Creating Dancing Alien v1.0 – Release Notes

It’s been an exciting day here at The Render Farm: we’ve decided we wanted to release our first app by tomorrow evening, and the next thing we knew was that Julia’s soundtrack was ready for it. Not even half an hour later we previewed stunning animations with several characters… we couldn’t believe it ourselves – since we’re neither musicians, animators or coders!

I had conducted several tests based on the ImageHop exercise from SAMS Teach Yourself iPad Apps by John Ray, all OK but implementing several views really was hard. I’ve decided instead to keep it ultra simple and literally only have one view for Dancing Alien and one lone “i” button at the bottom right as an About / Credit page with link to our website. Works much better, is much simpler – and more to the point it’s possible to implement by tomorrow evening.

Next we had a look at a longer animation. I’ve been struggling to grasp the animation workflow I’d like to employ for the last week or so (i.e. animate using AniMate 2 in DAZ Studio 4, then export those keyframes to Poser and use it to render). I can’t currently use DAZ Studio for rendering because it crashes under MAC OS X Lion. It’s no biggie though because I really like Poser’s look for rendering. But exporting and testing is a bit complex. Now that it all works I’ve decided to use one Combo Dance Aniblock with a total of 742 frames.

Literally EVERY character we tired with it looks amazing: Simon, Alien, Klank, Staci, Skeleton – it’s fantastic! And more to the point it works so well with Julia’s three Garage Band tracks. Unbelievable! I started a new app, implemented the preview animation and even that worked great. Why not try and render at full resolution and see what that looks like?

A quick research says that the new iPhone 4 has a screen resolution of 640×960 – that’s HUGE. I thought for extra goodness I’ll render at that resolution. Takes a while but it’ll look absolutely incredible. Problem is: 742 PNG frames at that resolution are 100kB each, meaning we’re looking at 74MB! Even the iOS Simulator is struggling with that, but when we exported it to our iPod Touch it just crashed before the animation even started.

Generic Sci Fi Corridor by Stonemason will serve nicely as a backdrop to our Dancing Alien

So… the only way to make this app actually work is to reduce the size of those pictures. Even at 320×640 we were looking at a whopping 44MB. Not good considering that 3G downloads cannot be larger than 20MB. Hm! So I decided to take a considerable drop in quality and make it all run at 200×300 – we’re looking at only 14kB per frame and a total size of 10MB – more what we would like. Sadly, this is still too much for any of our iPods.

iPad is happy and plays the animation flawlessly. So it’s back to the drawing board for the iPhone I’m afraid, which appears to be happy with 574 frames. We can work with that – I’ll see if I can increase Alien’s resolution again tomorrow.

Speaking of successes: Integrating the AVFoundation Framework was really easy – it’s responsible for playing back the music on a loop. It even starts on the Splash Screen even before the entire animation is loaded! All we need now is a bit of artwork for said Splash Screen, logos for both devices and the App Store, and then we’re good to go.

While Apple is thinking about approving our new masterpiece we can render Alien for an HD YouTube clip and give him some sliver screen time. And did I mention that the website is up and running, as well as a brand new YouTube account? Not to mention the 742 frames are loaded with 742 lines of code that needed to be created using Excel?

I say, what a productive day we’ve had. I can’t tell you how much fun this is. Signing off now – we must catch some sleep and see what we can create tomorrow.

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