Greetings, Animusic 3 backers --
Wayne Lytle here. Generally, our (annoyingly rare) newsletters and updates have been written collectively by "The Animusic Team". Given that the team has recently shrunk, this one is primarily written by me.
It has always seemed that Dave Crognale was significantly farther ahead with his parts of a given production than I was with mine. This would lead me to having conflicting desires at any given time: Do I to wear my “programmer” hat, wear my “musician” hat, or to put on my “director” hat and sync up with Dave on artwork? For Dave, his “artist” hat began to spend increasing amounts of time on the shelf while he wore “customer support” and “web guy” hats. Labels like "business" and "accounting" were hard to find on any hats around here.
This suboptimal load balancing caused a subtle strain that was ultimately unmaintainable. So we both felt it was time to let go of the familiar Wayne-and-Dave production unit of 16 years, and for each of us to move forward into the unknown. Frankly, financial constraints made it an absolute necessity. But even putting that factor aside, we knew it was right, we were in agreement, and both felt at peace with the decision.
For Dave, this took the form of selling his house and driving his family across the country to California...on a professional and spiritual journey into the unknown.
For me, it meant returning to being the only full-time Animusic person. My plate was already spilling over, even more so now; yet I'm quite excited about this new startup-like format. I'm enjoying working with all the fun instrument parts Dave modeled over the last few years (including some I hadn't even seen yet!). Also, I'm more comfortable making optimizations/changes to the production system without any concern about breaking someone else's workflow. So, that part feels good.
What doesn’t feel so good is being farther behind on this project than I ever imagined possible. The stress I continue to experience personally, financially, and emotionally would be hard to overstate. Even so, despite the current state of things being so close to the ragged edge, I am very grateful that these challenges are all in the context of pursuing my dream. On some days it feels more like a nightmare, but it really isn’t. So many in the world are going through true difficulties, often at the hands of others. I only have myself to blame.
So, let me share with you the status of things here, and what I anticipate unfolding (as best I can).
For the sake of clarity, I should state that as founder/director of our tiny company, I'm the one ultimately responsible for all major Animusic undertakings, including Animusic 3. Getting stuff out to backers (including things still not finished yet) is on me. Several other people have and do help with various facets of Animusic (and continue to stick with me thru a less-than-thrilling period of my life). But I’m really the central factor in the timetable stretching to the breaking point. My bad.
Initial (pre-Animusic 3) Rewards
At the writing of this update, we are shipping the final batch of the initial phase of the Kickstarter rewards: “So12” CDs and Animusic Kickstarter t-shirts to backers within the USA.
Comparable packages for our international backers is next in the queue.
But, what about...
...Animusic 3? That was the whole point of the Kickstarter effort. I wish the ancillary items hadn’t consumed so much time and shipping costs, but they did. I got so lost in the CD I couldn’t find my way out. I’m really sorry for that. There were, however, other unforeseeable factors that jammed up our gears (I’ll elaborate on below, for those of you who are interested).
Now I really would have preferred to hold off on sending you this update -- until I could give you a real, tangible completion date. But since it was so overdue already, and some people were losing hope that Animusic 3 would ever see completion, it was important to send an update now.
Is it ever going to be finished? I have asked myself that numerous times; Dave has too. Both of us hit some of the lowest points in our lives over the last couple of years, several unrelated to Animusic.
If I’m living and breathing (barring some cataclysmic event)... YES, it will be finished.
What I can say at this point is that hope in completing this project rests significantly on a new approach that for years I’d expected to try "sometime in the future". Well, the project dragged on for so long that...well, the future is here now! More on that below (in the “Unreal Engine” section, if you're interested).
The poster? That (along with Animusic 3 itself) is the other incomplete item. While we obviously can’t ship what doesn’t exist yet, a reasonable question is: Why don’t we just send multiple partial shipments? Frankly, finances are so tight right now that postage is actually a factor. I’d be the first to say: That’s hardly fair to people who kicked in for certain more expensive packages. I don’t feel good about it at all. For that matter, I don’t feel good about not answering people’s communications either. Especially if they’re in Crayon and include “top secret” drawings of suggested future music animation ideas!
