Thursday, April 27, 2006

New Animation System for FSX

I am getting very excited about the new capabilities that are going to be available to 3rd party developers, such as myself, with FSX. Sebastien St. Laurent (a.k.a. Sebby) has been gracious enough to start a series of blog posts reflecting some explanations of exactly what is being changed and why. Ultimately, why they have changed the animation structure is to give much more flexibility to those that design "outside the box" from those that the team uses for default aircraft animations.

Sebby has written 3 articles so far, and I have some comments regarding each:

(Flight Simulator 10 Animations 101) - Part 1 - Overview and New Features

I'm glad that Sebby took the time to give a "30,000 ft. view" of the animation system, where we are now, and where we will be. The current stock animation code, otherwise known as tick18, is exactly what Sebby suggests - it's either driven by the sim or ambient condition. Therefore its use has been quite limited. It was either a part of the model (.mdl) or it wasn't. The new system is completely reworked, with built-in flexibility from the start, and animations are not tied to the 3-D model.

Another thing to be eliminated is animation based solely on part naming. For example (Sebby used this example as well), the tires of an aircraft are named c_tire, l_tire, and r_tire (center, left, and right). As long as the axis for the tire is correctly set, the tire will show appropriate "animation" of spinning as the aircraft rolls across the ground (and proper diameter is set in the aircraft.cfg). I honestly have liked this approach thus far, because I am not having to create the animation keyframes within the 3-D program for each of these parts. I just make it, name it, set the axis correctly, and export - it works! But I understand that this "canned" approach has made a lot of custom parameters impossible.

(Flight Simulator 10 Animations 101) - Part 2 - Animation Basics, tools and ModelDef.XML

Sebby basically gives an outline to the .xml file that will be used by the compiler tool to define animations for a particular part based on the conditions set forth within the XML code. As he states, this is much like the used now in accordance with makemdl.exe. I have to admit that when I first began using, I was intimidated by the code. I'm a visual guy - that's why I design aircraft in a real-time, 3-D environment. Any type of coding has often left me scratching my head. But thanks to much support of the community, I have learned a lot about how to make code do things I want to accomplish in the sim. Really powerful stuff - and it's about to get even more powerful!

(Flight Simulator 10 Animations 101) Part 3 - controlling Model Part Visibility

Sebby goes into more detail of the visibility section of the ModelDef.xml - again explaining how powerful and complex you can make the details of part visibility. His example of the prop animation is a great one, as I have often wanted to change at what RPM the props on an aircraft went from the solid to blurred state - and perhaps had a bit of overlap to them too. This should now be possible.

Another exciting development that has come out of all of this recoding of the animation system is a whole new means of attaching effect files to the aircraft. No longer are effect files "stationary" versus the aircraft's reference datum - as they are now through coordinates in the aircraft.cfg. Now they will be dynamic, or at least, capable of being dynamic. So for those who like to put flexing wings on their aircraft - the navigation and strobe lights no longer have to be hard coded into the model for them to remain in the correct position, no matter how much flex is being experienced. I'm sure the heavy iron die-hards are excited about this!

FSX: Questions About The Export Process

In addition to the 3 articles, Sebby wrote this blog entry based on some of the feedback he received from the readers of the articles. He goes into an explanation of why they are moving away from the BGL file format to one that is more capable with the technology of today's graphics engines. The BGL format is one that is dynamic in nature, thus requiring a lot of processor power to function. The new file format is mostly static, using outside control ( like the ModelDef.xml file) to control how the object behaves within the sim. I'm particularly excited to see that makemdl.exe is being replaced with a new exporter - it's about time! Another positive note - the format of the structure will be similar enough that conversion of custom parts won't be so much a headache - I bet Fr. Bill will be happy to hear that!

When Sebby posts more articles in the future, you can bet to read a bit of commentary here about them!

Blast from the past

Last weekend, Christy, Christy Lake, and I visited my parents in Florence, SC. My mom had been going thru a lot of old photographs, and gave me a few. To preserve them, I made digital scans to be stored on CD-ROM. I thought that I would share a few of that collection...

Here I am at the youthful age of 6 months, sitting next to my mom's brother, Todd. I guess this is where I began my love for music! I can still be found with a pair of headphones on while doing work when I don't want to disturb anyone else in the house.

