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Tech Tips for Practicing Laserists

Animator Blends Old And New
Interview with Carl Graves of Laser Force
By David Lytle

“Smooth as butter” is how Laser Force President Chris Stuart describes the work of his animation director, Carl Graves. The company entered the ILDA Awards competition for the first time this year and took a total of six awards in four categories, including ISP Cel Animation and both the ISP and non-ISP Graphic Module categories.

The company’s pieces incorporate traditional hand-drawn frames, plus computer-generated animations, plus a third style that blends together the best of both worlds. This fall, Laser Force will begin releasing a series of compact discs chock-full of their trademark animations. The discs will also include “Module Makers” designed to help laserists easily generate customized animations from the stock frames. Laser Force plans to release one new themed disc each quarter, with the first disc focusing on fire effects. The Laserist recently talked to Graves about his special style of animation. To see examples of the animation and learn more about the Module Makers CD series, visit the company’s Web site at: www.laserforce.net


Laserist: Tell me about what you call “computer-enhanced animation.” How is that different from the way animators usually work?
Graves: Traditionally, laser animation has been very heavy on the digitizing side. Take the example of 24 frames for one second of film or laser output. In the past, I would draw those 24 frames by hand, then hand them over to a digitizer and then possibly someone else to colorize those frames. With the approach I have now, I may only need to animate 6 of those 24 drawings, and maybe only digitize one or two of those drawings and then let the computer do the math between the motions.

Laserist: How is that different than just giving the computer a start position and an end position and then letting the computer do the in-between animation frames?
Graves: Animation requires a lot of fine touches to be appealing. If I give the computer a start point and an end point it will give me a flat move from A to B. But I may change an eyebrow or move a lip or bend a finger to give the animation that extra bit of realism, that extra bit of action and ultimately appeal. You cannot get that with straight computer animation. With computer-enhanced animation, you create key frames and digitize those keys and then let the computer blend those two key frames for you.

Laserist: I’ve seen your work and it seems amazing that you can get such fluid, lifelike motion by only drawing a handful of key frames. How is that possible?
Graves: It’s all in the pre-production. As any animator does, you examine the movement from A to B, every part, every detail—you figure the motion, the path, the flow and pretty much calculate it. But instead of drawing every frame of it you can create the same kind of appeal and flow within a computer enhanced model.

Laserist: How much time does this save?
Graves: You save a considerable amount in the digitizing and colorizing end. If you can imagine 24 frames dwindled down to maybe 2, that is a great cut and you might be able to eliminate colorizing all those frames as well. But, because it is so reliant on pre-production, it doesn’t necessarily save a lot on the animator’s time. You are still plotting, still drawing and you will do reference keys and rough drawings.

Laserist: What about the tools you use? I understand you mix and match between hand-drawn animation, computer enhanced animation, and full-on digital animation all within the same show.
Graves: It is a balance between all the tools. If I am doing something that is very cartoony—something that is slapstick—I might want to go for more of a traditional look and not even use computer enhanced animation because I can’t capture the exaggerated look I want. Exaggerated motion doesn’t necessarily need to be as smooth as butter, so you use a more traditional style of art work. If you want mathematically correct perspective images you will go with a platform like 3D Studio Max (a conventional computer graphics animation program). If you want to kind of juggle in between, I think that type of animation is perfect for computer enhanced animation. It is just a matter of applying the right tool for the right job.

Laserist: I understand that some of these modules incorporate several styles.
Graves: Yes, it depends on the project. Various scenes might require one tool versus another. You may do 80% of your show with traditional hand-drawn animation, 15% with computer-enhanced animation and maybe 5% with LCMax [a Pangolin plug-in that renders 3D Studio Max output in laser light].

Laserist: I understand Laser Force is working on a series of animations and graphics that will be available for sale. Tellus about the additional tools these CDs will include to help people expand on the images.
Graves: Well, let’s say you are looking at a new or intermediate Pangolin user who generally will purchase graphics from another company and probably never use a lot of the tools that could possibly save them time or money. What I hope to do with Module Maker is not only offer great frames, but also include tips for Pangolin Showtime effects along with tutorials that help you get better use out of the equipment you have. It’s a whole suite of show-building materials that helps minimize production time.

