What a Difference a Chair Makes

I like working and writing at home because I’m using Dropbox to store and sync all of the files for my thesis paper and research. It’s much easier to edit the files directly in my Dropbox folder (as opposed to uploading/downloading through the web site), and having a 27-inch display doesn’t hurt either. However, this convenience comes at a price.


The right side of my back started hurting pretty bad a couple of days ago, and since strain from weightlifting couldn’t have been the culprit (I haven’t been to the gym since I started crunching on my thesis paper), the only logical conclusion was that the office chair at home, and posture I assume sitting in it, were something less than ideally ergonomic.

The solution: come work in the Lab and park in a vastly more comfortable Aeron chair. I’ve been sitting here working on my latest thesis draft for nearly three hours and my back already feels better. One point for the Lab. Also, the main display on these machines is a 30-inch monster, and has an additional 22-inch display as well. Two points for the Lab. I could go on, but suffice to say I’ll probably be spending late nights up here again…for the third fall in a row.


A Sudden Rush of Morbidity

Earlier today, I was scrolling through my Facebook friends and taking a break from thesis writing. While looking for people who had deactivated their accounts, I came across the names Nick Dunn and Justin Moran.

I’ve mentioned Nick in a previous post, but not Justin. Nick died in a single-car accident in 2008, and Justin died in a motorcycle crash in 2009. I went to high school with both of them, and I was on the soccer team with Nick for several years.

It’s a strange feeling to remember your classmates, now dead, who left at such a young age. It’s even stranger for me, having lived through a terrible car crash of my own. It’s also a reality of our time that we leave part of ourselves online when we die. These blog posts, my tweets, my Facebook photos…that stuff will still be around long after I’m gone.

I don’t really know what to make of that.

My California Adventure, Days Fifty-Five through Fifty-Seven: Wrapping up at Disney

Wednesday brought more fire-fighting at work, as I spent the bulk of my time fixing issues with the CG animation intern’s assets and shots. Turns out he hadn’t set things up properly with the pipeline tools we have…and, surprise, things weren’t working now that he needed to render. It took some finagling, but I got him back on track.

Any time not spent fixing people’s individual assignment problems was devoted toward coloring more shots for Momotaro. We still had an absurd amount to finish before Friday’s premiere, so I stayed at work pretty late that night trying to make sure we were squared away.

Yesterday a second group of Aggies came for a studio tour. I didn’t join the group this time since we had so much work to do, but I said hi when they came down to the Talent Development area and talked briefly about working there. Right around the time the tour group departed, the gold medal match for women’s Olympic soccer started – a rematch of last summer’s World Cup final between Japan and the United States. I tuned in online and watched the game, sort-of-working on my code for Tal at the same time. It was a pretty exciting match, with lots of great saves and close chances on both sides, but this time the U.S. women came out on top, 2-1.

usa wins gold

Later in the afternoon, Tal came by my desk for a final review of my code and my overall performance that summer. We had a good chat about the code, and he had some nice things to say about my time at Disney. I feel like we worked pretty well together, and I learned a lot from him in a short amount of time.

I stuck around for leftover dinner, making sure that any work I needed to finish for Momotaro was complete. When we finished eating, Sam and I decided to call it a project (some of the others were wrapping up the editing and audio levels) and head downtown to try and meet up with Weecho and some other Aggies.

We eventually found Weecho and hung out for a while in the Standard Hotel, which has a cafĂ© and bar open til midnight. We offered various opinions about L.A. and talked about our various experiences at animation studios (Sam and Weecho had been interns at Pixar several years before). I guess Thursdays are dead nights in downtown L.A. – it seemed like nothing was really going on anywhere – and so Sam and I headed back to Burbank to get some sleep before Friday’s big premiere and our last day at work.

The interns screened Momotaro in the digital review room next to the Caffeine Patch. Since it was less than a minute long, we showed it every three minutes for an hour during Bagel Friday, and we had baskets of peaches out next to the bagels as well, in keeping with the film’s story. People from all over the studio packed into the room to see what we’d done, and one group even asked to watch it a second time! I think the project was pretty successful, and I’m looking forward to showing it outside the studio once we get clearance from the legal department.

