Thursday, November 16, 2006

Kiwi - Animation by Dony Permedi - Putting the heart back in CGI


Every week it seems there is a movie with CGI animals making wisecracks and pop culture references. CGI animation used to be something I saw at art cinema animation festivals, now it is sold on DVDs by the ton at Wal-mart.

Then I found Dony Permedi's Kiwi on YouTube.

This digital short makes me remember back when I saw early Pixar films in the late 80s and early 90s, such as Red's Dream and Geri's Game.

Pixar is the top studio for CGI animation because their films feature a warmth and humanity that is often lacking it other CGI films. Kiwi has that spark that made early Pixar into the animation powerhouse it is today. It takes talent to turn a squat bird created in a 3D program into a character with charm and personality.

I hope as a new generation of computer animators emerges, they remember to put some heart into their work along with all the rendering and modeling.

Dony Permedi's website is http://www.donysanimation.com

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Web 3.0? A new internet that guides users?

According to the New York Times, researchers are working on Web 3.0.

What does this mean? Is Web 2.0 old and busted already?

According to the story, Web 3.0 means this "new" web will act more as an adviser than a collection of links and pages. The web applications would assemble information in ways that would give more rewarding results.

An example used in the story is vacation planning, where person runs a query looking for a packaget within specific budget, a warm location, and allow a child to travel too.

I know a query that this Web 3.0 can do for me.

Respond to this query: "Give me my e-mail without the spam!"

Friday, November 10, 2006

The five sins of blogging - The Charles G edition

I found this article on Webpronews.com about the five sins of blogging.

Pretty simple stuff. I've always thought of blogging as something similar to throwing a house party. If you invite people to your house, you should treat them with kindness and respect. It helps if you stock up on ice too.

Guests should be careful that they don't spill wine on the rug or steal the silverware.

I'm going to the kitchen now. Anyone want ice cream or beer?

While I'm gone, here are my five sins of blogging.

1. Sloppy unfocused writing - I've seen bloggers rant on for pages and repeat the same points over and over again. Sometimes after five or more paragraphs I just cry out "I GET IT! NEXT POINT PLEASE!" Some bloggers write in a form of stream of consciousness. That's fine. But if you are writing a post about Star Wars: Episode I and spend 10 pages bashing Jar-Jar...just let it go. If you have a point, make it. Then move on to the next point.

2. Rotten spelling - I find typos in my blog all the time. It frustrates me, but it happens. This isn't the New York Times. I fix them as soon as I find them. I have a high tolerance for spelling errors, but I wish to inform some of you that there is a difference between allowed and aloud, and between here and hear. If you have problems with this, please go over to Amazon.com and buy a basic book on grammar. I do not think that is asking too much. I hope we will see fewer spelling mistakes thanks to Firefox 2.0, especially in my own posts. I also recommend the Clusty Toolbar with its right-click access to a spelling dictionary. Google also acts as a dictionary too.

3. Background music - I know background music is big deal on MySpace, but it still annoys the hell out of me. MySpace is...well...MySpace. Certain sins can be forgiven there. I still shudder when I remember back to the bad-old days of the web, when every page thought it was clever to have MIDI or WAV files as background music. Oh boy! Bad to the Bone rendered Casio Keyboard style! When I go to a blog and suddenly have Linkin Park or Evanescence blasting out of my speakers at top volume, I reach for the volume first and the back button second. Let your words speak for you. I know you might love Coldplay, but put it in your profile, not as a slow-loading MP3 file.

4. IM speak - I use instant message short hand all the time...when I'm on IM. An occasional WTF or OMG is fine, but try to speak in complete words. You are on a blog. You have time to compose your thoughts and write complete words before you press POST. When U rite like this I h8t it! It's teh suck! PWN3D! :P Hey, it's your blog. Write anyway you want. Just don't expect me to take you seriously if you end every sentence like this. :)

5. Excessive amounts of images in posts - Most people who want to share images set up Flickr accounts. Show me one or two images of your hot girlfriend, your cool car, your sick computer gaming rig, or your new baby. Just one or two is fine. If you want to show me more, give me a link to a seperate site where I can scan thumbnails. If you pack ten or fifteen huge images into a blog entry, even my cable modem slows down to a crawl. I end up staring at blank pages while the images load.

That's my five sins of blogging. Go in peace. I'm out of ice cream. Sorry.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Disney's The Black Hole - A new trailer for an old retro scifi classic

Jusu, a YouTube user from Helsinki, Finland, made this trailer for the 1979 Disney classic The Black Hole.

I've written before about The Black Hole on this blog when I found some cool homemade animation, but this video is worth a second post on a film that amazed me as a little kid.

The Black Hole, was one of those films that I grew up with. I am still fond of this film in the same way I am fond of my Battlestar Galactica toys. I might have outgrown them, but they are relics that I cherish from a less than happy childhood. I keep The Black Hole on my DVD shelf the same way I keep old Star Wars toys next to my computer.