Laserist: Can you give me a couple of examples of the effects in Showtime they might use?
Graves:For example, let’s say you want to create a star field moving through space. That is a very difficult thing to do by hand. You could do it on the computer and make that happen, but you might want some variations. You might want to go into a warp or you might want to pull out of a warp or slow it down or even change angles. Showtime effects can help do that without creating separate animations. You can change perspective, change scale, change position and add certain accelerations and decelerations within Showtime to achieve a different look. And most of these things we will show you how to do on the disk

Laserist: You aren’t afraid of giving away trade secrets, are you?
Graves: This is a service. It is something that we wish to share because of our passion for it, for the quality level that we wish to achieve. And it keeps us doing something we love and we have fun doing it, so I don’t think we are giving away too many trade secrets. Besides, when you boil it all down, it’s creativity and imagination that are most important.

Laserist: Let’s wind up here on the big picture. A lot of people look at lasers and they see them as a poor stepchild to traditional cel animation found in film and video. Critics don’t see laser displays on par with other forms of animation. How do you feel about that?
Graves: When I first started in the industry, I did share that opinion. I started in the traditional fields of animation, so doing lasers was really kind of an awkward thing. But the more I learned and the more I saw, I began to realize how it [laser display] really does the same things as traditional animation. You are not going to get the mega budgets for it, but you still get a lot of the same audience appeal. You can reach out and touch people in a variety of venues with lasers. It is more of a—I don’t know what the word is I am looking for— it’s a unique connection with the audience. I don’t think it pales in any way to other forms of animation. You are still communicating and you are still entertaining.

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Memorial Weekend

Dates:  May 29-31, 2010

Location:  Memorial Lawn

Stone Mountain park honors our troops and their families, in a three-day celebration of American spirit at Atlanta’s largest Memorial Day Weekend celebration.

Enjoy the park with an all-attractions Adventure Pass which will provide entry to all Stone Mountain Park attractions including Sky Hike, one of the nation’s largest adventure courses set high in the tree tops. Get your heart racing in a thrilling Journey to the Center of the Earth 4D Adventure located in Crossroads®. For an unprecedented view of the Atlanta Skyline, hop aboard the Summit Skyride. And of course, your family is sure to enjoy the Scenic Railroad, Mini-Golf, the Great Barn and more! Ask about adding a Ride the Ducks™ tour to your Adventure Pass for only $8 (plus tax).

Plus, join Stone Mountain Park as we salute our troops during the Lasershow Spectacular with a special fireworks finale. Marvel as the skies above light up in a specially choreographed musical tribute honoring the brave men and women who protect our country. The special fireworks display can be seen Saturday, Sunday and Monday of Memorial Weekend after the regular Lasershow Spectacular.

Save even more for your family members when you pre-purchase your tickets at the following bases:

Dobbins Air Reserve Base – Marietta, GA 
Fort McPherson – Atlanta, GA 
Fort Rucker ITT – Dale County, AL  
Kings Bay MWR ITT- Kings Bay, GA  
MCCS MWR ITT – Albany, GA
Robins Air Force Base – Warner Robins, GA 
Maxwell Air Force Base – Montgomery, AL 
Naval Supply Corps School – Athens, GA
NAS Jacksonville – Jacksonville, FL 
Mayport Naval Station – Duval County/Mayport, FL
Omega World Travel (Fort Benning) – Columbus, GA

Be sure to take advantage of this free admission special offer for active duty military & veterans along with special savings for their families.

In addition, military ID holders will also receive 20% off most food, beverage and merchandise items each day during Memorial Weekend. Restricions apply to glow vendors, existing deals/coupons and sundries. Simply present your military ID at the register to receive your discount.

Not a member of the military, but still looking for a value? Head to your neighborhood Kroger for best ticket pricing on Adventure Passes and Mountain Memberships.

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Lasershow Spectacular

The digitally remastered Lasershow Spectacular presents “Our Music Is Georgia Music,” highlighting the diversity of Georgia’s musical landscape during a special tribute to many of the artists featured in our Georgia Music Hall of Fame exhibit located at Memorial Hall Museum. With displays of laser lights, graphics, characters and fireworks, the Lasershow Spectacular is an Atlanta attraction that is not to be missed.

