End Of The Decade

Posted Thursday, December 31, 2009, 9:35 PM


So. That was 2009. And, indeed, that was the first 10% of the 21st century.

It wasn't quite the successful year I had hoped it would be for me. But neither was it utter failure and despair. However, I am not in a very comfortable state at this point, and I need to ramp up the change and get my life sorted out.

2009 started out pretty well, with a lot of possibility. I had been organising my first short film, Horizon, and was figuring out how I was going to pay for the cockpit prop, and get permission for all the locations I wanted. But for every step forward, something caused me to go two steps back. I lost a lot of confidence in how I was dealing with it, and after a tough decision, gave up on the whole shebang.

However, something else took its place. After a great job at editing Checkpoint, we realised something was missing, and now the booked camera gave us an opportunity. We decided to add in a whole bunch of new shots to the opening sequence, to show some of the detail that we had originally planned on only implying. This meant calling in our main actor, and a few mates to be wranglers and extras, and some equipment and costume hire. We bought a greenscreen, set it up outdoors in the sun, and set to filming around forty shots that would be almost entirely reliant on CG effects and digital compositing to work. I knew it was a lot of work to take on, requiring the creation of all new CG models, and some learning of new techniques, but that was the point, and where the fun would lie. It took the rest of the year, with a lot of interruption and distraction, but I recently completed the last of the shots I was assigned, which I will hand in soon.

Then, not being able to stop ourselves, we came up with a new idea to make films with very little preparation and hassle, to avoid the stress and nightmare of organising things, but would give us an opportunity to learn new visual effects techniques and skills. For example, we might run out to a forest, and film a couple of friends having a sword fight, and we'd edit it together to make it as exciting as we could. Or we'd film an empty road and then I'd model and animate a science fiction hoverbike race. We called it Pick Up & Go and so far we've muddled along with it quite well.

I also moved house, rather unexpectedly. It came at a very inconvenient time, but it led me to a place I like a lot, where I have peace and quiet and a real feeling of independence I've not experienced before. It is a long way from a lot of things I wish it was closer to, but at the same time it's closer to a lot of things I used to be far away from. So that evens out.

I completed my first script in late 2008, and by the beginning of the year I tried to locate people who could give me general and broad feedback on it. I didn't manage to find too many who seemed willing to read it, and the few who did gave only a tiny and incomplete amount of feedback, if they even remembered to reply. That was disappointing. I lost a little bit of enthusiasm and encouragement because of that, but I have attempted to write more scripts all year. None of them have really come together as well as the first one, with huge gaps staring at me in the face, that I am struggling to fill in.

I have no illusions that my first screenplay is a thrill ride that would be a box office smash hit and win awards, if it were ever to be made. I'm really just looking to learn how to improve. There are professionals that will read screenplays and give advice of varying levels of detail, but you have to pay them a sum of money, which I don't have to spare, so that route is currently closed to me. I can, however, get an Agent to represent me. Or so I thought. In fact, the real arrangement is the Agent has to find me, which means I need to already know people who know people in the right side of the Industry, and I can't see how I can manage that magic trick from the arse end of the world where I live. I am quite disillusioned.

I was hoping that after I put together my showreel, I would be in a good position to find work in the visual effects industry. After sending it out, though, I have gotten no response at all (I did get one single acknowledgement of receipt). I can't tell if that's because I wasn't good enough, they weren't looking for anyone at the moment, or some other reason. It is very frustrating to be in the dark, when I was expecting at least a ripple of something to point me in the right direction.

I think I'm being too passive. I think that's what has to change for me. I have to be more proactive in 2010.

Hmm. Is it "twenty-ten" or "two thousand and ten"?

Darn. I have no idea.

The Most Spectacular Movie I Have Ever Seen

Posted Thursday, December 17, 2009, 10:57 PM


There is a new bar for visual effects, and it is Avatar.

I don't see movies in the cinema very often anymore - it's expensive, a hassle to get there, and the viewing experience is usually a lot less pleasant than watching a DVD at home. To counter the drain of theatregoers to their own home cinemas, they have reintroduced a superior version of 3D to films, which are widely accepted and are, against my expectation, going gangbusters at the box office.

I personally don't see that 3D adds anything to the experience, and I have only seen two 3D movies. One was Pixar's UP, and the other was Avatar. I decided that they were both worth the expense and inconvenience because of their expected entertainment value for money. I was not disappointed, both times.

There's no doubt the 3D works well, and is a pleasing added dimension, to use an obvious pun, to the movies, even if it is wholly unnecessary to get the same amount of pleasure from the film. It's much improved over earlier versions, and as long as the film doesn't have in-your-face nonsense all the way through it, it just adds depth and a degree of realism that 2D doesn't already offer.

But Avatar is more than just a 3D experience. Widely dismissed by many nerdy geeky types who have seen the trailer and disregarded it as merely a retread of Dances With Wolves or Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, but with blue fake-looking CGI aliens, they have unfairly cast judgement on something that has much more to offer than just that.

For one thing, the Ferngully plot is only a backdrop to a wonderful journey of discovery of a completely alien, yet familiar, world. Filled to overflowing with unique creatures that really feel like they genuinely could really exist, rather than as mere nightmarish monsters, and lush with new foliage that borrows much from familiar tropical (and ocean bed) plants but have an all new twist (sometimes literally a twist), it is a dazzling tour de force, a visual symphony, of glorious vivid colour. At moments I genuinely believed it was all real, and I wished I could have visited it.

The biggest leap in CGI technology wasn't the landscape, though there were leaps and bounds made in the believability and interactive nature of that too. No, instead we saw the best motion capture, both for the bodies and especially the face, than anything we have ever witnessed. It's made leaps and bounds even since Gollum and Kong. Robert Zemeckis will be tearing his hair out at what James Cameron has managed to develop, and I'm sure we'll see it reflected in his next epic (rumoured to be, incidentally, a new Roger Rabbit film).

Apparently, the biggest, and yet simplest leap in motion capture was that the facial capture happened at the same time as the body capture, so they moved in tandem, rather than needing to be married together from separate performances. That, and an improvement in smoothness and accuracy, has finally abolished the flaws that marred the technology for so long, and opened up a more reliable way for actors to inhabit CGI bodies.

I came away from Avatar absolutely breathlessly stunned. Though the movie is long in minutes, it feels exactly the right length because there's just so much to see. Perhaps repeated viewings, and familiarity after watching on DVD, will make it seem a tad long, but for now it felt just perfect.

The characters you're supposed to hate I really hated, the characters you're supposed to cheer for I loved, and the characters that could've gone either way were nicely nuanced and were handled just right.

It's not the most original story, and borrows a lot of its ideas, both visual and narrative, from many sources, but as a whole, it is a spectacle like you have never seen, and sets the bar for epic adventure fantasy that won't be matched for a long time.

The End Of The World Is Nigh

Posted Saturday, December 12, 2009, 6:30 PM


I don't know much about science. I didn't pay much attention to it at school, preferring to joke around with my mates instead. I was very good at Maths, English, and Art, though, so was sort of allowed to drop the ball on other subjects as a kind of balance.

Looking back on it, I wish I had paid attention, because nowadays a lot of scientific advancements and discoveries fascinate me. Not to the point where I might have sought a career in it, but it would be good if I understood the principles or the theory behind it a little better than I do. The truth is, too much scientific gobbledegook bores me very quickly, and my brain just shuts down, pushing me away, preventing me from grasping the finer details I really feel I ought to know better than I do.

Climate Change is the biggest scientific issue that currently concerns us. It potentially could signal the death of the human race, if we mess it up. Or at least change the world to an unrecognisable state.

I was a skeptic about it for a long time, and still have some lingering doubts. When the Global Warming theory first emerged into the public consciousness, sometime in the early 90s, the computer model predicting it appeared to be only one of many possible outcomes that had been calculated, the rest not really foretelling anything too bad was happening. But the Media got a hold of the worst one, and made a meal of it, releasing the term "Global Warming" into popular culture, putting forth all sorts of misinterpreted statistics into the agenda, and generally causing a widespread panic.

Scientists were of two minds. A great number of them were skeptical, and many remain so. But there were some, most at the heart of the issue, who maintained that it fit the evidence thus far, and was worth investigating just in case.

To me, it was rather too convenient that the hippies of the previous decades who were saying "We've got to look after our world, man, it's the only one we have. Bad karma, dude. It's going to happen!" and what do you know, a decade later everything the hippies predicted, based on whatever drug-induced tree-hugging uneducated madness they were spouting, appeared to be coming true. All a bit suspicious, if you ask me.

