The Clover Show

My Dad was the guidance counsellor for a whole bunch of schools in northern Manitoba when I was a kid. When I was in elementary school, he’d bring me to different schools to perform in a puppet show with him.

I was a raccoon named Rehoboth, a cat, a beaver, and a bear. The puppet show was about important kid things - not being a bully, not doing drugs, what to do if you get sad... there were even songs in the shows sometimes. I have no idea if they were actually part of the show, or just me erupting into song because it seemed like the right thing to do.

I'm in my 40s now, and I finally made a puppet and wrote a song and got on stage to see if being a puppet is as fun as I remembered it being. It totally was. :)

(Thanks Dad).

What Next

If you know me at all, you probably know that I suck at doing things half-assed. I wasn’t satisfied just being in a live puppet show; I also designed and hand-sewed the puppet, wrote the song, made a karaoke style video so the audience could sing along, and produced some merchandise in the form of enamel pins. I did not do these things in a sensible order, either.

It took the better part of a year to do everything, and now that I’ve performed with Clover I want to start making regular videos with her. My plan is to continue workshopping her character by recording short videos for my friend’s children. (If you want me to make a video for you, contact me).

I still haven’t figured out how to properly light a green screen, my microphone is not ideal for this, and building the puppet so my hand goes in at the base of her neck wasn’t the greatest plan, but I still think this is a pretty great hobby. I’m going to keep working on it, and I’ve registered theclovershow.com especially for this project.

Designing the Character - 1 month

Clover started as a simple vector design that was just a head. I used the final design as my personal avatar for a few months to see if I’d get bored with the character, or if I’d want to continue developing it after looking at it for a while.

Clover_Early_Designs.png

The initial design was intended to have a really earnest, excited vibe. At the time, this was the opposite of how I was actually feeling, but it’s a pretty big part of who I am normally, and I thought it might be fun to develop a character who’s always super excited and eager to explore the world.

After a few months of staring at this face, I still liked it. When I ordered some enamel pins from True Metal Works for my company, I ordered some Clover pins at the same time. This was a bit of a process, since the design wasn’t intended for pins, and making the borders a similar dark blue involved actually coating the metal with paint. The result was pretty amazing, though.

 The pin on the right is the old logo for  Lumo Play , my software company.

The pin on the right is the old logo for Lumo Play, my software company.

Once I was committed to the character, I drew the rest of the body, and used the project file to learn the basics of Adobe Character Animator. Here’s a short video I made using audio provided by friend Bradley and his son.

When I started working on the character, it was much younger, and gender neutral - I still may revert to a non-binary character, but in my mind she’s female at this point.

Naming the Character - 5 minutes

My Dad chose the name Clover, even though he doesn’t remember doing it. As a child, Watership Down was one of my favorite books, and Clover is one of the few female characters (she escapes from Nuthanger Farm with Hazel). Maybe Dad subconsciously remembers me pretending to be Clover when I was a kid. I definitely spent a lot of my childhood being a rabbit.

Making a Puppet - 3 weeks

I wanted to make a puppet for this character long before I knew I would be on stage with it. Puppets have always fascinated me, and I’ve wanted to create some kind of linear children’s content for a while. The freedom afforded by puppetry and the possibilities for interesting narrative combinations when combining live action and animation made me want to have both a live puppet and an animated 2D rig as options.

My friend Rylaan told me about an event in Winnipeg called Puppet Slam, so I signed up to do a solo performance during my next visit home. This was an amazing forcing factor - not only did it give me a deadline to get the puppet finished, it also gave me a timeframe to plan a first performance, and the initiative to practice.

The main resource I used was Adam Kreutinger’s youtube channel; this guy knows literally everything there is to know about building puppets, and he’s a great teacher. The first video I watched involved making a form out of clay, covering it with masking tape, and using the flattened masking tape to make a fabric pattern.

I decided to skip the clay form and just carve the head directly out of foam, and use the actual foam to make the fabric pattern. Turns out this wasn’t a great plan; masking tape doesn’t stick to foam all that well, and making the head out of solid foam means the puppet’s a lot heavier than it probably needs to be. But for my first puppet, I think it turned out pretty well.

