Morning 23rd (which was Labour Thanksgiving day in Japan, National holiday) I noticed that my PayPal balance had became zero.

I contacted PayPal and they said this was a system error, not unauthorized access. This is what they said in their official statement that came the following day:

This week, you may have noticed that the balance in your PayPal account was temporarily unavailable. Due to a technical issue, a bank withdrawal had been initiated incorrectly, which meant your balance appeared to be transferred out of your PayPal account.

They also said the following

We deeply apologize for any confusion this may have caused. We acted quickly to cancel this bank withdrawal so the balance was not transferred into your bank account.

NHK reported the news. Twitter also responded and Paypal Japan became a trending topic.

I think couple of things to take out of their statement. They said “withdrawal had been initiated incorrectly”. This is bad communication.

Do they mean to say that a bank withdrawal had been made in error? This should be obvious since all users report that they had not themselves initiated the bank withdrawal. Or do they mean that the a bank withdrawal that had been made in error was also somehow incorrectly made.

I actually asked the support if they would just let it go through. But I wasn’t given that option. So this could lead to speculation that not only the withdrawal was made in error it was also initiated incorrectly.

Furthermore the statement said “appeared to be transferred out of your PayPal Account”. Appeared? Transferred to were? So if it only appeared to be the case, it then means that it wasn’t. And out of your PayPal account, is different than saying to users bank account for example.

Not very professional communication to say the least, and I wonder if whoever wrote this is native English speaker. Or..

There is a theory floating around that Japan government is behind this, force testing the automatic withdrawal to Japanese bank accounts. There is actually PayPal notification from May 2021 that says that the accounts that hold large amounts such as those exceeding 1 million yen will be under special scrutiny and maybe automatically forced to withdraw to bank account.

There doesn’t seem to be evidence however that the automatic withdrawal would happen for lesser sums. If Japanese government is to crackdown on some kind of tax avoidance occurring in online banks, it would make sense to target larger sums.

Either way this isn’t good user experience. If this was sincere error, it was a bad one. If this was some kind of covert government move, worse. I was able to get my JPY funds returned, but not the USD which are still floating around somewhere. As of today I have no way of knowing when I will get my money back.

PayPal says they are doing everything they can to make sure this won’t happen in future. Unfortunately I don’t feel too confident about this.

This is something I have seen so many times. Being somewhat experienced at this point, I have learned how to deal with this (check at the end). But seriously, if you are a project manager in CG project, please do not do this.

This is how it feels like, usually.

The most common mistake in CG team management would be several people giving feedback to artists. Sometimes the people are supervisors of other projects, other artists or some non-CG people who just want to chime in how they feel about the work being done. This is extremely annoying for artists, especially when the feedback from several people is conflicting.

The feedback must come from a single source, the person giving it usually being CG supervisor or art director. Actually if the pipeline is somewhat simple, it doesn’t matter so much if the person giving feedback is really hands on with the project, as long as the person takes responsibility of the feedback. It is no good confirming the work done is okay, only to return to artists with changes a week after. If it is good, then it must be considered as approved work, and further changes must be acknowledged as extra work.

Also if you are CG artist on a project, please do not waste time commenting on others work in company Slack, unless that is specifically required by the lead for some reason. Throwing thumbs up is okay, but even positive feedback can throw off what the actual supervisor has to say. If you notice issue with someone’s work that would have easy fix, feel free to throw them a direct note, but do not pollute the Slack channel.

I have seen this so many times that now usually when this happens, I usually just stop everything I am doing, raise my hands and ask clear direction from the person in charge. But I have also brought up the issue with at least three companies in near past because this was clearly impacting the productivity in major way.

Be clear who is in charge of the particular project’s art direction and make sure your team knows.

Revisiting the June prediction by SIGGRAPH.

Source: Siggraph

CG Graphics market, that’s 150 Billion and will be 160. Look also how little impact Covid has had to the industry. It is not negligible but the predictions are relatively stable.

Few months back I participated on a project as a freelance CG artist making environments. Some organizational changes happened and I was no longer needed. I was on my way out, saying goodbye to folks and suddenly I was logged out of Slack. I couldn’t even finish the sentence or even say thanks. I was just deleted.

About a year ago, same thing happened. I knew the person I was working with so I could still reach him with email, but similarly I got no notice, instead a taste of a rubber boot.

Then again, yesterday. I got suddenly logged out.

I would understand if I had done some unforgivable mistake and earning a kick to the behind, but I didn’t. I would like to think I had been helpful to the projects. But getting a good old Nokia to the rear does make me doubt how valuable I was afterall.

For good heavens sake, proper way to do this would be to write at least a short note. I also think Slack could improve it’s service by at least giving option to automatically send them, a pre-written template by Slack would do just fine.

Here is example for you managers. Feel free to copy-paste this if it is too difficult to write one yourself:

“I’d like to thank you for the collaboration! It has been a blast, hope to get to work with you again. As the work is completed we got to remove your Slack account, but let’s keep in touch! You can contact me at XXXX.”

