Spam and Beans

Posted Monday, October 27, 2008, 7:30 PM

Spam is the bane of the internet. It's worse than viruses, kiddie porn, and goatse all rolled into one. It, to put it mildly, sucks shit, and all perpetrators should die by firing squad.

Every so often I check my spam filter to make sure no legitimate email got caught in it, and I need to tread carefully, so as not to open up anything nefarious, or annoying, or just plain sad. I fear that the sight of the bad spelling, shitty typography, and absence of any truths, will drive me to crazed anger for the rest of the day.

Instead what I found was this:

The whole list of emails I got on October 27th all came from fake (or stolen) names that began with the letter 'A'. I mean, what's up with that? Is this a strange coincidence that goes against all known statistical probability? Did their evil name spoofing algorithm crap out on them causing it to spit out this bizarre list? Was it the fault of some lackey in their office (HA! Like they have offices! Or lackeys!)?

It's pretty bloody weird, anyway.

Where's a Mediaeval French Village when you need one?

Posted Monday, October 20, 2008, 11:55 PM

Today I was with Rob, we were looking for a door that was suitable enough to represent a 1940s French Cafe entrance. But when we got to the salvage yard, it was closed up for the day. Damn.

On the way there, we mentioned several times, rather jokingly, that it was amazing that Melbourne, Australia, completely lacked any authentic olde worlde French architecture anywhere. And then later still we talked about ideas for mediaeval movies we want to make, but can't see how we can achieve it in this modernised and young country.

Later this evening, I was randomly wandering across the internet when I stumbled upon mention of an Australian pop band of yesteryear called The Chantoozies, and I thought to myself "I haven't heard their song Witch Queen of New Orleans in a long time, I wonder if that's on YouTube."

It is.

After watching the video, I was enamoured not only by the 80s hair, and how young Tottie Goldsmith and David Reyne looked, but also by the fantastic location. Why, that looks like Mediaeval European Architecture! Holy crap, thought I, is that in Australia? It must be!

I went searching through the web to find some details, and eventually found mention of it on a page about the director of the video, revealing the filming location as being a building called the Montsalvat Chateau, which is one of 12 buildings at the Montsalvat Artists Retreat, where artists of all kinds can live and paint and create to their heart's content in a peaceful, inspirational, beautiful environment.

Well, by crikey o'reilly, take a look at some of these pics - it's a fantastic location, absolutely ideal for a mediaeval film, and perfect for a number of our upcoming (and current) projects. It even has great old doors! Just what we were looking for!

And the most amazing part is, it's about 2km from Rob's house, and we never even knew it was there!

Cruising with Crusoe

Posted Sunday, October 19, 2008, 5:58 PM

When Pirates of the Caribbean was first released, despite widely held expectation of its failure (Pirate movies never succeed) but then its unexpected success, there was then a fear that we would be suddenly inundated with Pirate movies, bringing us right back to the position of having unsuccessful dreck littering the entertainment world again. This didn't happen.

There has, however, been a surprising rise in epic television entertainment, almost cinematic in its scope and quality, with exotic locations, long story arcs, large casts, and spectacular visual effects out the wazoo. Many of these I have come to enjoy very much: Heroes, Lost, Sarah Connor Chronicles, Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who, and lots more (some of which I don't watch, some I do).

Well, now the Pirates of the Caribbean influence has hit TV. A UK show that has been commissioned by the US, based (very very loosely) on the story of Robinson Crusoe, has debuted, and you know what? I like it.

Crusoe is about a man who has been shipwrecked on a tropical island, alone but for a single "local" who he names "Friday". The first episode concerns the island being discovered by Pirates after a buried treasure. That should give you the level of adventure it's going for. Not serious or believable in any way, but still a good adventure action drama, it kept my attention, entertained me to the end, and bode well for a fun series. It's been commissioned for thirteen episodes, guaranteed, which I don't think it will falter over.

Ratings in the US lately have started to yoyo, due partly to crappy scheduling practices, and partly to increased use of downloading as a means to watch a show, bypassing advertising. With torrents, official streaming video, TiVo, and episodes available on iTunes, there is a wider choice publicly available for viewing, and many are taking them up on it. Despite low ratings, the Networks are recognising that these alternative options make up the rest of their audience. They aren't switching off or over, they're remaining loyal to their favourite shows, but in their favourite viewing format. The only problem is, the revenue stream from advertising has to be maintained to keep the shows coming. Here's hoping they can figure out how to handle it so that we can continue to enjoy epic TV.

Checkpoint: Resistance: Cafe Chairs

Posted Wednesday, October 15, 2008, 10:53 PM

Now here's something you don't often consider when making a creative production. Chairs.

The addendum film that Rob and I are making is set in WWII France, and it's not like you can just wander around downtown 2008 Melbourne, and find a perfectly set up location matching 1940s France that you can use for your film. Instead you have to create it artificially, with a little of this, and a little of that.

One of those is costume. We have cast our main actor, and will have authentic costumes for all those involved. Another is to use CGI, or Computer Generated Imagery. I have previously detailed some of my attempts in creating the landscape that the story takes place within, including the interior of a Cafe.

