On 2k Followers: Hitting an Artistic Milestone and Reflecting on my MMD Career Thus Far
Updated: Mar 31
After almost 9 years as an online MMD artist, I have just hit 2,000 followers on DeviantART. That is a huge number to achieve on this platform, and I can only name a handful of DeviantART MMDers who have reached such a huge milestone. It has been hard, daunting and stressful work from the beginning, but it has also made me the artist and person I am today- and I cannot thank my supporters enough. To the people who like and my work, the people download and use my content, and the people who donate to my fundraiser, thank you all so much (=^▽^=).
I wanted to take the time to reflect on my MMD career thus far, as my years of work have greatly impacted my personality and development not only online, but in real life too. Most artists try to cover up their early work so that new consumers only see the art that represents their abilities today, however I feel that one never fully sees an artist's skills develop until one's seen how they began too; and that's what I endeavour to do in this blog post.
I first discovered MMD way back in 2011 after a series of videos recommended after the infamous Nyan Cat led me to "[MMD] Vocaloid Nyan Nyan Dance" by VocaloidDesu01.
It was a simple enough animation, reflective of what the community could do in the time before the MME plugin was widely used. After watching a few more of these early Animasa-styled animation videos, I quickly became enthralled by them. Being a 12 year old from Yorkshire, I had never exactly been exposed to the anime/manga art form, apart from catching quick glimpses of Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh on television. I find it funny that my mum would never let my younger sister and I watch the small selection of anime that graced UK screens when we were children, and yet I still found my way t0wards it. I spent quite a bit of my time after school watching those early MMD animations, especially the MMD Cup entries on NicoNicoDouga, so innocently unaware of many of their adult-themes until I watched a few back in 2019 again, and was subsequently horrified at my younger self for willingly enjoying the inappropriate content. But hey, at least they were well made. I remember downloading MMD a few weeks into my binge-watching, only for it to sit in my computer untouched for months because I couldn't work out how to load a model and I refused to ask or look for help. That altruist viewpoint inevitably died some time after, as 3D art is not something one can do naturally, at least in the very beginning.
In time, I worked out how to do the basics of MMD, such as loading models, motions and stages. I dedicate much of my early learning to Trackdancer's DeviantART tutorials, and to LearnMMD, a website which I would write by own tutorials for 8 years later. At the same time I proceeded to create a YouTube channel under the regrettable name “Spakaford1”. "Spaka" comes from a northern English dialect that essentially means "idiot", and as a new Year 7 student, the word was thrown about liberally amongst my classmates. Many people would refer to me as "spakaford", and I thought it would be a good idea to reclaim the insult and name myself it. I understand the thought behind the name, but I wish I had picked a better name from the very start so that I wouldn’t occasionally come across videos in the present day who credit my effects to “Spakaford1”. Please, call me chestnut
Then, on the 30th March 2012, I uploaded my very first MMD video, “[MMD] Miku Hoodies + FREE DOWNLOADS”. It was very inspired by that first MMD video I watched, and was edited in the classic video editor Windows Movie Maker. I was so sad when Microsoft discontinued Movie Maker in 2017, and Windows Video Editor just isn’t the same.
Since that very first upload, I started to experiment with PMXe and simple edits, and eventually learned how to implement cameras and effects too. One massive catalyst into why I decided to specialise in effects later in my career was the lack of graphics power on my first Acer Notebook that forced me to use only the very basic effects the community could offer. Effects such as burstappeal, butterfly and floating notes were all I could work with, and so they were prominent in my work at the time. However, due to a lack of assets, I wanted to better my position by making my own. And that's how I started Effect Modding.
The Effect Modder
One thing I am very proud of myself for is those early effects. As far as I can remember, no one in the Western community made effects, or at least weren't known for it. There were no tutorials either, so I couldn't learn how to make them either. Effects are a whole other world in the 3D community, as opposed to modelling, effects use code. Most effect producers go to university to learn how to code particle effects, and usually need years of experience working with multiple 3D engines to be able to make their own effects. And here I was, around 14 years old by now trying to do it without the hope of even taking computer science at GCSE because my school didn't offer it. But I did it, and I did it all by myself. I explored the code of effects made by Beamman, sovoro and Harigane-P to see how they worked, and discovered that I could modify code by changing parameters and a few lines of code to suit what I wanted. At the time, I did not realise that what I was doing was in fact coding, and I was surprised to find that no one had done it before me in the West. I was doing something no one in my part of the world could do. And I did it all from my little Acer Notebook. If any of my computers earned the title of War Machine, that one certainly did. I had a couple more great laptops back in those days too, and every upgrade gave me more scope for effects. In 2015, I finally got a laptop that would run almost every MME effect available, which was when I started to move away from burstappeal and turn to KiraKira, eventually leading to the birth of KiraKira_sparkle and KiraKira_colours. It was with this laptop that I made "Found You", an art piece which would later be used as the front cover of the album Songs of Gaia by Vocallective Records. I now look back on that deal and cringe. I try to not get involved with online drama and I’ve said my piece on Vocallective Records in the past, but if you’re aware of that company, you know what they try to pull on the regular. I will not be working with them again.
