Blur Studios

Posted Thursday, May 29, 2008, 11:34 PM

There's an animation studio that is not as widely known as those who make the big movies. Everybody has heard of Pixar and Dreamworks, and many know of Blue Sky who make the Ice Age films, and Robert Zemeckis's studio ImageMovers, who made Beowulf and The Polar Express. But there are lesser-known studios making 3D Animation of repute, who aim themselves mostly at the short film, advertising, and video game market, and one of particular note is Blur Studios.

I just watched the trailer for the game Age of Conan, and was astonished by its quality. It had better motion capture animation than in Beowulf, by several degrees, and was therefore the best I've ever seen. Now, the facial animation was still a little artificial, but that was slight, and not distracting. And anyway there was some stylisation to the character design, as this is Conan we're talking about - if Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't really exist and then someone independently came up with a character design that was an exact match for him, people wouldn't believe he could be real.

Blur Studios, or some other company just like them, would be a fantastic place to work. Their achievements are impressive, and increasingly world class. I think we can expect big things from them.

My Showreel

Posted Wednesday, May 28, 2008, 2:44 PM

One of my hobbies that I hope to turn into a career is visual effects and 3D graphics. I have been dabbling with it for a long time, off and on, and only recently in my life have I had the opportunities to contribute some of what I'm capable of to real productions, low-budget short films though they may be.

The best part is the variety of work I've done for people. Matte paintings, 3D modelling and animation, compositing, 2D animation. Some of it is realistic, some not, and some is somewhere in between. It started out as wanting to be involved in Star Wars fanfilms, and I have worked on four of them, but now that my friends are branching out into original ideas, it's opened up a lot of new opportunities for different kinds of creative work.

These include a dark psychological tale, where I had to add some walls to turn a three-walled location into a four-walled one, then add a window in one of the existing walls; A comedy where one scene has the characters suddenly transported into a desert location, where I contributed the matte of the desert and rotoscoped them into place; A spy comedy which involves a really funky gadget with a digital display that needed to be interacted with by the star, where I designed, animated, tracked, and composited the display graphics onto each shot; And my first SW fanfilm had a whole bunch of different things in it that needed doing, some worked more successfully than others, but the R2-Units were the triumph. I've also worked on a feature film, a horror that needed some invisible work: fixes and mattes and composites.

Next up for the team is a short film set in World War II, which will require from me a couple of shots of a train, which I have already modelled and textured, a few composites and mattes paintings for locations, and there'll be some gunfire (though the Director, Rob, is also a talented visual effects nerd and will be contributing his own work on some of it). It starts shooting in a couple of weeks.

And then after that we'll be making a cool little take on a fairytale, which will have some very unique locations and effects in it, which will be quite a challenge indeed. There's a wolf for a start. Can't wait!

Website Coding

Posted Sunday, May 25, 2008, 3:30 PM

When I started out in website designing, back in 1997, it was so early in the evolution of browsing that a lot of the tips and tricks that were suggested to me to learn were useless, due to poor adherence to the Standards by the various browsers available. This meant the only way you could do a compatible site for all to see consistently was to use very basic HTML and some clunky formatting methods.

This was frowned upon by the advanced programmers who wanted to use all the tricks of Javascript and Stylesheets to create dazzling results, but the number of hacks and compromises and alternatives they had to employ to achieve their results was so mindnumbingly enormous, it put me off even bothering to look at these more advanced languages, let alone use them.

As time has gone on, and browser compatibility has improved, I have made some more effort to learn a little bit of this mysterious branch of website design. CSS is very simple compared to most other languages, but it does have many different kinds of implementations, so as I was picking it up, the variations in methodology confused me for a long time. As I began to see the possibilities, and was given the occasional opportunity to design from the ground up, I began to see the benefits that had thus far eluded me, and now I can design a pretty good site using CSS almost exclusively, and correctly, creating something quite clean and sharp.

However, there are other languages, that allow more control over a website and its back-end. PHP, Javascript, XML, CGI and Perl, Java, AJAX, and Flash, all make a website more dynamic, more exciting, more interactive, and more entertaining, than HTML alone can provide. But they aren't simple languages to learn; they have more complex structuring, with a whole library of terms, tags, and expressions, requiring new layers of comprehension from me - but unfortunately it's something that I do not easily grasp.

