Hello, my name is Kyle Smith and this is my Six Foot Giraffe. A growing collection of personal art, thoughts, and memories. Since 2007.
Well over a day had passed before I even realized I got a very, very small feature on the Unreal Engine Twitter account this weekend. I was pretty surprised. It means this image hit the eyes of somewhere in the neighborhood of half a million people. Don’t really know what that equates to, if anything at all, but I know it felt good to be acknowledged even if in the smallest way by the very people connected to the software I’ve been trying my hardest to learn.
They made a one day only Mars donut to celebrate the Perseverance Rover touching down on the Martian surface. It’s been so awesome to hear about my buddy Mike’s experiences and insights over his past several years working on the project at JPL.
Can’t help but feel pretty cool being able say I know someone who works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and yet even cooler to be able to call him a friend. Congrats Mike, and thanks for any excuse to have a donut.
No sweets, all of January. This meant cutting out all the usual suspects that come to mind when you think of sweets, and being more mindful of everyday things with excessive amounts of added sugars. Things like instant oatmeals, soups even. Definitely no mixers if I had any alcohol. Even cut back on fruit. This one came about because, well we really went off the rails in December. I wasn’t counting, but if I had to guess, I’d say I had more Christmas cookies than there are days in December. Some people have a sweet tooth, but I definitely have sweet teeth. Figured It’d be a good idea to give it a rest.
Sounds an awful lot like an excuse, but I’ve always thought my capacity to go off the deep end with sweets was because growing up we didn’t really have them around the house. At least not in excess, which always seemed the case at friend’s houses. It was pretty common for me or my brother to be staring blankly at the kitchen pantry that was literally full of ingredients to MAKE food, and declare “There’s nothing to eat in this house.” Can’t help but laugh thinking about it.
In any case, the challenge wasn’t hard to stick to. It honestly only gets tricky for me when sweets are already in the house. You’ll never find me tempted at a checkout line. Alexis is the literal polar opposite though. She’ll buy a Kit-Kat because she’s craving it, have one stick, then throw the rest in the fridge for 2 months. All the while stretching the limits of my willpower and sanity. Eventually when I break and ask if she’s ever gonna eat that, she says she forgot it was even there, and have it if I want… Torturous.
So in the end, can’t say I feel any different, but it’s nice knowing I did the body some good after a hell of a bender in December. With it in the front of my mind now, I’m sure I’ll be a little better about it all for a while. Make no mistake though, my love for donuts is undying, and knows no bounds. Always and forever.
Building out some environmental puzzles while I continue developing the art direction for Greenfield. Feeling momentum now. Making an image in your mind’s eye visible to anyone, takes time and takes effort. When you can get it right though, and seen just the way you see it, it’s really something.
Revisiting and refining the design of the protagonist in Greenfield. I like the idea of keeping the face featureless, so players might project their own emotions onto the character based on their own experience in the game. Or to sound less full of it, I just like the way it looks.
More adventures in game dev. This tool I built takes a square tessellated plane and manipulates its scale to make something that resembles a terrain. I can then map other objects to it, like grass, weeds, rocks, bushes or anything else I’d like. I can get even more granular and control different properties of those objects too. I can connect that piece of terrain to any other as if they were legos and quickly build out an entire environment in just a few seconds, with just a few clicks.
I wrote the logic for this once, and that took time, but I can reuse it over and over again, able to create an infinite number of variations. It’s a essential concept in Unreal that I’m still wrapping my head around to be honest. I can tell you with certainty though, using tools to make new tools is pretty satisfying.
2020 was a mess on a lot of fronts, but a bright spot for me personally was following through on my resolutions. My biggest and toughest resolution was to learn Unreal Engine. A year later, it’s honestly still a work in progress. I’ve been simultaneously learning the interface, art pipeline, animation pipeline, visual scripting logic, and performance optimization among other things. Somedays feel like I haven’t come very far at all, but others feel pretty good, considering less than a year ago the program wasn’t even installed on my computer yet. Hopefully it’s upwards and onwards from here, but it’s hard to say. As much fun as it is, it still feels incredibly daunting. Here’s a small peek at a game I’ve been developing with what I’ve learned so far:
My second resolution was to exercise at least every other day. Above all else, this one made sure a missed day or two didn’t snowball into a completely derailed week or month. Seemed like a cycle I’d been stuck in the past few years, but this simple rule got me out of it. I made exceptions to let my body bounce back from injury or for a long weekend getaway here and there, but for the most part I nailed it. It’s formed into a habit at this point, and hoping to keep it that way.