But as time has passed, the evidence appears to be mounting, and the science seems to bear it out. Something bad is happening, and it appears to be the humans at fault.

The Earth has existed for millennia, with billions of different creatures living on it over that time, variously dominating and going extinct. The dinosaurs, in various evolved groups, were around for 250 million years, then died out for an indeterminate reason possibly related to an asteroid impact. Then 65 million years passed while mammals and birds appeared amongst the ecosystem, eventually getting to the point where Man appears on the scene. 1.5 million years later they reach a state that we would recognise as "intelligent". And 100,000 years later they decide the planet was created for them, that it was served to them on a plate, that they are the dominant force in the universe, and can therefore take everything and misuse it for their own selfish gain, while fighting off all other living beasts to the point of destruction, just to maintain their dominant position.

Humans suck.

Frankly, we deserve to die by our own hand, after our abuse of the natural world that created us. If any species deserved karma heaped upon them, it is us. And Climate Change is that karma, almost as a textbook example.

But we may be able to save ourselves. Apparently, through desperation, they think we can change some of our behaviours, and fix things. They'll never return back to the way they were before we messed everything up, but it can at least keep us, and everything else, alive for longer if we're careful and really try hard.

How do we do this monumental task?

By changing our light bulbs, and having shorter showers.

Hmm. That doesn't really sound like it would be enough.

Okay, we can also drive hybrid, or even fully electric, cars.

That sounds a little better.

Except the amount of pollution that is caused when the electricity is generated, or hydrogen cells are produced, or the cars are manufactured, outweighs any immediate benefits from the less emissions the cars produce.

It seems to me that our domestic carbon footprint is so minuscule compared to industry carbon emissions that anything we do as an individual at our home isn't going to make an impact that matters. It would take decades, possibly centuries, before we'd be in a position where what we were doing at home actually mattered in this huge issue.

But the world of Industry, which creates collectively about a bazillion times as much carbon as the whole of human domestic pollution, will not change their methodology without a fight. In order for them to do so they have to invest money, which they don't want to spend, on new technologies to develop and perfect. And their production will, in itself, create carbon emissions.

We have to make pollution to reduce pollution.

On top of that madness, the Governments have to start the ball rolling, by signing agreements, with strict rules for Industry to follow, but they're still arguing over fine details, over whether it's actually really happening, how much money they can get out of the under-the-table backroom deals, and thus watering down all the agreements. Meanwhile they continue to burn the skies with military action, greedily maintain oil-based profiteering, and relentlessly attempt to wrest control so the world can be run their way (instead of by those idiot foreign buggers).

It's a huge steaming pile of nonsense, and it will kill us all.

But perhaps that's a good thing. Perhaps we deserve it.

Bad Timing

Posted Wednesday, December 9, 2009, 4:15 PM


The whole morning was wonderfully sunny and quiet.

The early afternoon, similarly warm and pleasant.

But the very minute I sit outside in my yard to quietly read a book, what happens? Next door's lawn mower starts up, which then sets the opposite house's dog barking.

Bloody typical.

Fallout

Posted Wednesday, November 25, 2009, 5:29 PM


My hair has always been unworkable. From as early as five years old, I can remember the struggles I had with being able to do anything with it.

For a start, it parts on the opposite side to most other people, which made it look lopsided. It was very thick and dark, which gave it no shape, and no control. It just did whatever it wanted, which was always the same thing - fluff up and sit like it was somehow separated from my scalp. Hairspray and gel don't work on my hair; thus far they have been unable to tame it. If it's cut too short, it spikes up, so it needs some amount of length at all times to look even remotely acceptable.

Whenever some new trendy haircut was in style, I'd go to the hairdresser's and ask for something resembling it. They'd immediately say "Sure! No problem!" and get to work. After five minutes they'd start to hesitate, and go "Hmmm..." until eventually they gave up. "Sorry, I can't really do what you want. But I tell you what, I can make you look like a dork for the rest of your life. How about that?"

End result, the exact same haircut I have always had, forever.

I started losing my hair when I was in my mid-20s. It was a slow, but incessant, loss, which wasn't really visible to others for a while, but by age 30 it was much more evident. I also started going grey at about the same time, and though I wish it had gone shock white instead, it remains patchy and haphazard.

So. Uncontrollable, lopsided, dorky, patchwork, potentially spikey and flyaway, and rapidly falling out. What a disaster.

The common approach to such situations is to shave it all off. But that would mean having to constantly keep it close cropped a lot more often than regular haircut frequency, which sounds far too much like hard work to me. And anyway, it would just spike at the earliest opportunity, which I hate. Plus, I suspect my head is a funny shape.

Genetically I have to blame my Granddad on my mother's side; I have the exact same pattern of hair loss that he did. Whereas my brother is not losing his hair at all, and has something resembling our Dad's curly frizz.

There's not much to do about it. It's not like I have enough vanity that I care about my appearance in any way. I'll just continue to slob along looking like a scruff, as always.

Still, it does suck.

One Way Out

Posted Wednesday, November 18, 2009, 12:27 PM


I'm not very good at video games. I don't play them very often, certainly not as much as I once did, but even back then it was an infrequent pastime, as I was universally crap at almost all of them. Much like board games, and sport, and most other similar activities.

I do still occasionally open a video game up and give them a burst of effort, but it's half-hearted and brief before I get frustrated, or bored, or more likely killed eight times in a row, and so give up and move on to something else.

There are a couple of game types I like more than most of the others. When I was a kid, text adventure games were my favourite. Espionage Island is a title that leaps to mind. I was continually frustrated by them, though, as the aim wasn't to solve the game, but figure out what the right word commands were. Was it "pick up rock"? Or "get rock"? Or "throw rock"? And then it would crash and you'd have to reload it.

Then graphical adventures started to appear. Same idea, but with cool pictures to go along with it, sometimes even animated in a limited way. This gave rise to such classics as King's Quest, The Secret Of Monkey Island, and Myst.

I did play other games, platform or shoot-em-ups or whatever, but generally I found them less satisfying, especially as death was the usual and frequent outcome, whereas with the LucasArts and Myst games you couldn't die or lose the game, you'd just get stuck for a while, desperately clicking on every option until you'd stumble upon the answer that was, in retrospect, obvious.

Then along came 3D when Doom appeared on the scene (okay, there were precursors, like Wolfenstein, but I believe Doom was the true turning point). I liked that game, but even better was the appearance of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. That game was perfect for me! It had all the elements of adventure I liked, i.e. the exploration, the puzzles, the discovery; coupled with the action adventure that was just at the right level to be challenging, but, if you were prepared, easily overcome and never overwhelming.

As the Tomb Raider games developed, I followed along with them, but the most recent versions have changed their control system to the standard gamepad method, which I find inexact and confusing, so I have lost interest. I still go back to my favourite in the series, Tomb Raider II, which in my opinion had the best locations to explore, including: the canals of Venice, a huge Opera Theatre, an Oil Rig, an enormous sunken Ocean Liner, and a Monastery in the snowy Himalayas, each of which were split up into multiple Levels. Unfortunately the graphics are so outdated now it's a little disappointing to revisit, but the gameplay and controls still stand up and are just at my level.

The most common games are still the 3D shoot-em-up alien, soldier, zombie type, where it's wholesale slaughter from start to finish. Or it's the colourful kiddie platform games where you bounce around collecting stars and rainbows to free the princess from the evil genie. Or it's the weird Wii games where you have to do... something with the... weird thing to... save the... whatever (see Mirror's Edge, Spore, Portal, Flower, etc).

And there are numerous other genres, like Strategy, Management, Driving, Simulation, Role Playing (MMORPG's especially), Sports, etc. Most of which I have no interest in (except for Driving games. I can get into them sometimes, even though I don't drive in real life).

It occurs to me that there ought to be a perfect game to suit my interests. Surely I'm not the only one who would be into this particular idea I am about to suggest.

We are all familiar with mazes. You start at one end, and you try to get to the other end, by following a route, and getting distracted and lost down dead ends. A very simple concept that has been around for thousands of years, still popular today. There have been numerous maze-like video games, from the obvious and simple like PacMan, which are more like obstacles than puzzles, to the complex labyrinthine 3D tangles that you find in Doom or Tomb Raider. Most other shoot-em-up or 3D games tend to have complicated multi-level locations, but not really a true maze (some even lead you all the way with flashing arrows and on-screen maps).

