exciting and frightening times ahead

this is my first post since starting on the goal of building this studio and company full time and i wanted to start to document the journey. i believe this will be helpful in numerous ways, from effecting the present and future, to looking back into the past from the future ๐Ÿ™‚ .. so yeah this i my first post and i’m going to start by introducing the company, studio and some of the projects.

the company is Khaos Inc, which is a software company that builds the creative tools and platform that will be outlined later in this post. The studio is Khaos Studio, which is an animation studio focused on producing and distributing original animated content targeting specific audiences of the diaspora and indigenous communities to share stories ignored by mainstream. the studio is the primary customer of the company, who develops tools to accelerate the animation production, enabling the studio to scale production of original content. It’s a mutually beneficial partnership as the company earns a percentage of studio earnings, while developing tools with value for creators outside of the studio.

over the past few months as i’ve heavily researched the challenges and solutions (existing and theoretical) using ChatGPT as my research partner. from these discussions i produce a large number of markdown files full of notes, documents, code snippets, protocols and whatever else fruit drops from the tree of R&D+ChatGPT and i deem it worthy of holding on to. even in these early stages the concepts are not fixed as new technologies are released at light speed these days. so it makes sense to plan around extremely fast changing technologies and breakthrough capabilities always coming and going or changing at some point. fortunately my experience with agile methodologies has prepared me for this. it’s built with assumption everything can change ๐Ÿ™‚

from my research i realized that to support the goals of the studio, we needed to generate a lot of the content or at least provide a scaffolding of a entire production with placeholder content. so the idea started with ingesting a screenplay to generate a playable/watchable scaffolding.

fortunately there was a standard for screenplays that would align with our needs. Fountain is an open standard for screenplays based on markdown. so i spent a fair amount of time preparing, parsing and processing screenplay data, exploring file/project structures that would support organization of the production data for tooling, version control and collaboration. once i had a structure and process for generating the structure from a screenplay, i started working on using TTS (text-to-speech) to generate voice over clips for the characters defined in our project structure. once this was working i was able to generate an audio sequence from a screenplay with voices assigned to each character. it wasn’t by any means something u wanted to listen to as it was flat and had zero pauses between lines, but now i could get some estimate timing information.

Blender was the first tool to go into the toolbox. just over a year ago i started having the itch to animate and created animated content. I started learning Blender specifically to get a handle on the Grease Pencil for 2D animation. i started to do classic frame-by-frame animation, following along books and courses to understand timing and motion simulation. this was a lot of fun but the reality became clear after a few months: this takes a lot of time an hard work. to get something produced i was going to have to hire help or accept that it i wouldn’t have anything substantial if i didn’t have years to put into a single production. i broke down and got a Creative Suite subscription, mostly for access to this relatively new tool they have called Character Animator. I was surprised how good Character Animator was, but didn’t understand why it seemed like it’d been abandoned by everyone but a handful of people at Adobe. I won’t get into my love/hate relationship with Adobe and their disappointing mismanagement their solutions. Anyway…. It was cool and i liked a learned a lot about their approach of building puppets for cut-out style animations. there were even some really great examples of how to achieve convincing 3D rotations with 2D assets. in then end it was a great learning experience, but i found myself back in a very familiar tool with a whole new name and a few new bells and whistles. yep, we’re talking about Flash! i mean Adobe Animate.. yeah. same thing. the familiarity was very welcoming as very little had changed since i’d used flash over 10 years ago, so i was able to be relative productive quickly and ended up producing my first complete animation with it. at the same time too little had changed. seems like Animate is only so much more important than Character Animate in terms of attention and continued development. recently “Animate” got a 2023 update with some some pretty minimal updates ๐Ÿ™ yeah.. i actually considered using this for my animation tool, but it felt like it had grown to stale to scale with my ambitions. it could get me so far and sent me back to Blender’s Grease Pencil but now armed with concepts i’d learned from Character Animator and even some of the newish camera features of Animate. I now started to put my software engineer hat on and explore building a puppet system for Blender. as i dug in further i started seeing where the 2D Grease Pencil objects mixed with 3D objects in ways that look 100% 2D by using shaders. This idea put me on the path of creating 2D animation in 3D using shading and various visual techniques. so i started to learn rigging and animation in Blender.. building body and face rigs from scratch and using off the shelf tools i created a number of experiments as i learned how to use Blender to reach animation goals.

One day while playing with scripting in Blender and experimenting with procedural modeling, i realized that no matter what GUI i put on these tools it was going to be complex and would have a learning curve to put the pieces together. this is when i realized i was still working a too low a level and the ideation phase was far from over. As usual when i hit a bump or point i need to reflect before responding, i like to take a bike ride or walk or anything that takes me out of the context. i know i won’t completely get it off my mind but the distance provides enough perspective for me to see things not always obvious in the current context.

it worked! and i was definitely thinking too small

the only interface that could make complex interactions intuitive is a game controller. boom! yeah… that was my mind being blown ๐Ÿ™‚ … seriously though i was onto something. it connected so much i could feel the gravity of universe saying “YES keep going that direction”. it became clear that interfaces like mindcraft and fortnite were examples of having infinite multipurpose tools at the tip of our fingers. “Fortnite for Movie Making” became the theme and way i described what i could see.

initially i was considering just forking the Godot game engine and replacing the GUI with our own interface. I had some experience with Godot and it was open source so i could use it as a base, especially as Godot 4 was recently released and has a host of new features and improvements that would make it ideal foundation. as i shared the idea with a friend they asked had i considered using Unreal Engine. hmmmmm… i hadn’t but it instantly made a whole lot of sense just based on what i knew about it and some of the ways it was being used in a wide range of applications. and realtime rendering is a gamechanger for what i’m thinking about. additionally i didn’t have to take on the headache of getting a Godot running on consoles. as i thought about it more UE was obvious foundation as it solved a number of challenges i would have to address in Blender in regard to building animation controls and systems and so much more. it also became very clear that i was building something that could be valuable and accessible for anyone interested in making content.

so… things changed, a lot. the vision is still essentially the same, but for obvious reasons i had to start digging deep into building the tools and i started to scratch the surface of what i was trying to build. two books later and countless hours of researching, experimenting, spiking, rubber ducking, sharing with others and all that good stuff, i finally felt i have a solid plan.

What has emerged from this is the plan to design and build a new category. Inspired by the book Play Bigger, i began to understand what may have held back other ventures in the past, where we were often ahead of the market. “Category Design” from my understanding is a strategy for increasing the chance of success by not making the mistakes common when starting a new business.