One of the things that I'm really looking forward to doing when I make the Iapetus movie, is doing practical miniature effects for the exterior spaceship shots. One of the earliest things I designed (back when this was an animated film) was the ship..
It's intended to be a colony ship, holding about three thousand people in the five cylindrical habitats, and the engine is a long linear array of accelerators. In real life, its about 3km long.
When creating convincing miniature effects, the real trick - apart from creating a highly detailed model - is miniature photography. The key to the effect is focus. In order to make a small object seem large, all of it must be in focus at the same time. You can see this very clearly when you look at the reverse of this principle. To make a large object seem very small, you blur the foreground and background, an effect known as tilt-shifting or miniature faking. This is the look you want to avoid at all costs.
The solution is to make the aperture on the camera as small as it will go. This reduces the light that reaches the sensor, so you need long exposures. But, long exposures mean lighting effects (like windows, engines) get over exposed, so you have to do those in separate passes. That's where motion control cameras come in. They can perform the same movement as many times as needed to capture all the elements.
For the shots I wanted though, all I need is a simple pan. As it happens, there are motorized sliders out there which will do the job. They are usually used for time-lapse photography, but the principle is the same – capturing multiple long exposure images over time. It turns out the guys who made C had the same idea, so we now know it works.
Ok so miniature photography is important, but you still need a miniature to photograph. Because the design of the ship contains a few structures duplicated many times, I can take advantage of that and only build one of each. These objects can be physically repositioned, and a pass can be photographed on the motion control slider. When you composite them all together in the correct Z order, they appear to all exist at the same time.
To see if this effect would work, I decided to build a mock-up of one of the engine modules out of paper. I also put some lights in there to test how the engines would appear on screen. After photographing each element separately, I composited them together against a background. The result proved that the effect was convincing, the objects all appear to be part of a larger whole.
So I have a way to do the large scale close up miniature shots, but for distant establishing shots of the ship, a smaller model will be needed, large miniatures don't look 'small' enough when shot from a distance. I was originally planning on just constructing this from scratch using bits and pieces, but then I discovered 3D printing over at Shapeways. I created a quick mock-up of an engine pod in Blender and printed it out.
This is printed using the coarse grained 'strong and flexible' material, a kind of nylon. Because there is no edge smoothing, and the mesh doesn't have enough faces, the curved surfaces are stepped. The Ultra Fine material with a high resolution mesh and a good paint job would be more than adequate for a long distance shot.
And that takes us up to today. I'm continuing to build out the small scale model myself, but I'm going to get a professional model maker to work on the larger scale piece over the next year or two.
The 21st century brought about a kind of an artistic wilderness for me. For most of my life up until that point, drawing was so habitual I didn't think much of it, but as I got more involved in software development, I moved further away from pen and paper. If you don't have the opportunity to maintain a habit, then it eventually withers.
But old habits are also hard to break, and whenever I did have a pen and paper, a doodling distraction was never far away.
One evening while working on a web site project I randomly sketched out a figure that fired my imagination. This was going to be the template for a Kapitar, a mercenary assassin in the world of Iapetus. I'd doodled bits and pieces around this idea before, but this was the first time I had a complete picture.
It slipped back under the surface though, and not much happened for years after that. Until, some time around 2007, I got my hands on a Cintiq tablet, and started wondering what it would take to produce a comic entirely digitally. I started sketching out some ideas, but I was so out of practice, it took hours and hours to produce them, and I figured it would take a lifetime to produce a comic book this way.
Once again, things subsided.
Years later, the advent of cinema quality digital cameras - within the reach of everyday folk - and some inspirational short films, made me wonder about trying to come up with a small film around Iapetus. A few summers ago, on holiday in Bulgaria, I got about writing a short script. But my thoughts were dominated by how I was planning to do the miniature special effects..
I think the first encounter I had with 3d graphics was on my trusty old Amiga 1200, a cover disk program called Real3D. I made a model of the Dropship from Aliens and animated it flying about. I remember it taking a long time to render out that animation, but still pretty exciting to see the end results. Years later I managed to lay hands on 3D Studio MAX and became, obsessed. A huge part of my waking life back then was associated with that program, even now when I see the interface I get a whack of nostalgia.
It was around this time that I decided I was going to make an animated film from Iapetus, instead of a comic. Instead of doing sensible stuff like coming up with a concept, script or even a story, I just got straight to work, scribbling out plans and ideas, and building them as I went.
