Wednesday, 31 July 2013

14-Year-Old's Photo Manipulation

BuzzFeed posted a set of great photo manipulations by a high school student, Zev, titled "This 14-Year-Old Boy Is Kicking Your Ass At Photo Manipulation."

And he is.

Once upon a time, Photoshop was a college level undertaking.

Now experts can be found in high school. Grade school is next. Software engineering will be arriving in kindergarten within a decade.

Change.


Movie Rating Mania: The Hunger Games, The Pirates, Men in Black III

The Hunger Games
Cute kids fight to the death and slit each other's throats for the amusement of post-apocalyptic America in this dystopic epic starring Jennifer Lawrence, based on the uberpopular young adult book by Suzanne Collins.

Mostly shot in verdant forest (cheap to shoot but spectacular), it's like happy-time-summer-camp movie meets Death Match

Kids can relate to competing for position, and feeling helpless in a mad world run by manipulative adult hypocrites. It's emotional truth over rational perspective, but it resonates. 

The twist, and every film ending these days worth it's salt seems to have one, is actually pretty good. Enjoyable and primal, Hunger Games may be too intense for smaller younglings.

Cinema Worthiness: 7
Character: 6
Story: 7
Action: 8
Costume Design: 7
Production Design: 7
Visual Effects: 7
Plot holes: Nothing that derailed the flow 
Funny:3

The Pirates
Aardman's first film since Wallace & Gromit: The Curse  of the Were-Rabbit, it starts with promise but never delivers. So visually scrumptious you can serve it as a dessert, it lacks both heart and conviction.

A real shame, given the craft behind it.

The jokes are limp and the film drags.

Completely inoffensive, Pirates is torpedoed by its own good natured blandness.

Even the voice acting of Brian Blessed can't save it. 

Cinema Worthiness: 4
Character: 6.5
Story: 4
Action: 6
Costume Design: 8.5
Production Design: 8.5
Visual Effects: 8
Plot holes: Don't care 
Funny: 5


Men in Black III
After the cataclysmic cinema disaster that was MIB II, no one expected anything from this effort, but MIB III delivers in spades. It even has heart. Barry Sonnenfeld unexpectedly returns as director, and Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones reprise their roles in spite of it. Well. Mostly. Tommy is replaced by his younger self, Josh Brolin, much of the time. His impersonation of Tommy Lee is freakishly uncanny. Maybe Tommy Lee Jones has secretly invented time travel and brought his younger self forward to co-star. Two paychecks. Booyah!

Tommy Lee/Josh Brolin's Agent K must stop the repulsive Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) from going back in time and destroying the world in the future. Whatever. It sets up lots of action and jokes. Clement is criminally underused here, after his brilliant turn in the otherwise disappointing Gentlemen Broncos. Perhaps the director's cut will give him more screen time. As it is, the film focuses on Smith and Brolin's relationship. Michael Stuhlbarg's precognitive alien Griffin has some fun with time travel tropes.

Worth a watch.

Cinema Worthiness: 7.5
Character: 7.5
Story: 7
Action: 7
Costume Design: 7
Production Design: 8.5
Visual Effects: 8.5
Plot holes: Again, didn't care
Funny: 7

Instant Hipster Logos!

Man, will this come in handy.


Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Barbie says storytelling is hard. No, wait...

Barbie says math is hard.

And that's true.

So is storytelling. 

Just ask a movie critic.

Big blockbusters these days look better than ever, but they aren't grabbing me emotionally in even the perfunctory way an action film should. 

The way Die Hard did, back in the day. 

Todays action films are superficial imitations, without the underlying meaning or heart. It's turning me off mainstream cinema, and it's a shame, because so much work and incredible talent is poured into them. I just gape at the production design of these magnificent cinema confections.

On a certain level, it feels petty to criticize such magnificent visual feasts. 

And there's a growing movement of Suck-it-ups out there who insist movies just be blindly accepted, without any critical evaluation by the audience: 'You'll take what's given to you, you ignorant, spoiled masses, and you'll like it. Biatch!'

