Keep The Camera Still

Posted Saturday, December 24, 2011, 10:35 PM

The reason why people often get travel-sick is because the motion of their body doesn't match what their brain is telling them. Either their body is perfectly still while the horizon is moving around them, such as when on a boat, or they are moving and the horizon is not, such as when they spin in a chair.

Too many movies are trying to be clever with their photography, attempting to give a sense of energy and pace, to emulate "reality" or pseudo-documentary footage, by moving the camera in a consciously shaky way, and playing with the zoom back and forth, deliberately framing things poorly. It's transparent nonsense, and only getting worse.

And it makes people nauseous.

In the real world, when your head moves around, your brain still tells you that the ground is firm and the horizon remains in its usual steady-as-a-rock place it always does. But as soon as you watch shaky-cam footage, the horizon is now moving around erratically and unpredictably, while your body is firmly seated unmoving. End result, dizziness, headaches, and nausea.

Here's an idea, you pretentious dickheads. Keep the fucking camera still.

Swirls and Splotches

Posted Saturday, November 5, 2011, 3:34 PM

It may not surprise anyone to learn that I took Art in High School.

I was trying to figure out what kind of art I wanted to pursue. The stuff I liked to do and was quite decent at, sketching and drawing, cartoons and comic strips, was not looked on as a viable career, so my Art Teacher tried to get me interested in all kinds of arts, so I had a lot wider skill set to draw upon, and other career options to fall back on.

This meant trying things like clay sculpture, oil painting, watercolours, pastels, graphic design, and printing. I turned out to be not very good at those things. For an artist, I am surprisingly clumsy and ham-fisted a lot of the time, and the actual manipulation of the tools is where I fell down most often.

Also, being partially red-green colourblind doesn't help much either.

As the end of High School was approaching, I had to look at the Tertiary Education I could move on to. The local Art School, which was a Fine Arts Polytechnic Course, was the only option realistically presented to me. In hindsight, I wish they had pointed me towards the Graphic Design course at the University, but as my Teachers, and especially the Guidance Counsellor, were generally clueless and unhelpful, that wasn't even raised as an option. So in my last year at High School, I had to shape my portfolio towards Fine Arts.

As I mentioned, that was not my passion. But it was all I had.

About halfway through the year, it became clear that I was not going to put together a presentation that would impress anyone. It was all half-finished pencil portraits, black and white cartoons, and simple sketches. Nothing that would excite an Art School snob at all. So the Art Teacher asked me to do something more along the lines of what they were looking for.

I was reluctant. I had no passion or interest in art of that kind. To me that was pretentious nonsense, artificially trumped up to have "meaning" when it was clearly superficial scribbly bullshit catered directly to the snobs. I really didn't want to have to do artwork of that kind. But in the end I did anyway.

So I put together a few random scribbly things, mixed up some bright coloured swirly nonsense, and a few more portraits this time using more and inaccurate colour ranges. I had no passion for them whatsoever, thought they were meaningless and a waste of time, but it filled up my portfolio.

I showed these paintings to others, to see if they reacted to them as soullessly as I had when creating them.

I was very disappointed to discover that they were my most popular works yet. Everyone loved them, and dismissed my own personal favourites entirely.

Sure, people like what they like, and that's fine by me. But they didn't see that I had no interest in what I was making, that it meant nothing to me, that it was just a bunch of random swirls and splatters. They thought it was more than that, when really it wasn't.

That was the moment I realised that the Art World is a steaming load of superficial bullshit that I wanted no part of.

I can almost guarantee you that other Artists, the ones who slam together piles of junk and give some pseudo-philosophical bollocks title, are the ones who made the same discovery as I did but instead saw it as an opportunity to make some money from idiots who wouldn't know true artistic talent if they had breakfast with it. If they could fool the experts into believing there was something in their meaningless splotches and junkpiles, they would laugh all the way to the bank.

This is why I don't like Modern Art and the ridiculous amounts of money some of the lucky few artists are making from it. They know they're scamming people into shelling out their cash, and it disappoints me that people are so stupid as to fall for it. Coupled with their arrogance and patronising pretentiousness, the whole system just makes me irrationally angry.

Sometimes the world makes no sense.

In the end I never went to any Art School.

Holding Pattern

Posted Sunday, September 18, 2011, 12:01 AM

I haven't posted on my blog in ages. There are a few reasons for this. One is, not much has happened that's worth posting about. Secondly, I've not had the same kind of free time to compose a post of even the most mundane of thoughts as I used to have, as my job takes up 70% of my week. Also, I am on Twitter most of the day, and a lot of my musings are shared there in short sentences, rather than here in long paragraphs.

But the real reason I haven't posted is that I am pretty happy with where my life is, at the moment, and I have no complaints to gripe about.

I have never truly been happy, in the usual sense of the word. My life is made up of very few of the pleasures that make up other people's lives. I generally don't enjoy the things that most other people like. I shall list a few common pleasures that I would suggest the majority of people experience for a good chunk of their lives.
  • Movies
  • TV
  • Music
  • Reading
  • Theatre
  • Internet
  • Travelling
  • Driving
  • Gardening
  • Art
  • Religion
  • Pets
  • Walking
  • Exercise
  • Sport
  • Board Games
  • Video Games
  • Gambling
  • Food
  • Cooking
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Drugs
  • Friendship
  • Romance
  • Sex
Of those in that list, I participate in about 25%. That's not a lot, I'd say most people would partake of 50% or more, some as much as 75% I'm sure. So my pleasures are few, and I don't even really partake of those very often; I kind of cycle through them with long periods of blank emptiness in between. My life, therefore, isn't so much happy as just ambling along. I'm pretty easy going, and life isn't usually too big of a challenge; though I've had long fallow periods that are quite worrisome, things have always turned out well in the end (which surprises me every time, really).