The opening scene was going to be a guerrilla raid on an urban building during a Dark and Stormy Night. The one thing that I really wanted to see was a building which had a real interior, with complex internal lights, and a sort of industrial gothic feel [this is just a guess, looking back on it now :)]. I must have been fairly influenced by Blade Runner as well.. look at the design of the base! I actually quite like that I used all sorts of campy lighting effects - for the exact same reason you would in a low budget movie - as a cheap way to add detail and mood.
Because I was working on a P90 with a 14" fishbowl CRT monitor, I had to build things one part at a time (one file contained a single floor, another the base, and so on). It took a long time to render an assembly of the entire building, and consumed enormous amounts of memory (even though my machine had a whopping 48mb of ram). It became a special occasion, something to look forward to, which was good, but it resulted in very few actual images. Any time I got a hardware upgrade, the first thing I'd do is fire off a render to see how much faster it was.
I'm not sure why, but I gradually spent less and less time on it. Probably the enormity of the task, the lack of actual goals - but by '99 it was .. done. Not finished, just done.
It was around this time that my career in software development began to take the place of experiments like this. Instead of creating 3D artwork, I was teaching myself to create 3D engines. It was fascinating to understand how it all works, and programming is a highly rewarding and satisfying hobby, but looking back, it seems a shame to have just abandoned that kind of pure no-forethought creativity.
One thing is for sure, it was the start of a long drought in artistic expression, that would stretch on for a few years.
Until one night, working on a programming challenge, I drew a rough sketch on some copy paper, and got a glimpse of the character that would set my imagination off once more...
There aren't that many films I look forward to seeing, especially with the recent spat of pre-teen friendly superhero movies, but I was pretty stoked when I saw the trailer for Elysium. Wow, an intelligent science fiction action story with a great concept, from the guy who did District 9! I was on board.
Then I saw the film. It was.. ok.
Then I saw the trailer again, and it actually annoyed me. The film didn't deliver on it. Seeing the trailer again just rammed that home, cause I still want to actually see that film.
I don't want to rail on all the things I didn't like, and there was a lot I did like. Instead I was going to think about how I would have done things differently. This film is right up my alley, its my genre, hell its something I would have written myself, so I wondered why I didn't enjoy it. I decided to press all the books I've been reading into service and see if I can come up with a story I think I would have enjoyed more..
These are just some basic thoughts on the concept, all the action set pieces can be hung off of this, but that's all just flash in the pan if there's nothing behind it..
- I would drop the illegal immigrant angle. Elysium is a place where you can go for treatment if you can afford it. This makes the plotting a lot more straightforward, and less 'in your face' allegorical.
- The hero is not a recovering criminal, he's a recovering soldier. His disease is something chronic, something you can live with. But "boy Imagine if I didn't have this, everything would be roses!".
- Elysium is paradise, sure, but the thing isn't getting there, its belonging there. That's the crux of the story. Acceptance.
- Getting cured isn't going to get him what he wants, we could even get that over with in the first 10 minutes. Now we meet The Girl, a resident of Elysium.
- The Hero wants to be accepted, firstly by a family, then by a society. Elysium is an unnatural society, built not on acceptance, but on rejection. The main romantic story plays that out as they back-and-forth. The story is done when they get together, because the original premise of Elysium itself will be disproven.
- The villain. This is someone who wants to enforce separation, so he's at odds with our Hero. I think this guy is a terrorist. This guy represents the thing that actually does keep people apart - fear.
- He arrives on the station, causes mayhem, and then things kick off. He has an agenda, he's not just a loose cannon. Most of the action then takes place on Elysium (which delivers on the trailer more).
- During the fun and games, we learn that Elysium is a novelty that wears off quickly. People here are more isolated than those on Earth. There are a lot of cracks and decay up close.
- The villain is defeated, the Hero doesn't die, and he does get the girl. This is the movies after all!
It's 1996, and I'm 15 years old. Back then, I spent all of my time dreaming up stories, and drawing, constantly drawing. I drew on envelopes, newspapers, schoolbooks, even exam papers. Iapetus arose on one of those exam afternoons.
