Save Our Skills: Why This Is Important

Once upon a time, our community thought it was very important to save our skills. Not only save them but grow new skills as well. Our heritage buildings and machines from the past record the detail produced by the skilled workers of The Industrial Revolution.

Skills in Building

As the gold rush brought many people to Australia, the buildings constructed had to be fit for purpose and also pleasing to look at. There was a rapid expansion of railway transportation to move people and goods. With the wealth now available to the government, new, impressive railway stations were built on the Victorian goldfields. Attention to detail was important from the design process, through the building process, to the finished product.

Mathematics skills are used when drafting the plan of a building. This is to calculate how much material will be needed to build walls to the required width, thickness and height. The strength and spacing for supporting beams for floor and roof is also calculated for the materials to be used.

Laying slate tiles requires special skills, as does making and fitting curved metal panels onto domes.

Carpenters and joiners have skills in handling timber. They can identify the grain and type of timber and know the best way to use it for strength and decoration.

Designing and constructing decorative lead light window panes is another specialist skill displayed in many older buildings.

Complex decorative shapes can be made in cast iron by a skilled tradesman.

Skills in Engineering

Cast iron was used to make implements and machines for specific purposes, like water hydrants. A skilled  plumber installed the hydrant that a skilled metal worker had made.  Platform scales had to be accurate when weighing goods for transport, as charges were calculated by weight.

Then the railway tracks had to be made and laid down, with skilled surveyors assessing where they would go.

Skilled engineers designed and built the locomotives, wagons and carriages which would operate on the tracks.

Save Our Skills

There are still some community organizations which are working to save our skills by passing them on to a younger generation. These tend to be run by volunteers giving their time and expertise to anyone who is willing to learn. Yet some of the skills being shared have been modified to serve a different purpose, one which is more relevant to industry today. Automation is the process of programming machines to do the manual labor humans used to do. A thorough understanding of the skills involved is needed to do this successfully.

Sydney Film Festival

Everything is ready and I’m off to the Sydney Film Festival.

Short Films

The short films are of special interest as they are relevant to our immediate projects. Inspiration is the easy part, putting it all together requires a high level of dedication and knowledge. I intend harvesting as much insight and expertise from the people and productions as I can. Hopefully I will be able to share a little of my own problem solving skills as well.

One thing which puzzles me about the Australian film scene is this: why do our governments, both federal and state, throw so much money toward international companies to come and make movies here?

Why do our highly skilled local film makers and actors have to struggle to find enough work? Not enough scripts about Aussies available? What nonsense! With our high level of mingling cultures from all over the world we have millions of stories.

Cultural Cringe

Does Australia still suffer from ‘cultural cringe’?

It is way past time for Australians to shout about our abilities from the rooftops!

India has Bollywood, New Zealand has Peter Jackson and Wingnut Films widely known in the public domain. These enterprises all bring significant financial returns and prestige to their home countries. Where is Australia’s home grown big name film production studio?


Well done, organizers of the Sydney Film Festival, for giving many film lovers and makers an exhibition space for the product of their efforts. Your program has something for everyone. An emotional roller coaster is on offer through the diverse offerings, a kaleidoscope of visual delights.

Then when it is time to party everyone can join in. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow brings yet another film adventure! I can put on my bright pink jacket and quite possibly ‘talk the back leg off a chair’!

Gymnastics or Dance?

What came first, gymnastics or dance?

A baby starts to move in the womb before it is born. Sometimes this can feel like gymnastics to the mother, but is it? Mother’s heart beat is a constant rhythm present from when the baby can first feel, even before hearing develops. Yet many babies start kicking in the middle of the night, waking mum up, possibly because of discomfort from being in the one position for too long. Is this movement gymnastics or dance? Humans need to move for good health, it is why we have muscles.

Beginning Gymnastics.

Once born, a whole new world of adventure opens for a child. A baby learns to turn his or her head from side to side seeking a feed, waves hands around, often responding in surprise when something is touched. Little feet start kicking out in uncoordinated activity, yet building strength to be ready to walk when older. If dangling toys are placed within reach the young child will usually try to touch them, learning coordination and starting to build core body strength to pull herself or himself upright. Once sitting, a child can be taught to clap and wave hands in a controlled way in the air, thus helping to develop an awareness of balance changing with movement.

Beginning Dance.