And I'm currently in one of those "things are pretty decent" periods right now. Anything could change at any moment, of course, but that's true of everyone. In my case, what that means is that nothing worth sharing is going on in my life. A few things are up in the air, a few others are circling their end, and as usual a bunch of things may begin soon. But most of my life is just a big bunch of nothing much.

And that's okay.

The Curse of Profanity

Posted Sunday, July 24, 2011, 10:23 PM

When I was younger, in High School and after, I didn't swear very much. Then in my early 20s I started to swear a lot, though it felt clumsy. Now I have found the equilibrium, and my swearing has evened out. I think I do it appropriately.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said of everyone. Some people swear way way too much, in my opinion, and it really bothers me. Swearing has a purpose. It's not just a rude word to say when feeling defiant, something naughty you can get away with. And it really shouldn't be every third word in every sentence you speak.
  • If something heavy falls on your foot, or you trip up on the pavement, then curse as much as you like.
  • If someone is deserving of being insulted, then give them the full profane treatment.
  • And if it is the perfect zinger that makes the joke funnier, then swear like a sailor.
Outside of that, there is no excuse for it. I'm one of the last people to advocate censorship just because it offends some staid old stick-in-the-mud, even if that offended person is me, but if you dilute the effect of swearing, or use the words inappropriately, they lose their power, and then what's the point of swearing at all?

You need to have harsh, forceful words you can say at the appropriate time, to release tension, emphasise a moment, or to throw that perfect insult. If those are taken from our vocabulary and get lost in amongst regular words, then how do you let off steam? New words? We don't need new words, we have perfectly reasonable swear words already.

I listen to a few podcasts. They're like talkback radio, without the phone in, and without the ads. But the hosts are not beholden to anyone, not even their sponsors, and can swear if they want to. That is a welcome freedom, if they choose to keep things at the aforementioned appropriate levels; but some are just repellently profane, with horrific swearing coming from everyone, hosts and guests. Never-ending and inescapable, an otherwise entertaining hour of commentary can be ruined by grotesquely excessive effing and blinding.

Pull it back a bit, people. Don't dilute the perfect way to emphasise a stressful moment, you're ruining the fun and usefulness of our colourful language.

Myki is Hinky

Posted Tuesday, July 12, 2011, 1:06 PM

Myki cards are the new wave of metro tickets. They're meant to last years without a hitch. Mine lasted three weeks before failing.

Here's what happens if your Myki card stops working:

You have to take it to one of two locations, both in the city. That's an inconvenience of monumental stature. The city sucks for a single journey - it takes two hours out of your day even if it's a quick in-and-out, and there's nothing to do in the CBD that you can't do better in multiple other spots across the suburbs.

Once at one of their two stores, they assess if you damaged your card, or it just failed due to being made from useless cheap crap. If it is damaged, there's a $10 fee. If not, no fee. Mine was certainly not damaged, so that's fine. If I had opted on posting it in, which is such a stupid idea I didn't mention it before, they could cast judgement on it without your supervision to set them straight. It's nice to believe they'd be honest, but you really can't trust anyone these days.

After filling in a form, they give you a replacement card. However, it's empty. All your money on your old card is temporarily unavailable, so you have to spend to fill the new card again.

Though you do not lose the money from the other card (assuming your card is registered), when you get it transferred it is no longer associated with the Myki Pass (i.e. Monthly), instead it is turned into Myki Money, which is the equivalent of a Daily (more expensive). Why? Because it takes 10 working days, and by then you've not been using those days, so you get fully reimbursed. Fair enough, but TEN DAYS!???

This is ridiculous. 1) Transfer of funds should be immediate and seamless. 2) Card failure should never happen; my Credit Card and ATM Card have never failed on me, after years of use. And 3) only having a limited number of places where this assessment can happen, in less-than-convenient locations, is impractical.

For a system that cost $1.3bn or whatever it was, and was five years overdue, things as simple as replacing faulty cards should be much better handled than this.


Surrounded by Artists

Posted Saturday, June 11, 2011, 4:51 PM

It's been three weeks at my new job, and I've gotten into the swing of things a bit better. After a small technical delay I got paid this week, and it's so nice to have real money in my bank account again. I splurged on a visit to, somewhere I haven't purchased from in a whole 18 months! Hurrah! I can catch up on my favourite authors again.

I thought I'd tell you all a little bit about where I work. I can't give too much away, because what we do is not for me to share, but I can say we create and animate digital characters for various different, usually online uses.

There are five other guys in the room where I am, all artists of different kinds. Ben is the main 2D artist. He designs concept art, textures for ZBrush, and other graphics.

Josh is another animator like me. He seems to have been there longest, and is quite talented indeed. I think I'll be learning a lot from him. He has a quiet charisma, like he's the cool kid in class.

Matt is currently working on a video game for mobile phones. He gets somewhat excitable. We work in generally a quiet environment, we're all concentrating so hard on our projects, and that seems to frustrate him a bit, so he finds any excuse to try and liven things up. He brought in a Nerf gun the other day.

John only comes in for a few days a week. He is the Website guy. He seems to do more than just that, but I have no idea what.

Paolo is from Italy, and has only been in Australia a couple of years. He's the video editor and compositor, but he's also an accomplished 2D artist, and does some of the work Ben doesn't have time to do. He has to know a little bit about 3D, to be able to apply the UV textures efficiently, so he's learning that too.

I am a bit of an all rounder. My first week I was animating, my second week I was modelling characters, and this week I did both of those things, plus I composited some sequences in After Effects. These are all my favourite things to do for fun, so it's not really like work at all!

Jayden is the supervisor. But he's also a talented artist, modeller, and rigger. I think he animates as well. He looks after all the projects, and makes sure we're on track and deliver on schedule.

But he's not the Manager. That's "J" who is based in Canberra. He is always out trying to get us work. Next week he'll be in Las Vegas.