Not the most appealing marketing slogan. 

We take our chances when we go to the cinema, as with most other things. Theodore Sturgeon famously claimed that ninety percent of everything is crap. We remember Casablanca, and think that era was better. Yet they churned out films by the dozen (hundred?) back then, with the same speed and efficiency they used to pump out of B-17 bombers and blockbuster bombs. 

Thousands of forgettable films have been rightly forgotten.

Movies are such massive endeavors now it's a miracle any of them turn out as hoped. Almost nothing in them can be criticized in isolation. Not the actor, the writer, the producer, the director, or the effects; everything is interconnected. Related. Sometimes these competing elements gel and it's magical. Most of the time, it doesn't, without even being the fault of anyone involved. It leaves everyone perplexed, wondering what went wrong.

Even The Man, Steven Spielberg, has made a dud or two. 


 
Wolverine
The characters aren't engaging, and the underlying emotional themes didn't resonate. On the plus side there's lots of decently choreographed action. 

To top it off, the ending has a lead-in to the next X-Men film. 

That's the best part.

Hugh Jackman delivers the usual gruff, tortured hero with aplomb, but only Tao Okamoto stands out from the supporting cast. The most intriguing thing about her character is that she seems surprised to be in an action movie.

Cinema Worthiness: 6.5
Character: 4
Story: 3
Action: 6.7
Costume Design: 4
Production Design: 6
Visual Effects: 6
Plot holes: Noticeable, but low expectations make them easier to ignore
Funny: 3

Man of Steel
This Superman cares about innocent bystanders as much as Joe 'Steel' (Stalin) did. Is it something about taking 'Steel' as a moniker? He used to care about innocents being killed in the crossfire.

No longer. 

And after the destruction and carnage finally end, we skip over the deaths of millions to a chipper fellow asking out a couple chicks to a ball game. 

Classy.

That being said, I thought it was a beautifully shot film; some sequences look like an expensive insurance commercial, they're so finely tuned and directed. On the other hand, Snyder can be heavy handed (such as placing Christ directly behind Superman in the church). 

Cinema Worthiness: 7.2
Character: 5.5
Story: 5
Action: 8
Costume Design: 8
Production Design: 9
Visual Effects: 9.5
Plot holes: Planet devouring, movie derailing singularities
Funny: 1 


Is this an awesome postcard or what?
Oblivion
Looks gorgeous. Jaw dropping good. Great effects, wonderful design work, fabulous sets, breathtaking vistas. Filming the post-apocalypse in Iceland was a stroke of genius.

Would make a lovely series of postcards.

Cruise jumps about and throws all his considerable energy into the role. He's always interesting to watch. Morgan Freeman pops up briefly to explicate, and manages to look even more bored than he did in White House Down.

I didn't think that was possible.

Cinema Worthiness: 7
Character: 3
Story: 3
Action: 5
Costume Design: 7
Production Design: 9.5
Visual Effects: 8.5
Plot holes: Sucked up the entire ending, then ate my brain
Funny: 2

Monday, 29 July 2013

Movie Review: Pacific Rim

Star Trek: Into Darkness was Wrath of Khan on methamphetamines.

Pacific Rim is Godzilla plastered in hundred dollar bills, from the tip of his steaming nostrils to the end of his armour plated tail.

An American film set in Hong Kong and based on Japanese monster movies, it stars an international cast (Japanese, British, American, Australian, Chinese) and is directed by a Spaniard.

Talk about Globalization. 

The dialogue is perfunctory, and much of it was unintelligible due to poor sound quality. But are you really missing much?

Characters are over the top and drawn with broad brush strokes. One seems defined by his bow tie and mutton chops. There's not a lot of room for them, but there's an awful lot of punching.

