Over the past few months I started seeing some interesting animations created with Blender. Blender is a open source 3d animation package similar to Maya or Cinema 4D. If you are not familiar Blender check out their website at Also check out Memory and Big Buck Bunny, both created with Blender. Being that I have a soft spot open source, I figured it was the package for me to try and learn even though we use C4D at work.

Blender runs on OS X, Linux and Windows (if you must) and was a easy install on my Mac. I launched the software and the interface scared me. This is a common issue with Blender and most would give up right there. In fact, I had looked at it once before and did give up. With a little more determination this time, I did some research and found lots of online resources for teaching yourself the software. I will list a few resources at the end of the post.

The UI is designed for productivity and not user friendliness and it is daunting, but once you work with it a little bit, you will get the hang of it. Most of my struggles have been with learning 3d terms that would be an issue with most of the packages. After a few hours of tutorial I’m able to do some basic molding and animation. Still lots to learn and that is exciting as well.

To date I have created two items that I have used in service at Sugar Creek. First I modeled and animated the logo and composited it with some graphics built in After Effects for a lower third. I came up with the idea to see if I could export videos with an alpha channel from Blender.

The second project was just a quick title animation for a guest speaker. This was designed for a screen setup we had that is two projectors projecting a 2048×768 image on screens floor level behind the speaker. The grass and the “LIFE?” are 3d elements with the clouds being a 2d image. The animation is just a basic camera move.

Life? Sermon Background from Rick Russell on Vimeo.

Both of these are very simple examples I know, but they have been a great learning experience. Over the next few months I’m hoping to continue to come up with projects that will help me to develop my skills. If you are interested in 3d, give Blender a try, but commit to taking some time to do some tutorials to get you up to speed on the interface. Plenty of information is out there.

By the way, 3D projects can take lots of time to render and if you choose Blender, there are no extra license fees to setup a render farm on any hardware you have around you. Bonus!!!

Free Blender Resources:

Recently released 9 hours of training if you have a subscription.

iPhone 3.0

Today Apple gave a sneak peak into the next release of the iPhone software, version 3.0. I have been watching all of the blogs to see what the new features would bring to my favorite portable device. Cut and paste was a nice addition and push notifications will also bring some good new features to applications like Facebook and IM applications.

The iPhone is a great device for some one like me, who spends the majority of my time away from my desk. I might not be traveling around doing sales, but most of my work during the week is preparing for Sunday or repairing equipment in one of the many A/V equipped rooms. Much of the work that I do is driven by requests that I receive over email.

The one feature that nobody seemed to talk about was tasks and task syncing. Not really that surprising being that Apple just added a task support to mail in Leopard. I guess that we have two more releases before we can expect to see it on the iPhone. Thanks to the app store, we have many applications on the iPhone that handle task management, but to my knowledge none of them allow you to create a task from a mail message.

I can’t tell you how many things slip through the cracks because I read an email on my iPhone and I don’t create a task because it is not easy. I say “I will create that task when I get back to my desk.” When I am back at my desk the message is lost in the shuffle. So does 3.0 help me? Only time will tell. Apple did release 1000 new APIs and I can only hope that one of them will enable the application developers to access the emails and let us create action items from emails easily on the iPhone.

Panasonic AV-HS400A

Panasonic AV-HS400AWe recently purchased a Panasonic AV-HS400A switcher for our student worship room. If you have not seen this switcher, check it out. I don’t think you can find a switcher on the market with the same features for the price. We have been putting it through its paces in our worship center while waiting for our Grass Valley Kayak HD-100 switcher to arrive.

All was good for about the first month including three “Imagine Christmas” performances. But over the past few weeks, the switcher became unreliable leading up to three lockups (in the span of two services) last week. Needless to say, we were getting worried. I did a quick review of Panasonic’s site and didn’t find any software update or listed issues.

Then I went to the first rule of trouble shooting. What has changed that could be causing the issue? I had to rack my brain a little bit because we change things all the time. After a few minutes, I called the director on the intercom and asked him to unplug the network cable from the back of the switcher. We had no issues for the rest of the day. We have run another Sunday now with no issues., so I think that it is safe to say it was the network connection.

We really were not using the networking features, we just wanted to try out loading some graphics over the network. If you need to load graphics that way I would recommend you not leave it plugged in during a production. I have no idea if our network configuration was to blame, but if you run into the issue it is something you will want to test during your trouble shooting.