So for the first time ever, I am surrounded by incredibly talented artists. They each have their strengths, most of which are at a level way higher than mine, partly because they've been in environments that encouraged their creativity and skills to develop, while I've been in something of a vacuum doing most of what I do at home, alone, with little guidance, insight, or feedback. It's an unusual feeling to be in amongst people who truly are in their element, and can guide me into improving because they know what they're doing.

Another new experience is that I am part of an assembly line. I just do my part, and don't have to deal with the frustrating things I'm not very good at. Somebody else does the conceptual design, then I do the modelling. I export the UVs (using a handy tool I knew nothing about but takes the frustration out of it), somebody else paints and applies the UV textures. Then somebody else does the complicated job of rigging, then I animate. Somebody else does the rendering, using high-end computers looked after by IT professionals, then I composite them - if there are extra elements involved (yesterday I had to blend in digital smoke, for example). It takes all of the frustration out of it, and frees me up to do what I do best and not stress about the other technical details.

Also, this is the first time I have been in a job where I've not been in at the ground level. Every other full time job I've had I've been able to grow and learn as the company did, making it very easy to pick things up, at a pace that suited me. Here I've hit the ground running, learning the way they do things immediately, and having to figure out some stuff that I've not done hardly at all. I've surprised myself by picking things up quickly, because really 80% of what I have to do I do already know quite well, so they've been very accommodating, and all in all I've acquitted myself pretty well.

It's been a fun few weeks, and I don't think I'll tire of it any time soon. I expect some parts will get tedious or complicated and frustrating, but until then I'll make the most of it and bask in the satisfaction of having a decent income again.

Animated and Articulated

Posted Saturday, May 28, 2011, 2:02 PM

When I left my last full time job, I was flush with cash and full of promise. I had planned to take a year off, maybe two, to learn a couple of new skills and take my career in a completely different direction. The skills I had planned to educate myself on, not through formal education but by nutting it out myself from books and tutorials and experimentation, were (jargon alert) 3D character modelling using subpatch, and character rigging and animation.

I had done a lot of hard surface modelling before, that is things like vehicles or buildings, but not so much with organic stuff, which required a different approach. Because things like humans and animals and caricatures have smooth rounded curves over most of their form, and need to "deform" in a specific and familiar way when their bits get moved around, it means using a method that avoids sharp creases and corners. That is called subdivision modelling, or subpatch.

It's wholly different to anything I had done in computer graphics (CG) before, so I anticipated it to be complicated and stressful. Well, I couldn't have been more wrong. I found it remarkably easy to get to grips with, and I bashed out my very first model in a matter of days. It was a learning experience and a half, no doubt about that, as there were new things to learn at every step, but they were intuitive, and every time I got stuck I just doggedly worked at it until the answer became clear. It rapidly became my favourite part of CG modelling, and I work in subpatch almost exclusively now, if there are curves required anywhere.

Since then I've made many character models, and have enjoyed it every time, each one taking a shorter time as I got to grips with its fiddly nature, especially when I had a clear concept of what I was aiming for.

Rigging, on the other hand, is a bastard. When you animate a character, you need to make a skeletal arrangement inside that hinges at the joints, broadly in the same way a human skeleton does. Each of these "bones" need to have limits imposed so you can't bend them too far or in the wrong direction, and then controls are included so you can get at them to move them around. You also have to go through the model and specify which parts are affected by which bones, and by how much, so that there's a little bit of movement of the upper arm when the lower arm bends, for example. But that is a very complicated procedure.

Another example, in the real world feet don't go through the floor, but in CG they can. In order to make sure they don't, you have to add in a special limiter to stop feet from going a certain distance. Also, you have to keep limbs at a fixed length, but that means when you bend a leg or ankle they are now floating above the floor (try it. Stand on one foot and swing your leg forward and backward). So how do you make both feet touch the floor like they do in a walking cycle? You have to move the hips, forward and downward to bring the feet down with it, which means any animation of one leg automatically alters what needs to be done with the other, and aaaaarrgghh...

See how complex it is to explain? Imagine that times five, and that's how complex it is to rig. I struggled with it, and managed to do it okay once. Then a new version of Lightwave came out, changed the way rigs work, and all the old skeletons no longer do what they're supposed to. And I haven't a freaking clue how to fix that.

Animation is relatively easy, it's just moving the bits into the right place, and then after you've broadly placed everything where you need it, you re-time things by moving keyframes about, and then go into finer detail levels to adjust and tweak. But unfortunately, the biggest downside is the more complex the rig, and the busier the scene, the slower the computer works, and then it becomes prone to crashing. Very very frustrating.

Ideally what I wanted in a job was to not do the messy things like rigging, and instead be given a reliable and powerful computer to model characters and animate them, with a subtle guiding hand when I need it. Basically to just sit in my corner, get given a task I'm capable of, do it, hand it in, and then get another. Consecutively, rather than many projects all at once with different priorities and deadlines.

Two years passed and, just when I felt comfortable about my skill level and wanted to put myself out there, the Global Financial Crisis hit. Suddenly nobody was hiring, and in fact most people were firing. Just great. Two more years passed of unemployment, and my generous savings started to deplete into dangerously low levels.

Then eventually, as the Crisis eased and hiring started to happen again, the experienced people who had previously been fired were the ones being taken back, and beginners like me continued to be overlooked. Added to that, as a Lightwave user, I am not in demand.

The Industry Standard application is called Maya, a very complex and high end program that is very different and difficult to learn. There's also 3D Studio Max, which is used mostly for creating video game characters. A few others include Softimage, Houdini, Cinema4D, Blender, and a few specialised apps like Z-Brush (textures), RealFlow (water simulation), and Vue Infinite (terrain generation). Lightwave is not used very widely at all, and, even though it was one of the pioneers, it hasn't quite managed to keep up in the way it needs to, to be a contender. Jobs requiring it are as scarce as hen's teeth.

So with all that going on, I had little hope of there being a future in this Industry. And as time went on, I was resigned to having to fall back on a career I really didn't want to participate in anymore. I really wished I was good enough for doing 3D Graphics or Visual Effects, but also really felt I wasn't in the right place at the right time for it to ever happen.

