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.