Hey! A Little Respect? (for you)
I had a mini-revelation a while back, as I was pondering the flavor of some people’s expression of disappointment (and various other dis- words). Imagining myself in their shoes I couldn’t quite relate to the bite that some of it had. I couldn’t picture myself reacting in a similar way...I wouldn’t care much about updates or whatever, I’d just want the DVD....Then it hit me...not everyone thinks the same, and some people are more “people person’s” or other personality type who considers lack of communication to be blatant disrespect!
Whoa...I’m so sorry!...to any and everyone who may have felt like I disrespected you or that I didn’t care (or even had some nefarious intent). I shouldn’t have assumed you’d just know I was glued to the workstation, and pulling more all-nighters than I ever did in college or grad school. How would you know? I just wish I had more to show for it. Thanks so much for understanding.
- Now I certainly don’t expect everyone to want more info than the essential status, so thank you for reading this far!
- And for sticking with us during this challenging time.
- The remainder of this update reveals some unusual details of the backstory.
- Not required reading.
- No, it won't be on the test.
Backing up a bit, for anyone interested in the bigger picture...
I founded Animusic in the mid-90's, and with funds from our first paying job was able to hire Dave for a period of time. Over the years he's worked part-time, full-time, sometimes returning to a previous job for a while then jumping back in at Animusic when my needs for 3-D modeling and fancy artwork coincided with the availability of funding. Even back then, “The Wayne and Dave Team” was not exactly load balanced -- Dave's work queue would run dry before I could adequately fill it. Over the years I felt the stress of that in an increasing way, while Dave was underutilized. (There is only so much re-checking of UV coordinates on our 350-ish 3D model parts he could do before giving in to the temptation to gold plate the PVC piping for what I refuse to call "Pipe Dream 3: Solid Gold".)
At the very peak of production for Animusic 2, Dave and I worked full-time and for a brief while there we had another half-time person working remotely from California. So the extent of the production team at its largest was 2 1/2 people, and its smallest, one (yours truly).
But a business obviously needs someone to cover non-production areas, such as order fulfillment, inventory, and the exciting world of bookkeeping. During the Animusic 2 timeframe, we had a couple of people working remotely (only one full-time), and an additional person helping with business development. He also worked remotely from CA, being paid a fraction of what he's worth, often working gratis. (Being a caring friend, he's still helping and advising today.) So headcount on the biz side also peaked at 2 1/2, decreased to just Dave splitting his time up to include non-art activities (e.g. customer support, stuffing envelopes), then as of a few weeks ago...0.
Well, my lovely, patient, and persevering wife stepped in a while ago to ensure the "shipping department" continues to fill mail bins with outgoing packages. Some of these have gone to you all, and some are in the hopper. One of Dave's non-artistic responsibilities was maintaining a "database" (read: Excel spreadsheets) of each Kickstarter tier. Being a detail-oriented artist, Dave is meticulous in all he organizes, so our Kickstarter data is suitable for framing. Not a pixel out of place. But really not the most fulfilling artistic undertaking, nor best use of a talented artist...
So where are we today? It's me on production, my wife handling shipping, and my dad applying his years of experience with small businesses needing help with database stuff (and my mom applying her years of experience working with my dad). My dad (with my mom’s help) preps a batch remotely, sends Pat the data, and she stuffs CD's and T-shirts. I'll be completely transparent with you all (despite it being more than a little embarrassing): there have been times when we have had to hold off sending out a batch until we could afford the postage.
Struggles & Challenges
Chronic Fatigue, ADHD, Bell’s palsy,...
Until now, I've chosen not to directly address some of the personal struggles I've had, because (1) I didn't want them to sound like a bunch of excuses, and (2) I didn't want family, friends, or relatives to be broadsided by sharing with you all what they may not have been aware of. At this point, that's no longer much of an issue.
Over the last few years, I have had periods of severe fatigue with no apparent explanation (some have suggested Lyme's Disease, which isn't out of the question in our area). Several years ago I was diagnosed with ADHD and pretty severe depression. I'm actually not entirely sure I believe that, and I neither embrace it nor see myself as a victim. On the other hand, I can't deny that I struggle mentally sometimes in ways I don't immediately see in anyone else. Yet as some will point out, I seem to be able to do things most others can't as well. So, I'm unique. We're all unique in wonderful ways.
It gets weirder. The day after we shot the Kickstarter video I was eating breakfast and telling my wife my left eye felt dry. She was noticing that the left half of my face was not keeping up with the rest of me, and I was slightly slurring my speech. Nope, not a stroke (but good guess). Cranial Nerve #7 on the Left side apparent decided it had had enough Left eye blinking, smiling, frowning, and pronouncing the Left side of words. Less than 12 hours after the Kickstarter video shoot, no less.