It was an English exam, on a really nice sunny afternoon. The exam hall, imaginatively called The Green Carpet Room - even though the carpet was now blue - was huge and fairly empty. This day it was rather peaceful, with the sunlight streaming in through the oppressively high windows. I finished the exam early, and instead of leaving the exam hall, I stuck around and started writing out a story. By the time I was ushered out with the rest of the students, I had furiously scribbled out 3 foolscap pages, the examiner was confused when I left without submitting them with the exam.
When I got home, I typed up the pages and started expanding upon them. This was going to be a science fiction story, and the one thing that fascinated me was that it would be set in the distant future, thousands of years into the future. In this time, the Sun has started to 'break down'. Now, this was about 5 billion years too soon, but like Sunshine I didn't bother coming up with a good reason - the Sun just stopped working right. This was going to have all kinds of bad effects on the Earth and the inner planets, and the idea was to escape the dying solar system in some kind of ship. It's all very clichéd, but then, as now, I was more interested in the characters and the action.
I didn't have a title yet, so I dug out a battered old book on the Solar System, and started pouring through the index looking for interesting words. Iapetus was the only one I felt was pronounceable-ish, but obscure enough to not be basically just the name of a planet.
Even though I was intending to do a comic, I started writing out the story in a little notebook, the kind policemen use. I took it everywhere, and any chance I got, took it out and just kept writing where I'd left off. I typed it all up, all 20,000 words, and printed it out. Now it didn't make a lot of sense because I just made it up, in tiny 5 minute chunks in between class. In fact, it made no sense at all, but it did have some over-the-top violence that amused my classmates, so I had a small audience waiting for the continuing instalments.
I didn't think much about how to structure a comic, I just figured I'd draw the pages as I went along, one at a time, like this one:
I only managed to get a single page drawn though, because I had discovered 3D graphics, and I was already wondering how Iapetus would work as an animated film. It would open with a night-time attack in a vast cityscape. I began to design the centrepiece, a glass and steel skyscraper in the heart of futuristic Europe...
…I saw the trailer for C and I found it inspirational to say the least. Not only because it was an independent film, but because it had integrity and vision, and because its being made right now. I admire this.
Soon after seeing it, I wondered why I couldn’t do something similar for Iapetus, my own science fiction film concept. I set about writing a short screenplay and thinking about ship designs. I also decided to use miniature photography instead of CGI.
Some of the (film related) things that I remember most about my childhood were space sequences in science fiction. Sure I loved the whizzing adrenalin of a Star Wars dogfight, what kid wouldn’t? – but what I remember most was the Enterprise leaving dry-dock in Star Trek II, or similar sequences in Star Trek III. The scale and volume of the ship as the camera very slowly moved past it were awe inspiring, it’s reality seemed beyond question.
This has been lost in recent years with the proliferation of CGI. The hard limitations of physical miniature photography: physics, time, optics and budget, made sure that every shot was extremely well planned and executed. Here, the story was king. If a shot wasn’t helping, it was dropped because it was so expensive, and because it was relatively inflexible all the thinking went in at the start.
With CGI the focus seems to have shifted from story telling to shiny effects reels, perhaps because of the enormous flexibility. I still think Jurassic Park is the finest execution of cinematic CGI to date. It’s no surprise that they spent a long time studying animal movements. Walt Disney did the same thing for Bambi, bringing in all kinds of artists and experts to try to capture the natural movement of wild deer. What strikes me in both films, is that the medium was exactly that, a vehicle for the story, not the other way round.
Unlike the creators of C, I’m not adverse to using green screen or digital compositing for these effects, and in fact the approach I’m using demands it (more on this later). Next time I want to post some more detail about the film in it’s current format, as well as some test shots for the space sequences.
Its a good film, but its not a great film. I've noticed that some films are mirroring video games and going for the experiential "it's like being there" angle, I haven't seen it work yet (explicit first-person plots like Cloverfield excepted).
Like most modern high budget games, the set pieces are really impressive conceptually, but I never really felt like I got to appreciate them. Things move too fast, the camera whip-pans all over the place. I get the sense of driving quickly by an elaborate shop window display, I'm sticking my head out the window trying to get a better look, frustrating.
Oddly enough, in the action parts I was waiting for a character pause, and in the character pauses I was waiting for more action. Character pause is the right term here because that's literally what it is, stopping for a few minutes to exchange some dry plot-fuel before ramming instructions for the next sub-quest at the audience. Normally I'm ok with that, but here it's unsatisfying (see the postscript for why that is).