The rest of the day was pretty sad. We turned in our badges, filled out exit paperwork, and said our goodbyes to friends we’d made around the studio. It’s hard to believe that eight weeks went by so fast. I really enjoyed my time at work – the job, the people, the building – and would come back if I had the chance.


My California Adventure, Day Fifty-Four: SIGGRAPH

I picked Jessica up from Shyam’s place this morning, and we made our way downtown to the L.A. convention center. I was glad to have a navigator; it’s hard enough to drive in downtown L.A. without having to figure out where to turn next. We found a surface parking lot (the $10/day rate wasn’t too exorbitant) and walked a few blocks to the main entrance of the convention.


SIGGRAPH, put on by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), is the largest annual computer graphics conference in the world. I’d go into more detail but Wikipedia already has that covered, if you’re interested.

We picked up our passes at registration; large 4×6 cards emblazoned with our names and access levels, encased in clear plastic sleeves and suspended from neon green NVIDIA lanyards. Weighed down by our new badges, we made our way into the main exhibit hall where studios, software and hardware companies, school, and research institutions all set up booths giving talks, demonstrating products, showing reels, and, most importantly, giving away free stuff.

The most well-known and longest-running giveaway happens at the Pixar booth, where they hand out Walking Teapot toys every year. I staked a place in line about 45 minutes before the giveaway started at noon, so I was already behind several hundred people at least. This video ought to give you some idea of the craziness:

In the end, though, I came away with teapot number 821 of 5000. I think they gave away about 2000 teapots today.

pixar teapot

After I got my teapot, I met up with some other Aggies for lunch and then walked a few blocks downtown to the Standard Hotel, where I had an interview scheduled with Blue Sky Studios, creators of the Ice Age films. They had rented out a suite on the 12th floor of the hotel, making this by far the swankiest place where I’ve ever interviewed for a job.

standard downtown

I felt the interview went well, and it was good to get a chance to learn more about Blue Sky, which I had not had much exposure to up to this point. I walked back to the convention center and spent the rest of the afternoon checking out different displays and galleries until Dailies started. I even saw Ed Catmull in the exhibit hall!

Speakers at SIGGRAPH Dailies are given ninety seconds to talk about their research or project, and they typically do so in an entertaining or humorous way. Since there was a large group of Vizzers here to present their work from the summer industry course, we made sure to get in early for good seats.

Once Dailies wrapped up, we made our way over to the Westin Bonaventure hotel for the annual Viz SIGGRAPH reception, a gathering of Viz students, faculty, staff, and industry friends, past and present, for food, drinks, and a good time. I caught up with a few Vizzers I hadn’t seen for years, and a few that I’d seen recently at Disney or Dreamworks.

viz sig reception

The reception was a great end to a long and eventful day. The only damper was the solo walk back to my car and the drive home to Burbank. There are only a few days left of work at Disney, but it was nice to take a break and take in a new experience at SIGGRAPH. I hope to be back again, and I’ll try to go to more research talks next time.

My California Adventure, Days Fifty-One through Fifty-Three: Weekend Stuff and also WE PUT A THING ON MARS

On Saturday I did the last load of laundry that I’ll need before heading back to Texas – including all those Ralph shirts I bought for my family. I spent a little more time figuring out some thesis research interview details, reading more Three Cups of Tea, and watching some Olympic cycling. The British women really aren’t messing around this year; I watched them set a new world record three consecutive times in each of their heats on the way to a gold medal in team pursuit.

Later on that evening, I went over to Sam and Mike’s apartment to watch Battle Royale, the 2000 Japanese film about a class of students dumped on a remote island and forced to kill each other as part of a government-run game. The film is heavy on satire and black humor, but it’s pretty brutal nonetheless. I can see how many folks thought The Hunger Games borrowed heavily from the premise of this film.