What I want to see is an epic 3D Maze game, where there are multiple Levels, each of a different distinct location. For example: an office building; an oil refinery; an Egyptian pyramid; a shopping centre; a cinema complex; a multi-story car park; a mediaeval castle; a city block; a sewer system; etc. Each place would be fully complete and accurate, with every room, alcove, corner, elevator, fire escape, and floor in place. Everything would be interactive, from desk drawers, to cash registers, to food items, to bedsheets, to tools.

But the key would be, there is only one route to get from your start point to the end point, with lots of dead ends and red herrings to distract and confuse you. There would be no other characters seen in the entire game, though there would be evidence of their existence. There would be puzzles that require items you need to pick up, found in logical locations. There would be clues, such as notes and phone messages, that would help you if you got stuck. There would be certain routes that would be a struggle to get through, where you would not be able to go back the same way. There would be some back-tracking required to get missed clues or items. You would only be able to carry a limited number of items at once, so you may need to drop one useful tool to access another, then drop that one again to pick up the previous.

Nobody shoots at you, nothing leaps out and tries to eat you, no deadly traps or dangerous risks. It's just a maze.

So it may go like this:

You begin in the foyer of an office building. The front doors are blocked by fallen masonry, and the outside is chaos. You need to get to the roof to be rescued by helicopter. There are two elevators. Neither call button is working on this floor. You can access the stairs, but the only way clear is down. You head to the basement, where there is a maintenance room full of useful tools. You select a crowbar and a wrench.

You keep heading down, until you get to the underground carpark. There are four or five cars, but the rest of the spots are empty. You check your pockets and discover you have a car alarm lock, which opens your own car. Inside you find your mobile phone, but the battery is flat.

You head back up the stairs where you use the crowbar to dislodge some of the debris blocking the way up, and manage to get to the next floor. This is where a small finance company work, but the floor is scattered with debris. You can get into some of the offices, where all the desk drawers can be opened, and some useful items, and notes in diaries, contain clues useful for later in the game. The computers are all down. But you can pick up a whiteboard pen.

One of the elevator buttons works here, but it can only travel two floors up on this eight storey building. These floors are for the cafeteria and a mobile phone company that has chargers lined up. Though there is no power, there are charged batteries, and you find one that matches your phone.

And so it goes. You can climb out onto the fire escape to get to the next floor, where the second elevator works up to the top floor, where the Penthouse suite is which has luxurious places to explore and fancy items to use, etc etc etc.

And imagine that kind of scenario at an airport, or a science lab, or a prison, or even a jungle setting.

It seems to me that this is an untapped idea that could really sell. Sometimes you just want a game where nobody is trying to kill you, or infect you, or invade your world, that you can spend twenty minutes making your way through the attic of a cathedral to get to the bell tower. It uses existing game technology, or "engine", and therefore would be mostly pretty easy to put together, without requiring huge complexity or fancy new weapons that blast away at things in ever more spectacular ways.

Somebody should make this.

Hidden Gems

Posted Saturday, November 14, 2009, 11:14 AM


Every so often, to waste time and go for a fun drive, Rob will call up and say "It's a nice day, let's go looking for possible locations we can film at". A few weeks ago we travelled out to Mt Buffalo, which when it's out of ski season is a fantastic mountain covered in uniquely beautiful rock formations and fresh waterfalls.

And yesterday we headed out to Heathcote, and a spot called Pink Cliffs. A previous film had been shot there, so Rob was familiar with it. It seemed like a great place to set something like a miniature Indiana Jones, with its low set clay hills. It's a unique look, but limited in its possibilities; most angles show distinctive Australian trees on the horizon.


One of the things we are constantly fighting against is finding places we can film that don't feel like Australia. If we want to set a movie in the past, in a different country, such as a generic mediaeval era, we are not exactly spoilt for choice, like those who live in Europe or even New Zealand. Instead we have gum trees and desert. The best we can hope for is Tasmania, not unlike NZ in many respects, but even that isn't enough and is severely limited.

We headed back home, but it was early in the day yet, so we took a random detour down a side road. As we turned the corner, I thought to myself "wouldn't it be weird if we happened to find exactly what we were looking for after this completely random decision?".

And, naturally, we did find exactly that.


Emu Flat is a rural area full of farmland that is peppered with amazing rolling hills topped by enormous exposed boulders. They look like weathered castle ruins, or a giant's teeth emerging from the ground. Weathered over millennia, they are left with the appearance of boulders precariously balanced on top of each other, as though a little tap will cause them to tip over and roll down the hill.

We looked around for public access to these fields, but there appeared to be none. They were all on farmland. We will probably have to seek permission of a Farmer to film in his paddocks, which I hope won't be a big problem, if we so choose.

When I visited a local Milk Bar to ask the owners if any of the rocky fields were accessible to the public, they looked at me funny. They didn't quite understand what it was I was talking about, because to them those rocks are what they see every day, and if anything are an inconvenience the Farmers have to avoid when they cultivate their fields.

What an amazing and beautiful discovery it was, and one that so many people manage to miss out on or, at least, don't appreciate when they do see it.

Checkpoint: Soothing The Savage Breast

Posted Friday, November 6, 2009, 8:52 PM


I don't know much about music. I don't even listen to it as often as most other people do. I prefer working and relaxing in silence.

But I do have a small music collection, which I unearth and play every once in a while, and a lot of it tends to be movie soundtracks. I used to buy quite a lot of it, but recently it's died down somewhat, as not a lot of movie music takes my fancy as being particularly pleasant to hear outside of the context of the visuals.

Movie soundtracks (or "scores" as they are often called, to differentiate them from the myriad of pop song collections that have marred the soundtrack racks in recent times) used to spirit you away back into the story of the film, or allow you to visualise something even more exciting of your own making. But these days the editing of a good action movie can be so erratic that the score has to match that effect, making for something quite unpleasant and jarring.

Rob and I have been churning through the final digital visual effects shots for Checkpoint, and we are almost nearing the end of it all. After the main CG work is done, there are a few composites of bullet hits and similar, followed by the colour grade, and the title and credits captions. We can handle all those ourselves, but there is one side we don't have the talents for, and that's the audio: sound effects and music.

The sound effects will be started soon, as the edit is only a couple of effects shots short of the final cut, so that just leaves the music.

In the past, our team has not had a local composer. There is a guy that Dags uses for his films, but though he has visited Australia frequently, he actually lives in the US someplace, which is not the ideal way to get a soundtrack fine tuned. Dags seems happy using this method, but for us it would not have worked very well, we felt we needed to be able to sit down and go through each part of the film piece by piece.

Unbeknownst to us, one of our general dogsbody and anonymous background extras we use frequently, Andy Scott, has a talent that had been hidden from us. He's a pianist. Coupled with his interest in movies, and his willingness to always be a part of the team in whatever capacity that's going, he was an ideal choice. If we could organise a keyboard and a suitable piece of software, we thought we could probably get something that would sound pretty decent out of him, if we sat with him all the way through it.

There are lots of different kinds of music creation software, both simple and elaborate. One that has been around for a long time, and has become quite sophisticated, is Cubase, which allows for MIDI keyboard input to be translated into full realistic orchestral sound samples. A friend of Rob's, Troy, had a copy of this software and a little bit of experience in using it (though not as MIDI, instead for offline track mixing). We corralled him in, and this week we all sat down together to nut out our soundtrack.

At first we struggled, as you might expect for newcomers to this branch of movie making. Partly it was due to learning the software, which had a couple of fundamental bugs we had to work around. But also it was because Andy's piano experience doesn't exactly mirror what is required to get a correctly arranged orchestra. Luckily Troy is a talented violinist, and is familiar enough with orchestras he could provide his own input into what was required.

After searching online and fixing the bugs in the software, and learning the basics of how the software operated, I took over from Troy on the days he wasn't available, and after four days of work, we managed to create six or seven pieces of music, including a few incidental moments, for throughout the film, and though we were muddling along in an unfamiliar environment, I think we came up trumps. There's a consistent style to the music, and it has some evocative melodies. We are justifiably proud of what we've achieved so far.

Troy will now take the MIDI tracks away and mix them into a full sounding orchestra, and hopefully it won't be too long before we'll have our completed soundtrack.

It has been very interesting to have to deal with this part of our movie. Though Rob seemed a little bit daunted by our lack of experience, I was nevertheless quite excited. Rob provided suggestions of what he wanted, I was able to relate it in terms that Andy could (almost) understand, while Troy filled in the terminology blanks, and together we made a great team.

I hope that one day soon we can do this again. Perhaps, dare I say it, even for a feature length film.

