All posts by Mitch Mitchell

I'm an independent consultant in many fields, so I have a lot to share.

Interview – Mark Dyson, Spinland Studios

Ask me why I love Twitter so much. I met Mark Dyson of Spinland Studios on Twitter (I keep wondering if I met him at a local conference; oh well…) and we started talking a little bit about technology, got around to blogging (I picked on him for not writing enough lol), then started talking about what he does. I thought it would make a fascinating interview because I don’t know anyone else who does all that he does (though our friend John Garrett does do some 3D images, along with his other artwork. Mark’s specialty is 3D computer animation, and he’ll tell you more about it in the interview below:

1. Tell us something about yourself.

I enlisted in the USAF at 17, earned a commission partway through my tenure and retired as an officer after 23 years. I hold a graduate degree in Computer Science. I’m married to a beautiful Utica lady and love living in the Mohawk Valley. Our three children are all twenty somethings living on their own, but we do serve as staff to four cats who are all gifted with way too much personality.

2. What drew you into 3D animation?

As a child I spent a lot of time drawing and, by high school, was sketching posters of rock stars for friends. When the “computer age” hit I was mostly drawn to the potential for doing digital graphics; as an undergraduate student in the 1980s I managed to work in an elective class on the subject. In graduate school I added another such class and this time, in addition to math and theory, it included creating actual 3D content on a Silicone Graphics machine. I was hooked. In the ensuing years I worked my way through a variety of 3D creation tools as the state of the art progressed and, by the time I was ready to retire from the military, I had a side job creating and animating add-on aircraft for the Microsoft Flight Simulator games. I love being able to express myself creatively, and crafting compelling animations is an exciting medium for doing so.

3. How do you come up with ideas for your creations? Are they always yours or do you get guidance from your clients?

For work that I do for pure pleasure, of course the ideas are generally my own. I’m often inspired by something I’ve read or seen but sometimes I just get a fun idea and it sparks the motivation to act on it. For content I create for clients, it’s a collaborative process from start to finish. My job is to realize my client’s vision, not my own, but frequently they don’t know exactly what they’re looking for so we need to work together to nail that down.

4. To me, the images you have on your website look like video game stuff; is that a bulk of what you do?

In my early years I was focused mainly on flight simulator games, and that’s reflected in my gallery of past work. To be sure, the gaming industry is a prime employer of 3D artists but these days I’m not as interested in that area. My primary focus is on telling a story, whether it be for advertising, something instructional, or just because.

5. I’m a total novice to this type of thing; how long does it take to create some of your work, both image and video?

Everything in this sort of work is time- and labor-intensive, to be sure. A huge time-saver is being able to leverage models from your existing library, and every 3D artist I know spends time amassing and/or building a broad collection of stuff that might be useful down the road.

For fresh 3D content, depending on the complexity of the build a model might take a day, or a week or more to create. Beyond just assembling the shapes, there’s mapping (defining what parts of a texture image applies to what parts of the model), rigging (adding controls so the model can be articulated and animated), and creating the textures that cover the model according to the mapping. In a large animation studio you’ll generally have specialists for each step of the process; in my case I do it all myself.

Once you have the characters for your animation, the sequences themselves have to be set up, the scenes lit properly, and then the animation frames rendered. Again, the time varies widely depending on the complexity of the shoot. A straightforward flying logo animation might only take a day or two to light and animate, but a complicated scene with several characters lasting several seconds might take a week or more to get right.

The final time sink is actually rendering the sequences–this often can represent well over half the total project time. Most animators use “render farms” of varying sizes to spread the frames across multiple computing cores to speed things up, but that’s costly to set up and maintain. My own “farm” represents over half of my capital investment and I’m by no means done adding to it. When estimating time consider that a typical animation is around 30 frames per second, and each frame can take anywhere from a few seconds to over two hours to render depending on the lighting effects and complexity.

6. You told me you have your own servers; do you recommend that because of the type of work you do or was that something you just felt you had to have?

