Dr. Mussey's Blog
Just another WordPress.com weblog

Sep
01

20140831_201428

The moment Microsoft announced the Surface Pro 3, many artists with Toon Boom asked the same question: Will Surface Pro 3 work with Toon Boom Software?

Three weeks ago, my i7 Surface Pro 3 arrived from the online Microsoft store. The short answer to the question is: Yes, with some qualifications.

A few days ago, I had this great blog post ready to go and then I did some last minute experimenting. My results for compatibility testing came out much improved. Microsoft had obviously updated some drivers in just the past two weeks. Since my results here are mostly good, I doubt there will be dramatic changes to come.

An overview:

20140831_201830

Surface Pro 3 runs Windows 8.1 and has both a touch and an N-trig pen interface. Those of us familiar with tablets and tablet PC’s were very unhappy with the use of the N-trig pen compared to the Wacom pen. N-trig pens have traditionally not done well as artist tools. Microsoft insisted this version was going to be dramatically different. I found this difficult to believe.

Meanwhile, the screen is very high resolution, though this can be easily dialed down to a lower resolution screen. The i7 hardware is powerful, though it lacks a dedicated graphics card, and the total weight of the device is amazingly low. Battery life is great for an x86 powered machine of such low weight. Fit and finish are great.

First: The N-trig pen
In previous years, combining N-trig with art software was a terrible experience. Pressure sensitivity was poor and “wintab” drivers usually did not exist. Wintab drivers do not come pre-installed on the Surface Pro 3. You still must install the wintab drivers from the N-trig site, but this is easy.

20140831_202154

Pressure sensitivity comments have focused on the fewer increments of pressure for N-trig compared to Wacom. This is a false issue. The real issue is the pressure sensitivity curve, which is definitely less optimal in my hands with the N-trig pen. For me, this is not a big deal, but it may matter to others. There is a tool coming soon, according to press reports, which will adjust this curve.

There is also a phenomenon where pressure sensitivity disappears if you adjust the screen resolution. It is not absolute and seems to be dependent on the use of wintab drivers.

Toon Boom products allow you to turn off the wintab drivers in the preferences section of the programs. On a new Surface Pro 3, this was a very unsatisfactory experience. However, recent updates to the machine from Microsoft have turned this into a better experience. This was the surprise of my recent retesting. Some tools seem to work very well without wintab, while others develop strange artifacts. For instance, pencils seem to behave very well, while pens develop an unacceptable jitter.

20140831_202309s

Bottom line: I am keeping wintab drivers active in the program for the immediate future.

Palm rejection is very good, but not perfect. This is a problem in all tablets which advertise pen and touch sensitivity. Most such tablets have a software switch to turn off touch so you can draw without making extraneous marks or accidentally flipping between programs. After some searching, I found a work around: Right click lower left windows button>System>Device Manager>Human Interface Devices>Right click HID-compliant touch screen>Disable>click YES. You can then re-enable it using the same path. If you do not do this when drawing, you will go insane. This is both a Wacom and N-trig issue.

It would seem someone could write a small software shortcut for turning off and on screen touch.

The N-trig pen is extremely precise when calibrated.

 

20140831_202354

Like Wacom, recalibration is vital if you make screen changes. If you change screen resolution, you need to recalibrate the pen. If you change from landscape to portrait mode, you need to recalibrate. This is easy, though, and is true for both Wacom and N-trig.

This N-trig precision is very impressive.

Wacom pens have a serious problem with edge accuracy. Rarely have I found a Wacom based tablet that does not exhibit this edge accuracy problem. With lower resolution screens, this is not a big problem. With high resolutions, however, the problem is intensely frustrating. N-trig beats Wacom in the screen accuracy challenge. I see no edge issues with N-trig. This is amazing. Because N-trig has such great accuracy, this makes it a particularly good match-up with the super-high-resolution Surface Pro 3 screen.

The N-trig pen sometimes seems to go to sleep when you pause with the pen away from the screen for certain time periods. Wacom never did this. This can be frustrating. It is not a big issue and once you know it happens, you quickly adjust your work flow to avoid surprise.

I love the feel of the N-trig pen. It has weight and substance. It also has some strange sized batteries (AAAA battery and coin batteries). It also does not have programmable buttons. They seem to be hard-programmed. This is a problem. The eraser side will also not act as an eraser. This is merely annoying. I find that I am working around these issues without a big challenge.