The Future Of Entertainment

Posted Friday, October 23, 2009, 3:49 PM

I have not succumbed to all the latest home entertainment gadgetry. I resist, not just because I don't have the money to throw around anymore, but also because I am not yet convinced of its necessity. As a geek, I am atypical in my reluctance to participate in the technology-fest.

Having said that, my current set up is not too bad. A 42-inch plasma TV, 5.1 surround, and a 2000 piece DVD collection is not to be sniffed at. But it's a Standard Definition TV, six years old, with limited and outdated inputs, and of an age that will increase its unreliability.

I have mentioned before that I have not been taken in by the hype of 3D movies, a blatant and oft-repeated gimmick that is surprisingly popular, both with filmmakers and audiences. A shame, as it adds nothing to enjoying the film. It is merely cruft.

But there are bigger and better TVs, High Definition plasma, digital projectors, LCD, 200hz, DVR, 7.1 surround sound, Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3, X-Box, iPhones, Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, Google Chrome, Google Wave, more, more, more, more......

But I don't have any of those.

What? What? How can that be, why would a geek such as myself resist such enticements?

Because they have no added value. They aren't really an improvement on how I already live my life, so much as a distraction and often a serious inconvenience.

Of course, that's not a particularly good reason, I have many things in my life that don't contribute anything of real substantial value. But as I have gotten older, I tend to evaluate things differently, and I have found I can resist indulging in things that I predict ultimately will have no future, or at least I will not utilise.

The only things that may change in the aforementioned list, when circumstances inevitably demand it, is when I have to get a mobile phone for some work-related reason, so I'll probably get an iPhone. I see great potential usefulness in a mobile computer, more than I do an unreliable wireless telephone.

And I will also have to upgrade my TV and DVD player to HD/Blu-Ray when my current setup finally gives up the ghost. My recent scare with my TV may very well be a sign of impending death.

These things also cost money, something I am no longer flush with. I am very careful with my cash these days, trying hard not to spend it frivolously. I'm not as good at that as I used to be, but I am still hesitant before committing to certain things.

I hope that the tide will shift soon. There is a taste in the air that suggests it might.

Smouldering

Posted Friday, October 16, 2009, 5:15 PM


There is an interesting trend in cop shows right now, that I sort of like, even if it's blatantly unoriginal.

In the serieseses Bones, The Mentalist, and Castle, they each have a female senior Detective who has a mysterious dark past, and all have similar big-eyed smouldering looks.

They are played, respectively, by Emily Deschanel, Robin Tunney, and Stana Katic. They don't really look alike, you can easily tell them apart, but if you were to flick through the channels and stumble on one of them, you may be confused as to which of the shows you've fallen on.

The relationships with the male leads are also similar to each other, but that's just standard TV/movie writing, and even if the characters were played by completely different actors, you'd still have the will-they-won't-they element layed on thick, as they have done.

Despite this, I can't deny that each of these female Detective characters are most pleasantly distracting.

Thar She Blows!

Posted Saturday, October 10, 2009, 11:19 PM


When it rains, it pours.

I was sitting doing ordinary regular computer stuff the other night, when the screen suddenly went *plink*. I assumed it was a power surge crash, as has happened before, though it only affected the one computer, and my clocks weren't blinking "12:00" so wasn't sure.

I rebooted the computer, only to get a blank screen, and my monitor's power light to be blinking a regular pattern at me.

It turns out, for no reason whatsoever, my monitor just died. Gone. Kaput-ski. I have no idea why, or if it can be fixed, but for now that's that.

I have a second computer with a similar monitor, so I swapped them over, and set up an older monitor for the second machine, so I'm still capable of using both, but it sucks that I will have to buy a new monitor.

And then my external hard drive, that I keep all my creative files on (movie trailers, writing, mp3s, video files, that kind of stuff, mostly) started whining in a high pitched "I'm about to die" way. I left it going for a while, trying to copy over the files to spare space on my other HDD, but I switched it off overnight, and this morning it was totally dead.

I have a spare hard drive, so put that in to the external enclosure, but that didn't work either. That means it wasn't a hard drive death at all, but a failed external enclosure.

Buggery bollocks.

After some crazy fiddling around, I hooked the HDD to my other computer, and it worked fine, all the files are there. But it's not a practical method for me, I need a new hard drive, and may as well get a hefty big one, a terabyte or so, as that seems to be the default these days.

These are two expenses I could've lived without having to sort out. I am not pleased.

Over The Hill

Posted Friday, October 9, 2009, 11:44 AM

Apparently I am officially old. How annoyingly inevitable.

I think 40 is a good age to look back on your life, look ahead at your future, and do a little analysis.

I certainly know I haven't achieved as much as I had hoped. But I have fulfilled a lot of my dreams, weird and unlikely as they occasionally seemed, and not a lot of people can say that.

I also have many dreams yet unfulfilled, ones that are quite achievable and yet strangely out of reach. If statistics are on my side, I have a good few decades left to sort that out.

Currently my life is in a state of flux, as it has been for a couple of years. What was originally my own idea, to reorganise my potential future, has now reached a point where I no longer have that control or freedom, and that's a frightening thought. I am at a point where I have to actually do something, and not just amble along, as I have been.

I really am not comfortable with being proactive. I am a wallflower who likes things to slowly formulate so I can sidle my way in and firmly root myself where I become indispensable, but yet remain invisible. To be in a situation now where I have to actively show off and put myself out there, visibly, is a vulnerable position that I do not like at all. I don't think I'm alone in that feeling, and though that is slightly comforting, it doesn't really help me much.

I still live in hope for something to fall into my lap from out of the sky. Surprisingly, it's worked a few times before, so there is a small possibility that it could happen again.

Now would be a good time.

Pegasus Regent

Posted Monday, October 5, 2009, 5:00 PM


I probably shouldn't be doing this.

I have two other screenplays I want to write, but both of those have struck problems. One has a plot that needs to be completely re-configured, and the other has a huge stumbling block I can't figure out and is spinning me in circles.

But Rob and I were chatting the other day, and he said "I am just waiting for you to write the sequel to Pegasus Rampant." Well, I told him I don't really have a complete story for that one yet, and anyway I want to have it read by people who really count first, to boost my confidence and set me on the right path, before I start writing sequels to it.

But as I was stuck on the aforementioned two other screenplays, I have been thinking some more about what little story I had already formulated for this sequel. For one thing, I had already come up with a title - Pegasus Trampled. At first I thought that was a decent title (the next sequel is called Pegasus Triumphant, which I think is perfect) but thinking back on it, it's actually awkward and cheesy. So I looked up a rhyming dictionary, and narrowed it down to a few other options, eventually choosing to change the title to Pegasus Regent.

That change just sparked more ideas, which allowed me to fill in most of the blanks for the storyline. And I have that sitting there, looking up at me with those big brown sad eyes... I can't stop myself.

I really ought to be working on some other stuff entirely, but... I guess sticking with what I know best (Fantasy, and characters I'm already familiar with) and a complete storyline mapped out ready, is a better plan. Really.

At least, that's what I'm telling myself.

Hard Day's Knight: Vincent and Wally

Posted Sunday, September 27, 2009, 3:29 PM

Progress.

These are the first steps for A Hard Day's Knight, the animated short film which may never be made.

I've jiggled Wally's textures a bit, and shortened his arms a tad. Then, not being able to stop myself, I grabbed the layers for his body and armour, and whacked them onto the head of the other character (which I had also previously modelled earlier this year), rearranged most of the points to make him skinny and tall, and so Wally and Vincent, the two stars of our little animation, are fully rounded and, almost, complete.

As a character, Vincent is a much tidier person than Wally, he takes a pride in his appearance that Wally chooses not to emulate. Also, he likes to think of himself as being more intelligent than his friend, but really he only barely qualifies as such. And, compared to Wally's comfortably rotund and squat appearance, Vincent's posture is quite lanky and awkward, so he's not as graceful as he would like to think.

I struggled a little bit with getting Vincent looking just right. The bulk of the chainmail armour and steel breastplate unfortunately hid his skinny physique. I had to work on it quite a while, but I eventually figured out how to make him look thin while still covering up his chest with bulky armour.

The trick was: lengthen his legs considerably; comically shorten his pant legs; and give him a short upper body. This allowed for the armour to remain tiny and narrow, emphasising his skinny chest, and giving it just the right balance to look in proportion, but still exaggerated.

This is a key factor to caricature. You can't just enlarge anything you want, and put them where you want. There has to be a balance, a perfect ratio, that works.