I prefer to have complete control over my assets, and my operation is small enough that’s not an unreasonable goal. There are services out there that provide rendering assets “in the cloud” that you can rent ad hoc, but to date I’ve not been involved in a project so large that my own little “farm” can’t handle it.

7. What kinds of recommendations do you make to potential clients looking for the type of thing you do?

Number one is to think of this as an investment that will provide a return, not as an expense. My rates are a small fraction of what the larger houses charge but, even so, I sometimes see “sticker shock” after providing a quote to a potential client. I recommend comparing prices with what you’d pay for a large newspaper ad campaign, or a radio spot or billboard ad, and then decide whether the advantages of having an animated ad that you own and can use over and over provide value added.

8. What kinds of recommendations would you make to people who might look to do what you do, since many of them are probably younger than you?

Get good instruction, take advantage of student prices on software and hardware, and practice. Then practice some more. Just like sketching, painting, and sculpting, this is an art form and you need more than aptitude to master it to any degree. Put in the time, and find out for yourself whether you truly love doing this work enough to treat the long hours it’ll demand of you as a pleasure rather than as a burden.

9. What kind of software/hardware do you use to create what you do?

My primary machine is a 17″ MacBook Pro connected to a 27″ Apple Cinema Display. There are more powerful Macs available but I like the flexibility of being able to pack up and take my work with me. I use a couple of different mouse controllers plus a Wacom digitizing tablet. My “render farm” is comprised of Mac Mini Servers with four CPU cores each.

My primary modeling/animation application is Lightwave, but I’m also in the process of learning to use Maya and have done a few pieces recently with that. For texturing work I use Photoshop Extended, and for post-processing work and final video composing I use After Effects and Premiere Pro.

10. Okay, your time to shine; give your best marketing pitch!

Why settle for a 2D solution in a 3D world? A common phrase in marketing is, “Don’t tell them–show them!” With digital animation together we can create literally anything you can imagine, and bring it to life so you can show your customers. With me you can deal locally, keep your marketing dollars in our community, and spend a small fraction of what you’d pay elsewhere.
 

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Take Control Of Your Blog Web Space

I have never made it a secret that I’m not a big fan of the free blog sites like Blogger and WordPress.com. My main gripe has been how comments are handled; less freedom for those of us who want to comment on those platforms, which I really hate. WordPress.com fools you into thinking you have freedom, but if you ever want to see a response to your comment you either have to subscribe to the blog (each one individually, not to wordpress.com one time) or keep visiting the post to see if someone responded to you or not.


via Flickr

There’s also another reason I’ve never been a fan of sites like that. At a moment’s notice they can decide to censor you, freeze or delete your blog, and there you are, lost, without any real access to your content. I put it that way because you can always get your content by going to a search engine and looking up each individual post (I had to do that back in 2006 for one of my blogs, which I lost for a different reason, so I know it can be done).

Often you won’t know what it is you did that made them take away your blog or censor it. In this particular instance, Google is now telling people up front that for certain countries they will censor your blog if those countries have laws that restrict what people are allowed to say. This follows two previous changes, those being one, to start censoring search results in countries that have censorship laws, and two, the new Google Search+ Your World thing.

Now, there’s nothing you can do about the one in the middle, and the last one is interesting as to whether most people will fight it or not, but that first one is intriguing. Think of it this way; if you’re in a country that restricts freedom of speech and you have a blog in that country, do you really think you’re going to keep your blog if the powers that be decide you’re to be censored? If you’re outside that country and writing bad things about that country continually, do you really believe Google (oh yeah, Google owns Blogpost, or Blogger, whichever you prefer) won’t eventually just shut down that blog for being a nuisance?

That’s always been a problem with free blogs, although it’s not just restricted to them. Many of these blog promotion services that I also don’t trust all that much get people to help them out by saying that sharing their content through those sites helps you more than it helps them, but in a moment’s notice they can drop you like a bad habit and not ever tell you why. That recently happened to David Leonhardt, a commenter on this blog, and one of the reasons I never signed up with Digg was because I remembered the story of them dropping a very popular blogger, who had promoted them a lot, for whatever reason without giving him at least a warning that maybe something else he was doing violated their terms of service.