I hope this helps.

I am really pleased to announce that I have had a very talented web designer working on redesign of this site for several weeks now. The new design is result of simplification and making this site more robust and easy to use.

I believe in a site without unnecessary annoyance or clutter. I think what we will reveal tomorrow is going to be really beautiful.

There will be a lot of new content to come in the following weeks, so stay tuned.

As always, thanks for visiting my site.

Vaughan on Houdini

William Vaughan, the man behind Tofu the Vegan Zombie announced that he will be making Houdini videos from now. I first heard about him when I was learning Lightwave3D back in the day, many many years ago. His Lightwave tutorial videos were simply the best out there.

His recent videos “Vaughan in 60seconds” introduce very useful CG tips and tricks.

See William Vaughans Artstation.

So the old VRayHDRI node which was heavily used for all kinds of (also sdr) bitmap loading was now replaced with VRayBitmap. I suppose this is to signify that it is not only be used for floating point maps.

Whats really unbelievably fantastic about this is that it seems to support environment variables now for the file paths, in the form of ${VAR_NAME} syntax. This should help to transfer models with tons of materials to client for example.

Since VRayHDRI never supported 3ds Max asset tracking, defining non-absolute file paths for the texture files was impossible. So the absolute file path was always present and the client would get the whole local path of my computer which of course never matches client’s one. There are various scripts to address the issue, but still annoyance.

If I understood right it should be that one can simply define one path and this should be populated to all paths, which is a huge one.

I have been needing a laptop for a while now to accompany my AMD desktop machine, mainly because I need to visit clients in Tokyo and have something I can demo stuff.

I have used Late 2013 MacBook Pro for music and casual tasks for a while now but it starts to show it’s age, and I need something with a decent graphics in it.

Of course I looked at Windows machines such as ones from Razer and so on. But something always stopped me, they just don’t have the appeal, plus I feel unsure about their support as I have never owned a PC notebook.

Now, I can’t think of anyone in their right mind who would recommend a Mac for a CG creator. The hardware lacks the muscle, machines are expensive and there is no Nvidia and neither the plugins. 3dsMax doesn’t even exist on the platform, neither does most of the CAD software.

I know that I won’t be doing any heavy lifting CG in a coffee shop or client’s office, but I might create a substance graph, rig a model or set-up projects in Unity or Unreal Engine.

In my previous job I used HP Omen 17 inch and while it was a total monster what comes to performance, it was so clumsy to carry with a 300W power brick that was sized like a Mac mini. More than once I noticed the performance in Unreal Engine started tanking since somehow the power plug had de-attached itself from the brick. This of course while trying to show stuff to customer. It seemed that the machine had a two power settings, frigging 300W hyper speed and a crawling notepad mode. (Or I wasn’t clever enough to change the power mode in the settings, possible.)

MacBook Pro is so light and portable. What I lose in the raw horsepower I gain in portability and battery life. And I know how good the Apple support is because I have used it before. This all is, of course a tradeoff and I lose all the benefit of RTX baking, real time lighting in Unreal Engine or VR. But I suspect that of the tasks I did with the Omen, actually 99% I could have done with the Mac.

So – finally I bought 2019 MacBook Pro 16 inch with Intel Core i9 and 1TB graphics. This is the slightly upgraded model of the base one.

I have tried running Substance Designer, Unity, Marmoset Toolbag and Maya with heavy scenes. All of these do work under MacOSX. The machine is very snappy, almost surprisingly so. Especially CPU based software such as Zbrush should run completely fine.

Now I did install Windows 10 with Bootcamp. Substance Designer’s iRay renderer ran much faster in Bootcamp but also made the machine much more hot. It could be that macOS is doing some very good thermal management, which Windows has no clue about.

However general 3d modeling tasks with 3dsMax or such might run just fine. Need to test it.

I must say, so far I am really happy I decided to go with this machine. Even though most CG artists are quick to dismiss Mac as a hipster gimmick, this can be a valuable mobile tool for some CG tasks, at least for me.

HDRI Render Studio
Grab this free HDRI Studio Interior

This is a HDRI I created years back in Blender. Since then I have kept using this for several professional projects in V-Ray, Marmoset, Arnold and even Substance Painter.

HDRI such as this is really useful for making not only reflections look great but as a image based lighting. And they work in virtually all major 3D packages.

This is now free in my Gumroad, so please grab it. I have also made a collection of HDRI environments.

I have created this step-by-step tutorial on how to create aged wood material in Substance Designer. I have got a lot of feedback from my Youtube audience to create a tutorial where I show the actual graph creation process, so this is exactly it. This is about two hours in length and shows the whole process of starting with broad shapes to the final rendering phase in Marmoset Toolbag.