Jim Henson, mastermind behind the Muppets, knew of this trick, that there's a magic triangle of eye-position to nose-position that is always pleasing to look at. If the eyes are too high, or too far apart, or tilted the wrong angle, they just don't work so well. You'll see evidence of that when you look at some of his earliest Muppet characters, or in some puppets that aren't Muppets, where they haven't managed to achieve that golden ratio. But all of Henson's most successful Muppets had it, worked out during the design and building phase.

That same kind of ratio and proportional balance applies to other caricatures, like in cartoons and 3D characters, where whole body proportion, like limb length, body shape, forehead-to-chin, ear-to-nose, shoulder-to-waist, arm-to-leg, etc etc etc, needs to fit. If you can't get that balance just right, it will feel off-kilter, or wrong somehow. Unfortunately, it can be hard to pin down where exactly it is failing. It can take quite a lot of experimentation with adjustments before you start to recognise the subtle things, those that work, and those that don't.

I like to think that I am pretty good at it. Now if only Pixar would come knocking.

Hard Day's Knight: Wally

Posted Friday, September 25, 2009, 12:40 PM

Quick post just to show off.

Did some character work, finishing off one I'd begun many months ago, for an animated short film that Rob and I are considering. It'd be a lot of work on my part, though, so we're not sure if it's a practical direction for us to head down.

Here's what I've done. I am particularly pleased with the hands and feet. They're the parts I often struggle with, but this time I nailed them. I think it's my best work so far, and the way I've textured and lit the model makes him look particularly realistic.

Click on the pic for a bigger view.

There's a second character to model, but I'll probably just grab the body of Wally here, and attach it to Vincent's head and then move some points around to re-proportion it. Much faster than completely modelling everything again.

It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know

Posted Tuesday, September 22, 2009, 12:38 PM


It's a frustrating thing that I believe I'm a good writer, and yet I don't have the patience and dedication to self-motivate. The best motivation for me is to do something for another person, preferably under a strict deadline. I'm good with deadlines. But when I'm doing it for myself, I can wangle an excuse to get out of doing the work at every step.

I am not a professional writer, and I may never be one. I will probably, like most people, be an amateur my whole life, unless an unexpected opportunity arises. Therefore I will only write on my own time, ergo my only motivation to keep writing at any given moment can only be my own dedication to the task. As I am inherently lazy, that is not likely to be a productive method of working.

Unexpected opportunities do arise for some people from time to time, but the best way to achieve success is to go seeking it yourself. You can't rely on things falling into your lap from out of the sky. I live in constant hope that this method will work one day, but it hasn't thus far.

Of all the different kinds of writing jobs there are out there, many of which I have dabbled in from time to time, I think I'm not cut out to be a novelist, poet, lyricist, journalist, or TV writer. But I do think I'd be pretty good as a movie scriptwriter.

How do I become a movie screenwriter, then? Sitting around ain't making things happen, so I must motivate myself to take the next step. And the next step appears to be to find an Agent who will represent me and put my work forward to the people that count so they will hire me.

How do I find such an Agent? Unfortunately, the way things work in this bizarre industry, it's not like an Acting Agent or a Fiction Publishing Agent; I can't just locate a Screenwriting Agent in the yellow pages and rock up to their office for an appointment. No, the way it's done is, they have to find me instead. Somehow my skills and interest in the industry has to be noticed by somebody who already has connections, and then that person drops my name through the right channels, and then the Agent follows the trail back to me.

Craaaaaazy!

I don't think that's the exclusive method, but it does seem to be the prevailing one. And it is harder when I am way down here in Australia, while most movie-related people live in California, a considerable amount of ocean away.

I am putting the feelers out, though really I don't even know how to achieve that much. It doesn't take much to be left adrift in this particular branch of the business.

I am lost, and yet... I also have a rather strong feeling of there being something big for me juuuust around the corner.

So close...

Shooting First

Posted Sunday, September 13, 2009, 4:40 PM


America has a gun culture. And it frightens and confuses me.

It seems to stem from the Wild West, where everyone carried guns and shot at anybody who looked at them funny. At least, that's how the movies portray the era - I have no idea if it was really that crazy.

But it has nevertheless carried through into today, where too many people with evil intent can easily find and carry weapons, and everyone else is in fear for their safety so feel the need to carry similar weapons in an act of defence or retaliation. Though they also use it as a threat.

What confuses me is how they can seriously think of a gun as "protection". It's a word they use a lot in reference to weapons, and it makes no logical sense to me at all. Protecting yourself involves shields, or armour, or locking yourself away from any outside contact. It doesn't involve attempting to kill somebody.

It seems to me that threatening to kill is the real problem. Imagine "G" the good guy is quietly lying in bed at home, when "B" the bad guy smashes a window to steal his DVD player. G grabs his gun and slowly creeps downstairs. B also has a gun, thrust down his belt. G sees B in the living room, and points his gun at B. B goes to grab his gun, but hesitates.

At this point, G is threatening B. B is carrying, but not actively threatening. Who is the bad guy in that situation? Arguably still B, as he is trespassing and stealing property. But G is brandishing a deadly weapon, and is willing to use it.

If B goes for his gun, what happens next? G will assume that B is planning to shoot, so G will shoot first. B may be killed.

G has now murdered another human being. Legally? Well, that's a complicated and arguable point.

Now imagine if G had not ever been armed, was aware that he was being burgled by B, and called the Police while remaining in his bedroom.

Nobody dies, nobody comes close to being threatened, and the worst that happens is you lose a $50 DVD player, that may be returned once B is caught.

But Americans seem conditioned to assume the worst. It's a sad state of affairs.

What disappoints me is that Americans should be in this position in the first place. Clearly they feel threatened by violent crime, a lot, and enough to eagerly want to arm themselves. They are overlooking the illogic of "protection", and the madness of escalating the cold war they have constructed against violent criminals, just so they can feel "safe" in their homes by threatening to be the first to shoot, and therefore potentially becoming a murderer, in deed if not necessarily in law (which is a whole other rant right there, I might add).

I am glad to not live in the land of the free, the home of the brave, and the greatest country in the world, if it means I won't be shot at.

I Wonder Where The Birdies Is

Posted Saturday, September 12, 2009, 6:33 PM


Most people have a climate preference. Some, for whatever reason, like the cold. But I prefer the heat. I used to live in the coldest part of New Zealand - it has been known to snow during the summer solstice in Dunedin. It's the Port closest to Antarctica. Rain is often blown horizontally into your face.

This is one of the many reason I moved to Australia, and it has made quite a difference to be in a place with a warmer climate. Apart from suffering in the heatwaves, and having to witness an ongoing drought, discovering that the winters here don't usually ever reach negative Celsius temperatures is remarkable in itself.

My favourite time of year is Spring. Not only are colder temperatures starting to warm up, which is just pleasant to experience, but watching the young birds and pets appearing, and the new fresh growth and blossoms on the trees, just makes me feel good inside.

Well, that sounds nauseatingly saccharine, doesn't it? But somehow, watching the weather turn towards an impending Summer is just the best time of year.

I went out for a walk today, to a local park I hadn't visited before, and though the winds were strong, the sun was out and the temperature was the warmest its been for some months. It was a bit of a trek to get there and back, but on the halfway point I found a nice quiet spot next to the Yarra, under the trees, and watched the water flow past.

Very relaxing indeed. I heartily recommend it.

Comin' At Ya!

Posted Thursday, September 10, 2009, 2:27 PM


I like 3D Graphics. This is no secret. But there's another kind of "3D" that is all the rage these days - Stereoscopic 3D. You know, the red-blue glasses, or Viewmaster, kind of three dimensionality.

With new digital-recording and -screening techniques, 3D has become easier to film and distribute. It no longer requires the red-green glasses, instead it uses polaroid, or something similar, so the colours are now natural, and the image maintains its sharpness. Plus, with careful calibration it can be refined to remove any of the vertigo- or nausea-inducing effects.

I had not seen any of the new wave of 3D movies up until now, mostly because they're too expensive and are often only screened at IMAX, which I don't particularly like, because you have to turn your head a lot to see what's going on. IMAX is just way too big for me.

But this week I saw Pixar's new film, "UP", and it's available in 3D, so when my mate Rob unexpectedly scheduled us for that screening, I thought what the heck, let's see what all this hoop-la is really about.

And I have to say it didn't change my mind. I still think 3D is a gimmick that won't last.

It was certainly impressive and fun to watch a movie in 3D, and I'll gladly watch another sometime in the future. But it doesn't improve the storytelling. It's just an unnecessary added feature, designed to desperately draw crowds back to the cinemas. Just like it's always been in the past.