I joined an email mailing list, which periodically sent through employment opportunities for VFX and Graphic Artists, but 90% of them were for companies based in Sydney, or elsewhere around the world (sometimes as far afield as South Africa or Japan), and were for skills and experience I just didn't have. One did come through that looked ideally promising. It read:

  • Proven motion graphic production, video editing and compositing skills
  • 3D modelling skills
  • Excellent design sensibility and artistic skill
  • Strong Portfolio
  • Working with Adobe Creative Suite, Lightwave 3D, Zbrush and other software programs
Well, crikey, that was completely perfect! Look, they actually use Lightwave! So I applied.

That was in September 2010. Presumably they found a few people who suited the job because they never got back to me... until, that is, a couple of weeks ago when they unearthed my CV from their pile and emailed me. They are a small animation company who design and build characters as Avatars (representations of people to use online in chat rooms or on mobile phones, designed to be sort of like the mix-and-match type characters you use in video games). One of their team was going to be away for a while, perhaps permanently, and they needed someone to replace him. They asked me to come in for an interview, which was brief where it seemed to me that, based on my showreel and CV, they already knew I could do what they required. Hours later I was told I had the job if I wanted it. Wow! It all happened so fast!

It seems that, in the same way it's hard for me to find a job using Lightwave, it's also hard for them to find an employee who uses it! So when they find someone who does, they hold onto them as tightly as possible.

I started working there this past Monday, and it's been quite a whirlwind since. On the first afternoon I was asked to start animating, which I didn't expect to happen so soon. Luckily it was something relatively simple I could ease myself into. Though I've done a little bit of character animating, and what I have created is pretty decent, I'm effectively still just a beginner. But I knew the principles, and the controls, and a few of the tricks and gadgets, so it wasn't as challenging as it might've been. I spent the week animating four short clips, that I was allowed free reign to create myself, and there were only a few moments where a guiding hand was needed. I think I acquitted myself quite admirably. The boss certainly seemed pleased (making his own sound effects as the animation played back).

There are only two minor problems with the job that I've encountered so far. Firstly, the commute is long, expensive, and means I have to get up early. Ugh. And secondly I am in a room sharing with about six other guys, so I can't talk to myself, wander around wasting time, or play with my toys, like I do when I work on these things at home. So the new environment is something I'll have to get used to. I'm also the oldest one there, yet the least experienced, so it's a bit of a weird combination.

So, to sum up:
  • I have almost the ideal job.
  • I am learning new stuff that may lead to very cool opportunities.
  • The people who work there are talented and pleasant and I should fit in okay.
  • I am earning good money again.
  • I am finally relieved of some of the stress I've been burdened with these past months.
If that isn't good news, I don't know what is.

The Future Has Opened Up

Posted Friday, May 20, 2011, 6:21 PM

Something unexpectedly good just happened.

Details to come.

Casting the Ankh-Morpork City Watch

Posted Wednesday, April 6, 2011, 1:31 PM

When it comes to a successful movie or TV series, getting the right cast is crucial. Not only do they have to look the part in themselves, but they have to be able to perform the character as written, with their own personal twists allowed, and then fit in as part of an ensemble, who they'd have to work with in very close quarters for weeks or months at a time. I would say that it succeeds about 75% of the time, and a lot of failed films and TV shows are due to poor casting.

I've often wanted to sit in on casting sessions. Not the auditions, they're tedious and boring and drive me nuts, but discussing potentials, looking at the finalists, matching up partnerships to get the roles filled perfectly.

I was recently involved in a small way with helping out casting a short film that we'll be filming very soon, and that was quite a fun thing to participate in. I imagine that there'll be more opportunities in the future for me to involve myself in casting decisions, which I look forward to.

The Discworld is Terry Pratchett's universe, that he has been writing about for twenty-five years, with over 40 books and other publications. Its main city is Ankh-Morpork, a pseudo-mediaeval era metropolis, filled with not just humans, but trolls, dwarfs, vampires, zombies, and a lot more besides, all trying to get along and work together. Friction is inevitable, so the local Police force, known as the City Watch, are on hand to keep the peace.

A new TV series is being planned showcasing the City Watch as the main characters. Like procedurals and crime shows before it, such as The Bill, Law and Order, CSI, etc, it will deal with domestic and street crime, but in a comedy fantasy world.

There have been other TV adaptations of Pratchett novels, and they have stayed relatively faithful to the plots, with characters cast and modelled from a wide history of archetypes found in British comedy, such as that portrayed in The Goon Show, Monty Python, or The Goodies, and those extracted from Shakespeare, Dickens, and even cartoons from 18th and 19th Century newspapers. More specifically, they tried to match the artwork of Paul Kidby, who has been drawing Discworld characters, getting them almost definitively right in even Pratchett's estimation, for fifteen years. His Art of Discworld is one of my favourite books, and I love to flick through it a couple of times a year.

The TV series of the City Watch will not be a straight adaptation of any of the books, though I'm sure certain plot elements will be borrowed from time to time, perhaps used as story arcs through the spine of a year's episodes, but the characters will be utilised very thoroughly.

I'm very excited by the prospect of this show, and, like a lot of people, have a lot of ideas for potential casting. None of these are necessarily practical. Some of the actors won't be available, or are inappropriate for other reasons, such as age or even nationality (the archetypes are uniquely British, so a UK cast is preferred I'm sure, at least in my estimation). Some of the casting ideas I've seen thrown around have included a lot of American names, which is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. My list are almost exclusively British or European.

I'm not sure what part of the established timeline the series will set itself in. Following the path of Carrot from new recruit to Captain would make sense, especially to see the way he transforms the Watch from a ragtag bunch of useless layabouts, to a full fighting force of criminal investigators. But even if they did that, they could bend the history to fit their own potential storylines and introduce secondary characters where they wish.