Flash forward a few years, and here Todd and I are riding his mini-bike in the backyard of my grandparents house in Mauldin, SC. That yard now has an in-ground pool and garage - no room for a minibike anymore!

Here is a picture taken a few years later, with my brother Avery being pulled behind me in my most favorite toy from those days - my three-wheeler. You can see that Avery is perfectly content sitting in an ordinary box on the Radio Flyer wagon.

April pictures of Christy Lake

Christy Lake turns 3 months old today - yeah! I've been taking pictures thru all of April, and I have selected a few to show. She's growing everyday - the last doctor's visit she measured 24 inches, and put her in the 87th percentile. If she stays on that path, she'll be around 5'7" when she's fully grown - isn't it great what they can predict these days?? Anyway, I hope you enjoy these pictures!!

click for larger image

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Rest in peace Scott...

The aviation community mourns the loss of Scott Crossfield, the man who was the first to achieve Mach 2 and was the lead test pilot for the famous X-15. He was flying home Wednesday from Alabama to Virginia in his Cessna 210A N6579X when he encountered trouble northwest of Atlanta, GA. Eyewitnesses claim that they heard the engine shut off in flight and several thunderstorms were in the area at the time. The plane was found in a heavily wooded area, so finding a suitable emergency landing spot must have been out of the question. His luck at avoiding death had run it's course...

Scott was known for his death-defying moments during his test pilot years. The one that I remember most was where the #3 X-15 rocket motor malfunctioned and blew up as he was in the cockpit during a ground test. My sincere condolences to the family.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Interesting local Jetport news : FAA news site

While browsing the local television station's site for the current weather radar signature, I happened to glance at the front page, and saw an interesting story regarding the ATC radar at KGSP, the closest jetport to me. I also found an article at the local newspaper's site as well. It seems that the trees are causing blind spots in the radar screen, causing aircraft to suddenly disappear and then reappear on the screen. According to the WSPA story, there was a close call with a near mid-air collision recently due to the problem. Doing a search, I haven't seen any other problems at other airfields in recent history due to trees blocking the radar.

It's kind of interesting to note that the chairman of the board at GSP is none other than Roger Milliken, the former CEO of Milliken & Company, the company I am employed. He's a huge supporter of the environment, and has an extrordinary love for anything relating to plant life. In fact, he has a staff horticulturist that looks after all plant life on his 70 or so manufacturing locations. That being said, I'm sure Roger is cringing a bit knowing that they are cutting down trees that he (probably) had planted many years ago.

While doing my searches for relavent information regarding airport radar, I found a pretty interesting site that summarizes all FAA-related news that is current. Since the FAA is pretty much where it's at for all things aviation (at least here in the states), it seems to be a good place to find out what's going on. Check it out.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Oracle Challenger destroyed!

Sean D. Tucker is one of the premier aerobatic demonstration pilots in the country - at least for now, he'll have to find another aircraft to perform those aerobatic displays. Today, Sean had to bail the Oracle Challenger while performing a practice flight in Louisiana near Shreveport this morning. I first read about this on Aero-News.Net this morning soon after it occurred. A local television station posted this report showing the extent of the damage to the Challenger.

The Oracle Challenger is especially memorable to me, as it was a particular paint scheme I painted for my friend Mikko's FS 2002 version of the Challenger. I hope Sean is able to get another aircraft constructed that was as cool as the Challenger.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Abandoned airfields, right in my backyard

I live in Greenwood, South Carolina - a nice town with a great lake (on which I happen to live). It has a great airfield too, with some of the nicest local pilots I've ever met.

I was browsing some sites and happened to find a very interesting site listing abandoned and little-known airfileds across the U.S. Of course, I navigated to South Carolina and found that Greenwood had not one, but two former airfields. Much of the data about these former fields was gathered by a current pilot out of GRD named Bo Bowman. From what I understand, there is a hangar at GRD that existed at the 2nd Greenwood airfield and was moved to it's new home at GRD. I was glad to have found images of the former airfields, and what exists in their locations now (ordinary streets and homes). Nothing wrong getting a little history lesson every so often!