Friday, September 5, 2008

The mystery house (part 3)

We went back to the corridor and tried to open the doors again. There was this big wooden one close to the entrance. This time we pulled hard.

Hurray, the door opened!

On the other side there was a landing, and a staircase. At least we could go down, even if carrying the luggage and the baby down four floors wasn't something we looked forward to.

The staircase went up too. There was a 5th floor after all.

There were doors on the 5th floor landing. All of them had a tag with a person's name on it: they were apartment doors. Unfortunately, none was our friend's. So where did he live?

At the end of the landing, there was yet another metal gate leading to yet another staircase, probably leading to the roof. I didn't have the key.

I went down to the 4th floor. We couldn't still figure out how to get to our friend's place. I left my family on the 4th floor landing and went downstairs to find a solution.

I got in the elevator again, and it dawned on me. There was this weird circular key on the keyring. I put it in the circular keyhole next to the "4" button, where the "5" button should have been.

The circular key was used only to get to the fifth floor! The elevator needed one key to call it when one was on the ground floor, another key to go down when one was on the 4th floor and yet another key to go up to (and down from) the 5th floor.

This time I was able to go to the 5th floor, where I found a little terrace identical to the one on the 4th floor, with a view on a roof covered with nice, varnished tiles.

There was also a dark corridor on the right.

At the end there was a door.

It was lit by a small roof window.

Next to this door was another one.

I had the key! This was our friend's home.

I still had to go back to pick up my family, who were still stranded on the 4th floor. I was going to take the elevator down, when I noticed a door similar to the one we had opened previously and that had led us from the elevator terrace to the 4th floor landing. It was closed, but I had the key this time.

And I found myself on the 5th floor landing, facing the staircase.

Then I realized that the door I had just opened had a tag with people names on it. These doors weren't apartment doors, but allowed passage from the staircase landing to the terrace and corridor on the other side. The names on the tag were the names of the people living in the apartments in the corridor!

So the mystery was solved. I took the elevator down to gather my family and we went up again to go to our friend's studio. Later, we had to struggle with the windows (that were controlled by a not-so-smart automatic system) and the main door of the building failed a couple of times to let us out (the mechanism got stuck at random), but otherwise we had a good week in Lyon.

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

The mystery house (part 2)

The lift rose slowly to the 4th floor. When it arrived, a door opened on each side. We were on a little terrace over a deep well.

The side with the flower pots was promising, so we went there.

There was a door. It was closed. We didn't have the key.

We crossed the elevator cabin to the other side. There was a similar door there, also closed, but it opened when we turned the handle.

The door led to a long dark corridor. The light was broken so we couldn't see where it went. We tried to open several doors to no avail. There were no stairway up or down either.

We went back to the elevator. It was gone, and its door had closed automatically behind us. We tried the key that we had used previously on it when we were on the ground floor. It didn't work. The elevator needed different keys to go up and down.

We were trapped on the landing of the 4th floor, unable to go up or down. Did I say that we had a baby in a carriage and a few pieces of luggage? (To be continued...)

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The mystery house (part 1)

Last August, we were invited by a friend to spend a week at his little studio in Lyon while he was away on vacation. He emailed us a short list of instructions detailing how to get there and left his keys at the bar downstairs.

His flat is on the fifth floor of a 18th century, slightly decrepit building facing the Rhone river. Like all those houses, it has a beautiful front door with wooden carvings and a metal knocker.

We entered the long hallway. Like many old buildings in Lyon, this one has a second entrance on the other side. In the oldest parts of Lyon, these long passages are called traboules, and sometimes open into small, beautiful Renaissance yards. Our building was more recent though.

We had to find the lift. But where was it? There was a small, fenced off yard on the left.

Later we discovered that this was the concierge's private yard. His only outside view was the bottom of the pit. Here's a view from the first landing.

The way forward was the continuation of the passage, crossing through the building. There was a metal gate on the right side that looked like the door of an old lift.

On close inspection this was not an elevator shaft but the entrance of a deep, deep cave.