My third resolution was to avoid hangovers. I know, I know, the depth of my shame is bottomless. I wasn’t exactly swearing off alcohol, but I’ve long been ready to swear off hangovers. I drink socially, so the pandemic really dropped my consumption this year, and in turn lowered any chance of being hungover to begin with. Even so, I still fell short on a few occasions. At least three I can think of. It wasn’t perfect, but it was more wins than losses, and if I can keep it in the front of my mind, the record should be an undefeated one soon enough.
Lastly, I took a shot at some monthly challenges throughout the year and reflected on my experiences with them month by month. In short, I ended up satisfying some curiosities, kickstarted some better habits, and knocked back a few bad ones.
All in all, it was a win in a challenging year. I’d never done anything like it and ended up having a lot of fun with it. So much so, that it feels weird to just stop down at this point. So I think I’ll keep on. More on that later.
My last monthly challenge of 2020 has always been a question mark. Intentionally left open for new ideas that revealed themselves throughout the year. Nearing the end of November though, still hadn’t really had it figured out.
Then one day my friend Jesse texted me out of the blue. He’d been thinking about me, and took a peek at Six Foot Giraffe, which turned into him catching up on my entire year. He let me know how it was really cool what I was doing and how he was excited for whatever my December challenge would be. I told him I still had no idea what it was though, and then he suggested something brilliant:
So that’s how this one came to be. I love video games, always have. The medium sits at the intersection of so many interests I’m passionate about. Storytelling, visual art, technology. Thing is, I really don’t play very often at all. I try to stay productive, and playing video games as you can imagine, isn’t exactly conducive to productivity. The way Jesse framed it though, felt like more than just an indulgence, and that was easy for me to get behind.
I played 3 games for the month, all made by independent developers. The first was called Untitled Goose Game. You play as a goose wreaking comedic havoc on a small and quaint english town. Totally ridiculous, totally fun. It was largely developed by just 3 people. The second was Kentucky Route Zero. A kinda off-beat, point-and-click, absolutely visually stunning interactive novel. The game took 10 years to make, and also developed mostly by only 3 people. I loved it. The last was Darq, a puzzle-platformer made almost entirely by a single person.
I had fun with it and truthfully Jesse was right, it was well deserved after a solid year of focus. Seeing what just a few people, or even just a single person is capable of in game development has been inspiring, but simultaneously daunting. I honestly don’t know that I’ll be able see it through, but I know I have to try. It helps knowing it’s possible if I work hard enough, and want it bad enough. Guess time will sort if those two boxes get checked off or not.
You’ve Got to Walk by the Bedquilt Ramblers. One of the many beautiful and haunting songs composed for Kentucky Route Zero that caught my ear.
We headed up to the San Bernardino Mountains and rented a place for a few days around Lake Arrowhead to celebrate Alexis’ 33rd birthday with our friends and quarantine companions, Mike and Christina. I have no doubt if we weren’t in pandemic times we would’ve packed somewhere in the neighborhood of 30+ friends into some Mid-City bar to sing happy birthday to Alexis. We made out just as well though with only the 4 of us up on the mountain, even if my singing voice is a little off key.
We cooked, drank, gambled, embroidered, watched logs on the fire, and got plenty of sleep. It was one hell of a mid-thirties bender if I’d ever seen one. Think we could all say it was a much needed change of pace and scenery, and most importantly exactly what I think Alexis was looking for. I don’t like that we’re getting older, but I can’t complain about collecting memories like these.
With the way these monthly challenges have played out for me, I actually ended up finishing everything I set out to do this year by the end of October. That kinda leaves me in the bonus round now. Without any concrete plan, I thought I’d give keeping a dream journal a shot.
It wasn’t something I had a burning desire to do, but I was curious enough about it, so why not. The idea was just to write down what I could remember the instant I woke up everyday. That was it. I learned pretty quick that deviating at all from that plan meant forgetting everything, no matter how vivid the dream might have been. I wouldn’t think It’d be possible to forget my dream in the 2 minutes between rolling out of bed and flushing the toilet, but I have plenty of blank entries that prove otherwise.
I don’t think there’s such a thing as not dreaming. There’s only not remembering. So long as I made sure to reach for the pen and paper the instant I woke up, I had something to write. After paying more attention to my dreams, I saw that they’re always disjointed. A lot of different storylines happening one after the other, that are in no way connected. Like flipping through channels on a television. In those cases I only wrote down what stood out most each day.