Some of the time I can look at another person's existing code and see what's going on, allowing me to adapt it to do what I need from it. But actually creating my own code from scratch, learning how it operates and what's possible, is beyond me. I am unable to get into that kind of zone; it all just looks like incomprehensible gibberish to me.

I have been finishing up a website for my friends, and one of the features they wanted requires (simple) dynamic interactivity; a way to update the News page without my having to do it myself the long way. But the problem was I couldn't find any existing code online that I could snaffle to do this task, because the method I have chosen to set up doesn't quite fit alongside what others are already making available. They have their own needs, and none that I could find strictly matched my own.

However, I did know all of the features that I wanted to have on my News updating page. They included: A pre-filled 'date' field; a 'news' textarea; submitting it all to a text file, that needed to be appended at the top (not at the end) each time; including some pre-formatted code between the text strings; stripping out incompatible characters and replacing them with compatible ones; checking the fields were filled in before sending; a way to edit the text file directly, in case of errors; and a few other things like that. Quite a daunting amount of operability required, but on their own quite simple features.

So I looked online for each of these code snippets individually, and eventually found them all. Some of them were PHP, some were Javascript, some were CSS, some were HTML. I found some in CGI, but I avoided that as it's a bit clunkier than I really needed - I knew I could utilise more direct coding. The end result, after a lot of testing and experimenting, messing about to make them all mesh with each other, and getting them to work in partnership, eventually all worked, and I must say I am pleasantly surprised at my achievement. I know for a fact I could never have done it from scratch on my own - I needed what other people had already discovered and figured out, and just jammed them all together into one place.

So thanks to everyone out there who provided free code snippets online, allowing me to create a pretty practical News page updater.

Yay me!


Posted Friday, May 23, 2008, 10:44 AM

Wow, what a wonderful movie! That's what all the reviews said I'd be feeling after seeing it, and were they ever right! It's a beautiful take on fairy tale films, and the Disney-ified approach in particular. Kind of poking fun at them, while also contributing to and honouring them.

Very funny, incredibly heartwarming performances, as romantic comedies go this has to be in my top five. Amy Adams as Giselle and James Marsden as the over-the-top Prince Edward were particularly impressive. Playing an animated character in live action is not something that is often done, especially in this style, and they managed groundbreaking performances that really shone. Top marks to them!

And the animation at the beginning was also fantastic. I liked the colour choices they used, especially in the lines. I've not seen them apply that technique so successfully before, and I hope to see more like it in future animated films, such as the upcoming Princess and the Frog.

There were hundreds of sly references and homages to actual Disney animated films, and a list of them can be found here. It was truly a dazzling display of film making, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to everybody!

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Posted Thursday, May 22, 2008, 7:32 PM

I am not a big fan of the Indiana Jones movies, but I am enthusastic about them. I enjoy all three of them, almost on an equal basis. I didn't see Raiders in the cinemas originally, as I was only 11 and I don't think I recognised it as a film intended for me. It was mostly aimed at kids slightly older than me. And that's part of the problem with the whole series - as I grew up, the movies did not - George Lucas maintained his intention of having the movie appeal to fourteen year old boys.

Well, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is in that same league. Teenage boys are going to love it, but 40 year olds who grew up with the franchise are not. They'll pick it to bits and come away disappointed that it veered from the course they feel it ought to have followed.

And the problems are too many to list, though they are small and can be overlooked. Except for one.

Good Things: Action and adventure, and humour, aplenty. The effects are impressive and don't dominate too often. And it is definitely Indiana Jones in tone.

Bad Things: Too many fanboy moments. Felt like a lot of set pieces tenuously linked together. Too many characters just stood around not doing very much. A couple of the set pieces and effects sequences were poorly constructed or were just stupid. Janusz Kaminski's photography looked... strange, sometimes, like he was uncomfortable with harking back to the earlier movies. Even the music was bland and unimpressive. But most importantly, the worst part was that the conclusion was unsatisfying; The bad guys' come-uppance didn't really make a lot of sense.

Overall, I think I need to watch it a few more times, on DVD, to really appreciate it. I may enjoy it more in my own environment, coming in armed with the whole story already known to me, so I can ignore the broader stuff and enjoy the smaller moments.