Later that week we found the gate opened. It looked like a torture chamber and we didn't get inside. We didn't have the key anyway.

Right after the cave door, there was a door and another yard.

There was a strange sign on the door. What's a "WC BAR"? We didn't have the key to this one either so we never found out.

There were two other doors after the WC BAR one.

The first door was the lift! And this time we had the key! We got in.

We had to go to the fifth floor, but the lift didn't go higher than the fourth.
We got out and tried the next door. It was open. Behind it, there were a small, very small yard.

It was the garbage area.

There were steps, and yet another door. We didn't have the key.

We had a last look at the garbage yard. There were windows and people behind it.

We entered the lift again. It was extremely small and smelled of wet dog hair. We pushed the "4" button, thinking that we'd figure out later how to get to the 5th floor. (To be continued...)

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

A silly image

A quick (45 minutes for the model, another 45 minutes for the environment, everything done in Cinema 4D) silly image to celebrate the future of the French Navy, given the current indecision relative to the construction of a second aircraft carrier. Not that I care, really, but I liked the idea of a pedal boat named after the diminutive Sarkozy (thanks to Marc Jacquier for the inspiration).

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Organic art

1stAveMachine is a New York based computer graphics studio that specialises in photorealistic organic animations like these:

Wonderful stuff, but somehow it's something of a pity that such wild imagination has to be tamed and restrained by what ultimately foots the bill, in this case advertising.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Office animations

A couple of years ago, we decided to reorganise our office space. Since it involved moving large pieces of furniture (including 3 libraries full of books and archives), I proposed to make a simulation first, to optimise the reorganisation. Finally we didn't change anything - it would have taken a good week - but I did a couple of animations with Cinema 4D and Advanced Renderer. Neither the models, texturing and the lighting are very elaborate: the models are just textured cubes (plus an iMac model I found on the French Cinema 4D website, even though we don't have Macs) and there's a lot of flickering due to the low radiosity parameters.

I planned to redo them with finalRender but this takes a lot of time and frankly it's not worth it. In any case, these videos were gathering dust on my hard disc, so they may as well be published here.

The first video is a time-lapse animation of the office from sunrise to sunset. You can see the time flying in the little corner in the bottom right corner. I used C4D's sky plugin to get the "true" light and sky colours from the lat/long coordinates of my office.

The second video is a fly-over of the office, as experienced by a (very sober) fly. It was just fun to do and wish I had the time to make it more realistic and detailed.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Handmade 3D

The Freres Hueon (apparently a couple of brothers from Bordeaux, France, but little information is available about them) made a "sweded" remake of the light cycle race in Tron, using cardboard props instead of computer graphics. As a Tron fan, I find this mightily impressive.

I should have a special altar built for Tron, as it is the original source of my deep love for computer graphics. I saw it in 1982 and found it so extraordinary and visually groundbreaking at that time that I sat through two consecutive showings. As we know, Tron was a commercial failure, and CG didn't really made it in the movies until Jurassic Park, 11 years later.

Still, Tron remains interesting in the way the authors took advantage of the limitations of the available technology. More recent movies overestimate the ability of 3D technology, so visual effects that look fantastic when the movie is released look fake and awkward after a few years (if not a few days), with characters deep into the uncanny valley and flat lighting. Tron has some cheesy parts (it was a mainstream Disney movie made in the 80s after all), but the effects, simple as they are, are still very pretty.

The Tron DVD also contains the following tidbit: as 3D was still largely experimental, the companies hired to create the computer graphics used very different technologies. Basically, one used polygons (for the Solar Sailer for instance) while the other used primitives (notably for the Light Cycles). The latter technology gave better, shinier results but with a price: in the DVD, we can hear Syd Mead, the designer hired to create the Cycles, lament the fact that his original smooth, curvy, organic-looking design had to be dumbed down into a bunch of spheres and cylinders... It is amusing that this debate still exists today in the POV-Ray community, where some users make a point of using only script and primitives while others have embraced polygon modelers.