Commander Sam Vimes
Vimes is a man who loves his job, but none of the people in it. He is wholly dedicated to being a "Copper" but the criminals disgust him, the other officers disappoint him, and the Bureaucracy frustrates him. At every turn he tries to buck the system to make his part of it work the way he feels is more effective. Occasionally he succeeds, but more often his failure proves how right he is. A stubborn, proud man, he is prone to drinking and bouts of depression.

He is the linchpin of the series, so has to be played perfectly. A tough but fair man, with few social skills or outside interests. A few unimaginative names get bandied around as actors to play him, such as Hugh Laurie (far too busy in America to do this) or Philip Glenister (already played the same role in Life on Mars). My choices are Jack Dee, whose schtick is to play sad and miserable characters; Ben Miller, who is a comedian who plays awkward and uncomfortable authority figures; Danny Webb, who has not played too many high profile roles but has the look of a weathered beaten down, tough policeman; and impressionist Alistair McGowan, who is a tall and quiet man, but has a grim, tightly clenched jaw look to him.

Paul Kidby draws him as a Clint Eastwood type, but Terry Pratchett saw Vimes as being a younger Pete Postlethwaite, and I think Alistair McGowan fits that description quite nicely.

Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson
Carrot was adopted by dwarfs, and grew up in the mines of the Ramtop Mountains amongst people considerably shorter than he was. He has an outgoing, friendly, charismatic, authoritative air of someone who knows what he's doing so people follow him, yet has a country bumpkin unorthodox approach of assuming everybody is decent deep down, and you just have to know how to bring that to the fore in each of them. This makes him an ideal Watchman, as he knows virtually everybody in the city by name, and can pin them down with some simple references to their lives that shame them into obeying.

He is a redhead, but that's not why he's called Carrot; instead it's due to his conical shape of broad shoulders and narrow hips. He is a fine, handsome physical specimen, and everyone loves him, even the people who don't. Also, there is an element of myth behind his origins, some claiming he is the rightful King of Ankh-Morpork.

He's a difficult one to cast for. Most Americans seem to think Brendan Fraser is the right guy for the role, but apart from his nationality, which is all wrong, he's now too just old for the part. Someone younger and more fresh-faced is required. I have narrowed it down to two: Rupert Grint, known as Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films but he has had many other roles outside of that franchise and proven himself a capable actor, avoiding the dopey stereotype; and relatively unknown Tom Hopper, who had a small role in the recent Doctor Who episode Eleventh Hour, where he was a neighbour of Amy Pond's, and will be in the next season of Merlin as Sir Percival.

What makes me think Tom Hopper is so perfect is how closely he matches Paul Kidby's art.

Not sure why those two are bare chested in those pics. Wasn't intentional. Promise.

Captain Angua von Uberwald
Angua is Carrot's girlfriend, but more importantly she is a Werewolf. Not only is she arguably the most intelligent member of the Watch, she has a few extensible physical attributes that aid in tracking criminals and intimidating them, making her indispensable.

She is conflicted over her relationship with Carrot, constantly second-guessing its future, and trying to find excuses to split up. Unfortunately for her, they love and respect each other too much to let it end.

The character of Angua was in the most recent Discworld adaptation of Going Postal, where she was somewhat miscast and portrayed as being vicious. But Angua is never wantonly vicious; her inner conflict with her wolfishness is one of her distinctive traits. Her home country of Uberwald is based on Romania, Czech Republic, Germany etc, so she should have a certain Eastern European look. I can't pin down a good British actress for the role, but here are a selection of actresses from other nationalities that kind of look how I picture her.

Very attractive, with long blonde hair and a certain canine cast to her features, she has to be part Katee Sackhoff, part Yvonne Strahovski, without being either one of them; Katee is too manly, Yvonne is too girly. Anna Torv isn't physical enough; Milla Jovovich has become too American, and too famous; Saoirse Ronan is still too young; Diane Kruger is too old.

I think I'd pick Saoirse Ronan or Katee Sackhoff out of those choices, but I expect better options are out there.

Sergeant Fred Colon
Fred is one of life's Sergeants. Around the same age as Vimes, he has not really risen up the ranks in the same way. Or, indeed, at all. But that's okay, because he likes it where he is, and I can relate to that. Not especially bright, or useful, or really anything but an obstacle, and something of a traditionalist (i.e. a racist and sexist from the old school), Colon is a family man, though we know very little about his family, and generally speaking, is a coward who doesn't have much to say that is worth listening to.

He is most often assigned duty alongside his friend Nobby, where the two of them hide out in the least likely spots for crimes to be committed, pontificating on the odd things in life, not realising they are quite a source of oddness themselves.

He is a tubby fellow, in his early fifties. I imagine him a lot like Mel Smith's characters in Alas Smith and Jones. In the school of Really Obvious Casting Choices, I include: Mark Addy, who is just about perfect; Nick Frost, who is too young; Timothy Spall, who is too good to be wasted on such a minor character part; and Johnny Vegas, who is completely inappropriate, but looks the part.

Mark Addy it is. He's doing another Fantasy right now, though, Game of Thrones.

Corporal Nobby Nobbs
Nobby is a ne'er-do-well, but friendly and sociable, even though you don't really want to get too close to him. As a boy he was a pickpocket, and that hasn't really left him, being somewhat light-fingered. He's brighter than he looks, often underestimated, but somewhat naive, and tends to approach life as an optimist, but with very low expectations. He is loyal, and honest (to a point), and he loves his colleagues in the Watch like a family.

He is described as being quite unattractive, with skin conditions and various grime cultures living upon his body in various crevices. He carries an authenticated note, signed by the Patrician, that proves he is human. The doubt stems from his stunted growth, putting him on a par with dwarfs, and his unappealing appearance, making his country of origin hard to determine.