The actors include Charlie Hunnam, who does a decent job as your typical, square jawed lead, and Idris Elba who brings his usual gravitas. Rinko Kikuchi deploys a devastating demure gaze. Caricatures make up the rest of the cast, as they did in the giant monster movies of old.
Hunnam's Appreciative Glance meets Kikuchi's Devastating Demure Gaze
Obviously, the real stars are the monsters (Kaiju) and the giant robots (Jagers).

The props are impressive, and the design work impeccable. It has the feel of a real, lived in world, albeit one where the Laws of Physics have been beaten near to death.

It's fun, and if I were ten I'd have absolutely loved it. Unfortunately, I am no longer as enamored by giant robots pummeling gargantuan monsters for ten minutes at a time as I once was.

And this film has a lot of punching in it.

Did I mention the punching? Granted, that's a feature for many, but it went over my tolerance level and drove me into boredom. Just too much of a good thing. Because it's well done punching.

I must be getting old.

The fights are almost all shot in rain or underwater (They seem to forget they're underwater at times), making the effects work easier. Godzilla did that trick a decade ago.

For some reason I keep mentioning that big green lizard guy.

Unfortunately chaotic camera work makes it feel like Godzilla crashed The Bourne Identity and stepped on poor Jason. Shaky-cam vérité on an epic scale. It works for the most part, but I found it hard to understand what was going on as big, rain soaked and unidentifiable monster or robot parts flew by.
The giant robots were suitably magnificent, and much easier to interpret onscreen than their Transformer peers. Del Toro kept their surfaces much cleaner. Transformer bots look like massive jumbles of indecipherable machinery packed into a dense mass.

A rule of thumb I remember being put forward by an ILM alum is that the audience should be able to 'read' a shape within three seconds of it appearing onscreen. If it's more complex than that, you're going to confuse a lot of eyeballs.

The monsters had extra legs and arms and weird blue goo oozing nematocysts sticking out all over and didn't always fare as well on my retina, but the fundamental aesthetic of them was intriguing. Ace fantasy-anatomy artist Wayne Barlowe was behind many, and his genius shines through.

You can tell Guillermo Del Toro loves the whole giant monster genre, and he pours his enthusiasm into every frame. This is no hack job, but a real tribute. There are some wonderful touches and details to be found in the film. Far superior to the Transformer franchise. Just not quite my cup of tea these days.

Little boys will love it. Probably be video games and toys to follow.

There better be.

They have a 200 million dollar budget to recover!

Sunday, 28 July 2013

But is it Art?

There's an interesting article at VICE about modern art. The author says he just doesn't get it. And you know what? I get that.

All the discussion makes me think of Piero Manzoni's canned shit pieces from 1961. In 2007, they commanded $181,374 per can. Unfortunately the methane build-up in the cans causes them to occasionally explode, covering the cognoscente with excrement.

How poetic.

I wrote about the friction between Fine Art and mere commercial art here. If you've ever had the displeasure of taking a Fine Art course at Guelph, you'll know what I mean.

More artwork made, quite literally, out of shit here.



Friday, 26 July 2013

Craft vs. Anti-Craft


James Kochalka argues with Jeff Levine and James Woodring about the need for craft in comics over at The Comics Journal.

Is craft the enemy? Is it holding you back? Or is it an enabler, once mastered? Or is it a yummy faux-cheese snack?

The Ancient Elite of Snobby Craft Lovers and the People's Revolutionary Craft Denialist Front are clutched together in a death grip argument that will outlive eternity (or maybe next Wednesday).

Visit the pot, cackle over the bon mots and angry denunciations, and then drink the tea.

Pacific Rim does Wallstreet


Chaos on Wallstreet, Godzilla style. I'd pay to see Bernie Madoff and the Stockbrokers flee. Be a good name for an industrial band that wants to strike fear into the middle class bourgeoisie.

Say... does Godzilla do Gungam?

Major Kong Would Approve: Riding the Rocket


Michael Interbartolo of NASA put up this video, promoting an upcoming DVD release. Amazing. And faster than the TTC.