Oh, and in terms of spoilers: Click for spoilers

The worst kept secret in Hollywood: Mutt Williams, played by Shia, is Indy's son to Marion Ravenwood, and his real name is Henry Jones III. *sigh* They really didn't need to do that.

I miss Toasted Cheese Rolls

Posted Wednesday, May 21, 2008, 5:23 PM

Living in Australia, far away from my home of New Zealand (well, not that far, I suppose...), means that I have to adapt to cultural differences. Sometimes these are welcomed with open arms - there's a relaxed and leisurely attitude to life here which suits me fine. But other things I miss, especially certain foodstuffs.

And one of those that I miss is toasted cheese rolls. There is nothing I love better for a lunch time snack than this uniquely southern NZ treat. Spiced cheese melted in a roll of toasted thin sliced bread, and buttered. Yummmmmmm! (The image shown here is somewhat misleading - as they're burned rather badly. But otherwise this is a close match)

It has been many many years since I last had them, mostly because I've not visited home in so long, but also because I cannot buy the ingredients here - they just don't have any of them! Argh! I can't even order the ingredients from NZ, because the key one I'm really missing is fresh, thin sliced bread, and the bread here just isn't sliced very thinly! Not even the sandwich slice, which is basically the same thickness as toast slice back home (and then toast slice here is only minimally thicker, which means the only two cuts of bread available to me are almost exactly the same thickness, rendering the apparent singular distinguishing characteristic completely meaningless!) and I can't import it here, because there are health regulations preventing it! And anyway, then it wouldn't be fresh.

So all I can do is lament and think back fondly at what a delicious treat it is, and how I will grab some when I return home next. That is, if there are any tea rooms in Dunedin any more - I fear the worst there, last time I was there many of my favourite and most familiar shops and landmarks were missing. I've just heard hundreds of jobs are being lost as at least three of the biggest factories are closing down. The city of Dunedin is rapidly dying.

For my own records, and in case anyone reading this has the inclination to make some, here is a recipe for them that I found at another blog:

    250g of grated cheddar cheese (mild or tasty)
    1/2 375ml tin of Carnation evaporated milk
    1/2 packet of Maggi onion soup mix
    1 loaf of white thin sliced bread

    Mix the cheese, evaporated milk, and soup mix, and place over a low heat until melted. Allow to cool a little - the mixture will thicken. Spread over one side of each slice of bread, then roll them up (ie, fold over the bottom third of the slice, then fold that double layer again onto the top third). Grill until toasted. Spread a sluice of butter on top. Enjoy!

    Any excess rolls can be frozen.


Website Designed

Posted Monday, May 19, 2008, 6:40 PM

In an earlier post, I talked about a website design I had been working on for a friend of mine's company. It was an update, in the sense that I had designed the original one when I worked for my past employer, and now I did this one on my own. But it was really a total revamp, because almost none of it matches, neither in design nor content.

I'm very happy with the finished product. Not only is it a nice clean and bold design, with a very interesting mix of colours, but it's also almost entirely CSS driven, with no tables (except for tabular data, i.e. the gallery of thumbnail images), and very little additional coding (a javascript dynamic gallery, and a dynamic news feed).

In terms of clean coding, it's the best I've ever done. And in terms of sharp design, it's right up there in my top five ever. I'm very pleased indeed!

Doctor Who: The Unicorn and the Wasp

Posted Sunday, May 18, 2008, 9:09 PM

This episode was wonderful! Really fun and silly, excellently cast (including Felicity Kendall), and with some nice ideas well handled. The Doctor and Donna turn up at a garden party in 1926, where author Agatha Christie arrives, and they are soon embroiled in a murder mystery at the Manor.

Twists and turns in a fast-paced plot, whacky characterisation from Donna, and a giant wasp. What more could you ask for?

Childhood Obesity

Posted Saturday, May 17, 2008, 8:25 PM

Fat kids. What's up with that?

The health experts claim that childhood obesity is increasing, and that up to 20% of kids are considered obese. They say that this is worse than any other country except the US, and it's an epidemic.