Most movies using the technique are apparently doing it in the cheesiest in-your-face whoop-de-doo way. If you are relying on the 3D to be a part of the film, you may be out of luck. Worse, if it's intrinsic to the story, but audiences choose to watch it on standard def 2D DVD, it would make for a weird and distracting film.

I admire the effort (almost) but forget about it. It's a gimmick, pure and simple, and I don't think I'm going to fall for it.

The Case Of The Missing Foodstuffs

Posted Sunday, August 30, 2009, 6:21 PM


I don't like food.

Well, that's not strictly true, really I just don't eat properly. But where most people have a great love of eating, going out to dinner and trying some things that are exotic and exciting, or interestingly healthy, or decadently unhealthy, I really don't care about all that. If I didn't have to, I wouldn't eat at all. Except for lollies, probably.

My Mother had a devil of a time getting me to eat anything she made. I just refused to eat most of it. In the end she gave up, and let me eat the stuff I wanted. Which, I must point out, were not treat type foods I was desperate to hold out for; it was things like cheese and bread and eggs and sausages.

Even now I still don't eat vegetables or fruit, and most other things you might have in your own diet. I will eat a narrow selection of meats, and a few starchy kiddie-oriented ready-meals, but even those aren't the ones most people would expect. I don't eat rice or pasta, for example, which most people think of as default staples.

In theory I should be horrendously unhealthy, and to be honest I am surprised I have survived this far as it seems to run counter to general nutritional expectation. But having said that, I am far from unique in my aversion to foods; I have known many people who have similar or even more extreme diets, so perhaps the rules aren't quite as rigid as the experts may claim.

For the most part it's not a big problem to live like this. It becomes a minor issue in some social situations, where a meal is being prepared for me, without my prior input. I generally won't eat whatever it is an average person might cook up, so if I am not expecting it, it can be embarrassing to refuse lovingly prepared food. If I am warned ahead of time, I can sometimes specify what I would like, but usually to save the bother, I will just say no to any food prepared by someone else, and go without until I can get something on my own time. I really feel bad when I do something like that, so I usually try to avoid social or home-based eating situations. It's also why I tend not to invite people over to my place, or offer food and drink when they do come over, because the selection of edibles I have are sad and childish, catered solely towards my own quirky tastes.

When I grew up in the 70s, food was very standard. You wouldn't find much more exciting beyond a sunday roast and potatoes, or meat loaf, and tomato soup. It's the kind of thing that's harder to find, these days, with most people now offered a more cross-cultural, cosmopolitan, healthy, and creative approach to their food choices.

So where does that leave me? Here's my biggest problem - with increased choice, there's decreased interest in those foods from yesterday. And the less they are sought after, the more likely they will disappear completely from the shelves. Those are my foods! I am a sad marginalised entity, and if my favourite foods, the only things I eat, are gone, what will I do to survive? I mean, literally to survive.

I go into a supermarket now and every couple of months a foodstuff or brand I used to get regularly is gone, gone, gone. Never to return. I am a little concerned that my (arguable) choice of eating low-end unhealthy boring food will be my death; and not for health reasons, ironically, but for lack of existence reasons.

Rhythm And Melody

Posted Thursday, August 20, 2009, 3:55 PM


I don't often pay much attention to song lyrics. If they're even intelligible. I assume they are a competently written poetry, telling some lame story or expressing some simple emotion, that matches the feel of the music.

Every so often, though, someone comes along who writes amazing lyrics that really stand out. The first person I remember recognising their skill at this was, perhaps surprisingly, George Michael. For some reason, I could sing many of his solo and Wham songs and through doing so recognise his talent as a lyricist.

However, the opposite can also happen - seriously bad lyrics to what is an otherwise decent song. And the first time I encountered that and it really got me upset was listening to Mike and the Mechanics, with their song "The Living Years" (and then retroactively seeing that their previous hit, "Silent Running", was equally awful).




It's about a man who has had a difficult time with his Father, then after he dies realises too late he has missed out, and regrets their actions.

That's fine, except the lyrics are sophomoric nonsense, trying so desperately hard to sound deep and significant, but only managing to sound like he broke open the thesaurus whenever he got stuck, which appears to be on every third line.

Examples:

"You can listen as well as you hear"

Repetition via a thesaurus, but it doesn't actually mean what he wanted it to.

"I know that I'm a prisoner
To all my father held so dear
I know that I'm a hostage
To all his hopes and fears"


Repetition via a thesaurus (prisoner = hostage) just to fill in a second line. Also falls back on the tried and true cliché that is inescapable everywhere you turn: "hopes and fears".

"And if you don't give up, and don't give in"

More blatant repetition via a thesaurus.

"I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I'm sure I heard his echo
In my baby's new born tears"


Even more repetition via a thesaurus. And then he says "baby's newborn tears" when it ought to be "newborn baby's tears," though in any case the image he's painting of hearing his Father's voice in his baby's crying is patently absurd.

"You say you just don't see it
He says it's perfect sense
You just can't get agreement
In this present tense
We all talk a different language
Talking in defence"


I assume he's trying to express how they don't understand each other, but it's no wonder if he talks bollocks like this at him.

Anyway, I hate this song.

Here's another one with crappy repetitious lyrics, who ran out of ideas after about the third line. "Lemon Tree" by Fool's Garden. But they're Germans, so maybe that's an excuse.



But here's a local Australian band that have put out two hit songs, both with lyrics I particularly dislike. The songs themselves have great melodies, are excellently sung, beautifully played and mixed, but have apparently been written by an angsty teenager with a severely limited vocabulary and imagination.

The band is Eskimo Joe, and the songs are "Black Fingernails, Red Wine" and "Foreign Land"

Here's how the first begins:

"Black fingernails, red wine
I wanna make you, all mine
A lot of people, underground
You wanna get there
You gotta go straight down"


I mean, what the hell is that? Any song that uses "I wanna make you all mine" (using "all" just to make the line scan) or "A lot of people underground" is just not trying.

It goes on:

"The argument over God continues
In this house
All of us stand and point our fingers
At the ground
All of us stand and point our fingers"


Apart from the misheard lyrics that sound like "I can't understand the point of fingers," the real lyrics are just nonsense; Trying to mean something, but failing to actually say a thing. It's teenage poetry of the worst kind.

And their latest release, "Foreign Land," I think is about Australian soldiers going to war. But it's horrendously written.

First stanza:

"Steady my shaky hands
Shut off the world's demands
to get the facts down
Do you understand?"


That's just him describing writing the song. It has nothing to do with the song's main point.

"That this is a foreign land
So try to understand that
Do you understand?
Do you understand?

This is what it feels to love
then l can feel that
This is what it feels to love
then l can feel that
This is what it feels to love
then l can feel that
This is what it feels to love
then l can feel that"


An absurd amount of repetition to fill in a lot of time. And it says virtually nothing.

"Take a little look around
nothing else hits the ground
Touch my hand
up to the air"


Also says nothing; also has extra fallback words added just to make it scan.

"Dying in the foreign land
So do you understand that
Do you understand?
Do you understand?

Even when you're all alone
When it's not your home
I smell the blood of an Australian
Try to understand this if you can
if you can
if you can"


More repetition, more meaningless blather - but with the addition of "Dying in the foreign land" and "blood of an Australian" suddenly it pretends to have some kind of deep heartfelt significance.

Except those are the two sole lines in the entire song that has any connection with anything, other than empty filler to make up the required five minutes.

The songs are sung wonderfully, and the music is catchy as all hell.

But the lyrics suck.

I Don't Like Anime

Posted Sunday, August 16, 2009, 1:12 PM


When I grew up in the 70s, I didn't see any animation from Japan. I know there were some around, like Astro Boy, and Kimba The White Lion, but I don't recall any of it being broadcast in New Zealand. If it was, I overlooked it.

In the 80s it started to appear, but not in the forms most people think of Anime today. There was one about Peter Pan, another called The Yearling based on a book about a kid and his pet fawn, and one I think was falsely named Thunderbirds 2086, barely connected with the real Thunderbirds series. And even then, I looked at this crude animation, staccato frame rate, irritating drawing style, horrible english dubbing, weird inexplicable surrealism, and bizarre pacing, and thought it was inferior and a waste of my time.

I look at Anime and Manga and just can't connect with it. The Japanese sense of storytelling always seems to be either overacted melodrama, a childish (rather than juvenile) sense of humour, or unexplained oddness for the sake of oddness. And it has become so ingrained in their traditions that they don't think it requires development or exposition anymore, as their audiences already accept and "get" it.