Well, it's not enough to just have an interior, you also need things to populate it, give it character and authenticity. Things like chairs. And do you know how easy it is to find authentic chairs for a 1940s French Cafe?

First we went to Springvale and trolled the second hand shops there. Not much to see, it's surprisingly sparse. Then we headed north to Nunawading and managed to accidentally stumble on a second hand store advertising period furniture. They didn't have what we needed, but the owner did suggest another street we could try, and so we zipped way over to Sydney Road in Coburg and we found a couple of shops that were almost useful, but not quite useful enough. Until just as we were leaving them, Rob said "What about that chair?" and indicated one of two chairs that were in the window, which I'd overlooked because they were well hidden under some other items.

Utterly perfect. Completely and exactly what we were looking for.

And that's how you do it.

Wizarding About

Posted Tuesday, October 14, 2008, 9:52 PM

What do you do when the biggest family entertainment production of each year is in downtime? What do you make to fill its slot and keep the same demographic entertained? That uses many of the same production team, especially the visual effects company? I am talking, of course, about during Doctor Who's absence from our screens.

The answer is to create another fantastical episodic adventure tale, and cast it with classic British actors as well as a new slew of young up-and-comers. Sprinkle it with fantasy creatures, epic landscapes, and a dash of magic, and you have quite a feast. And so: Merlin.

The story concerns young Merlin, 18 years old, employed as the apprentice to Uther Pendragon's court Physician, and given the honour of being young Prince Arthur's personal servant.

He arrives at the court of Camelot already fully versed in magical abilities, only to find himself in a society that shuns the practice of magic as witchcraft. He must therefore hide his powers from all, and yet he constantly finds himself in situations where he has to use them to save Arthur's life.

With his constant needling from Arthur to be an obedient servant, a budding romance with a young Guinevere, Uther Pendragon being a stubborn pigheaded arrogant bull of a man, the suspiciously ambiguous nature of Uther's ward Morgana, and a constant stream of enchantresses trying to overthrow the kingdom, it is a busy time at Camelot. However can a poor young sorcerer cope?

The show's off to a shaky start. I suppose I can't expect perfection first time out, so I'll give it a chance to find its feet, however it's a hard one for me to get into. If I was fifteen I am sure I would lap this up with wild abandon and it would fast become my favourite show, it certainly has a lot of the ingredients that I love in fantasy. But I'm nearly 40, and it is most certainly not aimed at those my age at all. My expectations may be unrealistically high.

The problems I have with it are many. For one thing, the dialogue is cheesy and clunky. Instead of being inspired by great modern fantasy adventure stories, it seems to be basing itself on simplistic pulp sword-and-sorcery fiction. And I can overlook anachronisms if the characters are compelling, but instead they are like storybook cardboard cut-out versions, and awfully predictable.

The concept of Merlin having to hide his expert telepathic and telekinetic powers is very disappointing. I would have preferred it if the background to his adventures was of him learning new skills, instead of being blessed with immediate knowledge of how to do anything he is called on to do. I think it misses out on some key plot and character developments.

The characters are really not very appealing. They over act, and are portrayed as quite unpleasant people. There's a distinct lack of warmth, with no moments of real connection between the characters. Something any family drama fundamentally needs is appealing characters, and yet it's a glaring omission. Not through lack of awareness, but instead from clumsy writing. Most disappointing.

I expect it to be a popular show - it's better than the awful Robin Hood that is unfeasibly popular amongst teens at the moment, and it has some carefully constructed content that is sure to appeal to a teen audience - so if it continues onto a second season and beyond I have some hope it will improve.

But if it continues on as it currently stands, like a slightly more lavish Sarah Jane Adventures, it won't keep me around for long.

Checkpoint: Resistance: Cafe

Posted Wednesday, October 8, 2008, 7:48 PM

Over the past few years, as I've learned more and more 3D and visual effects stuff, I've been lucky to have had the opportunity to work on new things I've never done before. It hasn't all just been light sabres and spaceships.

Interestingly enough, it's never been light sabres.

So I've made robots, and people, and cartoon characters, and spaceships, and vehicles, and aeroplanes, and buildings. But here's something else that's new - an indoor scene.

This will eventually be a Cafe, set in WWII France, and be populated with some patrons at tables and a few other characters, which we'll be filming against greenscreen and compositing in. That in itself is something I haven't really done before, though my job is mostly just the background elements like this, and Rob will probably be handling most of the compositing. Which is fine by me, I think that will work out well.

There are a few extra details I'd like to add, like a menu on the wall, and maybe hang a painting, but I'm pretty happy with the design and implementation so far. The window is especially impressive, it really looks like late evening sunlight or something.

If we go with this light, though, it will need to be rethought a bit, as it took two hours to render this one image. I think, therefore, that what I'll do is render the window once, and apply that to the window glass as an image. That way it doesn't have to re-render the full light effects, transparency, and distortion every time, presumably shortening the render time dramatically. There's a built in method for doing that kind of thing, called baking but I've never been able to figure out how to do that successfully. It may be time I learned.