01 Carved Head.JPG
02 Carved Body.JPG

Because of the way the head was carved, the entry hole for my hand had to be at the back of the head rather than through the body if I wanted to avoid the entire body flapping every time I opened the mouth. To accomplish this, I finished applying fabric to the head and the body separately, and attached them together at the end.

03 Adding Fabric.JPG
04 Sculptey Party.JPG

The teeth and eyes were made from Sculpey Polymer Clay, painted with acrylic paint, and varnished a few times with a spray on furniture varnish.

05 Final Puppet.JPG

Once Clover was complete, I started practicing with her.

Writing a Puppet Song - 3 days

I’ve been writing songs since I was a kid, but I’ve never written one for someone else to sing.

This is what writing a puppet song is like. Without knowing much about my character’s opinions or history, I had to write something she could sing in her own voice.

I started workshopping the character while she was still a detached foam head, which was weird, but also necessary given the time constraints.

Clover seems older in puppet form than she is in cartoon form, but she’s still pretty young. She’s basically a tween, but owing to rabbits kicking their kids out at a young age, she’s on her own for the first time. Like me, she’s been thinking about her family a lot. She’s more interested in things like Big History and physics than pop culture, fashion, or age-appropriate children’s entertainment. Despite that, she’s got a sort of naive and earnest charm that actually makes her a bit younger mentally than other rabbits about to enter puberty.

I wrote a lullaby for her to sing; something fatalistic but weirdly uplifting that a prey animal might sing to it’s statistically mostly doomed offspring. The overall theme is to enjoy life while you have it because it’s short and the end is unpredictable, unavoidable, and often comical. Here are the complete lyrics:

Lullaby for Quarry

I have a story that I would like to share with you

When I’m afraid, or when I’m feeling kind of blue

I just remember a song my mommy sang to me

So listen close, this is my whole philosophy


Might as well enjoy life

One day we all die

Lots of things can kill you

That’s what mommy said


Cars and plague and poison

Lightning and trans fats

Smoking, quicksand, drowning

Someday you’ll be dead


No need to worry about your family or your friends

Heat death will take it all; everything ends


You’re part of a great amazing mystery

Stop worrying why and sing along with me


Let’s all sing together

‘til something kills us

There’s no point in crying

Bears and guns and snakes


Earthquakes and volcanoes

Oil spills and knife fights

Cannon balls and spiders

Terrible mistakes


Alien invasions

Hurricanes and hitmen

Evil supervillians

Someday you’ll be dead


Might as well enjoy life

One day we all die

Lots of things can kill you

That’s what mommy said

I wrote the entire song in Ableton Live while flying from Montreal to Portland. I was on my way to XOXO 2018, which is an experimental festival for online creators. Throughout the festival, I’d slip off to work on the track and practice singing the words. The puppet was still a foam head at this point, so the song and the puppet were kind of developed together.

Performing Live - 3.5 minutes

I arrived in Winnipeg the night before the performance. The other performers had been working and practicing together for a while, but Curtis Wiebe, the artist who organizes Winnipeg’s puppet community and produces Puppet Slam, agreed to let me do a standalone performance.

I sent Curtis email updates as I worked on my performance, so he was aware of the progress and concept, but I didn’t really know too much about what the other performers would be doing until the night I arrived. We took turns presenting each skit the night before the show, and we did a dry run before the final performance, which was pretty cool, but I was still extremely nervous.

 Clover backstage at the Gas Station Theatre in Winnipeg

Clover backstage at the Gas Station Theatre in Winnipeg

The nice thing about Puppet Slam is that it’s kind of a mix between planned performances and improv, and the community is really supportive, so being nervous wasn’t a problem.

In the end, I wish I’d practiced more, (I overdubbed the final video with a pre-recorded version of the song because I didn’t remember to stay in the character’s voice very well onstage), and I also wish I’d worn a completely black suit. There were a few available, but I had problems reading the lyrics through the hood, and still hadn’t memorized the song. Even black gloves would have been a bit better.

Clover 06.jpg

Considering it was my first time performing onstage with a puppet, and that I invented the character, made the puppet from scratch, and wrote an original song for her, I think it went really well. I’m going to continue exploring Clover’s world and see where it takes me.

