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Turn the machines back on

Its been quite awhile since my last post, mostly due to a large amount of work coming in so can’t complain about that. Today I find myself back in Shenzhen possibly for the last time as Fanny will be leaving Mega U soon. I am both happy and sad about this as I have really enjoyed my time in China although there is no way this is the end of our Asian adventures so…

Recently I had an occurrence which I think might be worth noting down here in hopes that it may help someone else avoid some pain and suffering. More and more we all rely on our computers to do our work. For me what I am doing would be completely impossible without it and its important that my system operate at full capacity with no problems. I have 2 work set ups the one I use in the states which is a fully loaded desktop system and my portable one I use while traveling. There are obvious limitations to the laptop system but overall I have found my 2009 macbook pro to be quite adequate to the task, just not as fast and I need to scale some things down accordingly.

traveling Work Station

OK back to the issue at hand my ” occurrence ” while on a deadline of course, this stuff will never happen when you are not, my laptop decided to have an issue. By have an issue what I really mean is it decided to stop working almost completey. I was working on a set illustration for a movie in production now in Baton Rouge I cant say much about it other then it will be cool if they follow the script I read. I had completed the basic build of the set space using Sketchup and was preparing to begin the rendering process. 2 days into the project I feel confident that I will meet my deadline in 12 hours with no problem after all its only one set illustration…

The design is done and looking good so I go to lunch with Fanny. Beef noodle is good…

Beef Noodle

After lunch I get back to it and proceed to do a test render using ” Renderin ” a really nice new plugin for SU which allows for a good fast render directly from the SU file. My computer is sluggish and refuses to even let me move around in the model to apply textures etc so I decide to restart and run disc check. This should help as I know the computer is getting a bit old and is very full of programs, lint etc. After the restart and disc utility things go well for  around 20 min then we hit the wall again I start thinking of what can be wrong. I check my activity monitor and find that my cpu is going crazy and for some reason the computer is read / writing 5 gB to its disc with only a few programs running. As an example right now the same computer is read writing half of that so something is definitely wrong. I spend a good 2 hours messing with this until I decide that the answer will be to try a different approach. I am on a deadline as Tom needs this illustration for a meeting with the director in the morning.

So far I am thinking it must be SU which is causing the issue so I will export to another program Luxology’s Modo which I use quite often for more involved renders. In order to do this I need to export the model to the OBJ file format that Modo can read. Suffice to say I am still in this process when fanny gets home from the office. No matter what I do I cannot export the file as the computer just hangs and or crashes. After discussing the situation Fanny makes dinner and I try a new way, slowly but surely I am able to export the set by breaking it into small pieces and exporting individually. I have done this before but only on very large complex projects. Something which should have taken an hour has now consumed half a day but I am now ready to close SU and work in MODO.

As I am sure you may suspect this was not to be. Mr Murphy is now in full effect and I find that Modo is even less responsive then SU. At this point I am ready to see how well this laptop flies so I fire off an email to Tom who will be waking up soon expecting to see the illustration he needs. I am extremely distraught at this point. If there is anything that I can point to as the single most important lesson learned through my time at ACCD and my professional career is you do not miss deadlines { EVER } and here I am about to blow it… I am sure the neighbors must think there is a wild foreign devil living here due to the many curses and growling noises emanating from the apartment.

Chivas Regal was my friend here we got a bottle from some Japanese clients and I have to say it really helped with the ordeal.

My Production Designer Tom Lisowski is a great guy and I love to work for him as its always fun, true to his nature he responds by telling me he understands the situation and can I fire off some straight views of the model which he can use to talk through stuff until I can send the final. I am happy to do this but my computer is not. Thankfully hours earlier I had made a copy of the file and put it on Fanny’s Imac which although not fast is still operating. Images sent, I decide its time to just bite the bullet and rebuild the system something Fanny has been suggesting for about 5 hours now.