But I don't see any evidence of this in my daily life. When I see kids walking around, especially in school groups, I try to pick out the obese ones to check the data. I see maybe 3 in every 40 kids, consistently, as being what might be called obese. Well, that's nowhere near 20%, it's barely 8%. And, on top of that, that's also reflected in my observation of adults - though the percentage is worse as one gets older, it's still nowhere near an epidemic for adults either; it seems to me to be pretty much the same as it's ever been.

Here are three examples from various eras, completely randomly gathered from the internet. The first example is from 1954: 1 out of 16 show signs of obesity, i.e. slightly plump around the face. The second is from 1981: 1 out of 28. And the third is from 2007: 2 out of 25. I think that's conclusive enough; it's not actually as bad as they're claiming.

I think what's happening is the measurement of obesity has changed. Methodology has improved, and ratio measurements of fat-to-muscle and suchlike are now more accurate. Couple that with a subtle change in what constitutes "obese" these days, which I suspect is a lot less forgiving than in the past, and I say this hysteria is based on very little.

Now, having said that, there are some obese kids around, and this ought to be addressed. But it's not worth the media panic, the public outcry, or the money thrown at it. Kids are kept as active as ever, and are eating healthier now than they were in my day.

Just stop the lies, exaggeration, the media madness. It's really not as bad as all that.

More Dreams

Posted Friday, May 16, 2008, 7:23 PM

To follow on from the last post, I had another vivid dream last night, this time related to an upcoming event I am somewhat trepidatious over: wisdom teeth surgery.

I was in a reception area, and there were lots of people milling around, in lines, waiting, being interviewed, and preparing for their oral surgery. I was allowed to wander around a little, and surprisingly I was actually quite excited. Dreams can be funny that way, how they can manipulate your emotions to be quite unlike how you'd really feel if the situation was genuine.

Eventually, after some kind of conversation with someone I can't recall about something I no longer remember, I was ushered into a little room, and sat down on a dentist's chair. My surgeon was already there, ready to do his thing. I was anaesthetised (knocked out, which is what I assume will actually happen) and then within seconds woke up in my real bed, in real life, this morning, but feeling no pain in my mouth, which I was pleasantly surprised about. And then I realised... oh yes, I hadn't actually gone through with the real surgery. It was all only a very vivid dream.

Dreams and Nightmares

Posted Thursday, May 15, 2008, 2:40 PM

I've been having very vivid dreams lately. Because my sleeping patterns have been getting erratic due to my excessive laziness and being a nocturnal kind of person (i.e. I like to stay up late, and sleep in in the mornings) my routine is messed up, which leads to my dreams being affected.

So such things as the position I sleep in changing (I normally sleep on my front, but lately have been on my back or side a lot), and the temperature throughout the night, and the length of time I'm in bed, has caused my dreams to change from their usual vague jolly experiences of no discernible rhyme nor reason, to being actively vivid and severe.

I've had dreams of deaths and murders, chases and creeping around, with other characters seemingly familiar but not actually based on people I know. They are taking place at night in strange locations I don't recognise, and are longer too, sometimes continuing after I restlessly shift position, when normally they'd stop and a new one would begin.

And I've been sleeping right through the night uninterrupted, which I almost never do. Usually the interruptions are brief, maybe a second or two, but they're moments I'm aware of and cause enough of a break to affect my dreams, but lately the dreams have been singular and longer lasting.

It's all quite unusual.

I'm not concerned at all, I think dreams are fun and healthy no matter what they contain, and interpretation of them is a foolish waste of time as they don't mean anything at all, at least nothing useful anyway. But it is something that I can't help but notice, and therefore had to remark upon it.

CSI is an insulting piece of crap

Posted Monday, May 12, 2008, 9:55 PM

Cop and Law shows on TV are generally pretty lame. Okay, they only have their 42 minute running time to tell the entire story, 23 times a year, every year, for all 25 different shows of this type that broadcast each year, so fair enough, sometimes they're going to write up a dud or two.

But by crikey, CSI, the unfeasibly popular forensics-based cop show, has got to be the worst of them all! I have thought from the very first time I saw it that it was patronising, stodgily written, poorly acted, with the lamest dialogue, and unnecessarily flashy visuals, but had hoped that as time went on, and all the sequels spun out in their interminable way, that it would get better - but no, they haven't improved a single jot. They're still complete shit.