A Turn of Events
I concentrated on MMD as my main creative outlet for around 5 years before I started to lose motivation. A lot of factors brought this on, the main one being that I was not happy with the content I was producing. Althought I was creating effects that are still widely used by MMDers all over the world at this point, the only effects people cared about were burstappeal. I had so many requests for effects that just were not feasible with the code or that would look terrible no matter how hard I worked on them, but as a 15 year old with a big following online, I did not know how to say no to them. Many MMDers noticed this too, and my work ended up on a few Tumblr MMD Hate Blogs for being that kid who made anything, even if it wasn't good. This had a huge impact on my mental health at the time, which resulted in me setting many of my effects to private. Privatising did not help my situation however, as then people were angry that I had removed them and they could no longer use them. Dealing with bullying at school and now on the internet was overwhelming, and I felt like no one cared about the effects that I wanted to make; they just wanted someone who could produce what they needed because they were not capable of doing it themselves.
This, along with a change of career outlook, a broken laptop and my school workload increasing guided my decision to leave the MMDC. I still enjoyed the art process however, and so I made art and effects for myself. I never uploaded the art of assets online, I kept them private. Finally, I was creating for myself.
Suddenly I had a lot more free time in real life, and I turned my interests towards acting. Originally I had been studying to become an astrophysicist, however the UK schooling system sucked all the enjoyment I had for science out of me, and I began to appreciate my creative side much more now that I did not have MMD as my outlet. I joined an acting school in sixth form, and later various drama societies and theatre companies at University. I also started to take an interest in radio production with the University of Reading’s Junction11. I had worked on a radio show based on calming music and stories in my second year with another presenter, however I felt urge to present my own original content on a subject that I really cared about. And so, I began to plan The Art of Gaming, a radio show where I would discuss video game features in an academic context such as sound design, game mechanics and trends throughout time. I wanted this show to be entirely independently produced, which meant I had to make my own artwork for advertising. And so, I turned back to MMD.
Surprisingly, it didn't take me long to get back into MMD. The program had not been updated drastically and the effect community as I knew it had not made anything huge since I left. Apart from the effect producer Rui, who had released a raytracing method of rendering for MMD called raycast in 2017. Suddenly, everything was pretty. The days of Diffusion7 and AdultShader were over, now we had normalmapping, fantastic pointlighting and a newfound love of bokeh'd KiraKira. MMD no longer looked like those early Animasa-style videos I grew up watching. MMD now looked professional and beautiful, and in some cases, photorealistic. Fearing that I had been left behind as time ticked on, I logged back into DeviantART after many years of neglect, only to find that my account had never really died. I may not have posted for years, but hundreds of users were still commenting, favouriting and downloading my content. But the most shocking part of it all was finally noticing that my effects were influencing not only the Western MMDC, but the Japanese community as well. So many beautiful, well-made videos which used my effects, all coming from the users who made MMD as mainstream as it is today. It was unbelieveable, humbling and encouraging. I had always wanted my effects used all around the world pre-hiatus, and I achieved my goal without knowing or trying. In my absence, I was still present. And I was loved. It encouraged me to get involved with the Japanese community and they welcomed me with open arms. I joined Japanese Discord Servers and got recognised instantly. I had people encouraging me to continue to learn Japanese, and were respectful of my language mistakes. It was a feeling of love I never felt when I was bashing out crappy effect after crappy effect. Now it's November 2020, and in 6 days I turn 22. I never thought I would return to MMD, but I'm so glad I did. I find myself split fairly evenly between the East and the West (which is a relief because there's only so much Western MMDC I can take a day, but that's a subject for another time). I'm much more involved in both communities and with the help of my platform, I'm making a positive impact on the Western Community. Although I still make MMD art and specialise in effects, my focus has moved to trying to improve the Western Community. As I've written about in the past on my DeviantART Journal, there are some major problems in the West that segregates us from the Japanese Community. Neutral differences between the two communities such as average age (Westerners tend to join the community in their early teenage years whereas Japanese artists join as adults), level of respect and knowledge of law puts us at war with each other, and it is a war that I wish would end. My method of improving the Western community is through education. I believe that most rulebreakers are those who are young and ignorant of the rules and valuesd of Japanese culture, and if they are made aware of the rules early on in their MMD careers, they will make significantly less serious mistakes later on.
As for my own work, I know that I've improved so much in 8 years. A big part of the improvement was choosing only to make the content that I want to, and not fearing to refuse requests that I do not want to fulfil. All my Post-Hiatus content comes from the heart, and one can see it in the quality of the render. I spend weeks perfecting every effect, asset and artwork, and I never post anything that I am not happy with. My work now means something to me. Every time I make something I implement a new skill or technique I've learned from talking to my MMD friends or observing something from another creator. It reflects my feelings and my knowledge, and sometimes it's politics. It's important.