This is why I try to promote the concept that people pay the little bit of money and get their own blog space. Think about it; for possibly less than $50 a year (for hosting) you can add as many blogs and websites as you probably want (unless you’re a power creator; then it’ll cost you a little bit more) with little restriction, because of course there’s going to be some restriction. With shared hosting there might be issues of bandwidth (but if that happens it means you have so many visitors that if you haven’t figured out monetization at that point you need to go to internet school) and certain types of scripts (no hosting company wants someone popping malware and scripts within their servers, like it seems these people are doing. But censor what you have to say… none of them do, because online, if you pay for it, you can say it, no matter if it’s stupid or brilliant.

Just something to think about on a Monday morning in February.
 

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46 Ways To Reach Your Own Super Bowl

Can there be anyone on the planet that doesn’t know what the Super Bowl is? Whether you watch it or not, more than a billion people will be watching this bad boy today in at least 65 countries around the world. It’s a monster whether you have a favored horse in the race or not.

This year pits two teams together that got to this game in different ways. One team, the New England Patriots, were expected to be here. They’ve shown a consistent pattern of success over the years by following the same formula, even when they change players. The other team, the New York Giants, got here through sheer determination, as they were literally at the point where if they lost one more game their season was done, and they’ve run off an impressive string of unexpected wins.

What this proves is that there’s no one way to attain success, yet there are things that everyone should think about in some fashion so that they can achieve success in their lives. Yes, this is one of those motivational posts of mine and to coincide with Super Bowl XLVI, or 46, I’ve come up with 46 ways that we all can reach our own pinnacle of success, our own Super Bowl. And think of it this way; whether you win it or not, do you think that if you finished close to your ultimate dreams that you won’t have succeeded in life? As a friend of mine once pointed out, success sometimes happens by only a nose; second place pays very well.

These are in no particular order except the first and last one; enjoy the day!

  1. Believe in yourself
  2. Believe in a purpose
  3. Have a dream to pursue
  4. Dream big
  5. Share your dream with your best friends
  6. If they don’t like your dream, find new friends that will
  7. Learn everything you can about your dream
  8. Never be afraid to take chances on things you want
  9. Research to make more informed decisions
  10. Think positively about things you want to do
  11. Don’t be reckless but don’t fear change
  12. Find mentors you can follow, whether they know it or not
  13. Find like minded people who also have a vision, whether it’s the same as yours or not
  14. Motivation is always a good thing to have
  15. It’s never a bad thing to have to get motivated again; we have to eat and bathe often as well
  16. There will be setbacks; realize it, and let them roll off your back
  17. Nobody is perfect; learn from your mistakes
  18. If you follow what someone else did word for word it might not always work for you, so only use it as a guide
  19. Make plans to attain your ultimate dreams
  20. Set goals both reachable and unattainable so you can show successes while always striving for more
  21. Don’t do things you know aren’t right for you even if everyone else is doing it
  22. If you need help, ask for it
  23. Don’t lie to yourself; you won’t respect yourself for it in the morning
  24. If you need time to reflect on things, take it; just don’t go away too long
  25. Don’t do things because they’re popular; do them because they’re fun
  26. Don’t forget to take care of yourself while you’re reaching for the stars
  27. Work on reaching your goals and you’ll find that your success will attract others
  28. Don’t always look for the next big thing; it will distract you and could harm you
  29. Don’t trust or distrust others without reason; no one gets successful on their own
  30. Just because you have plans and goals doesn’t mean you can’t alter them on the fly
  31. Always take time to help someone along the way if they ask for it; you won’t believe the dividends it will pay later
  32. Hold yourself accountable for working towards your dreams
  33. If you need one, a vision board of things you want when you become successful might help
  34. Always have a priority list of what’s most important in your life
  35. Don’t limit what you want in life; doing that limits how hard you’ll work for it
  36. The biggest, strongest, smartest, richest or bravest aren’t always the ones who’ll succeed before you
  37. Loyalty, honesty and trustworthiness will bring you more joy and success than you can imagine
  38. Imagination is your friend; no one ever created something special without it
  39. Always think of the greater good while you’re reaching for your dreams
  40. Wealth is always attainable; make sure you have your internal infrastructure ready to handle it
  41. Take in the beauty around you; if you don’t think you have any, then go find some
  42. Love your family; success means nothing without someone to share it with
  43. Finish things; many people have great ideas that they never complete
  44. Open up to others but don’t ever tell them things they might use against you later on
  45. Support the dreams of others; give advice when you can if they’ll accept it
  46. Nobody is better than you; are you feeling that now?