Heroes and sports medleys plus a patriotic finale including choreographed state-of-the-art graphics are also inlcuded. You’ll also hear some of your favorites like “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” “An American Trilogy” and “Celestial Soda Pop”.

Relax on the lawn as Stone Mountain is transformed into a natural amphitheater.  The Stone Mountain Park signature event combines colorful lasers, surround sound and special effects into a 40 minute light show, precisely choreographed to music.

Don’t miss the Flame Cannon effect and the Laser Canopy that creates a ceiling of light right over your head. The grand fireworks finale makes your evening complete. The Lasershow is free with your $10.00 vehicle entrance to Stone Mountain Park.*

Everything you need to enjoy the Lasershow is right near the Laser lawn at the all-new Marketplace. From fresh food including deli sandwiches, salads and fruit as well as heartier fare, Marketplace is the perfect stop along your way to a fun-filled evening with friends and family. Blankets are also available for purchase at Marketplace if you’d like to enjoy your food while watching the Lasershow.

Stone Mountain Park is in the process of restoring the Laser Lawn to make it easier and more enjoyable for guests to view the historical mountain and its carving. Please note that during this restoration and renovation period, only the lower lawn section will be available during the Lasershow. Parking for the Lasershow is available in the Crossroads, Triangle and Yellow Daisy lots.

Click HERE to view the Lasershow schedule.

Source : Stone Mountain Park Festivals & Events

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Robot With Laser to Zap Weeds Automatically in Chemical Free Control of Pesky Plants

No more chemicals for fighting weeds in professional gardening! A fully automated unit drives over a field, a camera recognizes weeds sprouting up and a laser beam takes care of the rest. This science-fiction scenario is actually being researched at the Zentrum Hannover eV (LZH) and the Institute for Biological Production Systems (IBPS) at the Leibniz University Hannover.
Working sketch of the laboratory set-up for weed control using the laser. Image processing plants recognizes which plants are good and which are weeds, and aims the laser only at the weeds.
Image credit: Leibniz University Hannover/ Laser Zentrum Hannover eV
The main goal of the project supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) is non-chemical weed control, one of the main goals of ecological planning and effective production. The basic idea is similar to flame weeding, in which heat is used to eliminate the weeds. However, this method burns out everything under the flame, and it is neither precise enough nor can it be automated. In comparison, a laser beam is precise and can be used to hit a sprouting weed, not affecting the plants around the weed. And “laser weeding” can be automated.

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Hi-tech laser games tag the young at Andheri

A white tent pitched in the dusty, sun-baked Chitrakoot grounds in Andheri (West), stands dwarfed by the adjoining malls and shopping complexes.

Inside the tent you’ll find teens running around holding laser guns, trying to out-tag each other in a dark 3,500 sq-ft chamber with fluorescent and neon artwork of various cult characters such as Batman and his nemesis, the Joker.

They are playing Laser Tag, a game that combines physical agility with the thrill of a video game.

Within a week of its launch, the game is already a fad among teens. It has also found an audience in corporate houses that are using it as a tool to strengthen teamwork and lower stress levels among employees, said proprietor Devesh Mallani.

“It’s great because you get to play an exciting game and get some physical activity at the same time,” said Karan Srivastava (21), an MSc student from SIES College.

A player aims to tag others by firing laser beams at sensors fitted onto players’ jackets. Real time scores are visible on an LCD screen outside the playing arena.

It’s a hi-tech version of paintball, only without the heavy body armour and pellet shots and merges video games such as Star Wars and Counter Strike.

“It makes you feel like the protagonist of a computer game. You feel a rush of emotions — fear, excitement and suspense. It combines quick thinking and movement, making it all the more fun,” said Anant Rajan (21), a student of NM College.

The play area being air-conditioned, is another draw given the heat.

It’s open to children above 8 years, and a 10-minute game costs Rs 180.

The game was a huge success during the IIT Techfest in January, with around 2,500 participants playing during three days.

“When asked to rate the game on a scale of 1 to 10, 91 per cent students gave it an 8-plus rating,” said Mallani.

Source : hindustantimes

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