X-ray Animal Friends

I run a company that makes interactive display software, and I've been working on some tutorial videos so that people can learn how to use our content creation tools.

As part of this, I'm designing my own assets and releasing them for free so people have artwork to practice with.

The first tutorial I finished is for a simple effect we call Fog Reveal, where one picture is stacked on another, and moving or touching a screen reveals the image underneath. It's a really popular effect for advertising, but I think it's actually pretty useful for education, too. So I decided to design something aimed at kids, showing animal doctors taking an x-ray.

cute animals xray.jpg

I recorded every stage of the first tutorial, including the making of the graphic itself, and when I started to edit the video, it really drove home that designing an interactive display is a lot more work than most people probably realize. 

X-Ray Animal Friends Timelapse.gif

Now that we've automated a lot of the business development and support tasks at work, I'm looking forward to drawing and animating more, but another thing I noticed while making this tutorial is how out of practice I am.

Here's what the interactive display looked like in the end:

If you're interested in downloading the working files for this project, learning more about Lumo Play, or checking out the full tutorial, here it is:

I'm going to be sketching and finishing more characters over the next month or so, to get back into the habit of drawing and processing my vector art. If you have requests, please let me know.

Purridot

My first attempt at fan art happened as a result of having inherited a gem collection from my Aunty Jean. Turns out there are a lot of peridots, garnets, a couple amethysts, a bunch of emeralds, some rubies, a bunch of topaz and rhodenite (which I guess is a kind of garnet?) some sapphires, rose quartz, and even an aquamarine.

Purridot-01-MegRabbit.jpg

Anyway, turns out when I try to sketch stuff it automatically turns into animals. So here's Purridot. Maybe I'll do Amyth-Hiss, Garmitts, and Steven.

Original-Purridot-Sketch.jpg

The reason I tried to draw Peridot at all is that I thought 'Maybe I should make little resin cast Peridot models and put actual Peridots on them.' Because obviously that's what you do when you have a inherited gem collection and you love Steven Universe.

Gems.jpg

I'd love feedback! Let me know if you wanna see more SU cats, some little gem sculptures, or anything else. :)

The Making of Bereavement Seats

About two months ago, I decided to make a video for a song my son Dylan wrote. This isn't the first time I've wanted to make a video for one of his songs. In the fall of 2014, he wrote a song called Fuck You, Martha Stewart. I don't think I heard it until the following year. When I did, it broke me a little bit. That was a really difficult time for us - Dyl was graduating, and I'd left a long term relationship, moved to L.A., and put our house up for sale. Everything felt like it was dissolving.

 A concept sketch from the storyboard for Fuck You Martha Stewart.

A concept sketch from the storyboard for Fuck You Martha Stewart.

The concept I had for the first video was a sort of fairy tale re-casting of Dyl's entire childhood, from his early years growing up with parents struggling with addiction, to the years leading up to his ultimate independence - a path I've always interpreted through the lens of my own childhood.

I sketched the storyboard while I was living in a small, cantilevered room in a warehouse in L.A., surrounded by career artists working on multi-million dollar projects. This definitely impacted how ambitious my idea was, and the final concept was too complex for me to execute on my own. I didn't (and still don't) have the budget to hire an animation team, but I'd still love to make that video one day.


I've been sitting on the first storyboard for one of Dyl's songs for over 3 years, so I didn't want to end up designing a video concept for yet another song and never getting it finished. Going into this project, my greatest fear was not being able to complete it.

The Final Video

Before I describe the project, here's the final video:

How This Started

 Original board art for Bereavement Seats

Original board art for Bereavement Seats

I first heard Bereavement Seats in the background of another project Dyl was working on, and I asked if I could make a video for it. I hadn't listened to the whole song, so I didn't know what it was about until he sent me the entire recording.

I realized it was about grief, and also that this wasn't going to be a video project I could just phone in. The year Dyl wrote this song, we'd attended multiple funerals. One of them was my Mom's.

The song made me think about how awkward funerals are, and how disconnected I am from my family, and by proxy, how disconnected Dyl might feel. Except for my Mom, we barely knew any of the people who died last year, but we attended their funerals and graves nonetheless.