What makes this film stand out in my memory? I suspect it is because The Black Hole is an film that feels warped and pulled in many directions, much like the nature of space and time in a real black hole. As Disney's first PG-rated film, The Black Hole is filled with strange imagery and content that puts the film in a netherworld between being too intense for kids, but not hip enough for teens or adults. The Black Hole tries to be traditional Disney film in one respect, then a laser-blast shoot'em up in another.

The Black Hole reaches back to the style of films like 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, but incorporates elements of Star Wars as well. The result is a pulp-style space adventure with memorable and odd moments.

One weird scene is when idealistic scientist Dr. Alex Durant is killed by the wirling blades of the menacing robot Maximilian. In a reversal of his role in Psycho, it is Tony Perkins' character who is murdered by sharp blades.

Another notable aspect of The Black Hole are the mechanical effects used to create space scenes. In the making of the Star Wars films, space battles were fought against blue screens filmed by robot cameras, then matted into starfields later.

The Black Hole features space scenes where ships are filmed against starfield backdrops live in-camera. This old-school method of filming effects turns space itself into a character. The stars in these shots are not the standard glowing white pinpoints against a field of black. In The Black Hole, the backdrop is a luminous blue nebula. The effects feel dated in an age where Hubble Telescope images shape our view of the cosmos, yet manage to create amazing widescreen vistas.

The lead ship, USS Cygnus, looms and glows in a mystical Disney blend of the Haunted Mansion crossed with the rocket-spires of Tomorrowland, creating a haunted rocket park of a far-flung future.

Suprisingly realistic are early shots aboard the spaceship USS Palomino. The cramped, Apollo capsule-like Palomino is not the Enterprise, or even Han Solo's Millenium Falcon. Astronauts are crammed into a living space that offers little privacy, designed for computers and equipment instead of people. Everywhere humans are confronted by buttons, keyboards, and viewscreens.

Until the crew lands on the cavernous ghost ship Cygnus, there is no artifical gravity. People float in the zero gravity (sometimes with wires showing) aboard a ship that twists and rotates around them. The viewer is forced to adjust to space the same way an astronaut would, with no up or down as the camera simulates a spinning ship dragged by the cruel gravity of a black hole, echoing directionless interior shots Apollo 13 depicted years later.

The crew is forced to land on the Cygnus to repair the oxygen supply. The USS Palomino is not the warhorse spacecraft of other Sci-Fi films. After being mauled by high gravity, the Palomino is crippled in the same way the command module of the Apollo 13 mission was. The Palomino, for all its gear and technology, is a delicate metal shell barely protecting the crew from harsh deep space.

Later on in the The Black Hole, bad science takes the helm and creates campy moments. Meteors roll down ship corridors like bowling balls. People float in airless space harmlessly without a helmet in sight. Yet for the first half-hour, The Black Hole has some strong space geek appeal.

Jusu's trailer is way better than the original trailer that was released in 1979. It clearly demonstrates editing is an art that can restitch an old movie, taking a film you have seen a billion times and transforming that movie into a new tapestry of images.

...now if only V.I.N.cent the robot did not look so much like a toddler's toy.

Friday, November 03, 2006

BEWARE! Google watches us all!



According to The Guardian newspaper, Google is becoming a database of human activity that tracks where we go and what we do.

Google stores all of our searches (gulp!), it caches our web pages and our blogs, it can even alter search results according to your wishes.

The real problem is not Google. Google is just a machine. The problem is what we choose to do with that information.

We long ago gave up our ability to travel a distance and be unknown, and in many ways that is a good thing. Criminals are followed by their computerized records no matter where they may lurk. An electronic society moves faster and offer more opportunity than a paper-based one.

Another mixed blessing are data-harvesting services to track your past and present. It's great when you are trying to pay a bill or get credit to make a big purchase, but a horror if your information falls into the possession internet bandits.

Now what you express verbally on the Internet can be stored and tracked, even years after you wrote or uploaded it. You leave a trail every time we speak out on a message board, write a blog post, or post our photo on the web. Google now sniffs it out and stores it. Our friends and allies can see it, but so can internet trolls or cyberstalkers.

Your potential employers can track your opinions too. For those of us who use blogs and social networking sites, we have to now make a serious decision on how much of our real life we let into our online life. I know I had to make this choice before I started this blog.

How many people are going to be forever haunted by their MySpace profiles or blog posts? Usenet already has a database that goes back to 1981. Two decades of conversations, arguments, rants and innuendo are there. Google now serves that up for public consumption.

Perhaps we will have to get used to the idea that humans are forever in flux. I'm not the same person I was last month, or last year, or last decade. You think you can know a person by what they posted on a blog last year, last week, or a decade from now?

With Google Earth and mapping services being added to the mix, people may soon be physically tracked by search engine services. Celebrities already have a problem, bloggers share where they are eating or walking with a snooping public. Will we all soon be ratted-out by our cellphones and Google accounts?