This starts with remembering rhythm, the heartbeat and its changing speed experienced before, and during, birth. Choosing music with a similar rhythm helps when teaching baby to clap, the new skill is coordination. This has its own built in reward, for when the skill is mastered a distinct noise results. Depending on the child, this may give so much delight that it is practiced often and loudly, with a level of dedication which can be an indicator of how persistent the pursuit of future goals may be. When the clapping and waving is in time with the beat, jiggling and bouncing on the bottom is an early form of dancing. This child can hardly wait to get up and dance on two feet.

First Steps.

When a child first pulls herself or himself up to a standing position, the body’s center of gravity is abruptly raised to a much higher position. The child wobbles uncertainly, for muscles in the feet and legs have to be more finely controlled in order to avoid over balancing and falling. Muscles can become tired and the child may decide this walking stuff is not all it seemed to be while only a spectator. Quiet encouragement can help to achieve the desired goal, and activity to music often assists, for the child can promptly sit down and still participate.

New Activities.

A child has developed basic skills for gymnastics by learning how to move independently. The way this has been achieved depends on individual body type, personal outlook and the type of encouragement offered by significant adults in the child’s life. If the child has been included in musical activities, any physical skills can be applied in dance. All physical movement has an inherent rhythm.

Many parents will now be considering what organised activities can help their child develop and grow. What to choose?

Gymnastics or dance?

Star Quality

Star Quality: What is it?

That special attribute which makes a person noticeable, a quality which makes an individual stand out from the crowd.

It is not the same as talent, for a talented person can develop a very high level of competency and still attract little attention, while a person with star quality can shine while having a lesser skill level and be more loudly applauded. Viewers are so mesmerized by the performance that they do not notice any mistakes.

Star quality is a strong belief in the worth of self, combined with a spirit of generosity. It is a desire to share a personal experience with a greater audience, to carry the viewers along on an emotional adventure. It is an ability to be completely focused on an activity, to be immersed in the moment with total coordination of body and mind. This physical state is in such contrast with busy, scattered every day activity that it immediately draws the attention of those around it.

A star performer will acknowledge the crowd, recognizing that many have come specifically to see their performance: he or she will take it as a compliment. Then the focus changes, the crowd becomes part of the background while the performer concentrates on the role being portrayed. The audience is focused on the character, be it on stage or on screen. The experience is more likely to be immersive if the performer has star quality. It is the ability to convince the watcher to believe he or she is part of the action.

Star quality can turn up in the most unexpected places.

Do you have star quality?

Setting up for a film shoot, and then, out of nowhere, these girls shouted “I’m going to be a star.” What they didn’t know was that we were filming there 30 minutes later.

Digitizing Blueprints

The process of CAD modelling starts with digitizing blueprints of the original rolling stock. The faded, degraded detail of many original documents can often be retrieved by using photographic processing techniques of the digital images.

One problem with using the blueprints is finding all the information for each specific model, sometimes this can only be found from different sources. Another problem is the variation in quality across a single blueprint, often the corner with the legend and reference measurements has been exposed to light and substantially faded. Ink can also be faded away on fold marks and critical measurements lost.

The blueprint we photographed showing the assembly of the GY wagon contained examples of several problems in the retrieval of information, however, because it was so common it is worth modelling for a train simulation. It also makes a good trial model as it is not as complex as a locomotive.

This is the unprocessed RAW photo of part of the blueprint.

This is the same photo after post processing.

The detail can now be seen clearly and is usable for creating new drawings and models. This is one of the most degraded blueprints we have photographed to date.

The Victorian Railways GY wagon was one of the most common examples of rolling stock on the tracks. This wagon was primarily used to haul grain after the wheat harvest but also variations were used for other purposes. When carrying wheat a tarpaulin was erected over the top.

This GY wagon was the first attempt our project manager, David, made at modelling in 2009, without using modern CAD software. The only information he had was a basic drawing.

We are re-creating the GY wagon using our new production pipeline.

Back on Track

The railway track is an essential part of any train layout. The shape and dimensions dictate what can run on it, the route defines where it will run.

To make a track for real rolling stock to run on, the material used is critical. The supporting media for the track are also important to provide the necessary rigidity so that the train will not derail. For a virtual railway the appearance of the track is the critical factor.