Thing's aren't helped at all by the accursed PG13 violence and language, which makes all the dialogue even more strained (forget believable troopers who don't swear like… well, troopers). There's no real sense of peril here, when you don't see any blood, you don't feel any danger.
I never really dropped out of my seat and into the world, I was always aware of being in the cinema. That's hard to get right, but isn't that really what you want when you go to the movies?
PS: This post really sums up one of the major flaws here, another expensive lesson learned for the cost of a ticket.
Saw this film last night and I have to say it surprised me. Totally enjoyable experience. The casting is spot on, Matt Damon has the charisma to pull of the romantic humour as well as the integrity and willpower to fight the system. Emily Blunt manages to create a character that you can imagine wanting to beat the odds for.
Thankfully, very little time is spent on explaining why the 'Angels' are here, even the one or two lines of exposition are a little off putting. Instead they decide to focus on the meat of the story, should you accept your logical fate or fight for your gut instincts.
What it made me realise was that getting the emotional punch right cancels out any of the fancy pants special effects: even the really subtle ones here were extraneous (like smart-paper schematics on the notebooks). I think it was also wise to drop any complications to the plot. All I cared about was what the Hero was going to do next, that's what a good story is all about.
PS: How many filmable Philip K. Dick short stories are left?
I'm a night owl and while I work away into the morning hours I like to play movies in the background. There's a certain type of movie that fits the bill. It has the be action focused, with a good visual style and more importantly, strong audio and dialogue, as you listen more than you watch. Any smouldering tension or complex storylines are a no go, they are too distracting. A film like Chronicles is a perfect choice, and it's in the regular rotation.
I'm not saying I enjoy it 'cause its bad, on the contrary I admire this film. Wikipedia tells me the budget is USD 105 million, and I believe every cent is up there on the screen. Some of the sets are awe inspiring, and are very reminiscent of Dune, the action set pieces never feel small. I also like the running time, its got a pleasing number of arcs. That's very important when you don't want to be distracted thinking of what film to play next.
As for Vin Diesel, well its the part he was born to play, so its no surprise he's so fond of the character. Which leads me on to the scene I want to talk about today.
- Riddick is on the prison planet Crematoria reuniting with an old friend Kyra, who is running into some problems with the resident rape gang
- He advises them to depart while they still can, unsurprisingly, they decline..
- Vin Diesel plays Riddick, the archetypal anti hero
- Alexa Davalos plays Kyra, a tough girl with abandonment issues
- Riddick calmly advises the rape gang to depart
- They quite rightly point out that he's only armed with a soup cup
- Riddick informs them that its actually a tea cup, and yes, that's all he needs
- He places it on a suspiciously convenient ledge shaped rock
- The classic 'ragged metal cup to the chest' move
- Riddick shows them the next improvised killing instrument
- They key from a sardine tin, nice
- The bad guys get the message
Amusing deaths and witty one liners are the staple of a solid action movie, and here Chronicles does not disappoint. A character like Riddick is perfectly fit to deliver both, which is a big part of this movies appeal.
Oh I almost forgot..
Apologies to readers for the lack of a favourite scene post last Sunday, I was in Vancouver on a business trip last week, and I've finally recovered from the 8 hour jet lag. In case anyone is wondering jet lag feels exactly like staying awake all night, perhaps a bit worse if you haven't been getting much sleep while you were away.
It just occurred to me that the one thing I haven't posted about yet is any kind of practical plan on how I plan to achieve my rather lofty goal. I have a few ideas that I've been playing around with over the years, but the flagship is a feature animation film, currently titled 'Iapetus'.
The film I plan to see on the big screens will be based around the following points:
- Visually inspirational, but not distractingly so
- Solid intelligent storyline, but not too clever
- Realistic human depiction, but not photographic
- Satisfying conclusion
- Several movements, a solid arc, over about 2 hours running time
- Lots of satisfying action
- Laugh out loud comic violence and black humour
- A solid main character with a human reason to drive the story forward
You'll note that none of this describes a specific storyline or theme, instead they outline the experience I want the audience to share when they see it. I'm describing the film I want to see, and the reasons I want to see it.
Next up is to create a short clip of one of the more frenetic scenes, currently titled "Bullet Wind". I'll post some storyboards on that fairly soon, followed by some concept artwork.