After listening to the song several dozen times, I created a simple timing reel. At that point, I was assuming the entire video would be animated, so the initial concept was really minimal.

Then I discovered The Heidelberg Project on a road trip to Detroit, which changed the video almost completely. Art is like that sometimes - things that seem incidental at the time can have a huge impact.

 The Heidelberg Project - https://www.heidelberg.org/

The Heidelberg Project - https://www.heidelberg.org/

The Heidelberg Project

I'd planned to illustrate a background based on photos of the graveyard where my Mom is buried, and places around Windsor Ontario, the town where she grew up, so I went on a road trip with friends to visit Windsor. My friend Holly wanted to visit the Heidelberg Project across the river in Detroit, so we spent a morning exploring it. This was when I decided the video should be a combination of film footage and animation.

 The Heidelberg Project https://www.heidelberg.org

The Heidelberg Project https://www.heidelberg.org

The Heidelberg Project describes itself as "an outdoor art environment in the heart of an urban area, and a Detroit based community organization with a mission to improve the lives of people and neighborhoods through art."

Several city blocks are involved in this art installation, which has been evolving and growing for more than two decades. Mountains of found objects represent the grief and hope of a single artist; a man who's watched his neighbourhood change dramatically. His life's work is a shifting monument to a past that needs and deserves to be remembered. Regardless of how people feel about The Heidelberg Project aesthetically, it serves a real function - to commemorate the past, and protect the remaining residents - and it was therefore a beautiful and appropriate backdrop for Dylan's song.

The song speaks clearly of grief, but it also addresses the awkward distance created when you're alone in your experience, and trying to interact normally with the rest of the world. It was the same awkwardness I felt as a tourist, walking through a neighbourhood of found art, populated mostly by ghosts.

Learning New Stuff

The hard work started once I had a bunch of footage and a few rough storyboards, and no idea how to put them together. I needed a plan that I could execute on my own. Frame by frame rotoscope animation wasn't going to work.

I spent a bit of time on Youtube looking for ideas, and found two tutorials that would teach me what I needed to know to make a cohesive video with the resources I had.

To animate the character, I decided to use Adobe's Character Animator.

To composite the character onto the video, I found a simple Adobe After Effects motion tracking tutorial.

weird head.gif

I didn't have an isolated vocal track for the song, so I had to record myself saying the words, and use that recording to do the lip syncing. What's cool about Character Animator is that you can record different parts at different times, and then layer the motion.

Things were a little weird until I figured out how to constrain layers on the z axis, because the face kept morphing in weird, amazing ways.

I was able to do different takes to record the lip syncing, act out the little bobbing dance, and move the arms to make the character play guitar. The way the recording works allows you to combine all your takes, and even blend some takes in if you want to re-record just one small part. It's insanely fun and I spent a ridiculous amount of time just giggling and doing dumb stuff.

 Adobe Character Animator. This is really fun, and everyone should try it.

Adobe Character Animator. This is really fun, and everyone should try it.

When you design a character for Character Animator, you do it on layers in Illustrator or Photoshop (I used Photoshop). This means you can turn layers on and off really easily, so I added a guitar layer, and rendered the character's full animation twice; once with the guitar on and one with the guitar off. This made it really easy to sync the character in After Effects - I just imported both sequences, made a composition with each sequence as a layer, and turned each layer on and off at the right time.

 After Effects - motion tracking is basically just a button. It was a lot easier than I thought.

After Effects - motion tracking is basically just a button. It was a lot easier than I thought.

Dylan's Response

This is our first public project together. Dyl's not a public sorta person, and he doesn't share the things he makes, so I asked him if it was okay first. I did the entire project knowing that he might not be willing to share it, so I was okay with keeping it private, but I really love the song, so I'm glad he's letting me share it.

Here's our text conversation, where we decide everyone should get discount flights when Cher dies.

text.jpg

Final Comments

I should probably mention that because I run an interactive display software company, I have a Creative Cloud account, which includes all the apps I used for this project. I've also been using Adobe design software since I graduated from college in 1997, so I find a lot of the tools pretty intuitive now.

Having said that, I still think this level of work is super easy for a beginner, as long as you have the right tools and the patience to watch a bunch of free tutorials. If you've read this far and you're thinking about making something like this project, please feel free to reach out if you need help!