Casting a role so specifically unpleasant is hard. Americans seem to want either Tony Robinson, who played Baldrick in Blackadder, or Steve Buscemi, the go-to actor for physical ugliness. Both inappropriate choices. They're too old, and one is way, way too American and just not right.

I imagine Nobby as being a lot like the creepy old men who wear sports jackets and flat caps at the greyhound races, nicotine-stained fingers, pencil behind their ear, never far away from scamming a free drink from somebody. Short, unattractive, with exaggerated facial features: large ears and nose, prominent adam's apple in a goose neck, big hands and feet.

To me he's 20% Frank Spencer, 30% Pippin from Lord of the Rings, and 50% Baldrick. The best I have come up with for casting are Toby Jones, who isn't quite right, and is now something of a sought after actor; Andy Serkis, who is a great character actor but way too tall; and, of all people, Dominic Monagahan, who is too young.

Not sure who I'd pick. Probably Toby Jones would be closest.

Other characters include: Lord Havelock Vetinari the Patrician, expertly portrayed by Charles Dance in Going Postal, and I say stick with him as he was brilliant; Lady Sybil Vimes, Sam's wife, who is a horsey lady of a Princess Anne kind of bent but who looks after miniature dragons, can be played by Liza Tarbuck, who is almost exactly perfect; while characters like Cheery Littlebottom (a female Dwarf forensics expert), Constable Visit (a religious zealot from the Church of Om), Reg Shoe (a zombie whose limbs fall off), Detritus (a huge troll made of stone), the Canting Crew (an eclectic group of tramps, including talking dog Gaspode), Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler (an enterprising salesman), and various other incidental characters, can all be portrayed by unknowns.

I imagine none of my picks will be cast, and they'll all be lesser known actors or some I haven't imagined, but it's fun to speculate.

Coincidence or Plagiarism? 'The Games' vs 'Twenty Twelve' *UPDATED AGAIN*

Posted Thursday, March 3, 2011, 9:09 PM

In the year 2000, the Olympic Games were held in Sydney, Australia. It was a major event for Australia, and I was lucky enough to witness the country in the throes of national pride as they presented a fantastic locality for visitors and viewers to enjoy the games within.

To lead up to the games, a comedy TV show was commissioned, a pseudo-documentary created by John Clarke and Ross Stevenson, that starred Clarke, Bryan Dawe, and Gina Riley as the organisers of the Olympic Event and the embarrassing incompetence of their attempts to get everything running smoothly. It was called The Games, and was incredibly funny, and a huge success, so much so they quickly commissioned a second series so that it would be screened in the weeks immediately preceding the real Olympics.

In 2012, the Olympic Games will be held in London. And a trailer was released recently for a new UK show called Twenty Twelve. It's a pseudo-documentary about the organisers of the Olympic Event and the embarrassing incompetence of their attempts to get everything running smoothly.

Hmm. Sounds familiar.

It stars high profile UK actors Hugh Bonneville, Jessica Hynes, and Olivia Colman. It is listed as being created (and directed) by John Morton. I have found no mention of any reference to The Games, John Clarke, Ross Stevenson, Bryan Dawe, or Gina Riley, or any suggestion it's an adaptation of it, or even inspired by it.

I even asked a couple of people directly about it, via Twitter. Tony Martin has his finger on the pulse of Australian TV, so I thought he might have some inside information, and he did suggest that it was a licensed adaptation. But then I asked Hugh Bonneville himself, and he implied it was just a coincidence, and if anyone was going to know I thought it would be him (I am a huge admirer of actor Hugh Bonneville, so it was quite a thrill to get a response from him in any case).

I've also asked John Clarke, and hope for a response but there are no guarantees of that. Twitter is not quite like a face to face conversation.

If it turns out it is not an adaptation, and they claim it is just a "coincidence" I'm not sure if I can believe that. It's not unheard of for similar ideas to be developed independently, but what is usually notable about those situations is they are also developed concurrently. In this case it's ten years since, and that has to be taken into account.

Even if this turns out to be a great show with significant differences, I am disappointed if they just stole the idea without attribution.

+++ UPDATE +++ (March 11, 2011)

Two things have happened. First, though he didn't respond to my contacting him directly, John Clarke is now following me on Twitter. Woohoo!

Secondly, he and colleague-in-arms Ross Stevenson have just written an interesting post on the ABC (AU) website that addresses this very same issue. And it seems I was correct to have such suspicions over the "coincidence".

This is a sad state of affairs, and it wouldn't have taken much to do it all legitimately, especially since, to the BBC, the ABC is a virtual sister in many ways. Or at least a third cousin who sits at the kiddy table.

+++ UPDATE +++ (March 13, 2011)

The BBC have responded, and claim there's no stealing going on, and it's just a coincidence. As I mentioned earlier, I say bollocks it is.

Dead Island Trailer

Posted Monday, February 21, 2011, 12:18 PM

I need to write this down, so I can clarify my thoughts on this. It's something that is annoying me a lot, and yet I am almost a lone voice in the wilderness and I feel somewhat displaced by that fact.

A new trailer for a video game was released a few days ago. It's a zombie killing slaughter type game, one of many in a widening genre, called Dead Island. From what I can tell, it's no more unique than any other of its kind, but for those people who like that sort of thing I'm sure it will be fun to play. Or not. Who knows?

The trailer, however, has gotten a huge reaction of positivity. People look at it as though it was the greatest work of art that has crossed their field of view in months, and they are all talking about it like it was the video game equivalent of the Mona Lisa.

What bothers me is that they have all failed to realise that it is a badly made piece of shit.

It starts out close on what appears to be a dead girl of about 8 years old, and reverses, in slow motion, for us to see how she ended up that way. Intercut with this at random intervals are quick shots of earlier in the sequence of events, this time in regular speed, and in forward motion.

Ideas like this are not uncommon to see in various media. Teaser trailers, commercials, montages, etc, in TV, and for movies. It can be intriguing, it can have a great emotional impact, and it can inform the story and its stylistic approach in a very simple yet powerful way.