Feels good to be finally starting on this.
I may have simple tastes but I prefer 2010 to 2001. I saw the sequel first, when I was about 10 years old, and I was keen to see the first film for some answers to the many questions I had. Perhaps as a child I was too young to appreciate 2001, but I found it unsatisfying. 2010 always seemed more accessible to me, the kind of film I would want to experience time and again.
I love the balance between accuracy and entertainment on show here, tipped just enough towards realism to be engaging, but not so much that you lose the excitement of the movie. This is a film first and foremost, and the story takes centre stage. The depiction of space travel may not represent how it will actually be in about 30 years time, but its how I imagined it would be, and to me, that’s more important.
And nothing conjures the imagination more than a space walk, which is the scene I want to talk about today.
- Following the events of the first film, the abandoned vessel Discovery is in orbit near the Jovian moon Io
- A Russian vessel, the Leonov, is dispatched carrying American crew members attempting to salvage the Discovery and determine why her mission failed
- John Lithgow plays Dr. Walter Curnow, an engineer who is afraid of heights
- Elya Baskin plays Max Brajlovsky, a friendly cosmonaut
- After reaching the vicinity of the Discovery, they must now execute a space walk to enter the rotating ship
- Curnow is an engineer and is terrified of heights, he's having a difficult time composing himself for the ordeal
- Max on the other hand seems very relaxed and helps Curnow throughout the walk, this is nicely contrasted with a role reversal shortly after they breach the Discovery
Over the eerily alien planetscape of Io the two men set out across the hundred or so metres between the two ships.
- They leave the Leonov and start toward the Discovery
- Curnow’s pulse is a little high, he starts fogging up
- 50 metres..
- Time for some small talk, Curnow asks Max the Russian for ‘chicken’
- 10 metres..
The weird sounds coupled with the ragged breathing, that’s what really sells this scene. The blend of Curnow’s rational humanity, and the completely alien environment beneath, and around him. I always felt this depiction of space was a good middle ground between the soundless vacuum of hard science fiction and the whizzing engine noises of video games. Its hosts some elements of humanity, but it still feels quite alien and barren.
Oh I almost forgot..
The disturbing image of the floating foetus..
The adventure movie when done well is one of my favourite story formats. A rag-tag team is set an impossible challenge and they must find a way to reconcile their differences as they take on one thing after another. The enemy threatens to destroy them from without, and when that danger passes, their personal conflicts threaten to destroy them from the within.
It’s a slow burn that builds the tension from one scene to the next. Each skirmish the team faces is leading up to the big event, and even if you know that the day will be saved, the anxiety continues to mount. Of course, this is all assuming that the story is executed well.
Sot it is with this weeks movie – The Guns of Navarone
For those who haven't seen it let me set up the scene I’m going to talk about:
- During World War II, 2000 allied soldiers are trapped on a small Greek island
- They cant be rescued as the only access by sea is guarded by massive guns on the nearby island of Navarone
- The team must assault the guns before the ships sail through, and they only have a few days to do it
- Gregory Peck plays Capt. Mallory, the team leader. He’s determined to get the job done and takes full responsibility for their success, or failure.
- David Niven plays Cpl. Miller, the explosives expert. A glib college professor who shirks responsibility (he refuses to become an officer despite repeated attempts).
- Gia Scala plays Anna, a local resistance fighter. She no longer speaks after being captured and held by the Germans for a time. She forms a bond with Pecks character.
- Irene Papas plays Maria, the resistance contact and a friend and protector of Anna.
- As the team are preparing for their final assault they realise the explosives have been sabotaged
- Miller concludes that its Anna and he makes the case for her execution as a way to punish Mallory for dooming his friend in an earlier decision
- Mallory, after defending his desire to take responsibility (and after Miller once again refuses to do so) prepares to do the dirty business of killing the woman he’s developed feelings for
- Just as he's about to shoot, Maria shoots instead. After a sombre moment the team are ordered to move out.
- Miller stands motionless and speechless, as he realises that he can no longer set himself apart from the war raging around him, and the awful decisions that have to be made
With the dead body lying face down in the dirty ruined building, and the gunshot still ringing in the minds of the two men, a rage builds in Mallory as he finally confronts Miller about the necessity of responsibility. Miller is frozen and can only listen. Here's how it plays out:
- It’s not hard to kill someone, sometimes its harder not to
- You’re in it now, up to your neck!