The responsiveness of the pen and drawing is great. I see no lag.

So, for Toon Boom drawing, the N-trig is a winner. It struggles a bit in Toon Boom Studio, though recent updates seem to have fixed this.

Compare to Wacom Companion:
I do not have the Companion but have researched it extensively. The biggest advantage to the Companion is the presence of programmable buttons on the screen. The Surface Pro 3 lacks these buttons. For many, this is a big issue. The Wacom pen interface is a much more established and proven technology in Toon Boom. When you leap to the Surface Pro 3, you are now on the “bleeding edge” and you may feel some pain.

In other words, a Wacom based tablet is more likely to work “out of the box.” The Surface Pro 3 needs some massaging and tweaking. It is good to be comfortable getting into the settings of Windows.

Third: Is the hardware up to the challenge?
You should get the i7 device. I got the 256 GB SSD, which is fine for my purposes, though many want a bigger hard-drive if they do a lot of video editing. I believe the hardware is amazing for such a light device.

Toon Boom tech support emphasizes for all of these portable devices: You do not have a dedicated graphics card, so you may have problems with more complex scenes.

The Windows 8.1 issue:
I am not a Mac guy. Windows 8.1 can be a bit of a challenge for long term Microsoft users, but it’s not bad. Windows 7 is getting a bit old and drags. Don’t worry about 8.1. You’ll be fine.

One gripe: The “charms” reappear at the most annoying times if your pen drifts off the screen to the corners. I hear the charms are disappearing in Windows 9. Good riddance.

The issue of high resolution screens:
This is not an issue specific to the Surface Pro 3. Laptop screens have advanced quickly. High resolution screens are becoming the new normal. The Surface Pro 3 has crazy high resolution. This is both good and bad.

The Good of high resolution screens:
You get a lot of screen real estate for menus. Older tablet PC’s had limited working space.

The Bad of high resolution screens:
Older folks have a hard time seeing the tiny features on such screens. That includes me.
Pen accuracy becomes critical for small menu selections. This is when the N-trig’s superior accuracy becomes important.
Example: The Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro 700t has a Wacom interface on a similar size screen with 1080p resolution, which is much poorer resolution than the Surface Pro 3. Yet, Wacom’s screen accuracy issue makes hitting the correct buttons really difficult. When at the edges of a Wacom enabled tablet, menu choices can be difficult. If you had these screen calibration issues on a higher resolution Surface Pro 3, the experience would be horrible.

You need a lot of hardware power to push around so many pixels. In other applications, this is a problem (specifically One Note). Theoretically, this slows responsiveness.

The work-around if you believe resolution is “too good”: You can adjust screen resolution. This kind of works. It seems to improve some of the hardware issues, though not as much as you might expect. On Toon Boom products, it creates anomalies in pressure sensitivity and seems to kill the wintab drivers. I need to experiment more with Toon Boom and resolution changes as far as using wintab and not using wintab. It definitely helps the eyesight issues. Yet, it also introduces some odd artifacts in the screen. You also need to recalibrate the pen, which is not difficult.

Use the Microsoft Store to make your purchase.
They offer a money back 30 day guarantee. After the first few days, I was a bit frustrated and almost returned my Surface. Now, I am happy after finding the work-around for a couple of issues. It is an expensive device and there is always a potential for “buyer’s remorse.” I will keep this Surface Pro 3, though.

20140831_202655

Specific Programs:

Toon Boom Harmony runs well.
Toon Boom Animate and Animate Pro are also acceptable.
Toon Boom Storyboard seemed to run nicely.

Toon Boom Studio is a different matter. Studio uses a different interface for the pen drawing experience. It plays well with Wacom and extremely well with an external Wacom pad or Cintiq. It does relatively well on a Wacom enabled tablet. On the other hand, “out of the box” it is not an optimal experience with the N-trig pen and drivers for the Surface Pro 3. The drawing shows a tendency to lag behind the pen. Recently, this improved. The default for the program’s install is to use “wintab.” This can be disabled and the program now works rather well with the latest Microsoft updates. There is still a bit of drawing lag, but far less than previously noted.

I am not extremely comfortable recommending a Surface Pro 3 for Toon Boom Studio users. The compatibility seems more challenging.