The problem is the makers of this trailer don't seem to have understood at all how and why this works.

1) The main story is in reverse. This should be to tell the viewer that the end is the important part, and now we need to know how we got to that point, and the final shot in the sequence should fill in the last piece for it to fall into place.

2) The forward motion parts that are intercut should be juxtaposed with the reverse sequence to inform us at each moment of the cut. i.e. when we see a moment in the reverse sequence, the forward sequence gives more detail on that moment, either its origin, or what it means in a wider context.

3) The music should match what we are seeing. It should impact us emotionally, as well as augment the visuals.

4) It should be an accurate representation of the game it is promoting.

5) It should have high quality rendering, modelling, effects, and animation.

Well, here's what it actually has:

1) It's in reverse because they thought it would look cool. It tells us nothing to know this girl is dead at the beginning of the trailer. We do not gain any more information on how she died, or why she died. As it turns out, she was already bitten long before the entire sequence we see. No matter what was ever going to happen in the sequence, she inevitably was going to be dead anyway.

Plus, the conclusion at the end of the trailer is meaningless. It's just the point where the forward and reverse shots meet, there is no significance to that moment whatsoever.

2) None of the forward shots relate to the reverse shots at all. They cut together completely randomly, with no additional information being doled out. All of the relevant storytelling occurs only in the reverse sequence. The constant cuts to the forward motion violence are just childish "Boo!" scares, but aren't actually of any more scary imagery than what we see in the reverse sequence. You could almost have left out the forward sequence entirely and just played the whole clip in reverse, for all the difference it makes.

3) The music doesn't match the cuts, doesn't build the right atmosphere, and is deliberately manipulative without augmenting the visuals.

4) It has nothing to do with the game. Neither this sequence, nor these characters, appear in the game at all.

5) The modelling looks like they were ripped out of Poser 4. The animation is average at best, mostly motion-capture poorly applied to the character rigs. The rendering is ordinary, tolerable if this was the in-game engine, but it's pre-rendered. The cloth dynamics are non-existent and make the character models look like Barbie dolls.

This whole trailer has been made using only well-worn tropes and by-the-numbers tricks, without any understanding of the art involved; copied from others without realising why or how they made it work; a jumble of mismatched concepts that in a competent artist's hands would have merit and impact, but instead all we get is a shallow imitation assembled by a talentless hack.

I wouldn't mind so much if it had been dismissed by everyone else, just as I did, just as so many things are deservedly ridiculed or forgotten. But instead they are all lapping it up and praising it as one of the best things they've ever seen!

It's even being immediately signed up for a movie adaptation, all apparently based on this one teaser trailer that I insist is made up entirely of "fail"!

I am upset. Upset at all those who cannot see how bad it is. Upset that I can see something so clearly, and yet nobody agrees.

It's like I am lost, trapped, tossed amongst a sea of, well... brain-dead zombies.

Wot? Ullo John, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

Posted Tuesday, February 8, 2011, 2:19 PM

Here's an interesting discovery I made.

This is Alexei Sayle, circa 1982.

This is Captain Sensible, circa 1982.

And this is Cyndi Lauper, circa 1983. I can't embed the video, but you can click on this link, and here are some relevant pics.

And if that isn't enough to make you go "Huh?" there's also this:

Back In The Saddle

Posted Sunday, February 6, 2011, 4:27 PM

My life has been something of an unholy mess lately, and I'm not out of the hole yet, not by a long shot. If anything it's getting deeper. But I need to get out of these doldrums somehow, and I have found solace in getting back into writing again.

Having been thinking about a story idea that had been around for a long time, and making the graphic image a few weeks ago for fun, I went back to the story outline I had written a year ago and rethought some of the elements that didn't sit right.

For one thing the overall story was too reminiscent of an existing film. Unconsciously I was emulating it, and had come too close to the line too often to get away with it. So I have considered this off-and-on since realising it, and tried to figure out ways to distance it more. So as I rewrote the outline, keeping some elements and adjusting the rest, it came together a lot better, and faster, and in the end is stronger for it. There's still a lot of influence, but only broadly and is now more inspiration than straight out copying.

I have begun writing the actual script. It's a slow process. I've often wondered how it can be that professionals can take months, sometimes a year or more, to write a screenplay, when they're only 90 pages long and have around 200 words per page. Why does that take so long? Well, I still don't know. I've been working on it for less than a week, and am up to 25 pages and nearly 6000 words, and that's only working for about three hours a day. If I doubled my efforts to a full working day, I'd have the entire first draft done in two weeks. As it is it will probably take me four.

This is including the fact that I rewrote an entire scene again, twice, because I forgot to include a crucial character introduction, and had to go back and slot it in seamlessly, and that took some effort and rejiggering. Two days were spent on one scene that, while normally would be addressed in a subsequent draft, had to be done this time so that the rest of the story made sense (everything that needs to be there should be in the first draft, and it's up to subsequent drafts to rearrange and tidy up the dodgy bits).

Now that's how long a first draft takes, something that wouldn't ever be submitted. A third or seventh or fifteenth draft is not uncommon, and only then will it get shown around. That might be where they're using their extended time.

I find writing to be an entertaining pastime, even though it can be a effort. Most writers do it because they enjoy it, but some find it difficult. After all, deadlines and expectation can be quite stressful and interfere in getting the best work done. For me, I don't have any deadlines, I'm doing this as a hobby on my own schedule. So I can extract the fun and eliminate the stress. But I also am not getting paid.

Like many creative pursuits, the final script can all depend on how the day went. If I was given the same story to write a year previously, or in the future, I may end up writing a completely different finished product. How good it is can be determined by random factors and could fail so easily. In order to clarify my thoughts I need to take some time out each day to think about where the story is headed and what happens in the next scene I write. During those moments anything might influence me; something as random as the weather, what TV I watched this week, or if I had cheese for lunch, can make my thoughts turn one direction or another and lead to quite a different finished product.