Final Render in Aged Wood Substance Tutorial
Final render in Aged Wood Substance Designer Tutorial
Some of the nodes in Aged Wood Substance Tutorial
Some of the nodes I introduce in Aged Wood Substance Designer Tutorial

The skills you learn in this tutorial can be applied to variety of materials, not only wood. Having skills to quickly create efficient and variety of materials is a must have for environment artist.

For example, I show usage of slope blur grayscale node, which I am using to create wood damage details. This node is very useful in many cases, where ever you need weathering effects or such. The node can even be used to create rust leaks and such.

Metal bands creation in Aged Wood Substance Designer Tutorial

Creating PBR materials in procedural way has many benefits over image conversion. I know there are many tools out there including offerings from ex Allegorithmic, Materialize and such, but in my experience these have always produced more or less inaccurate results.

Doing it from scratch procedurally creates clean effect where you have full control on how the details propagate to diffuse, roughness and normal maps.

Also the ability expose certain nodes will allow great flexibility when using the substance in host applications. You could for example decide how many wood planks or metal bands you want. This type of functionality is only a couple of clicks way in Substance Designer.

Optimization is also important. In this tutorial I show you couple of tricks that help you to make your substance graphs execute faster.

The tutorial is about two hours length and is available in both Gumroad and Cubebrush sites.

Please also check my popular Wood Floor in Substance Designer tutorial.

Someone bought my substance from my Gumroad, and shortly after I got this message:

“This is not how it looks like in photo.  This is disrespect to other people work. I ll never buy something from you”

This happens in approximately every in every 100 purchase. Mostly I get complaints that the substance seems “low resolution” or “blurred” and sometimes vague comment like this.

Now, I can guess why this happens; this got to do with Output Size. The default parent size is 256*256px in Substance Designer. I save and publish my substances relative to the parent as this is the correct way to do it. Check out this page in Allegorithmic’s site.

Now the above statement is vague at best. In order to get the substance look like in the preview render one would need to adjust render settings. The person does not explain what is wrong with it, just that it is disrespectful somehow.

I do give refunds sometimes but user not knowing how to use Substance Designer is not basis for a refund.

Recently I have been having some issues with my late 2013 MacBook Pro 15″ (the model without dedicated graphics).

The trackpad mainly stopped registering a click. Sometimes it only recognized a click when pressed on either left or right side and so on. It did still click though. Also there was a feel on the top case like it’s slightly bulging.

A quick Google search made it clear, it’s got to be a bulging battery that is preventing the trackpad of functioning properly. Self replacing the battery would be out of question for me as I wasn’t willing to start to mess around with disassembly required to do so, and the battery is glued to the top case. And also I wasn’t be able to be exactly sure whether the trackpad problems originate from the bulge or whether the trackpad itself had a some kind of damage.

So it was obvious that I needed this to be looked at, so I made a reservation in Omotesando Applestore and  took it in. The man quickly diagnosed the problem to be indeed a battery starting to bulge. So he offered the repair which would mean replacement of the entire top case with keyboard, trackpad, battery and so forth. It cost about 21000 yen including the repair cost. Now this is OOW; out of warranty type affair. I accepted the offer.

I took my  machine there on Friday and got it back today Monday. They sent me mail around noon yesterday (Sunday). That’s three days. So this morning I picked up the machine.

Indeed, the top case is brand new and trackpad has it’s original feel and perfect operation. I am quite happy with this service. I don’t think 21000 yen is too bad for this. At least it wasn’t logic board.

However, I do notice that the keyboard feels different, a little a bit more spongy. This could be just me gotten used to the old, worn one. It might be that this is how new MacBook Pro keyboards used to feel, at least before the new butterfly mechanism that so many have had issues with.

If I had bought replacement battery and tried to fix that by myself, I well, might have botched the job and ruined the computer. What I understood from poking around a bit in the internet, removing glued batteries require use of some kind of heat-gun or solvent that would dissolve the glue. I wouldn’t be comfortable working with either of them near my computer. And even of this was successful operation, I wouldn’t still have gotten new keyboard and trackpad. Those things do suffer from wear and tear.

So yes, I am satisfied with the service I got from Apple. This computer has been very reliable tool for me. The first one I got suffered from loose Thunderbolt ports and got warranty repair once. The machine suffers from very brief small flicker sometimes in the screen; I believe this is due to wifi interference as mentioned by other people in the internet. I have not used this machine with wifi turned off; I might indeed try that just to see if it makes any difference.

When I was returning from the Apple Store I checked some of the current gen MacBook Pros. I cannot possibly see myself buying one just because of the dreaded keyboard issues so many people are talking about, and also I quite frankly don’t need one at the moment.

I really like Mac OS experience and I can’t see myself moving away from it; no matter how I am tempted to due to the high cost of maintaining Mac. For 3D graphics and heavy video editing I use PC, but for music and pretty much everything else I prefer staying in the Mac platform.

The iMac Pro maintenance thing (as witnessed by Linus Tech Tips and Snazzy Labs) does raise questions about how interested Apple is maintaining their computer line up. I am happy to so far report that my experience was quite good.