 

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Mitch Mitchell

Gera Agency Scam

I don’t often “out” scams in the way I’m going to out this one but I think it’s important to do, and I’ve also seen them written about in other places so mine isn’t the first. But it’s not everywhere and I think people need to see this and hopefully learn, if nothing else, to trust their instincts.

Here’s the first email I received:

Hi,

We are looking for new advertisement platforms and we are interested in your sitewww.imjustsharing.com. Is it possible to place banner on your site on a fee basis?

Best regards,
Valentin Lopez

The response I sent told him what my advertising policy was on this site; I’d rather not put it out here, but knowing this is my most popular site, let alone blog, you can bet it’s not necessarily low. The responsoe I got after that was this one:

Hello,

Thanks for reply to our proposal!

I represent Gera Agency. At the moment we are preparing an advertising campaign for Lacoste Company (it is a French company producing clothes, footwear, perfumery etc.) We already have designed banners for the campaign, they are the following sizes: 160×600, 240×400, 300×250, 336×280, 468×60, 728×90. What can be your price for one banner (banner should appear at ALL pages of your site) of abovementioned sizes (please specify the place for the banner รขโ‚ฌโ€œ top, bottom, left, right)? Please mention a normal link for banner, without javascript code and set prices in US dollars per month.

Best regards,
Valentin Lopez.
site:www.geraagency.com
e-mail:vlopez@geraagency.com
phone: + (0)9 78 62 85 38

Now, I started having the Spidey senses once I received this, though I wasn’t sure why. In my response about advertising here, I indicated the type of banner advertising I’d allow on this site. What’s above seemed to ignore what I’d already written. Also, see what the products are? I wondered why this blog would be considered for advertising those types of products, although my feeling was if someone wanted to pay the kind of money I was asking for and it wasn’t something abhorrent why not accept it. I was also thrown off with the comment about javascript code; I have advertising already on one of my other sites and this was a first for me. I had no idea what this guy could be talking about.

My response, with prices omitted, was thus:

Greetings,

The only two banner sizes I’d allow on the site would be the 240×400 and the 300×250; all the others would throw off the look drastically. I’d charge $XXX a month for that or a flat fee of $XXX for the year. It would be a normal link as I don’t even know how to create javascript.

Just to add this, I have another site that might interest you, and the advertising rates are lower. Take a look at this site: http://www.servicesandstuff.com. There are multiple pages on this site and some of them might suit your clients product. Even though the advertising rates are lower, the rate for advertising is per page. However, this site would allow for the banner ad sizes 468×60 and 728×90 in addition to the other two I allow on I’m Just Sharing. The large skyscraper ad wouldn’t work on that site, and the 336×80 banner ad would have to be altered to fit, so that probably wouldn’t look good either.

This was his reply to that:

We like your price.
To pass to the banner control system follow the link http://webmaster.geraagency.com
To enter use the following data:

login: www.imjustsharing.com
password: XXXXXX (changed this)

You should install and activate the plugin in order to display advertisement. Before making payment, advertiser must approve location of the banner. The banner will be shown on your site when you add special code to your web- address (for example: http://www.imjustsharing.com/?adv_test=1). It means, that visitors will see the banner only if it is approved and payment made.

To get installation instruction for your site type pass to: http://docs.geraagency.com/wp_install
To activate your site you have to enter the code: XXX-XXX-XXX (changed this)

What way of payment is suitable for you?

Best regards,
Valentin Lopez.
site: www.geraagency.com
e-mail: vlopez@geraagency.com
phone: + (0)9 78 62 85 38

Whoa! Now the Spidey senses were kicking me in the behind! I’d really never heard of anything like this, and it didn’t make sense. Notice the part I highlighted in his response; create a redirect of a banner from my site? Was he serious? Plugin? I don’t think so.