So as this story plays out, it is exciting to see it develop, as it will rarely turn out quite the way I plan, and with luck be even better than I hope it to be.

Now onto the next scene...

The Screenwriting Bug

Posted Sunday, January 23, 2011, 8:04 PM

Back in November, online bookshop (and more) launched a somewhat controversial new venture, Amazon Studios. The idea is for amateur screenwriters to have an opportunity to showcase their product in a way that hadn't been available before. Instead of going through the messy existing Studio system, something that is still operating in the same way as it did in the 70s, the 50s, even some is legacy from the 20s, which is to say a laborious process that requires you to be listed already in various places within Hollywood before you're allowed to even get noticed let alone be taken seriously, Amazon set up a competition, in association with Warner Brothers Studios, to let anyone upload a completed feature length screenplay and get it read by their judges, and potentially win a large sum of money, perhaps even get it greenlit to be made and earn an even larger sum of money. It didn't matter where you lived, how old you were, or who you knew, this was a real opportunity to get your film noticed by genuine Producers and Directors associated with a huge Studio.

There are, however, inevitably a few catches. One of the biggest is that they Option your script for 18 months. That is, they have first refusal on whether the screenplay can be developed during that time. Sometimes when Studios Option scripts they will pay the author a nominal fee, occasionally as little as a few dollars, but also sometimes many thousands. Amazon is paying nothing to anyone, and yet every script that is entered, potential winner or not, is now trapped in their system. None of them can be submitted to any other Studio until the 18 months are up. And even after that there's some additional jiggery pokery that may keep it locked up for even longer.

The rules also allow for, and encourage, other people to read and rewrite your screenplay. This may be the most controversial part of the whole deal, as nobody wants their work to be trodden on by some clumsy idiot who thinks it needs more gore or their sense of comedy is more fart jokes. But that's part of the potential deal, so you have to accept that.

In the real Hollywood approach to rewrites, your screenplay is sold for a nice hefty sum before it can be rewritten, and it's usually taken over by experienced professionals, with a promise of screen credit. It may turn your original idea into something unrecognisable to you, but if your core idea remains, you get some amount of respect for your contribution.

I don't think the rewriting side of things at Amazon Studios has been too successful, as that's a lot of work for someone to put in for almost no real gain. I think it's one of those ideas they came up with at 2am to encourage interactivity amongst contributors, but in reality was a nutty plan that wouldn't ever work very well.

They have a third part to the competition, which is completely ridiculous, which is to get people to take an uploaded script and make an entire full length film of it. No budget, so it can be rough as guts, but that has the biggest potential return as the largest prize goes to the winning film. It's hard enough to find the time to make a ten minute short, there's no way anyone can make anything halfway watchable that is supposed to be 90 minutes long. It would take six months just to organise it, let alone shoot it, and the end result won't be any better than an Ed Wood film.

Anyway, I submitted my first and only completed screenplay, Pegasus Rampant, PDF copy available here, to their competition, because I knew it was never going to be actually made, especially as it's just sitting on my hard drive, and I need some more feedback so I can learn to write more, and do it better. I figured that overall it was worth the minor inconvenience of the restrictive rules. I wouldn't do it for every screenplay I may end up writing, but for this one time it's an educational experience if nothing else.

I put it online in November, but after 8 weeks it's only been downloaded less than 30 times. I have no idea how often it's actually been read, but I would guess less than half of them have bothered, perhaps as few as only two or three. Committing time to reading a 100 page screenplay is something most people can't easily spare.

So even though it's been downloaded only an average amount of times (plenty of other screenplays have had less downloads than I have, but some have had hundreds more - though I think some are cheating by getting friends and family to repeatedly download and leave fake reviews to game the system) it has had no actual reviews at all, at least on the Amazon site. I did ask some friends elsewhere to help me out by reviewing it, and one guy did, which was very considerate of him, and he had some good advice too. But one review is not quite what I had hoped for, really.

I don't even know if my screenplay was read by the Judges. They claim every single entry was given at least a once over before being accepted or rejected, but I've seen no proof of that beyond vague reassurances. Perhaps my screenplay is prize-winning genius but they just haven't read it. Doubt it, but you never know.

I did not get into the finalists for the first competition, so I don't really expect to be in the finalists for any others (all screenplays are automatically eligible for all ongoing monthly contests) because if it's rejected for one, why be accepted for others, even if I upload a new draft? Unlikely, but then as the competition starts to crumble due to the dodgy rules, maybe things will change in my favour.

Here's a site with some reaction to the mess and potential opportunity the Amazon Studios competition has garnered. It's a somewhat angry and poorly constructed site, but its points are reasonably made, and are a realistic appraisal of the whole situation.

I've been adjusting the screenplay since the aforementioned considerate review, and thus getting back into creative pursuits again, after a deadening few months where I've been out of sorts trying to get my life in order. This has inspired me to return to a script I had begun a year or so ago that had been left incomplete, one that I had always considered an exciting tale and a lot of fun. And in order to get into the right frame of mind for getting back to it, I thought I'd look through some artwork online to inspire me, and before I knew it I had gathered together a few resources to make my own image.

Flintlock: A dashing 18th Century Highwayman is enlisted by a covert Government agency to protect the King from spies and saboteurs. A swashbuckling romance of magnificent adventure, devious espionage, and villainous treachery.

In this image, which is desktop-wallpaper-sized at 1680x1050, the picture of Flintlock himself, the Highwayman, is actually a composite of 7 different images blended together. The face, the mask, the hat, the coat (x2), the hands, and the pistols are all separate pics I found that I cut up and pieced together, trying to match lighting, angles, and colours to get it right. Then I added in text, more flintlock pistol iconography, and textured the bejesus out of it, and huzzah. I think it has a lot of atmosphere, and is quite inspiring.

So after I've written up the new draft of Pegasus Rampant, it's back onto Flintlock, I reckon.