Every episode they speak out loud whenever they think, saying screamingly obvious things like "Hmm, there may be blood on the broken glass. Hmm, if we look at it under the microscope, it may give us some clues. Hmm, let's look under this carpet. Hmm, there are fibres under their fingernails. Hmm, is that a hair I see on his jacket? Hmm, this footprint may be a clue." And then they flash to some overly elaborate 3D simulation showing how someone leaves footprints, as though we don't know how people step into dirt! Dude, we watch cop shows all the time, we know how it all works, stop being so goddamned patronising!

Then, to top it all off, they employ shaky zoomy camera techniques, fast editing, loud rock music, and flickery blinky grainy flashbacks, to make them seem cool, not realising it just looks like they're amateurish wastes of space who were brought up on crappy music videos and don't have an ounce of original editing talent in their bodies.

And I'm not even going to touch on that moron David Caruso.

Doctor Who: The Doctor's Daughter

Posted Sunday, May 11, 2008, 5:40 PM

Well, that wasn't at all what I had been expecting. Click for spoilers

The Doctor's daughter had nothing at all to do with Susan after all. It was all a genetic "cloning" creation, and nothing strictly biological in the normal sense.

But what was good about it was that she was bred to be a soldier, and therefore had some of the Doctor's strengths, plus a few strategic strengths that he doesn't possess. Click for spoilers
That makes for an interesting character that can be played with in the canon, if the fans, EU, and the show wish to. I could see Jenny showing up on Torchwood or The Sarah Jane Adventures easily, if not returning to Doctor Who itself.

The plot involved two warring factions who had been fighting for so long they had forgotten what the war was about. Martha ended up in the "enemy's" territory, so we got to see both sides. In this case, the humans seemed to be the real bad guys, though.

There were a few scenes that were a little bit lame, and sort of tried really hard to be emotional but just seemed to be trying too hard. Each time it was somebody crying over a person they had only met half an hour previously, which didn't really ring as true as they hoped.

But it had its good points, and though it's the worst episode of this season so far, it's still better than some of the really bad ones of past seasons, so that's a good thing.


Posted Saturday, May 10, 2008, 12:38 PM

I'm not a big comic book fan. This is mostly to do with the fact that 99.99% of them are American superhero comics, which have never really interested me. How they have managed to sustain thousands of stories on the singular premise of "good guy defeats bad guy" for all this time I have no idea.

I was brought up on UK comics, firstly humour comics like Buster and Whizzer and Chips, and then I transitioned into the SF action comic 2000AD, where famous characters like Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, and Nemesis the Warlock resided. Not only was that so different to US superhero tripe in plot dynamics, it was also drawn differently, unique to each artist instead of cookie cutter clone hack work, the penciller was the inker, and there were episodic storylines of real quality. It's a great comic. It went downhill for a little while, and I stopped reading it, but apparently it's back on form again.

Since abandoning those comics, and despite sampling various others at times (such as a one-off Star Wars collection, or a glance through a Spirit or Cerebus the Aardvark) I have never really latched onto anything new; except for one single exception: Thieves and Kings. It's a fantasy adventure tale by Mark Oakley about a boy, Rubel, a "thief" who is central to events of great change in his home town, the kingdom of Oceansend. Wizards, time travel, shadow ladies, monsters, witches, princesses, and more, all converge and fly amongst Rubel's life, and he is the one who appears to be the key to it all. It's well drawn, with great characterisation and pacing, and with an interesting mix of art with swathes of text. A true epic in its scope, I've been reading it for about 12 years, and it's finally nearing completion.

But the other collection of comics that I have recently uncovered is one called Flight. It's a series of trade paperbacks that collect together comic strips in full colour, that originally were supposed to revolve around the theme of Flight in some way, though that seems to have been abandoned and sometimes the only connection is a "flight of fancy", i.e. just imagination.

The stories are quite beautiful and sweet, with a real sense of the joy of adventure that emanates from them. The colours especially really bring some of them to vivid life, which can make your heart soar. Even the sad stories have a side to them that make you take pleasure in reading them. (And I say "reading", but some have no or minimal dialogue)

They're a beautiful set of books, and I recommend them to one and all.