It's a cultural divide that leaves me confused. I think I'd have to dedicate myself to sitting through a lot of their stuff before I'd start to get it, but I am not willing to subject myself to the torture of watching what I think of as ugly, unrefined, messy insanity.

When I first saw the lauded Akira, expecting to finally understand what all the fuss was about, I instead was left dazed and mystified on what the hell the ending was about. It started out well, as a dystopian fascist world is fought against by rebellious teens on whizzy motorcycles - but then mad scientists burst into humongous alien giant babies, and the city explodes. The End. I mean, what the holy fuck?

There are always exceptions to the rules, of course. Not all Anime has giant robots, huge explosions, and big doe-eyed spikey haired wide-shouldered smouldering heroes with unfeasibly big swords. But they do all seem to have toothless gasps, sweaty droplets, and long gaps in the conversation left unadjusted, making the pace of dialogue stop-start.

One exception is often argued to be Hayao Miyazaki, who has a more sedate and deeper approach to storytelling. I do enjoy the casual surrealism of Spirited Away, even though it is utterly weird in most places. The gentle quiet moments can be quite beautiful. However, I found Princess Mononoke to be pseudo-eco mysticism at its most maddening, and I gave up on it when I realised I didn't care about any of the characters, due to not understanding one whit of what was going on. It was just a lot of spirits swirling around in an attempt to save their environment, and an unrequited love story. I think.

As the 90s and 2000s passed, more and more Anime is being produced, seemingly catering to specific popular genres. Fantasy, science fiction, and sometimes superhero, ideas are thrown around with wild abandon. Things hardly touched upon in Western entertainment find a place where they are embraced and developed in huge expansive ways - Steampunk, hard SF, surreal dream imagery, alternative history, underwater and deep space travel - if you want to see it, Anime will provide numerous examples of it.

And that's so disappointing, I'd love to watch more genre stuff, but I can't stand watching anime for longer than five minutes before I want to gasp, sweatily, and tear my spiky hair out.

Death: Why Should I Care?

Posted Thursday, August 13, 2009, 9:35 AM


Here's a truth we cannot deny. Everybody dies.

There's not a single person on this planet who will not die, most within fifty years from now, some within 80 years from now, and for a few it will be closer to 100 years or so from now.

But then, some will die in a matter of months, weeks, or even days. Heck, just today there will be approximately 150,000 deaths. (However, there will also be about 200,000 births, just to even things up somewhat)

I may even die today, or tomorrow, or sometime within the next three months. Though statistics say that most people, barring those with predictive illnesses, have a 99.9% chance of living for another year.

Of the 150,000 deaths per day, we might hear about ten or fifteen of them in our local News. Usually all we hear about are the traffic accidents, plane crashes, natural disasters, and murders. And we also hear of when the famous die, however mundane the cause may be.

The rest of the deaths go unremarked upon, and yet we are supposed to care about the deaths that are reported in the News. The articles are written as though we should care, they play on our sympathies with photographs and comments from family members of the deceased, or worse, music montages. But I don't know these people! Why should I care one whit that a stranger died in a perfectly ordinary way, much like thousands of others have done before them?

Fair enough on reporting a spectacular incident, that may have resulted in deaths. The recent plane crash in Papua New Guinea is certainly an event worth reporting on.

But I don't care about the people who died! They are strangers to me! Don't try the sympathy angle, it's not going to work. And it was an accident! It's not like it will make any difference to anybody's travel plans, or that we have any power over preventing it from reoccurring!

Fair enough if it was a terrorist attack, or something like the bushfire deaths that occurred in February, that it should be reported on and analysed, where we ought to be warned. Undoubtedly that is significant News. But the people involved died just like any stranger dies; by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, circumstances having overwhelmed them. Telling me who they are and trying to play on my emotions is not going to help anyone involved in a similar situation in the future.

People die. If I don't have a tangential connection to them, I don't care a jot. Even if they had a very short innings in life, that still isn't enough of an excuse to try to get me to shed a tear.

Stalked In My Dreams

Posted Monday, August 3, 2009, 11:40 PM


Some people have recurring dreams, or worse, recurring nightmares. Usually it's something like arriving at school, but naked, and not having done the homework that's due in five minutes. I've never had that particular dream.

But I have had recurring themes in my dreams. When I used to act on stage, at a poky little Repertory theatre in the middle of nowhere, I would have a nightmare just before the opening night of each play, where I'd be on stage and not be in the right costume, or would have forgotten my lines. It happened so regularly, and always before a run that went flawlessly, that I thought of it as a sort of good luck charm. In fact, once I didn't have the dream, and on opening night I forgot my first line.

Another recurring theme I have is driving.

I don't drive, I've never learned, and it's now so late in my life, I'm afraid to. Negotiating traffic scares the bejesus out of me, and in any case I'm not very good at paying attention to the hundred and one things I'd need to, to be a reasonably competent driver: signage, pedestrians, traffic, lights, radio, thinking, phone, cyclists, crazy unpredictability, weather, and all within very restrictive road rules. Operating a car doesn't bother me, I'm sure I could learn that very quickly, so if it was just me alone on the freeway, I'd be fine. But the thousands of obstacles constantly demanding my attention would send me into such a spin, I'd put others and myself at risk. Frankly it's best I stay away.

Having said that, unlike most people who dream of flying, instead I dream of driving. Usually it's me in control of a vehicle with passengers, taking them to some location and having an adventure on the way, often on the side of a hilltop climb. I usually have no problems with the driving in the dream, and I am even enjoying it. Usually anything bad that happens is caused by my leaving the vehicle and ending up in a crazy situation getting lost in suburbia.

But the scariest nightmares I have are ones with a very specific theme. I am usually alone, and aware that something is out there looking for someone - not specifically for me, but I am the closest likely victim - and I am trapped in a location, while this beast prowls around, just metres away. He can't see me, or sense me, but he is heading straight for where I am hiding.

Creeps me right out.

And the beast in these dreams is almost always a lioness. A big predatory cat stalking around looking for someone to leap on.

Last night I had the thematic dream again, this time in a different context. Instead of being alone, I was with a crowd of people. We were all forced out of our homes due to a natural disaster, and are in a compound bordered by chain-link fencing. And outside the fence is a pride of lions, prowling around, causing trouble.

Even though we were all safe behind the fence, the dream decided to manipulate my emotions into fear, and the limited options of getting out of the compound, in case of immediate death by lion, was forcing us into desperate acts. One of which was killing each other to reduce the impact on limited available resources.

The point is, the thematic repetition of my nightmares fascinates me, especially since there is a new narrative each time it reoccurs.

Dreams are weird.

By the way, I don't have a fear of lions, in a phobic or even genuine sense. But I wouldn't like to wander around anywhere where they're roaming.

To The Extreme

Posted Saturday, August 1, 2009, 12:51 PM


I don't know how common a viewpoint this is, but I have a particular dislike for graphic sex and violence in my entertainment. Except that's not always true, as it all stems from context.

I used to work for an Adult Website, so there was a lot of nudity and sex everywhere I turned. I had no moral or personal problem with this (except in very specific circumstances). To me, pornography has a purpose, and therefore a place, that works in as far as its intent fulfils a need in the marketplace. That is to say, if you want to see sex in explicit detail, for whatever reason, then porn is the place to see it.

However, I don't like to see sex or nudity in a TV show or movie.

This is not because I am prudish, but for a completely opposite reason. If they are trying to make the sex in the movie erotic, then the audience is going to be stimulated. And being stimulated sexually while viewing a drama in a public place like a cinema is neither appropriate nor comfortable. If stimulation is what you crave, do it privately, with material designed exclusively for that reason. Therefore, keep erotic displays of sex out of the movies.

After all, there are very rarely instances of a dramatic storyline where displays of nakedness and sex are necessary. Movie makers can tell the story without it, so why put it in? Imply it, refer to it, suggest it, or even excise it; there are alternatives that don't require its display.

Even worse, there are many times where they have sex displayed on screen, but aren't allowed to show nudity for ratings reasons, ending up with something so half-arsed and limp it's not worth the attempt. Writers, figure it out; just don't bother with your poorly written excuse for gratuitous exploitation.

Violence, on the other hand, I have a different view on. It can be argued, and often is, that violence in movies desensitises you to its impact in real life. I don't know if I agree with that entirely, I think people react to real life violence in exactly the same way they always have, and movies haven't changed that.

Currently, at least.

But we react reasonably to the results of violence, do we still react to the application of it? Is violence still enacted upon one another due to movies, and sports, showing it as a form of entertainment? I don't know, but it is my fear.

The problem I have with violence in movies is the three levels of display.