It was at this point I finally decided some research was in order; I probably should have started with this. I looked up the site and it’s totally in French. Then I looked up Lacoste Company; even if I’ve never heard of them this is a pretty big site, and a major designer. Why would they want to advertise on my blog since I’ve never talked about fashion (doesn’t mean I won’t lol)?

Then it was time to research Gera Agency, and that’s where the red flags were confirmed. There was this link from a company in Malaysia that asked the same questions I was asking. There was this link from a site called Moonpixel where the guy posted the same exact letter as mine, only it looks like he actually tried to load whatever the site was offering. Finally there was this post on another blog called vinitneo with the same exact letter posted again. There are lots of others, but you get the point by now.

Folks, if anyone ever wants to advertise on your blog and they’re legitimate they’ll do one of two things. One, they’ll send you a banner file with the link they’d like you to use, or two, they’ll just send you the link and have you put it somewhere most probably in a specific blog post. Unless it’s an affiliate company, never, and I mean NEVER, download code from any site and allow it to add a redirect. You will regret it and might not get your site back.

Spidey senses to the rescue again! ๐Ÿ™‚
 

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Black Web Friday – 2/3/12

Welcome to the third edition of Black Web Friday, and to me it’s a special treat because it’s the first one of the year during Black History Month. I haven’t decided if I’m writing a special post here for the month yet, as I have one coming on my business blog later today, but I figure I’m doing my part this year in helping to highlight black social media throughout the country.

Black Web Friday

Actually, one of the debates I’ve been having with myself is whether I only want to stick to North America, which includes Canada, or whether I should think about including black people from other countries as well. While a black blogger in England and Australia might be going through the same type of thing that happens in the United States, are they removed enough from our issues so that it becomes someone else’s problem? What about those in Africa who are actually the majority in their country, but outside might not get the press? I just don’t know yet because in other countries I’m not sure they consider themselves as “black” per se; I know that many Africans that come to the states don’t see themselves as akin to black Americans all that often. Stupid TV and movies have made us look pretty bad even to them.

Well, I figure we’ll see as I go along how it goes. For now, let’s get going.

The first site I’m highlighting is called Racing Toward Diversity, and is the brainchild of Fields Jackson, who also made my list of 21 black social media influencers. His site highlights diversity initiatives of companies and businesses across the United States for all disenfranchised groups, so it’s just just about black people. There are multiple contributors on the site that write on the blog, white papers and case studies. There’s a jobs board and a consistent list of the top 25 most diverse companies in the country. Just so you know, the blog has a traditional commenting section, but they do tell you that it’s moderated. Diversity; it’s a good thing y’all.

The next site I’m highlighting is Lisa Irby’s 2 Create A Website, which also has blog that I thoroughly enjoy. She’s an entrepreneur who built up her site well before she decided to add a blog, and by the title you know she creates websites. Her knowledge is on par with anyone you can think of and her website is highly ranked, so I expect she’s killing it. Lisa was also featured as one of the 21 folks. On her site she offers lots of free advice, including how to get things set up for a website, self hosted blog, and is a proponent of Site Build It. She also has another eponymously named site (since Sire mentioned it, “eponymous” means it’s named after you) where she lists other websites she owns.

The last person I’m highlighting today is named Stanford Smith, who has a blog/website called Pushing Social, where he talks about all things social media and blogging, kind of like me. I keep wondering why in most places he has a picture that makes him look tough because I’ve seen his smiling picture and I think it’s a good thing. As a matter of fact, if you look at this post of his on getting readers to stay on your blog, which I liked a lot, you’ll see him smiling; tell me I’m wrong. ๐Ÿ™‚ Anyway, he’s not only a blogger but is VP of marketing at a digital media company, which proves he knows what he’s talking about, and if this guy isn’t someone who should be known by more people, I don’t know who should be. Stanford was on my 20 black social media influencers list.

We’re done for now. Check them out, and fast!
 

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