Climate Change

Posted Wednesday, May 7, 2008, 11:20 AM

I'm going to talk about a particularly significant and controversial subject, one where I am not part of the majority view.

Global Warming, or perhaps more accurately Climate Change, is the theory involving our world's temperature extremes are actively changing to be higher and lower than they have been in the past. Most people, and Governments, seem to accept this at face value because it's what the scientists are telling everyone, and they all seem to agree on the broad facts, so there's no real reason to disbelieve it.

However, for me, I have doubts. It's not that I think it's not happening at all - I'm not clever enough to be able to understand the statistics to know if it is or not, and it seems a reasonable assumption to me that something is happening, at least - but I do think that what we are being told isn't actually what's really going on. And my reasons for this are simple - nobody seems to be able to agree on the finer points. And by 'finer points' I mean the broader points.

Q. Is it happening?
A. Apparently. Probably. They can't say for sure, but they think so.

Q. What is happening?
A. Many places are getting hotter. And some places are getting colder. And some aren't really changing much at all. A few are doing all three. But on average, there is change of some kind occurring.

Q. How bad will it get?
A. They don't know. It could mean the death of many millions of people. It could mean a slightly damp Iceland.

Q. What's causing it?
A. Probably the build-up of various carbons in the atmosphere. Or maybe it's something else.

Q. Are we causing it?
A. They don't know. Most evidence correlates with recent human industrial activity. But there are some who think much of the evidence points to being mostly natural.

Q. What problems will result?
A. Possibly the melting of polar ice-caps, causing flooding worldwide. Possibly the drying out of water resources, causing drought. Probably both, and more besides. But then again, maybe nothing.

Q. When will this start to manifest?
A. They don't know. Perhaps it's already begun. Perhaps it will be many years away. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe in 200 years.

Q. Can we fix it?
A. It seems doubtful, but they don't know. Some evidence suggests it's far beyond any repair, let alone within our own reach. But they'll try to pretend we can fix it, just to make everyone feel better.

Q. Then is it too late?
A. Some have suggested so. But they don't know.

Q. Is this all actually just natural?
A. They don't know.

Q. Then this is all our own fault?
A. They're trying to spin it like it is, but in reality they don't know. Whichever it is may not make any difference anyway.

So that's how I see it - nobody really knows anything for sure, there's still a lot of argument, a lot of assumption, a lot of projection. They're trying to make us all behave as though it is happening, trying to get us to be more responsible.

For the most part that's probably not such a bad thing - using less resources, and those we do use handled more responsibly, are reasonable behaviours. But what makes me a little suspicious of it all is that twenty years ago, the hippie green-conscious nature children, who had no discernible power or influence, argued "If we don't start being more careful with our wasteful use of resources, we'll destroy the planet, man!" and then rather conveniently, when many of these hippie green-conscious nature children finally got some amount of power after they got jobs as environmental scientists and the like, now they had some statistics that said exactly what they had cried in the dark up until then. Isn't that just a bit too convenient?

Now that may be because they were absolutely right, and it really is happening exactly as they claim. Most of the world seems to accept that at face value, but I am not convinced. I think that, like most statistics, they're easily manipulated to look like anything you want them to, and that, though there may be some truth, it's mixed in with some considerable amount of fudging and exaggeration.

The Media then step in and cause panic by talking about Global Warming as though it is absolutely true and happening as we speak, and that if we don't "do something now" we are all going to die. More exaggeration, more telling people how to think, more spin on something that at this stage is still a lot of supposition and theory.

Here's my take on it:

  • If it is happening, and we did cause it, and we are all going to die, then we deserve to die.
  • If it is happening, and we did not cause it, and we are all going to die, then that's natural selection at work - many species of creature have died out naturally in the past, and this is our turn.
  • If it is happening, and we can fix it by being more ecologically responsible, then that's good.
  • If it is not happening, but we continue being more ecologically responsible, then that's even better.
  • But if it's not happening, then who cares? We'll survive just as we are now.

Either we live or we die, either it's our fault or it's not, either it's happening or it isn't. What happens, happens.