Wall Projection

friendslist Recently we have been using a projector and putting images on the baptistery wall. During worship we use it as more as a lighting effect to add some visual effects to the stage. If you do video like we do you know it can be hard to have enough color on the stage after you light every thing with enough light for video.

We also though it would be a good place to show the sermon branding. So here are two short animations I made from the sermon graphics for the wall. This is a great way to keep A.D.D people like me reminded of the sermon series.


iphoneI was an early adaptor of the iPhone. Yes, I was one of the strange people who waited in line for the phone on the day that it came out and now I have upgraded to the iPhone 3G. In the past I have own Windows Mobile devices and Blackberries, but the iPhone with the open development platform and tons of add-ons in the iPhone App Store make this device a powerful tool.

All of the recent phones I have used were intended to help with my work. The Windows Mobile device was nice in that it supported Remote Desktop and could maintain Windows servers in the case that I didn’t have access to a laptop, but was missing a good SSH client. My Blackberry had the best texting and email composition of any mobile device I have used and had a workable SSH client, but the Blackberry really lacked in the area of web browsing and Wifi.

In the past, I was a system administrator and a developer. I was most interested in having access to a shell and maybe VNC or Remote Desktop to maintain systems; today I do audio, video and lighting. Some of the same tools are used, along with some new applications. Over the next few posts, I plan to detail the application I use specifically for production as well some applications I would like to see.

The basic iPhone without the additional applications is a powerful tool to the tech producer by itself, but even more so if you are a existing mac user. The iPhone handles all of the basics you would expect for general organization and communication. It is easy to check email, text and review your calendar. Most of the common attachment types are viewable as well.

With the iPhone also being an iPod, you have access to play music at events. I keep a few playlists on the phone that fit a few types of background music needed for the standard events we do. I have found it best to put the iPhone into airplane mode if you want uninterrupted music playback during an event. Don’t forget that you can also keep podcasts on hand at all times to help you keep up with what is going on in tech. Don’t forget to include devotional and sermon podcasts to keep you spiritually fed.

The inclusion of Safari makes browsing documentation and research easy even if you are in the catwalk or on a lift. I also find the built-in camera handy for quick documentation without typing. I can take a picture of a label on a product to have easy access to a serial number or model for future research or documentation.

I do hope that Apple plans on adding “To Do” list functionality in the future that syncs with Mail and iCal, but there are a few third party applications that can be of use in this area until Apple decides to add this functionality. I used the phone without applications as a powerful tool for the first six months until the App store was released which just put it over the top.

The Christmas Season

Imagine 2008It is Christmas time again and I have been away from the blog for awhile. As a tech director for a church that does a Christmas program, the season means insanity from about November through the first few weeks in December. We have been working twelve plus hour days for about two months now getting ready for “Imagine Christmas – From the Beginning.”

This is my second Christmas program as a tech director. Last year’s program was pretty good once it happened, but leading up to it almost killed me. This year was a marked improvement in organization and execution. In the weeks before the program, I really dislike the Christmas Season, but all it takes is one performance and I’m in the mood and will be looking forward to the putting the program together again next year.

With each program we do, I get the opportunity to work with new people and do a program that is out of the normal Sunday service and I get to learn and improve my skills. Last year I learned much on the technical side of lighting and how to call cues and produce a more theatrical type program. This year I had the opportunity to learn as well, but in different kinds of ways. One thing that comes to mind is that practice really helps not only the performers, but the tech team as well. I knew that was the case, but it was really emphasized when the audio team really nailed the orchestra mix. The video team as well knew exactly where the action was and what camera to shoot it with. I also learned how hard it is for someone to come into a presentation like “Imagine” and light it well.

For the past two years we have hired out the lighting design; both groups did the best that they could and I do like seeing the different styles of lighting and how they can effect the look. I just don’t know if they fully understand the scope of dance, ariel and drama until the fixtures are hung. At that point it is (most of the time) too late to fix the issues.

For example the lighting plot had top light on the ariel actors. Top light is a very dramatic effect that I like. The problem was that the actor was performing about 20 feet in the air and that put them about 10 feet off the light. The shaft of light is just too small at that point and the aerialist would swing in and out of the light. Bottom lighting would be a better effect in this case.