On Sunday I headed over to the Glendale Church of Christ to change things up a little and see what manifestation of Stone-Campbellism existed there. After worshiping in Episcopal churches all summer – most of which were cathedral-type buildings – the much plainer Glendale CofC building seemed almost spartan in comparison. Once worship started, though, I could very well have been in a small church in central Texas because the service followed a pretty standard Church of Christ ‘model.’

glendale cofc

More importantly, though, I was warmly greeted and chatted with several people after the service. I went to lunch with James and Kristi, who came from Colorado several years ago, and had a good discussion with them about the church and its ministries in the area. We ate at Hook Burger over in the Burbank Empire Center, which reminded me of the recently-opened Grub Burger in College Station.

I did some more reading that afternoon, and remembered to tune in online for the landing of NASA’s Mars rover, Curiosity. The rover was entering the atmosphere of the planet, and I listened with people all over the country and the world as NASA live-streamed the reports from the JPL in California. When Curiosity landed and touchdown was confirmed, the whoop of celebration and sheer exuberance of the NASA engineers was totally infectious. In a time when federal funding for science and space is being slashed, it’s incredible to be reminded what we’re capable of.

Today a group of Aggies (in town for SIGGRAPH) came to the studio for a tour. I walked around with the group, providing some color commentary for Michelle’s tour, and ate lunch with them before departing back to the training area to get some work done. I spent some time fixing technical issues with some of our assets and preparing everyone for my absence tomorrow (I’m headed to SIGGRAPH for the day). I learned how to use Harmony (the 2D animation software we’re primarily relying on for our short) to color one of our shots, which I finished at a totally unreasonable hour before heading home. Tomorrow I’ll brave the L.A. Convention Center at my very first SIGGRAPH Conference!

My California Adventure, Days Forty-Eight through Fifty: Ralph is Wrecking It

Wednesday was a media day at work, where Disney invited journalists and bloggers of various descriptions into the studio to see some new footage from Wreck-It Ralph. I saw a camera crew or two milling around in the patch when I went upstairs to get my coffee. Online reactions to the footage seem to be positive, and I think people are starting to get excited about the movie.

wreck-it ralph

We had a lighting dailies session for Momotaro to update everyone on how the final look of our short was developing. We still have a lot of work left to go, but I think the end result should be pretty impressive.

I took care of a few other tasks at work – setting up some assets for an internal training session, testing more code for my individual assignment – and went to lunch with Shyam, Ravin, Megan, and Michelle to mark Megan’s last day at Disney. She got a job over at Dreamworks, so sadly the Disney A&M Crew is downsizing by one. We ate at a little Thai restaurant in Burbank, and I got some delicious roast duck.

Thursday was pretty unremarkable other than a special meeting that was set up for the interns. We sat down with Mark and Joel, two of the technical supervisors at the studio, and they talked about the TD department and the kind of responsibilities they have during production. It was neat to hear about that work from a senior perspective, and I think it gave the other interns a clearer picture of what my job is at the studio.

Today was the really exciting part of the week – the interns all got invited to a screening of Wreck-It Ralph for studio executives, including John Lasseter (Chief Creative Officer at both Disney and Pixar) and Bob Iger (CEO of Walt Disney Company). We didn’t meet either of them, but it was cool to know that when I laughed at something in the movie they could both hear me! The movie isn’t finished yet, obviously, but I think what is done is pretty great. I’m very excited to see the final product in November.

With such a great start to the day, it was hard to imagine anything going wrong, but unfortunately the chain on my bike – the one I just had replaced a couple of weeks ago – broke as I was riding up the hill to my apartment after work. Hopefully I’ll be able to get that fixed up for free at Velo Studio before I leave.