Always remember: You are better off getting a Cintiq for your desktop PC or Mac which has a powerful NVIDIA graphics card (yes, Toon Boom mentions this card especially). Tablet PC’s. Surface Pro’s , and Wacom Companions are great for animating “on the road,” but are vastly inferior to a desktop Cintiq. The tablet-pen combination options are for portable use. Sometimes, I find I do my best cartooning when in a boring conference, lecture or sitting in a park under a tree. Thus, the tablet is my friend.

It also helps that I need portable tablets in my day job as a physician.

Anyway, I recommend the Surface Pro and it works well with Harmony, Storyboard and Animate. On the other hand, if all you use is Toon Boom Studio, it is not quite as optimal due to the pen driver issues.

Again, the level of support from Microsoft with machine specific driver updates is impressive.

Good animating!

Steven Mussey, M.D.

Oct
03

You make your animation and it seems “perfect.”  Then, you realize it is far from perfection.  In fact, it seems fatally flawed.  Can it be fixed?

Usually, taking an apparently final production and backtracking to change dialog or the timing of a scene is an expensive nightmare.

Not so with animation on modern systems!

Take the above animation.  I made it and assumed it was “finished.”

Problem #1 appeared late in production: It was too long.  In order for the scene to “play out,” it took forever.  No single gag is worth five minutes.  So, I compressed the scene by triggering dialog events earlier.  It seemed to be, again, “perfect” with a tighter script.

Problem #2 was made worse by recent news events in our local Washington D.C. area concerning gun violence: A certain section of this animation followed the style of Warner Brothers cartoon type violence which proved excessively jarring.  When two test audiences made an audible gasp, I knew there was a problem.  The comic value was destroyed.  It had gone “over the top” in a bad way.  I had to change it all.  Working almost totally in Harmony and a bit in Audition, I was able to fix the issue within a few hours.

Now, it was “perfect”?  Nope.

Problem #3 appeared in a test audience of other physicians:” The doctor is talking too much.  He’s a real jerk.  No one sympathizes with him.”  The problem was obvious and, somehow, I missed it.  When you do a scene over and over you lose the impact and fail to see obvious problems.  My efforts to compress the scene’s action (see Problem #1 above) had created a new undesirable character trait: The doctor who never listens to the patient.  Perhaps such a non-listening doctor could be a future cartoon topic, but not this one.  Again, with a few hours in Audition and Harmony, the issue was solved.

Imagine doing this in the old days!

So, now it is perfect?   Well, at some point, you have to let go, release the darn thing and move on!

Harmony and the miracle of computer animation make this possible.

May
25

If you want a portable tablet pc for Toon Boom animation, here is very interesting option: The Samsung Ativ SmartPC Pro 700T.
Samsung-ATIV-Smart-PC-Pro-700T
First: This is not designed to replace your desktop PC with a Wacom Cintiq or tablet interface. You will always need the horsepower and precision of a good workstation with a high quality graphics and drawing tablet.

But what about being away from your desk? What if you want to sit on a shaded porch and draw? Perhaps you are killing time in an airport or doctor’s office when a moment of inspiration strikes. If you need something for those moments away from your desk when you want to produce material instead of simply consuming content, this is the machine for you!

The basics: This is a 1080p resolution tablet that inserts into a keyboard or runs alone. The operating system is Windows 8 on an Intel core i5 processor. The surface features touch AND A WACOM SURFACE WITH A PEN!

When inserted into its keyboard, it looks and feels like an Ultrabook or a slightly heavier Macbook Air.
So, here is the bottom line:

Why is this great for Toon Boom animation?
1. Wacom screen and pen allow you to draw directly into Harmony or Animate software.
2. The Samsung 700T is the only detachable tablet with “wintab” drivers to allow you to use other drawing software. (Note: Harmony and Animate from ToonBoom do not require these drivers.)
3. High resolution screen gives lots of workspace even for a small space.
4. Decent pen accuracy. Some have complained, but I see no issues.
5. Compact and 5 hour battery life (I got a bit more in my use).
6. At $999 you will not find anything like this on the market for animating.

Why would you pause and be unsatisfied with this?
1. ToonBoom Studio does not work well on this machine.
2. Earlier models had a finicky keyboard attachment which seems to be fixed in current models.
3. A high resolution screen requires more graphics power. Complex scenes in Harmony with complicated backgrounds or sets had to be “dumbed down” to do lip-synch and action refinement. This is easy to accomplish, though it reminds you the device is not a powerful desktop.
4. The pen is small and should be used only as a backup. Spend the extra $35 and get a bigger Samsung pen.