My First Ludum Dare

Ludum Dare is the original, and also easily the largest, game jam in the world. A game jam is a challenge to make a game from start to finish in a super short time period, usually 48 - 72 hours, depending on the size of your team and the scope of the theme.

In past years, I've participated in Peg Jam, our local game jam, and even hosted a few jams in our office for new students looking for work experience. It's a great way to evaluate a new team's strengths and weaknesses, and it can be a real forcing factor when you're trying to learn new skills really fast.

 Our completed LD game.

Our completed LD game.

Ludum Dare has been happening 3 times a year for the past 16 years, and last weekend's event was the 41st round. Themes are proposed by participants and voted on, and the winning theme is announced as soon as the event starts and your time starts ticking. The theme this time was 'Combine Two Incompatible Genres', which took our team a while to wrap our heads around. Luckily we have a wide breathe of experience, and we each had a clear idea what we wanted to get out of the weekend.

After 72 hours, we'd created a game that the combined random number generation of a card game with the intense concentration of a rhythm game. If you have a few minutes to kill, you can play our game here: https://megrabbit.itch.io/flower-hero

The Process

 This 2D mockup was super useful in communicating the asset requirements, timing, and gameplay structure.

This 2D mockup was super useful in communicating the asset requirements, timing, and gameplay structure.

Making a fairly polished game in 72 hours involves a lot of multitasking and team communication. While Curtis Wachs worked on the actual game development, I created a workable UI and game elements. Alistair Croll created all the music and after being taught to make the scroll generation images (which are what we used to time the assets to the music), he did those too. Liem Nyugen worked across town making the 3D models and animations of the characters I designed for us.

Animated GIF-downsized_large (3).gif

As a team, we all came to this project wanting to learn specific things. Curt and I are releasing Unity support on our own software platform in a few months, so we wanted to practice our workflow on a non-critical project.

Alistair's been wanted to practice with his Push for a while now, and has always wanted to design sound for a game using Ableton. In the end he produced 4 songs and the menu screen loop in 3 days. Liem just loves making 3D art for mini-games and wanted to be part of a Ludum Dare project. Plus he's a superstar and he can whip out amazing 3D animations in his sleep.

Takeaways

My personal takeaways included learning how to:

  • Co-develop a shared Unity comp
  • Export elements as a package
  • Export the project for HTML5
  • Create scriptable objects and prefabs

I'm a pretty huge fan of Ludum Dare. Our game received great feedback, and while we normally wouldn't probably pursue making this game into anything bigger, some of the feedback is actually so good we want to implement it just to see what happens. The community is incredibly supportive. I was worried that the amount of graphic polish we brought to our game would earn us criticism, since an overwhelming majority of Ludum Dare participants are developers, and developer art is absolutely celebrated and encouraged, but this was not the case. The feedback we received was universally considerate and thoughtful.

If you're running a design or game studio, and at least one of your team members can (or would like to learn how to) develop simple games using pretty much any platform (participants in this round received Game Maker Studio for free if they wanted it), you can't really beat Ludum Dare as a positive team building activity.

Learning Unity From a Goat

I've been doing online Unity tutorials for about a month now. Here's a peek at the project I'm currently working on. I drew and animated the goat myself, but the other graphics came from this cool site.

The tutorials I've been following are mainly provided by Brackeys and AbleGamesDev, and they've been super easy to keep up with while travelling. I really hope to someday be able to take a class with other humans, though.

As of this moment, I've learned to make and import sprite sequences, create menus and multiple levels, control players in 2D and 3D (kind of), make stuff break apart when you hit it, and do some stuff with both 2D and 3D physics. I still suck at particles and creating multiple conditions, but I'm working on it.


Here's the first project I did in Unity
goat-3-cycles.gif

I'm really enjoying learning to make games, even though the goat game has already been perfected with Goat Simulator.

I'm thinking I'd like to make a game where this goat confronts a bunch of his issues, like feeling antisocial to an unhealthy degree, comfort eating food that sucks for him, and being insensitive to his friends.

But maybe I'll just make an endless runner with a lot of stuff he can break instead. :)