Penn Jillette is of a similar mind as myself:

Iron Man

Posted Tuesday, May 6, 2008, 11:54 PM

So a lot of people are going to see the new comic book superhero movie Iron Man, and loving the hell out of it. There's been a real excitement and undercurrent of heightened anticipation for a while, especially since the trailers hit. A lot of it has come from people familiar with the original comic books, so that probably makes sense, as it appears that they've faithfully re-created the characters.

But I've never read or even seen the comics, so I come to it cold. And as far as I can see, this is an overrated, decidedly average addition to the genre. I found it overwhelmingly predictable, embarrassingly low in plot development, with decent-but-unoriginal effects work. The actors and their characters were excellent entertainment, and there were a few good laughs throughout, but aside from that it was pretty much bog-standard. I found Batman Begins, the first two Spider-Man films, and the first two X-Men films, all to be far superior to this.

I appear to be very much a lone voice of dissent for this film. All I can conclude from this is that I no longer understand what I thought I knew. I am not a SF/Fantasy movie geek after all, because now I am at odds with the majority view.

Doctor Who: The Poison Sky

Posted Sunday, May 4, 2008, 3:30 PM

Continuing after the cliffhanger last week, this new episode is really very exciting. An action premise as the Sontarans attack UNIT, in an attempt to take over earth to use for their cloning process.

Donna once again doesn't disappoint, her acerbic personality zings even when she's left alone. And Martha's doppelganger is excellently played, distinguishing her from the Martha we know. There's a nice meeting of the two versions that's perhaps slightly soppy, but well done anyway.

The visual effects this week are phenomenally good. Explosions and fire and spacecraft and laser bolts. Wonderful stuff.

And of course: Click for spoilers

Rose makes a fleeting appearance in a flash on the TARDIS video screen, crying out the Doctor's name. Brilliant!

Next week's episode looks to have a very controversial element. Click for spoilers

The Doctor's daughter??? What's up with that? I am assuming it's something to do with Susan, a canonical anomaly that is usually skirted around uncomfortably.

But who knows? We shall see next week what it really refers to.

This video is not available in your country

Posted Saturday, May 3, 2008, 12:37 PM

YouTube recently added a new feature to their uploading options, where you can choose to restrict viewership of a particular video to people in a particular country, presumably your own country. I assume this was done to protect certain copyrights, such as anything official coming from the BBC might want to limit their viewers to those who actually pay their enforced compulsory license fee, i.e. UK residents, and not to those who do not, i.e. everyone else in the entire world.

Except they are limiting their potential audience. It's not like that encourages more people to pay this stupid fee, the foreign audiences aren't even eligible. And it's not like 90% of these shows are actually going to be broadcast in their country at any point. Even if they were, watching a tiny clip on YouTube isn't going to make them lose any money; indeed, it will probably sell more DVDs! That's exactly why I have bought the QI DVDs - I saw the show first on YouTube, and since they never play the show outside the UK, they've made money off me. Isn't that a good thing for them?

It's fucked up. I recently subscribed to an online-only YouTube channel from the US, and it's quite a funny show indeed. But their latest clip has been given a location restriction, so now I can't watch it. Why? It's not meant as a moneyspinner for them, it's just a silly little bit of entertainment they're putting out there for free. Why deny any international viewing?

This is the age of the Internet. The Communication Age. It's the first era where the breaking down of cultural and geographical barriers is actively occurring worldwide, which is a fantastically wonderful and potentially peace-inducing thing. And yet there are still xenophobic morons restricting and censoring entertainment from certain people, and for no logical reason. Even "money" can't be argued as an acceptable reason, because this actually causes them to lose potential earnings.

Fucking idiots.

Disturbing Trend With DVDs

Posted Friday, May 2, 2008, 4:16 PM

I live in a fairly average suburb; not too far away from the city centre, but not so close it's expensive and elite. The local shopping area is quite comprehensive, with everything you could want, and a few specialist shops besides. It doesn't have a good hot chicken franchise, though.

However, it does not have a specialist DVD store. Rental shops, yes, but not for buying, so the only place I can go locally to get my fix (and DVDs are one of my few real vices, if you can even call it that) is the Target store. Target covers a wide range of items, not really specialising in anything specific except maybe household goods and clothes, and they carry a few big and cheap brands, but not much else. In the realms of DVDs, therefore, there are serious holes in their available selection.