Other considerations:
1. Windows 8 is less frustrating on a touch screen, but is still a tough transition from Windows 7 or earlier.

Other models to consider
31WCOu1HczL
1. Surface Pro from Microsoft was actually the favorite from the Toon Boom staff. The included pen is better and they reported better accuracy. Note that other reviewers have disagreed on the pen accuracy issue. Surface Pro does not have “wintab” drivers, which is not a Toon Boom problem. Surface Pro is a bit more expensive.
34-680-450-TS
2. The Fujitsu Tablet PC’s are good (T902), but have lower resolution and are a lot heavier. The Lenovo X230T tablet PC is also excellent, but is heavier, more expensive and has poor edge accuracy with the pen. In general, traditional tablet PC’s without a detachable screen can cost twice as much as the Samsung or Surface Pro.

When the Macbook Air and later Windows Ultrabooks were introduced, my comment at the time was: Very cool! It still needs a pen, Wacom screen and more robust graphics to be perfect.

The latest release of Intel integrated graphics is now sufficient to run Toon Boom software. Now, the Ativ Smart PC Pro 700T from Samsung and the Surface Pro from Microsoft finally adds the Wacom screen and pen.
CM_S7_ATIV_1
A decent portable animating platform has arrived!

Addendum:
Additional work with Toon Boom Harmony and Studio has revealed a work around for much better performance on this Samsung tablet. This should work for Animate and the other Toon Boom products, too.

First, go into the Toon Boom software preferences and uncheck the box for “wintab” support. Close the program.

Now, you have two choices: Temporary or “Permanent.” You want to disable the Wintab drivers from Wacom. Both are reversible. Do not let the “Permanent” label frighten you.

Temporary Method:
1. Go into the “Task Manager.” You can get in by hitting “Control-Alt-Delete”

2. Enter “Services” tab

3. Find “TabletServiceSD” and “TabletInputService”

4. Right click on these two items.

5. Select “stop”

The disadvantage with this method is you must repeat this every time you start up your machine.

Permanent Method: Again, this can be quickly reversed if you need Wintab drivers. This simply uninstalls the drivers from Wacom.

1. The Samsung “SW Update” lets you manually save the drivers on your hard drive. Manually save the “Digitizer Driver.” This is in case you change your mind and want to reinstall the drivers.

2. Go to program uninstall and uninstall the drivers that have the Wacom name.

3. Restart your computer. Do not panic when you realize your pen is dead. Once you have the restart, your pen is back with the Windows drivers working.

4. Now all Toon Boom programs, with Wintab disabled, work great, great, great! Incredible pen accuracy! Amazing responsiveness!

5. To reverse the process, just reinstall the Samsung Digitizer driver.

Additional points:

1. Do not rush to the Wacom website and try and install the newest drivers. They are not optimized to work with the Samsung device and my experiences have gone badly with these.
2. Samsung SW Update will prod you to reinstall the digitizer drivers. Don’t do it if you like how things are working.
3. Interestingly, Surface Pro from Microsoft made no effort to provide Wintab drivers. This explains why Surface Pro cooperates better with Toon Boom out of the box. Samsung, in its efforts to provide better service, actually made the Toon Boom products malfunction.

Oh, well…..

Jan
07

There is a lot of stuff here at CES.  Hopefully, this is not part of the “innovation.”

final-0007

Jan
07

LG makes washers, dryers, refrigerators, televisions, smartphones, stoves, and other devices.

Dsc00479

LG will make your smartphones work with all of your appliances: Your LG stove, your refrigerator, your television, your washer and your dryer  and will make connectivity easier to let you live “the Smart Life!”

…but only if every appliance and smartphone in your home is from LG.

Sorry iPhone, Motorola and Samsung phones!

Dang!  I knew there was a catch!

Honestly!  Where do these company executives come from?  People cannot simply swap out phones every few months!

Jan
07

Hearing aids are not waterproof.  Apparently, some make claims to being water resistant.

Unfortunately, you still cannot swim in a hearing aid.  You cannot step into the shower with a hearing aid.  If it rains on you, you must hide your hearing aid.  You cannot even sweat too much while wearing a hearing aid.  The water wrecks the electronics.

Siemens won honors in Design and Engineering at CES for creating a hearing aid that is totally waterproof.  You can swim in the device and do any water activity without fear of wrecking the electronics.hearingaid

As an added feature, they have an attachment that allows you to listen to any mp3 music player.

awardIt is called the Aquaris Hearing Aid from Siemens and it is available from your Audiologist if you ask.