Now here is the whole point of my long description, I am going to attempt to completely rebuild my work computer from scratch. That means all of my data, programs, plugins, everything will be wiped clean when I zero the drive. Its now 9 pm I am in mainland China which means there is slim to no chance of finding a computer repair shop that can help or even find replacements for anything I will be losing. I will not be able to freely access the internet as the program that allows it VPN will need to be reinstalled as well. Add to that the fact that I will need to be up and running again to finish the job ASAP.

As a general rule I would suggest the following as an emergency system.

External HD with all important files for work, even if they already exist on your main HD by the time you notice the problem it may be too late. Export your email and bookmarks and whatever fonts you have as when you reinstall the system everything will be lost . If you keep music or video files be aware of their location many programs Itunes, IPhoto, will by default put them on the main HD which means they will be gone…

Backup disc with your important programs for install, you may or may not have access to the internet so don’t depend on it. Its also a good idea to keep copies of all the programs and plugins you downloaded over time as when it comes to the rebuild you don’t want to be searching online and in my case will not have the time.

I keep a log of all my serial numbers and even receipts etc to aid in the rebuild. If you are anything like me your system is quite customized and getting all the little bits back together can be a real pain.

Last but not least Install disc for you OS very important as you will need this to do any real repairs much less a full install. I suppose with the future use of the cloud this may become irrelevant but I will still do it always remember Murphy…

The above is in my travel kit, its not very compact although technology is making it more so. My current setup makes use of one raid array 4TB external firewire drive. Its heavy but at least it keeps things simple. Unfortunately as I was working on a big project right up to my departure this time I did not have a recovery system  for the laptop; if I had one none, of this would be a problem…

Big Storage

First thing I do is run disc utility again this time from the install disc. It tells me my hard drive is damaged and needs repair, at least now I know I am not simply losing my mind. I run the repair function 3 times and then zero the drive. ” overkill? ” I think not. This insures that whatever was causing the issue is now gone. because I have all the programs ready the entire process is completed by midnight and I can take a nap. Keep in mind this is only the bare essentials needed to do the work I will be adding stuff for weeks to get back everything…

Typical of the type of work I do deadlines are killer things, you honestly do not have time to do anything but the work and it is not over till its done. I am now around 16 hours into my ” work day ”  and I need to rest. Another small glass of Chivas and I can relax…

4 hours later with my shiny new system the laptop is back to normal and I go ahead and render the model shot as I had planned to do so long ago, it looks great and I can start to paint. I have done 2 renders one just for the base image and one with some lighting, this shot will have a bunch of candles and firelight in it so the lighting one is important but due to the complexity of the scene will take much longer to complete. I work on the painting while the renderer works in the BG obviously whatever was wrong has been alleviated or this would not be possible…

Some hours later I am done with the base painting just waiting for the final render to add in and I can be done. The image looks good and in spite of the pain I am happy with myself. Long story short I send the illustration to Tom who very quickly gets back to me with praise for the great work, the director loves it yadah yadah all is good : ) . Now I can sleep for a day…

Images below are for example only I cant show you the current work for obvious reasons…

Where I was when problem starts

Where I needed to be

With a bit of preparation and the correct mind set the work finally gets done but this was a warning. My mistake was in waiting too long to realize the depth of the problem. In retrospect I spent many wasted hours thinking I could simply push through when in reality I needed to just rebuild the system. Its time now to take a good hard look at how I am currently working, both in the methods I use and the tech I rely upon. as an artist working in production there is little room for mistakes. The old saying goes you are only as good as your last project. Thats a harsh reality of life.  The truth is if your work is good there is some leeway but not very much.  Its easy to get complacent, I am very good at what I do, and under normal circumstances I would never have had an issue meeting my deadline.  Sometimes though things arent normal and thats where it gets tough. Time to do some thinking…

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. darla goodwin #

    great commentary


  2. Cat Daley #

    Wow Dave, I have to say it seems you are getting better with dealing with the computer problems although fanny’s neighbors might not agree! I have been there when meltdowns came before…not pretty! Love you! Sissy type person.


  3. Mike goodwin #

    great commentary !



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