Like #6 from The Prisoner, we are not numbers, we are free people. The real question is as powerful tracking and search engine technology comes online, do we care if people watch us and read our blog posts as we act on that freedom?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Planet of the Vampires - Cheesy retro science fiction and inspriation for Alien?


One of the reasons I started this blog was to write about old science fiction films from the 50s and 60s, so when I found the trailer for Planet of the Vampires on YouTube, I had to write an entry about it.

If you have seen Alien, the plot of Planet of the Vampires might seem silghtly familar. It makes me wonder if Alien screenwriter Dan O'Bannon saw it and took notes.

The film begins when a traveling spaceship picks up a distress call and lands on a spooky planet. Upon landing, strange entities start driving the crew into a killing rage and taking over their minds.

Like the slimy xenomorphs in Alien, human bodies are warm places for creatures to seek refuge in, although there is a lot less splatter in this movie. It was the 1960s, and it would be another decade or so before an audience could withstand scenes where creatures tear and claw their way out of a human torso in a spray of red innards. The world was not ready for HR Giger's creatures yet.

There are other striking Alien-esqe similarities. In one scene, two astronauts explore a wrecked spaceship from a distant civilization, discovering a fossilized creature still at the controls.

Even shots and camera angles from Planet of the Vampires have a certain similiarty to Alien, especially as the crew leaves the their hulk of a ship, walking by the claw-like landing gear, or as the mothership lands on the planet, decending on a plume of exhaust through the wispy clouds.

The costume design of Planet of the Vampires looks like a cross between a flight attendant's uniform from 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Cenobites from Clive Barker's Hellraiser. Here space travelers are decked out in latex jumpsuits and medeval looking rubber helmets. If Helmut Newton ran the space program, it might look like this.

Alien, of course, leaves this film in the dust when it comes to special effects and creature design. But for all its silliness, Planet of the Vampires features a few good "boo" moments, similar to the type Alien executed with lethal precision.

The alien planet in Planet of the Vampires does not even attempt to look realistic, with multi-colored lights and fog right out of a carnval's haunted house ride and styrafoam rocks from Star Trek.

The low-budget effects are part of the fun with a film like this. It is matinee fare at its cheesiest...and we are in on the joke. We know the ship is a model on the end of a fishing line. The rubber wounds on the actors look like they were bought from a dollar store. The dialogue is crummy.

Planet of the Vampires
is bad science fiction meant for drive-in audiences. Perfect for a late night with the lights off and a healthy supply of junk food.

My type of movie.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

You Tube and the howling basenji - Watching the home movies of the world


I found this video of a Basenji named Lucy on YouTube recently. If you have watched the video, you can tell Lucy does not care much for the harmonica. This is one of the countless videos people have put on YouTube, many of their pets doing silly tricks or just acting cute.

Since YouTube (or GooTube as some people now call it since being purchased by Google) started pulling down videos from Comedy Central and other parties miffed about copyright infringement, I now realize that most of YouTube is home movies. These were videos that might have sat on the family shelf, shared only on VHS tapes in one family. Now anyone with a camcorder and a little Internet savvy can upload their videos for the world to watch, or wince at.

This Basenji video brought back a flood of bittersweet memories. My family once had two Basenjis. They grew up with me and were special dogs who I still miss even today. If you have ever owned a Basenji, you know the challenges that a headstrong dog can put you through. They are funny and aggravating. Watching this video made me remember moments I had not thought about in years. I admit, I got a bit teary-eyed.

That made me realize the power of YouTube in a way that ordinary TV has never replicated. Video that people shoot themselves for YouTube are of all types. You have animal comedy, but you have more serious fare as well.

YouTube users have uploaded video of visits to the World Trade Center, shot just weeks or days before the twin towers were attacked and destroyed. Their vacation footage has turned into an historical record. You see the towers and their view of New York City through the lens of a tourist's camcorder, never imagining what they were recording for future generations to see.

If YouTube stays up, or simply morphs into something else in Google's desires, it could become a giant collection of human experience rendered in video. If it lasts for years, people who shot those videos will grow up, grow old, and die, leaving their digital legacy behind for Internet users everywhere.

I can surf through YouTube videos for hours, like flipping through a thousand scrapbooks. I do not know the people, but I can see their lives of friends, family and pets. I see things that take me back to my own memories.

What is perhaps worrying for many owners of large media companies and network owners is that most of what is on YouTube is actually more entertaining that the recycled sitcoms and reality shows that they try to get us to watch. YouTube is the ultimate reality show channel, made by and starring real people.

We will have to see how Google uses the service they paid a hefty sum for. I could quote the overused Andy Warhol quote about 15 minutes of fame, but now it is more complicated than that. People can be as famous as long as they have bandwidth to burn.

There are hundreds of annoying and crass videos on YouTube too. I am just glad I was able to remember two beloved dogs that left me over two decades ago.