One thing that annoys me is that they don't get in the newest movies on the official day of release, and instead it may be four or five days before they appear. This doesn't really bother most consumers, but for people like me, especially when it's something I've been pining for in my annoying geeky way, then it can be quite frustrating to make the effort to go in specifically and not find it there.

The next thing that bothers me is that the selection is so naff. It's usually just the big name movies, a few of the really popular TV series, rather a lot of the stupid crap for the under 2s, and whole shitloads of oldie stuff from before 1950. So if I want something a little unusual, such as season 2 of Count Duckula, or Ross Noble's latest stand up show, then most likely I'll never find it anywhere in their store. I'm sure they would order it in, but it would take them days to get it, and there may even be an extra charge for the effort, when it's easier for me to just hop on a tram and grab it elsewhere.

And now we come to the crux of why I'm ranting today. A new trend has begun at Target and other major retailers (Borders is doing this too) and that is some movies are coming out with two editions - a barebones one with no special features, and a 2-disc edition with all the bells and whistles. It used to be that they only stocked the full-on edition, so no matter which store you went to, the moment you recognised the name of the movie on the cover you could pick it up confident that it was the bestest available in the country. But now that can't be relied upon. Now Target et al are only getting in the barebones editions!


This means that in order to get the version I want, I have to make the effort of going to a more comprehensive store, which in this case is going to have to be JB Hi-Fi, the only store in the country that does it properly. I wouldn't even trust Ezy-DVD's shop to stock it, as they seem to be tiny and pokey and a lot less impressive than you'd think considering their online store.

But JBs doesn't have a store conveniently near me - the nearest ones are about 5km from here (in all four compass directions) so they're a tram or train journey away. That's not a great expense, but it is annoyingly time consuming.

I have to be vigilant. Today I almost bought The Golden Compass from Target without checking the back for the list of its content, but I did check anyway out of force of habit. Lucky that I did, it had no mention of any extra features. I thought that was very unusual, considering it's a visual extravaganza of a film, and it would be perfect for showcasing a bunch of cool documentaries showing off their effort. So I looked around the shelves, but no other edition was visible - that is, except for the Blu-Ray one, which strangely enough listed shitloads of cool stuff. So I knew something was up. I decided to detour to Chapel St and go to the JBs there, and sure enough, there it was: a 2-disc edition, right there on the top shelf.

I was careful this time, but I am sure one day I'll accidentally drop my guard and end up with the naff edition of something sometime soon.

Damn them!

Fire-breathing Lizard

Posted Thursday, May 1, 2008, 4:09 PM

While I'm taking time off a real paid job, I am using this opportunity to beef up my 3D modelling skills. I've never been very good at texturing or lighting, and animation is almost entirely new to me, but I have been making 3D models for a long time, and it seems to be what I've ended up best at. I'm particularly enjoying character modelling, which surprises me as I wouldn't have guessed so before I started doing it.

Every time I see an opportunity to try a new challenge, to make something I've never made before, I tend to leap into it and work really hard, but soon enough my enthusiasm starts to fade away, and then I end up not completing it. That's a pretty bad way to operate, and something I need to sort out. Having said that, if I'm doing the work for another person, especially when I have been given a deadline, that's different - I'll rise to the challenge and honour my commitments. But if it's just for me, I tend to waver and procrastinate.

Something I've been wanting to build for a long time is a dragon, and before I started organic modelling I thought the best way for me to make one that was within my skills was to make it a robotic mechanical dragon. Which would've been pretty cool, I think. But my organic and subpatch modelling skills have emerged recently, and I found the opportunity, so for the past few days I have been working on an organic dragon. I did get interrupted by other priorities for a while there, but it's now coming along well. I completed the wings and tail today, and I decided to put it into context, so have composited it onto a landscape background. I had made this backdrop a couple of weeks ago, using it as a matte painting exercise, and it's looking pretty good I think, and even better with the dragon in place.

Eventually I plan to animate this guy flying around, which I'll do once the model's all complete (you may have noticed he has no legs yet). Though I'm going to try and avoid having to rig it for animating, because it's a time consuming and confounding process that probably isn't worth the effort in this particular case. I'll try morph targets instead, though that may not be the best method either.

Wish me luck!