Major Kong did much the same thing, years ago, only in reverse:


Stock Head: The Ultimate Financial Advisor

Total immersion. For a magazine article.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Do you work here?

Illustration on chaos in the office place. Look familiar?

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Are movies turning into homogenized soft cheese?

Interesting article at Variety by Henry Selick, director of Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Both very good flicks.

He feels everything is becoming homogenized, and he's not paranoid. A recent article at Slate alleged that Hollywood is now following a film cookbook called Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. The cheeky article even uses Snyder's structure as the framework for the article.

Adaptive!

With profit margins down due to the collapse of DVD sales, studios are getting more conservative. Writer Lynda Obst goes further and claims Hollywood is now completely broken. Even Steven Spielberg has sounded the alarm. Seems like everybody is talkin' about it.

Animated 3D features are enormously expensive, making them risky propositions.

Executives want to keep their jobs. Who doesn't? So they play safe and go with proven formulas guaranteed to generate cash. And it works. The results are solid. How to Train Your Dragon was a lot of fun, and the same goes for Despicable Me 2. Respectable.

But not the ridiculous, Everest sized mountains of moolah gambling big can yield. Long shots that revolutionize the industry (JAWS, Star Wars) make careers only after bestowing ulcers. Who can handle that stress on a daily basis?

George Lucas admitted he couldn't. Star Wars pushed so far out of the envelope Lucas came close to a complete nervous breakdown. He saw The Dark Side: gamble everything and you can lose big. Career destroying, gun barrel eating big.

It's always been that way, and in a shaky economy, only more so.

Thank god Star Wars was a huge success. It now sells $3 billion in toys every year. To top that off, we now know ulcers are caused by bacteria. So much for the stress connection. 

Anyway, Selick's article is interesting. He's looking for rescue from the Online Realm where data streams sparkle and unicorns frolic.

He believes that there's more risk-taking going on in television than film, and I wouldn't disagree. Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Justified, Suits, Damages, Homeland... TV is enjoying a new golden age.

Can't wait to see what Selick adds to it.


Sexytime: Humpty Dumpty as metaphor for the need for financial regulation reform.

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. Pushed from the top of the mall.
Great minds pondered what to do. As they did for that old woman who lived in a shoe.

She moved to subsidized housing. Now she's happily carousing.

Me? I ponder what I did with the opening illustration which I can't find.

I think I'm going out of my mind.
A young egg engineer devises a plan. Oh, get on with it, man!
 Gather the bits, but wear oven mitts. Wait, what the?
I can't think of more terrible rhymes. It's a sign of the times!

Our mind's are too hazy, and I'm too lazy.




It's fine. I can live with Humpty-Frankenstein. 

The whole is less than... oh, you know. I'll spare you the rest, at mercy's behest.

Monday, 22 July 2013

'What You See May Not Be Real'

This 2009 art piece by Chen Wenling depicts the Wall Street Bull, propelled by a massive fart, goring the demon Bernie Madoff.

Awesome.

Wenling's art work is... WTF disturbing at times. He's a provocateur, an instigator, much like the Chapman brothers. Fascinating the way driving by a car accident is.


WTF
More on his work here.

The Amazing James Turner!

No, the other one.

James Turner does delightful, zany comics across the pond, in Jolly Old England, that then get distributed back across the other side instantaneously. Much faster than comics syndicates four hundred years ago, which took, like, years. Check it out!

Hear his words of wisdom here.

Behold: an example below. This is fresh, hilarious stuff. Just what you'd expect from a James Turner.


Clothing Spots


Friday, 19 July 2013

Employment

For an article in the Globe and Mail about jobs and immigration.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

In Praise of Alex Coleville

"My work is pessimistic but my life is happy. I see the human condition as tragic." -- Alex Coleville

An official war artist who went on to paint unnerving scenes of domesticity, Alex Coleville's meticulously rendered, finely composed works have always entranced me. He's one of Canada's greatest artists. Check out his work.

