The Lord of the Rings.
There was something missing from the prequels that exists in the original trilogy. I think it is what makes those original movies so much more satisfying. Mystery. I’m not talking about the whodunit style of mystery. I’m talking about movements in darkened corners and monsters under the bed mystery. Words acted but unspoken and motives unexplained mystery.
Lord of the Rings is practically woven of the stuff. Even given the dense tomes written about every aspect of middle earth, there remain plenty of shadowy unexplored corners of that world.
If you are like me, and you love Star Wars, you will be happy to know that mystery has been brought back to that world. The prequel movies were a gorgeous world and mythic story explained. This new movie is a story told. There is a difference between action, and adventure. If you were to wander into any one of the dark corners of this story, it’s hard to say what danger you might find yourself in. That is mystery, that is adventure, and it is much more satisfying for an audience that they wonder about the dark corners unexplored.
There will be talk about the acting, the pacing, the dialogue, the plot all being superior to the previous three Star Wars films. These things are almost unimportant. The real difference, the real single ingredient that makes this movie better than the prequels, is mystery.
speculation time. About 17 years ago a friend and I talked about a conceptual camera that would capture depth as well as light through a system similar to infrared range finders on automatic cameras. I thought that such a thing would change the way visual effects would be created. As it turned out, it made a clunky input device for your xbox 360 so that you could wave your hands at a video game and have it completely fail to react to your movements. A variation on this type of system is, and has been for some time, used in motion and performance capture studios. The systems are massively expensive and not something that will come to the layman's market any time soon.
In 2013 I said on twitter “I think the primary thing slowing the advancement of the camera, is the lens. Feel free to use that as a metaphor.” At the time I had been thinking about a type of light sensor that would resemble a ball on a stick. It would capture light from all directions and framing, focus, even subtle positioning, would all be post processes.
Before anyone starts to imagine that I think I am particularly clever, countless motion capture systems, the microsoft kinect, and the Lytro immerge camera all came out as real physical products. I only ruminate over the concepts that these people make real. If I were actually clever, I would probably have built one or two of these things.
Well here is the latest speculation. At some point in the not too distant future, maybe within the next 5 to 10 years, a “movie” will come out that is entirely rendered on the fly. The data for this dramatic presentation won’t be stored in a series of images, it will be 3 dimensional models and captured texture data. It will be fed into a rendering system, not unlike a game engine, and no specific camera angles will be selected by a director. A collection of both new and old techniques will be required to present the story in a way that an audience can follow. The old techniques will come from theatre, specifically theatre presented in the round, where actor movement and blocking are vital to telling a story. The new techniques are currently best understood by game creators. Specifically first person game creators. Drawing an audience to watch what you feel is dramatically important, when they can go anywhere and look at anything will be the cinematography of these new experiences.
I don’t think these experiences will supplant movies and theatre, but they will exist alongside them. Considering the best ways to use such a medium will be important. Maybe this is the one time I might be qualified to take advantage of one of my speculations.
This is my 3D printer. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
I built this unit from a kit. You can buy kits like this online pretty cheaply now, but I think you should know what you are in for here. If you buy one of these units, the first thing you will have to do is assemble it. It’s not very difficult to do, but the instructions aren’t great and it can get a bit fiddly in spots. Still with me? I can imagine not wanting to build a 3D printer, but getting one running well is way more involved. In that respect, building from a kit or buying a machine that is pre-built would be no different. Figuring out how it works best and accounting for all the machines unique quirks and variables takes time, patience, and a certain amount of scientific rigor. Diagnosing problems and then finding solutions for them just so happens to make my particular brain very happy. I can understand that this might not be the case for everyone.
Here is a quick example of what I have been dealing with.
My 3D printer has an issue with usb communication. I can see everything that the machine is doing echoed back on my computer, but I can’t send any commands to the board. Running programs off of the sd card still works properly, so if I want to send one small Gcode command or do something simple, like find out what the steps per millimeter is on the Y axis, I have to write a program, unmount the sd card from the machine, remove the sd card, put the sd card in a full size adapter, stick the adapter into my computer, copy the program over, remove the card, put it back into the printer, mount the card so that the printer can see it, and then run the program. The printer will echo back any info to the pc so I can read it. If I want to change the setting, I need to write a program to do that and repeat the whole process. It’s tedious, but it works.
After trying just about everything, I think that this droid has a bad motivator. The mainboard is a little bit broken. Or a little bit bad. Maybe it was always bad. I’ve tested it on a windows and a linux computer with similar results. It’s pretty safe to say that the problem is with the hardware.
A more general problem that would be encountered in any 3D printer, even the several thousand dollar “user friendly” versions, is adjusting the optimal print settings. I spent several years operating CNC router machines. Giant, heavy, room filling jobbers that run tolerances of a few thousandths of an inch over 8 feet. By comparison, this 3D printer is spongy. If you are within half a millimeter that’s about the best you can hope for. To a machinist this would be considered sloppy. Like pushing around a pool of molten mush, not manufacturing. I may have a slightly different mindset to some of the people that write about precision tuning these printers. Getting the machine to run ‘good enough’ is actually fairly easy.
That said, there are a lot of tests you need to do to get the temperature, movement speed, and build strategy zeroed in. If you want the machine to print consistently you need to control the entire operation. This is something I’m still working on, but the prints are getting better.
So there you go. If you don’t like troubleshooting, don’t buy a 3D printer, even one of the very expensive ones.
This is the bin of failed prints and support plastic. I expect to fill this thing before I get a perfect print.