- You got me in the mood to use this thing..
- By God, if you don't think of something, I’ll use it on you!
- I mean it!
- Go on.
What I love about this scene is the performance from Peck. There's a real sense of fury as he wrings his hands on the gun strap at his shoulder, pulling his uniform out of shape in the process. That, mixed with the controlled repose as he tells Nivens character that he’ll kill him if he doesn't shape up (and we believe that he would).
But perhaps even more than that is the way the almost overpowering weight of responsibility, the weight of leadership, is portrayed. The truth that a leader is just a person who resolves to take responsibility for achieving a goal, and then does everything possible, even at the cost of his own conscience, to see it through. I share the sentiments of Nivens character as he looks on, speechless, at the tremendous strength of character required to undertake such difficult decisions.
I hope this whets your appetite to see the film, either for the first time, or after a long time. I know that's what I’ll be doing as soon as I finish this post.
Oh I almost forgot ..
They kick you when you're up
I was speaking to a friend the other day and he told me something that really resonated with me. After going through his goals and getting really geared up, a load of hassle came his way. Various random things that he had to deal with just popped up out of nowhere. By the end of the day he was feeling worn out, and we were joking that the Universe was trying to see if he was really determined to succeed.
Stream of Noise
The more I thought about it though, the more it occurred to me. These random events are always happening to you. Every day, every week, stuff just happens, good or bad, that you have to deal with. It's only the fact that you have goals at all that you're even aware of it.
The idea is that without any direction we get knocked around by random events in our lives. Every time something comes along and derails us, we just change direction, speed up, slow down etc. You just shake yourself off and start moving whichever way you happen to be facing.
When you start focussing on a particular direction, you realise how tough it can be to maintain a constant speed and steady bearing.
The science of slacking
I've always liked the word entropy, it sounds very sophisticated, but its also quite small and easy to pronounce. Amazingly enough, it's also quite interesting to boot. My take on it is that there's a very powerful force in nature that's compelling you toward a simpler form of existence, which is usually disorderly (messy, untidy and unmanaged, its easy to get into those states isn't it?).
Brian Tracy calls this the E-Factor or expediency factor – the tendency to do fun and easy things rather than important and difficult things. I think it sums up not only the struggle to become a better person, but it also highlights the most unique quality of humanity that differentiates us from all other animals. Our intrinsic desire to improve ourselves, to grow, to do the difficult things first and get the rewards much later.
So next time you're browned off..
Give yourself some credit, there's a lot stacked up against you when you decide to walk a specific path. My belief is that at some point, you eventually build up enough momentum through your own dedication and connections with others that you don't feel the small knocks and bumps along the way. All it takes is patience and courage, the other other 'c' word.
Ok, I’ll admit it, I’m totally green when it comes to web 2.0 style social networking. Not the tech – I’m a software dev by trade – but the stuff that matters, the interactions.
While looking around twitter tonight, I saw something which made me do a double take, and made me finally *get* twitter:
This is Leonard Nimoy tweeting William Shatner.
Is it just me that finds it surreal that those thoughts are now just freely broadcast on the web for all to hear? Is it strange that anyone can tweet someone they would never be able to reach on a phone? Is Twitter the ultimate democracy? and other such rhetorical stuff.
I think the thing that's really occurring to me is that there has quite literally never been a better time to make connections with people you want to know, there's never been more opportunity to grow.
Am I the only one on the web who misses some of the mystique of (proper) celebrity? I'm not talking about glossy rag celebrity, but classic movie stars. Isn’t one of the biggest draws of stars the ability to project all your ideal characteristics onto them? It’s like realising your parents are just people, like you.
On the other hand, there's something very empowering to see that celebrities are also people, like you.
Too much of a good thing
One thing I’ve found over the years is that watching a favourite movie too much can actually work against you. Like saying a word over and over until it loses its meaning. There comes a point where the film tends to unravel, and becomes a sequence of set pieces. I sometimes find myself imagining what might have happened if key characters weren’t killed at particular moments, things like that (what might have happened if Apone hadn’t died?).
A good set up never gets old
After the initial fascination of a movie ends (sometime after the 20th viewing) the large action set pieces become less engaging. The one thing that always keeps me interested however is the opening set up. There's something engaging about watching the characters before everything goes wrong, you can see the aspects of their personality that will be conveniently tested to breaking point later on.