I 'met' him once at a talk he gave at the AGO a number of years ago. Tremendously nice fellow. Very grounded.

I remember a photo of the underlying grid structure he used to compose a painting. Yes, everything is related to everything else, as it should be. But with Coleville, the relationship between elements is balanced to the millimeter, placed with the utmost care. No other Canadian composed so finely. Okay, fine, maybe Christopher Pratt.

Coleville, and his vision, will be greatly missed.



Cheeky Time

I didn't know he was a member of the KISS army. You learn a new thing every day.

Crush the barriers of good taste!

Drink Then, Drink Now

Some things never change. In bubbles.




Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Hell 101: Interview with James Turner, author of Rebel Angels

Rebel Angels is an upcoming graphic novel from Slave Labor Graphics (SLG) Publishing about a counter-revolution in Hell. Ten thousand years after Eve bit into that juicy apple and Satan took on The Big Guy, the demon masses are wising up and asking, "What were we thinking?" Join fallen angel Balthazar on his quest for meaning and redemption in a mad, morally inverted world where hope is a sin.

The first volume is 240 pages of finely illustrated mayhem, as the Machiavellian schemes of Hell's ruling class descend into anarchy and chaos. Many comics feature demons. Few are set in Hell itself.

You can get the first issue from Comixology for FREE right here.

Not convinced? Read reviews by ComicSpectrum and AtomicSam.

Need more? Check out the SLG interview with James Turner below.

isometric view of hell, city of dis, rebel angels, war in hell
City of Dis

Q: What were your sources of inspiration? 

JT: I've been working long enough to self-reference. Yay! Rebel Angels merges the flat, graphic look of Nil: A Land Beyond Belief with the more cartoonish, multi-dimensional Warlord of Io. To regress even further, Nil was influenced by my love of architectural drawings and blueprints, while Warlord of Io drew from Frank R. Paul, the unsurpassed herald of the Retro-Future.

On top of that, I slathered influences like Piranesi's Prisons etchings, Bosch, Bruegel, Winsor McCay, and Louis Le Breton. Several demon designs are directly based on creations of Bosch and Breton. I wanted to establish an infernal visual verisimilitude that way, even if only on a subconscious level. It's fun to spot them, too. And of course there's a little John Martin in there.

Q: Many things parody or poke fun at modern tendencies and institutions such as the 'Seven Deadly Sins Stock Exchange' or the 'Department of Internet Forum Commentary'. Is Hell meant to represent the worst vices and excesses of modern life?

JT: Oh absolutely; our flawed institutions are enormously funny. It also makes sense that internet trolls are really demons. It's obvious when you think about it. Who could possibly be so nasty, or have so much time on their hands to spread it? Background signage was ubiquitous throughout Nil, but people complained it slowed down the narrative. If I can find a way to put it in without being disruptive, I'll ramp it up in future volumes, as Hell industrializes and develops a more sophisticated advertising industry

Q: Why do you think stories involving demons, angels and sin are so timeless and appealing?


JT: Because those stories are all about us! Same way sci-fi is about problems in the here and now. It's a way to explore the nature of people in a more 'arch' fashion using powerful metaphors and symbols. We add preternatural elements to stories in order to emphasize and externalize emotional truths. I see angels and demons in that light

Q: Your world building, backstory and cartography of Hell is extensive – where did you get the idea of Hell as a bloated hypocritical bureaucracy with feuding ideological factions?

JT: It was a natural direction to go in given Milton's description. He describes the Fallen Angels as being a diverse group, united only in their opposition to God. After the fall, some just sat atop mountain peaks in Hell discussing philosophy, for example. Entire populations with completely uniform yet utterly despicable political views only exist in the worst propaganda based caricatures. Think of Orwell's Two Minute Hate. So any charitable look, any honest look, would have to go beyond that.

As far as bureaucracies go, their nature is to expand. Hell has been around since before Adam and Eve, so they've had plenty of time to become obscenely bloated. Think ten thousand years of passing municipal bylaws.