Railway tracks in Victoria, including the Maldon to Castlemaine route, were laid down in the Broad Gauge of 5 ft. 3 in. (1600 mm). They were supported by wooden red gum sleepers laid on compressed earth, leveled rock or over wooden trestle bridges. This was to keep the gradient at no greater than 1 meter rise in 40 meters traveled, allowing the locomotive to haul a load uphill and brake safely going downhill.

The tracks and sleepers are modeled in a CAD package to real specifications, then exported into Modo to generate normal, displacement and specular maps to apply to an optimized model for the game engine. Textures are created from our huge collection of photographic references, these go through significant processing before being applied to our 3D models.

Once this is done we can generate ray trace renders in Modo and show our final models to our followers. At this stage we also export them to the game for our world builders to use to create the route.

A picture of the high resolution CAD model, untextured, rendered in Modo. This is a work in progress, the plates and pins are still to be modeled.

The same model fully textured for visualization purposes, these are not the final textures.

This high resolution model will be used to generate the normal maps for an optimized low polygon version.

Network Delays

Network delays happen when unexpected events occur. A train derailment stops everything, as does an interruption to the power supply. We currently have building works happening next door, which means our train modelling process has been temporarily derailed, along with access to a hot cup of tea!  Oh, for the days of steam trains and hot water readily available.

Even the surveying process has been delayed as we have to stay close to where the action is, otherwise who knows what we would find on our return? The yard is starting to resemble a rabbit warren. This may be unrelated as it is nearly Easter and the Easter Bunny’s apprentices may have gone into overdrive to increase production in readiness for express deliveries. Umm, chocolate!

Which brings to mind the Maldon Easter Fair and the opportunity to go and mix with friends there and have some fun. The old poppet head fire tower is lit up on the Thursday evening before the Easter holidays, the local legend being that it is the Easter Bunny’s house. The tower on Mt. Tarrengower gives an excellent overview of the township, including the railway yards. Then the celebrations continue for the rest of the long weekend. Everyone is welcome.

In the meantime, we have to reschedule our work process. Back to the storyboard and a light-hearted idea using words and sketches, which can utilize other art assets from the major project for a multi-media presentation sometime further down the track. This is a project independent of the train simulator but related to it. It could become part of an advertising package for the game or it may be stand alone entertainment. Either way, it is a bit of fun and can be brought to completion sooner if we desire, production schedule permitting.

We expect to be burning the midnight oil for a while, to try and catch up to where we anticipated being by now. We may be able to extract a small supply from the J Class oil burner locomotive at Maldon. Perhaps not, or it might not make the distance of the return journey. It’s just not right to expect the paying passengers to push it into the station!

Virtual Locomotive Construction

A virtual locomotive can be created using a CAD application or by modeling in an artistic modeling package such as Modo. We have decided to use a Computer Assisted Drafting package for the initial development of mechanical models, as this gives greater flexibility for further usage in gaming applications.

The first step in this process is obtaining copies of the original drawings used to construct a real locomotive. Railway organizations interested  in preserving the history of rail travel can be a good source of information, but records may be incomplete in any one place. The plans can also be faded and with the odd patch of engine grease obscuring essential details. Photographing the plans and using post processing, such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, to enhance critical measurements of dimensions assists in recovering the information needed to construct a model.

Many thanks to the staff at the Goldfields Railway workshops for making their mechanical drawings available to us. Their assistance with the photography of the locomotive overview plan was very much appreciated. A large sheet in the small space had a few challenges to overcome so we went outside. The first attempt, using fridge magnets to attach the sheet to the side of a locomotive tender didn’t work very well: the wind kept blowing the edges up and lifting the magnets off!

Back inside, we quite literally took over the tea room. Somebody said that it hadn’t looked so tidy since the Christmas party. But there was no blu-tack to be found, so the sheet couldn’t be stuck on the end wall. The notice board on the side wall was close but just fitted the entire sheet into the frame. Then we captured greater detail in segments, to recover faded information to make it easier to recreate the drawings using modern CAD techniques. The judicious removal of a few drawing pins anchoring other things displayed on the notice board kept the overview plan in place.

Subsequently, an offer was made to provide us with the computer files of all the plans that they had already scanned in. We arrived at the appointed time and found the workshop crew hard at work refueling the locomotive. Once done, we all went inside to where the computer resides.

Note to self: never, ever, go anywhere without a memory stick!