EXAGGERATED VIOLENCE AS ENTERTAINMENT:
I grew up on TV and movies that had a very sanitised approach to violence. Either they don't show it at all, and it happens off screen, or they showed the violent acts but with no resulting blood.

For example, a cowboy might shoot some enemy, but there'd be no visible wound or spurt of blood. Or a dramatic house fire would result in only a little soot on the victim's face. Very unrealistic, very safe, while still trying to imply the drama of the situation.

Later, in the 70s and 80s, violence started to get more graphic. Gore and blood were splashing around everywhere. It was ridiculously excessive, and so graphic as to be almost absurd. The acknowledgement of this absurdity helped reduce the impact of this "cartoon violence." The consequences were dismissed, but then the act of committing the violence was portrayed as equally over-the-top.

Arguably it was the wrong direction for entertainment to head in, but I don't have any real problem with its portrayal. It's now widely accepted as harmless, and I think this is probably true. Video games also usually take this approach to their violence, and for that reason I disagree on many people's views that video game violence is at unacceptable levels.

REALISTIC VIOLENCE AS DRAMA:
Sometimes the violence in a movie has to be portrayed to be real, so it may show something squeamishly graphic, but the reaction from the characters, and the point of the scene, will be about what that violence means in a genuine real life context. As much as I don't like seeing it myself, I have no issue with it existing in movies. It has a very important point to make, and it is well made when there is a subsequent reflection of reality.

REALISTIC VIOLENCE AS ENTERTAINMENT:
And then Quentin Tarantino came along, and fucked things up for everybody.

I hate Quentin Tarantino. I think he is a repulsive blight on the cinema landscape, and though I do not wish him ill, I know that if he was gone off this earth, I would not mourn him for a single second.

He has introduced and maintained sick, ugly, twisted, and repellent, displays of graphic, realistic, gratuitous violence, in every one of his so-called "iconic" movies, and used it solely for entertainment value.

He is morally repugnant, and should be stopped.

The violence that he portrays ought to have meaning, or real world level consequence, but it does not. It is used to get a laugh.

Fans argue that there is consequence, that we are supposed to dislike the people who are dishing out this violence. But I disagree - they are clearly anti-heroes who are the protagonists we are supposed to be rooting for. They are the main characters, the providers of entertainment in the stories, because there are no sympathetic lead characters in his films, but they are also the perpetrators of the most repellent levels of gratuitous cruelty.

It almost literally makes me sick. I refuse to watch Tarantino's films, so perhaps I'm missing out on some subtleties and growth in his abilities. But I doubt it very much.

Robert Rodriguez, who is something of a protégé of his, is almost as bad.

The problem is, that this level of gratuitous violent display makes me uncomfortable. When it is intended to make me uncomfortable, in a suitable dramatic way, then I reluctantly accept its place in entertainment. But when it is intended to make me laugh or whoop for joy, I am repulsed, and cannot enjoy any other aspect of the film.

I am concerned that the popularity of this kind of violence amongst modern audiences signifies a shift in what is acceptable in not just entertainment, but in real life, and things that used to shock and upset will soon be dismissed as blasé and push the bar of acceptability too high.

Virtual Environments

Posted Saturday, July 25, 2009, 7:46 PM


The main role for a digital matte painting is to create an entirely virtual environment, which is to say, a completely artificially assembled background for a shot.

They used to be made using paint, often on glass, which is then blended optically, that is practically, and re-photographed. But these days you can use photographs, blend them together seamlessly, and then apply them directly to 3D CG models to give them a small amount of dimensionality.

The art of putting all the elements together for the final shot is that of the compositor's. Though I have to be familiar with compositing as part of my job, it's not quite my forte; I am better at dimensional-related things than I am at colour matching and rotoscoping (clipping around edges). So the compositing for Checkpoint is being handed over to its Director, Rob. My job is just to create the background plates.

One of the pickup shots we filmed a few months ago contains possibly the most creative camera move of the entire shoot - a dolly and pan combination. The camera moves rightwards sideways along a track, simultaneously the camera pans left, while the actress runs up to camera, all in front of a greenscreen, which we set up in Rob's backyard.

The usefulness of a greenscreen is simple in effect, but it's not until I started actually doing all this work that I have come to realise just how wide the potential really can be. We can film anybody in any clothing and doing any activity, and then place them in any environment you can think of - in a French village, a Cafe, on a roof, off the side of a skyscraper, in a sewer, on the Moon... or on a country road near a UK airfield.

What do country roads near airfields look like? Well, almost anything we want it to look like. I decided on a stony road surface, a length of grassed verge, and then, 30m beyond, a line of pine trees. I figured I could put that together, using photographic elements, combined to look photoreal. Then I apply that onto 3D geometry, each plane representing a textured surface. Simple, but it has a limitation.

In my software, the only way for that to be useful is if the virtual camera stays static. The projected image is always oriented from the camera's point of view. That means if I move the camera, the image will move with it. This is no use, as I want the image to stay locked onto the geometry, not slide along in relation to the camera.

There is a solution, which is to check the box that fixes the image, relative to a specified frame of the camera motion. For example, if I set the camera up on frame 1 to point where the image best matches the geometry, and then set it to be fixed there, then, when I move the camera, the image will stay locked at that orientation, even though the camera is in a different place by frame 257. But what that means is the camera then leaves the image behind, it disappears out of view, and now you're pointing at blank geometry.

But there are solutions to that, too. One is to orient it to a different camera, perhaps one with a different frame scale, to give you more space to move your proper camera through.

Another solution is to use the tiling feature, which lets you repeat the image in any axis you wish. But that means your matte painting image has to be seamlessly tileable, and with its geographical features oriented in a parallel fashion to keep the tiling logical.

And this is what I did. I included four horizontal stripes - road, grass, trees, and sky - and blended the edges so they repeated seamlessly. Then, when the camera moved and panned sideways, the landscape continued horizontally along the geometry, and, though it repeated, it wasn't too glaringly obvious.

The repetition can't happen on all axes, so the top of the image, the sky, needed to be blended. I repeated its edge colour infinitely, so the "sky" continued up as a solid shade of blue.

And though that's the crux of this shot's makeup, it doesn't take into account the hand tracking of the three dimensional move (because the tracking software didn't fnd enough points to figure it out), the car model that is sitting on the roadside, the particle-created grass blades in the foreground, and all the other doodads that make up variation in the landscape.

I love creating something out of nothing.

Don't Say The "Z" Word.

Posted Tuesday, July 21, 2009, 11:56 PM


It's fun to work on short films. I've managed to involve myself in all sorts of different sides to making a film, in pre-production, actual production, and post-production. I like to write, and draw storyboards; I have been a general dogsbody crew member, and even a co-director; and I have edited, and created visual effects.

But these things can take a lot of time and effort, sometimes to the point where you just don't want to do it anymore. Then you get over that feeling, and keep doing it anyway, like you've broken through the wall of exhaustion and doubt.

But one good solution to that exhaustion is to film, edit, and deliver the film all within a one day time limit.

15/15 is a short film festival that we entered last weekend. We had to put together a film in just fifteen hours. Rob came up with a simple story idea ten days before, and I wrote it up into a script. We tracked down one of our regular actors, and he liked the script. We got a few props together, and a location. The usual crew all agreed to take part. Then, in one single day, after being given the inherent limitation of the competition (a line of dialogue and an object that must be included), we filmed something called Fifteen Days.

The plot was simple, as it had to be to get everything done in time: A young guy puts together a video blog, and describes a few events that are going on in his neighbourhood, that turn out to be an infestation of the Undead. He is trapped inside his home, and rapidly the situation devolves.

The actor, James, was brilliant. He took my dialogue and added some of his own humour to it to make it his own, and it just made the whole thing so much better. Dave, our DoP (camera man) did his usual wonderful job at framing and taking care of the camera. This time we had a lot less discomfort for him to endure. And Dags managed to edit the sound effects in the allotted time with great skill, which made the film zing. And actually, enhance the frightening nature of our little horror story.

It was a lot of fun to see something come together so quickly, and very satisfying to see such a rushed assembly work as well as it did. We managed to submit the film within the time limit (with literally ten minutes to spare) and now we just have to wait and see if they liked it and if it will become a finalist.

But that doesn't really matter. We did it to see if we could (and we could) and to have another film under our belt (and it's a good one, too). We learned that when we knuckle down and put our shoulders to the wheel, our ear to the ground, our nose to the grindstone, and our feet on the floor... well, we'd be circus contortionists, I suppose. But we also can put together a wonderful piece of entertainment.

Hopefully it will motivate us to make more.