My California Adventure, Days Forty-Two through Forty-Seven: Catching Up

I got pretty behind on posts this week, but fortunately there’s not a huge list of stories to regale you with. Thursday was a pretty straightforward day at work, with more progress on our group short and a few more lines of code on my individual assignment. Friday I had a meeting with Tal to go over the code I’d produced so far, and he helped me clarify some of the functions and prepare for the newer features I would be adding once I finished my current tasks. Friday night, of course, was the tape-delayed broadcast of the Olympic opening ceremonies. I didn’t watch the entire show, but I have to say my favorite part was Her Majesty’s Royal Cameo alongside Daniel Craig’s James Bond.

Saturday morning I made yet another trip to LAX – my roommate needed a ride to the airport for his short trip home to San Fransisco. Traffic at mid-day Saturday wasn’t bad and it only took about thirty minutes to arrive at the terminal to drop him off. I stopped at Albertson’s on the way back to Oakwood to stock back up on lunch materials and weekend dinner food, then made my first (unsuccessful) attempt to get completely caught up on blog entries. I managed to publish one or two, then spent some more time reading Three Cups of Tea later in the afternoon. I was about to heat up a frozen pizza for dinner when I got a text from one of the other interns about meeting at the nearby Momotaro Japanese restaurant for sushi. I was more than happy to oblige.


I came back to Oakwood stuffed with crunch and California rolls, miso soup, mushroom ball, and Japanese salad – and that was it for me that night. I sluggishly dragged myself into bed after mapping out directions to the last church on my ‘to visit’ list: St. Mark’s in Glendale.

The next morning I got up, showered, shaved, made some pancakes, got ready, and made it over to downtown Glendale by 10am for the start of the second service. Parking was a little tricky, as some streets were marked by ‘no parking 8-10am Tuesday’ signs and others by ‘no parking EXCEPT 8-10am Tuesday’ signs. As I’d never been to that part of town, and the signs looked so very similar, it took me a few minutes to figure out just exactly were I could park. Once I did, though, I walked around the block and entered through the main door to the church.

st. mark's glendale

St. Mark’s makes use of many of the same “High Church” traditions that I found at St. Thomas – incense, processions, chants, vestments, and so on – though it didn’t feel quite as “high” as St. Thomas, most likely because the rector’s delivery of the liturgy wasn’t as…Welsh as Fr. Davies’ had been. The congregation was very diverse, and the parish appears to have strong student ministries for all ages, including a preschool. I introduced myself to a few of the members, and Fr. Weitzel, and we chatted about my visits to other parishes in the area and the kinds of things I could expect to find at St. Mark’s. I had a very pleasant experience there; I’ll probably try to attend again before I head back to Texas.

Later on Sunday afternoon, I was out walking around the apartment complex when I was invited to play volleyball at the clubhouse, by some folks who appeared to be around my age. We played three-a-side and four-a-side as people came and went, and I ended up spending about two hours playing with the group. We parted ways around dinner time, and I took a dip in the pool (mainly to wash the sand off) before retrieving my chicken breasts from the apartment fridge and tossing them on the grill.

I watched Olympic gymnastics while I ate and saw Jordyn Wieber tear up when she was eliminated from the all-around competition. I’m sure the last time I watched gymnastics was probably the Beijing Olympics in 2008, so I had forgotten how engrossing and amazing they can be. When NBC’s coverage ended for the night, so did I, and I headed to bed before midnight in an effort to rest up for one of the last weeks of work we’ll have for our group project.

Yesterday and today bore significant progress on my individual programming assignment. Tal looked at my new code and said he’d test it with some larger, real-production files to see how my work held up. I fixed a few issues that popped up with group project assets and instructed my teammates in the proper submission procedure for Disney’s review software, so that we could get ready for dailies in a more streamlined fashion. Today was more of the same, though during the last hour of work I slipped into some kind of code trance and re-wrote most my code into a leaner, faster, more modular version that should be re-usable when I add more functionality.

I apologize for the excess jargon, but that’s basically all that happened today. Tomorrow we have at least one dailies session scheduled to review some of the shots we’ve completed for the group project, and hopefully Tal can look at the changes I’ve made on my individual assignment. Thanks for sticking with me on this over-long catch-up post. I’ll try not to let it happen again.