It's called Bell's Palsy, and is often just temporary (gradually subsiding over a few weeks). I optimistically assumed I’d be fine in 2 weeks, but a year later, the Left half of my face had only improved about 40% (where it leveled out). At this point, my Left Eye closes far enough that I usually don't have to consciously blink or put in drops. But on some days it's completely blurry, and I effectively work with one good eye. If I'm really lucky, I will sometimes see 3 separate images of the screen, which I would have sworn was impossible with just 2 eyes. It's not.
But the most challenging (and least favorite) health issue for me is, unfortunately, all too common these days: RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury). Apparently I'm pretty intense at my workstation, and lock my mouse-hand (Right) in very strained positions (there’s actually a name for it...”the claw”), especially when precisely click-dragging animation or MIDI key frames. Too many 14-hour days of mouse-wrestling -- I can no longer use a normal mouse. I tried a vertical mouse (initially great, eventually worse), but finally settled on to a Wacom tablet and pen I had in the closet from years ago. But it's hard to break the habit of over gripping. During the final stages of mixing the So12 CD I would wake up in the morning with a slightly swollen hand and red knuckles.
Frustratingly, Right-hand finger #2 (middle) now involuntarily curls under when I type on a computer keyboard, while finger #3 (ring) is beginning to sympathize with the rebellion. More troubling: on a synth (or piano) keyboard, finger #2 curls under so finger #3 tries to cover for both (but it’s weak and slow). No more Rick Wakeman riffs for me, and the semi hunt-and-peck typing really obstructs the flow. I need to be more consistent about using the voice dictation headset (case in point: just realized I'd forgot it was on, had reverted to typing, and now finger #3 and the tendons above the Metacarpal really ache).
So I've explored trackpads, Midi knobs, X-keys, launchpad, voice recognition, iPad remote, LeapPad, Spaceball, Joystick and XBox 360 controllers. (No, not all at the same time). Some help more than others (winners: X-keys, voice, XBox controller). And I can tell you that obstruction by unfamiliar controllers is pretty distracting.
Hope for the Future
There is one very concrete element that is expected to propel the completion of this project in a significant and tangible way. Years ago I would dream about this magical “some day” thing....
Real-time Rendering, meaning that instead of each frame taking 20+ minutes to compute one single frame (30 frames per second of animation), we could see the results at the same speed they’d be viewed by the audience. Back then it was assumed to mearly be daydreaming.
Unreal Engine 4
Enter Unreal Engine, originally a video-game creation platform (with associated compromises in render quality), has evolved to become what is now increasingly used outside the gaming industry for pre-rendered video projects in areas from scientific visualization to entertainment. Videos that can be choreographed in real-time (or near-real-time) and rendered far, far, far faster than with the old render farm approach (with racks of servers running all night).
UE4 is very deep, and I'm still ramping up into what is probably the solution we've wanted all along. I’m also using Python more to shuttle data between AnimusicStudio, Luxology Modo, and UE4. I feel like I'm finally looking at a production pipeline that is actually right for us, and that I have reason to hope. That may sound like a Hallmark card, but it's not. It simply reflects my conscious decision to shift my focus from past failures and setbacks (the voices of gloom and doom) to hope in the future, unfolding now.
Although it’s been suggested by more than one doctor as well as family members that I really need to ease up and take a break, I don’t see that as a viable possibility any time soon. The commitment to finish Animusic 3 is at the forefront of my mind every waking moment.
Perhaps some people are motivated by disparaging comments, slanderous accusations, and even threats, but I’m not one of them. What motivates me is not doubt, suspicion, guilt, or shame, but encouragement and understanding.
Do you wonder if I feel bad? Oh, man...you have no idea. No idea. If I thought it would help get Animusic 3 done, I'd hang my head and mope around for years. That sure hasn't helped thus far. So...
With that said, I do want to again thank all of you for being with us along this much-longer-than-anticipated journey. I do not take your support lightly! I wish the production had progressed way more quickly, yet here we are. Disappointing people is not something I enjoy! At all.
I truly believe that God created me and put me here on earth to bring joy to people...through music in general, Animusic most specifically. That’s my mission, and that’s what I will do.