Q: Will The Big Guy Upstairs -God- make an appearance in future installments of Balthazar's infernal antics?

JT: My outline doesn't, although that may change as inspiration strikes. It can be capricious. The book evolved a lot during execution. South Park has a very funny version of Him, not bearded-man-on-a-cloud at all. But it will all depend on how the book sells. That's the nature of the industry.

Q: Out of all the demons of Hell, what made you pick the Balthazar as the main character?

James Turner: Balthazar started out as demon detective Muk, a character from Nil: A Land Beyond Belief.

Back then Rebel Angels was a direct sequel to Nil, in which two demon detectives return to Hell with revolutionary memes and bring down the regime. Unfortunately people found demon detectives confusing, so while I took out that angle, I kept the updated designs for Muk, and renamed him Balthazar. He's a seeker, trying to find purpose in a world where spiritual meaning is essentially proscribed by the regime. I thought that was an interesting angle to explore, in between all the fighting, sex, farts, and explosions.


Q: Some people find Milton's Satan is a more compelling character than his God. Do you also identify with the scrappy underdogs, the demon grunts of Hell who trade a heavenly tyrant for a hellish one?

JT: Absolutely. Look at Arab Spring. Revolutions never turn out the way you want. Throughout history the hopes and dreams of the people are subverted, sabotaged by the raging ego of a manipulative tyrant. Plato talked about this in The Republic, thousands of years ago. Same old, same old.

That being said, revolutions always make for interesting times. Like World War II, the setting of countless movies, TV shows, video games, cartoons, comics, documentaries, etc, revolutions are a great canvas to paint drama upon.

Rebel Angels has action, explosions, battles, sex, and jokes galore against a backdrop of epic epicness. Take that, History Channel!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Churchill's Bomb Friendly Bunker


When most governments build bad-ass bunkers, they slather on the reinforced concrete and steel until they can laugh off A-bombs.

The enemy expects that. Hell, their bomb makers depend on it for their research budgets.

Crafty old Churchill did the unexpected: he built a bunker that isn't bomb proof. There's a sheet of metal over it, sure, but that's just for show. They weren't really trying. One direct hit would have caved the whole place in.

The British were entirely depending on the Luftwaffe not knowing where it was. So they put it in downtown London. In the government district, beneath a major government building, just where the German's would never expect it to be but would be bombing anyway.

The top floor is a comfortable height, filled with narrow winding passageways lined with cubbyhole rooms for operations and senior staff, but the sub-basement is a tall man's nightmare. This is where the quarters were. It's a claustrophobic labyrinth. Harry Potter had it better under the stairs.

The whole complex is far less cinematic looking than depicted on film and TV. Odd how that so often turns out to be the case, isn't it? Set designers know their stuff. I admit to being a little disappointed at the map room.

Still, it was fascinating to see the real thing. Walk the same halls. It was a hub of history, that little bunker, where momentous decisions affecting the entire world were made every day.

And they had wonderfully fresh tea and nice cakes in the cafeteria.




Much of it has been left as it was the day the war ended. Well. The dummies are additions, not mummified wartime personnel imprisoned behind plexi-glass, although admittedly that'd be cool. Something to consider for the next war.

Why take these pictures? I'm so glad I asked: it's an odd habit I picked up in Art College and have never shaken. Whenever I go anywhere, I'm always on the look out for reference material.

Why?

Because back in the Long Long Ago, before the internets, it was so hard to find. And you'd have to significantly alter, rotate, and change any source material you did find. Fortunately, I rarely do realistic renderings, so the problem is far from acute for me. But I still remember how useful having my own source material was.

These pictures are the product of that lingering impulse. There's far better available on the net today, obviously. The shots aren't great, but for my purposes, they don't have to be. I'd re-light and alter them anyway, but they do show certain details and perspective.

If I ever set a Rex Libris scene in Churchill's bunker, I have the reference material covered.