Dec
09

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is a huge electronics show held annually in Las Vegas.  For the third year in a row, Toon Boom will be there.

This time, however, the company is also going First Class, showing their products at the special show “CES Unveiled.”

This will be huge!  Check out typical CES events in this composite “Best Events of CES.”

Dec
09

Microsoft is doomed. This is the popular cliché. However, this week, I saw something that made it all so clear.

microsoft-surface-top6302

Our annual Christmas office party was this week. Those attending can best be described as grandmothers and older mothers. Someone brought their iPad. The entire group was thrilled when they saw the iPad. You would think someone just brought out pictures of their new grandchildren. Actually, the pictures came later, courtesy of the iPad. Those without iPads talked excitedly about their plans to buy one this Christmas.

Though they use computers regularly, they merely tolerate them. For them, computers are simply an ugly necessity.

Yet, this group loves their iPads. They are not at all intimidated. They are genuinely excited, even weeks after their purchases. They “love” their iPads in the same way technology addicts like myself “love” our own shiny new computers or gadgets.

While geeks like me debate the merits between Android versus Windows RT versus iPads, this group of technology-phobic people know only one thing: They love their iPad or they want one now. They do not know the meaning of the word “Android” and they have no idea what Windows RT or Windows 8 means. They are not even interested.

Microsoft lost this segment of the market. It is too late. The race is over. The iPad won.

Nov
29

This year, Intel released Ivy Bridge. This offered fans of Toon Boom animation improved graphics performance.

The big issue for Toon Boom Animate Pro and Harmony is video graphics. If your video card is inadequate, the programs will run badly or not at all, meaning they crash.

This creates problems. Windows Tablet PC’s all tend to offer only integrated graphics, except for some models of the HP tm2 (now obsolete) and Fujitsu T901 (also soon disappearing). This created challenges for those who wanted a portable animation platform.

Enter Ivy Bridge with its higher end HD 4000 graphics and promises of OpenGL support in an integrated graphics laptop. Anandtech.com has a good review of the graphics capabilities. I was impressed enough to get a Lenovo X230T tablet, running Windows 7.

Verdict: Harmony runs well on this machine. I am finding no problems!

Is this as good as a laptop with a dedicated graphics card? Of course not…. But you get a portable animation machine!

Key things to look for in a tablet PC:

  1. Wacom Digitizing Hardware
  2. Intel Corei5 or Corei7 processor
  3. HD 4000 Graphics (NOT HD 3000!!!)

     

    I am aware of only three tablets meeting these criteria. One each from Lenovo, Fujitsu, and Samsung can be found at this time.

     

    Good luck!

     

    Steven Mussey, MD

 

 

 

Toon Boom Studio seems to be far more tolerant of lower end hardware.

Aug
17


Last year, I made an animation for CES about Steve Ballmer. Using all of the 3D features of Harmony 9, I added a stage, characters, and background. I also added rows and rows of people. The goal was to recreate the “drama” of the big event before making fun of it all.

As the scene was composited, I ran into trouble: Simply maneuvering around the elements made my machine pause and then crash. It became extremely difficult to work with the animation. If I rendered anything other than a 720 by 480 resolution frame, the program crashed. Even though I set my preferences in the program to reduce memory use, the program still stuttered. I was able to create the basic scene before frustration made me stop.

My assumption: Even my well-equipped Intel i7 machine was overwhelmed.

I was wrong. The problem was Harmony 9, which is a 32-bit program, could not handle the memory demands of my complex scene.

So, Harmony 10 is 64-bits and advertises faster and better scene handling. Would it perform as advertised? Is it REALLY better?

On that same machine, now running Harmony 10, I loaded up the Steve Ballmer animation. Would it crash? Could I render film resolution frames without the dreaded Windows 7 error message?

The result: The animation is easily handled by my computer and Harmony 10. The animation renders film quality frames with no difficulty. The difference is dramatic.

Harmony has a lot of features. Power users will quickly add complexity to their scenes. If you are stuck in 32-bit, these scenes become unmanageable, even on the fastest super-computer.

Switch to 64-bit and even my first generation Intel i7 runs like a sports car.

Harmony 10’s step upwards is 64-bits and it is a really big deal! Go for it!

Steven Mussey, M.D.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.