I’ve never been able to make much of my dreams, and this month wasn’t any different. I can try to analyze what watching a monster-truck-sized horse trapped in a stadium surrounded by people throwing spears at it from the stands for their own entertainment means, or I can just accept the novelty and spontaneity of it and go about my day. I choose the latter. Dreams are weird, and I don’t think they mean much, but it’s fun to experience them. Making an effort to remember them was interesting but probably not something I’ll be keeping up with. At least not regularly. In the end, it was something new, and that’s all I was really going for.
Our small but plentiful Thanksgiving with the friends we call family. We ate, drank, walked and laughed. Didn’t need much else. Mike volunteered to cook the turkey, even though he’s been pushing himself to pursue a vegan diet this entire year, which reminded me a bit of this scene.
Usually the very first thing I do everyday is read. Whatever lands in my news feed is what I’m consuming. Save for the occasional space exploration article that sneaks its way in, what I’m reading everyday is typically pretty uninspiring, unimaginative, and usually depressing. It’s just news, and most news seems to be the bad kind. So I wanted to take a break from it and push myself to make sure I read fiction everyday of October.
Some days I missed, but made up the next. I ended up reading Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis, and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I didn’t care much for the first, and really enjoyed the latter. They were short books, but honestly it’s a stretch for me to read two books in a year, let alone in a month. I’m a bit of a slow reader. I can make it through five pages before realizing I have absolutely no idea what was written on them. My mind wanders, but luckily I don’t mind turning back the pages and starting over.
Even if I might be a contender for the world’s least efficient reader, it was still an easy goal for the month. More importantly it was an enjoyable one. The month was a nice break from the bordering apocalyptic 24-hour news cycle that 2020 has been, and a reminder that I should probably keep up with it, especially considering how easy it is to do.
This mess of lines and connections is the logic I built for a weather system in Unreal Engine. When the player enters a trigger volume, rainfall starts, puddles form, fog increases, and lightning and thunder fire off randomly. The variables can be ramped up or down independently or together, over any specified amount of time. Still a work in progress, but progress is the keyword for me.
One of my resolutions this year was to learn Unreal Engine. We’re in October now and I feel like I’m getting somewhere with it. Over the past few months I’ve been using the software to make a game, but really making a game to learn the software.
This screenshot is from a game I’ve been working on. It’s a long ways from being shippable, but it marks real progress that took a lot of time and effort to arrive at. So much so, that it limits what I can do on Six Foot Giraffe. I don’t want to stop posting here, but don’t want to slow my progress any more than I have to either. Truthfully at this moment, I’m not even interested in doing anything else anyways.
I’ve worked in the field of design, particularly for motion graphics and advertising for over 13 years now. Enough time to have gotten very good at it, and well paid for it. I still like the work, but for the most part it’s not as thrilling as it once was. Back when I was just a Junior Designer and still coming up in my career, it was more pleasure than it was work. Where 10 hour days still weren’t enough to get my fill. Everyday I was learning something new and becoming a stronger designer than I was the day before. It was thrilling, and it was addicting.
These past few months of learning and exploring Unreal Engine has me feeling that long lost excitement again. Even in the those moments where it’s not going smoothly, I still find it so exciting to learn something I wasn’t able to do the day before. That’s the gist of why I really don’t want to do anything else right now. Like I said though, I don’t want to stop posting here either. So the obvious thing to do is to keep posting, but for the most part only about development. Never really done anything like that on Six Foot Giraffe, but I’m giving it a shot and seeing if it takes.
Calling taking a daily photo a challenge feels like a stretch, but that’s what I tried to do the month of September. Somedays I didn’t get around to it, and doubled up on others, but for the most part it was a breeze. Something that comes as no surprise.
I came up with the idea before the pandemic hit, which now impacts the places I go and things I do, and the subject matter of these photos. What I captured ended up being a glimpse of how my days are spent in these weird times. Walks around the neighborhood, watching the world through the windows, exploring the insects in our landscaping, our nightly card games, and even more walks around the neighborhood.
Practicing photography doesn’t seem to hold my attention the same way some of my other creative outlets do. I honestly like editing the photos more than I do taking them. It was fun in the end, but not something I’ll keep up with on a daily basis. Maybe I’ll give it another go in non-pandemic times.