The other struggle that I have is with the video lighting. Being that the lighting designer is not familiar with the camera and needs, the design doesn’t usually account for color temp changes of the lights used. In this program, the key lighting came from two main sources. Spotlights that were 1200 watt and a HMI based lamp that were about 4200k temp. The other was High End Studio Commands 1200 watts that were 5200k temp and didn’t mix well with the cameras that were balanced to the spots.

This year, as last year, proved to me that creatives are passionate about what they do and the most heated discussions are about differences this time of year. That will never change. My list is long for what I would like to change for next year’s performances, and I can’t wait to get started on the planing even if I still don’t have the worship center put completely back together.

Yamaha Digital Consoles

M7CL-32 in GYM1

M7CL-32 in GYM1

At Sugar Creek Baptist Church we just opened a new Family Center. In this new building we have about four rooms with media support and the two larger rooms have Yamaha digital consoles. I was very excited about have features such as offline editing, on board effects, and networking. I have been very surprised at how much I like the the M7CL-32. In our worship center we have a Digico CS-D5 which has been great. I was very pleased at how easy it was for me to pick up the M7CL and how some of the features were similar to the Digico. Now I have only mixed on the LS9-32 once, but as of yet I’m not a big fan of the console. I seem to have to keep my head in the board too much while mixing. The touch screen really helps with the quick changes.

I have one large disappointment with both of the consoles. This last Thursday, I finally got some network wire pulled to both of the consoles and tried to place them on the network. All was going well until I went to adjust the subnet mask. Come to find out, the firmware only supports class C subnets ( So let me tell you what that means. With that mask you can only have 254 devices attached to the network. Well that is fine for many groups that might be using the console, but for use in larger churches or conference facilities it is just too small. The part that I really don’t get is the interface is built to change the subnet options, it is just disabled. Very frustrating. So now I’m going to have to build a dedicated network to access these consoles. Yamaha please fix this issue!!!!

Is there such a thing as right place, right time?

Today I got a call from one of the volunteers in the tech ministry. I love hearing from the team and I really like it when I can be of service to them. Most of the time it works the other way with them serving the tech ministry. In case you don’t know, I live in the Houston, TX area and we had a not so fun visit from hurricane Ike last week. This volunteer and her husband operate a school that was hit pretty hard by the storm and they have been working very hard to get it opened back up. The phone rang just as I was sitting down to dinner so I ate quickly and gave her a call back and was very surprised at her request.

I have learned over that past year of working with the volunteers, that there are parts of ministry that I’m not great at and I’m having to step up and do my best and learn from my mistakes. After listening to her voice mail I was assuming that this was gonna be another one of those times. When I called, we chatted for a few and then she asked if I knew anyone that could help her with some networking and phone issues that the school was having. Do I know anybody? I think so, being that was my job up until the beginning of ’08. Was I in the right place at the right time? Yes I was, but is that due to chance? I don’t think so. God put me in right where I need to be to help and He provided a ministry opportunity that was right up my alley. Glad to have the opportunity to serve.

Gutiar Priase

My friend and co-worker Brandon who for some reason likes killing baby seals (strange) posted about a new game coming out in a few weeks called Guitar Praise. Here is a link to Brandon’s post. While I think this is a great idea and I have no problem with christians picking up on a great idea and including God honoring music, they missed the mark as usual for a majority of the gaming market. Unlike Doom, Unreal Tournament, or World of Warcraft, this game is social as much as it is fun to play and would have much great adoption if it was console based and could be used in the living room. I had the same comment about DDR when it came out on PC with christian music. Who wants to play DDR in front of a 17 inch monitor? Usually the home computer is not in the living room with the family like a gaming console is. Sure I can hook my laptop to my TV in the living room, but what a pain when my Xbox is right there.

The price on the game is $99.95 which also seems a little high. I can get Guitar Hero III for the WII with on wireless controller for $69.95 on Amazon. We need games like this, but they have to be competitive with the market to have an impact. Is the creator doing it to make money from the christian community or to honor God and have an positive impact on society like the music they have included intended? Great idea, very poor planning and implementation. If you are thinking of creating a game like this please think about it’s use and go to the extra trouble and license/code it for the consoles so that it can really have a positive impact.