Friday, February 8, 2019

And now for something (almost) completely different

Hello again! It's been a little while. Okay, two and a half years.

Way back in 2016, I started working at AXS Studio (see announcement from my previous post). As a technical artist / technical director, I worked on: illustrations, including one for Scientific American; animations, including clips for a PBS documentary; and interactive projects, including a multiplayer VR game about repairing DNA as nanobots. I also worked on a lot of technical aspects: designing effects and rigs, managing a render farm, programming animation tools, fixing broken assets, and many more.

Over the past couple of years, I also worked freelance on a number of animations and images for Professor David Leigh (, which I will share more about in a follow-up post next week. In the meantime, you can see some of the work on my website ( is an illustration that was created for Nature (submitted for the cover, but sadly not used as such) in which a programmable molecular machine is depicted as a robotic arm. The molecule can produce different stereoisomers depending on the sequence of chemical inputs.

Programmable molecular robot

Over the last few months, I came to the difficult decision to leave AXS Studio and pursue some self-directed work. Why? There are a number of reasons: some personal and family-related, others professional. Ultimately, I decided the time was right to try something (almost) completely different.

Since before this blog started (nearly 10 years ago!) I've been passionate about using animation and computer visualization to teach people about molecular biology. That has not changed, and now more than ever, that's exactly what I want to do. However, the format, platform, technology, and job description will be new to me. More on that in a moment. I realized that to educate and inspire people (especially young people) and help them engage in biology, I need to forego the client-work and studio-work models typically used in the field of biomedical illustration/animation. There's a lot I'd like to explore within science education, so at least for the next year, I'm giving myself free reign to create whatever I feel will best express the ideas I have about biology, education, and animation.

Well, that sounds very lofty and vague, but what am I actually going to do? Some of it is TBD, that's kind of what "free reign" means. But here's the elevator pitch:
I will be making videos about biology.
They will be a combination of 2D and 3D animation, with maybe some video footage. Let's call it "mixed media".
They won't all be the same format, length, style, structure, or content.
They will be on YouTube, all freely accessible for everyone that has open internet access.
They will be less about facts and more about concepts. I want to promote understanding more than knowledge of trivia.
They will be fun and maybe sometimes a little funny.

I will continue to publish tutorials, though I expect to migrate them to a second channel in the near future.
I will be creating editorial molecular illustrations on Instagram and my website.
I will continue to post on this blog.
I will be learning a lot of new things (see below).
I will likely work on the occasional freelance client project.
I will likely have some other interesting side projects on the go. We'll see what comes up.

I know, that looks like a lot. It is a lot. It's ambitious and risky, and I could fall down and embarrass myself and have to find another "real job" and that's okay. It's really okay. This is a journey I need to take regardless of where it leads, and I'm incredibly excited to start down these paths.

Is there anything else new?
Yes, I built myself a new computer. I'll write a blog post about it down the road. It's awesome and fun and I haven't had a new workstation at home since TWO-THOUSAND-AND-NINE. Yes, that's right, since the year this blog started.

I'm going to be doing a lot of reading and research in molecular biology - to refresh my undergraduate knowledge, to fill in some gaps, and to deepen my understanding of physical biology, biochemistry, and related disciplines. My bookshelf is now overstuffed with textbooks.

And I'm going to be using a lot of new software. Some of it I've used a little, some a moderate amount, and some none at all. Here's my current pipeline plan:
Reference management: Zotero
Writing: Sublime
Storyboarding: Storyboarder
Modeling: ZBrush/Houdini/Blender
Animation/FX: Houdini
Texturing: Photoshop/ZBrush
Rendering: Redshift
Compositing: Fusion
Motion Graphics/Titles: AfterEffects/Illustrator
Editing/Grading: DaVinci Resolve
SFX/Music: Ableton Live/DaVinci Resolve

Where's Maya in this mix? For various reasons, I am gracefully disembarking from the Autodesk and Adobe trains. By gracefully, I mean I'm taking a giant leap and trying to remember how to do a tuck-roll. It's true, I will be making some use of my Adobe CS6 collection, but I think the time has come to step away from Maya. It's been fun, and I may come crawling back, but this is another area in which I need to assert some independence and do what I believe is right for me. Wow, that got a little personal. Moving on…

Initial Redshift test in Houdini
Houdini and Fusion/DaVinci Resolve are the big new ones for me. They both have steep learning curves, but there are several reasons I think they are good choices for content creation for me. It's a bit premature to get into all of that now, but I'm sure I'll end up talking about it in the future.

This has been, by necessity, a fairly long post, so I'll try to wrap it up here.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you'll stay in touch as my new adventures begin.

Ah… maybe a very brief and slightly awkward FAQ:
Q: Sorry if I missed it, but are you planning to earn money? YouTube is a hard ecosystem to succeed in.
A: Yes, I know. I will be experimenting with various revenue streams, but regardless of financial success, I'm in this for at least a year. I'll be doing the occasional client gig on the side, but my focus is to create the animations that I feel most passionate about.

Q: I want to support your efforts, what's the best way for me to do that?
A: Aw, thanks! For now, I'd love for you to subscribe to my Biocinematics YouTube channel and connect with me on the social media platforms you regularly use (Twitter: @biocinematics, Instagram: @biocinematics, Facebook: @biocinematics - consistency is good).

Q: I mean, is there any way to support you financially?
A: What, really? That's super kind. I couldn't possibly… *shuffles feet*. No, nothing yet, but stay tuned. Keep an eye on the social media platform of your choice, and I will be sure to make some noise once there are more things in place. Give it a little time though, there's a chance you won't want to "buy what I'm selling" after all…

Q: Is the post title a Monty Python reference?
A: ……………. Ni!

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