There's also a measured calm-before-the-storm atmosphere, especially for movies that take place over a single night. There's a continually mounting tension as the sun goes down. In Die Hard this is really nicely done, with a beautiful amber dusk and vague hint of Christmas here and there.
For me, the end of the beginning, so to speak, is the meeting of McClane and Takagi. Shortly after that the bad guys roll in and kick off the main event. Takagi makes a nice subtle joke in there, but it took me a while to hear it when I first saw the movie, many years ago.
- McClane wanders around the party, unsuccessfully avoiding yuppies
- He meets Takagi who recognises him right away
- They look for McClanes wife, Holly in her office
- We meet Ellis, the archetypal 80’s power exec powdering his nose at the desk
- Takagi apologetically introduces them
- McClane quips about the party, stating that Japan doesn't celebrate Christmas
- Takagi retorts with ‘Hey were flexible, Pearl Harbour didn't work out so we got you with tape decks’
- Ellis buries the joke with his over the top laughing
And that's it, immediately after that Holly rushes in and the story moves on.
Letting things go fallow
The key to enjoying your favourites is to space them out. Watching Die Hard today was a lot of fun because its been about a year since I’ve seen it, there was a sense of freshness and familiarity. Watching movies you used to watch (a lot) when you were a teenager is also a lot of fun, as you are anchored to those previous experiences.
Do yourself a favour and pop your copy in the DVD player some evening, a great movie is always fun no matter how many times you’ve seen it.
Oh I almost forgot..
You don't “have to”, you “choose to”
One of the things I realised a few weeks back while laying out goals was that its too easy to forget why you are doing something. Why do I want to make movies? I had to take time aside and remind myself that the next 15 years (and of course those that follow) are supposed to be fun.
Yes, strange concept isn’t it? I got too used to repeating things like ‘success takes hard work’ or ‘it’s not easy to follow your dreams’ that I forgot that its not about the destination, its about the journey. As Alan Watts says, you don't dance to travel anywhere, you dance just to dance.
Why I’m doing this..
So it should be with your life's major goals, they should be their own rewards. So then, I’ve decided to share some of my favourite movie scenes with you (future) readers.
Every Sunday I’ll talk about a specific moment in one of my favourite films. These are moments which shaped my film tastes, and someday, I’ll count my own scenes somewhere amongst them.
I remember when this film was released, way back in the early 90’s. I was too young to see it in the cinema, but I do remember the posters. Thankfully I had easy-going parents and saw it on video a few years later. This is one of my all time favourites. The great storyline with its mind bending twists, the fantastic action sequences, the hilarious violence, and last but not least, the truly immersive sense of Mars. This was one of the last great science fiction/action movies (which sprung up in the 80s) that was smart and entertaining without selling out to merchandising, pre-teen ratings, or ridiculous and/or frustrating endings.
If Arnold Schwarzenegger runs up behind you in an escalator, duck
There's a lot of scenes to like in this film, so instead of choosing a favourite, I picked this one at random. Here's how the scene plays out:
- Schwarzenegger is trying to get away from some bad guys and decides to escape via a slow moving escalator full of commuters.
- Some more bad guys appear at the top and open fire.
- This guy is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and takes one for the team.
- He makes a handy shield though.
- The other bad guys catch up to the escalator, and Schwarzenegger spins the corpse around to take a few more hits.
- Finally, the body is flung down the escalator like a rag doll, and buys Schwarzenegger a few precious seconds of escape time.
It’s hard to point out one specific aspect of this that I don't love. The fantastic squibs and bullet hits, with puffy cotton plumes and red mist. The frenetic action. How about the hilarious disregard for human life? This is perfectly demonstrated by Richer (Michael Ironside) stomping on the chest of one of his dead goons as he scrambles after Schwarzenegger. I cant help thinking that it would actually be more difficult to stomp on a chest than weave around it, and it’s that malicious attention to bloody absurdity that makes this so enjoyable.
Wont someone think of the Children?
This kind of action is sadly lacking in today’s cinema. The last film I recall that had the same kind of bloodthirsty glee was Gamer, which was an enjoyable flick, but wasn’t quite there. Don't get me wrong, I laughed, God knows I laughed, and it was 10 bucks well spent, but its over the top attitude is more of a parody of the greats than a continuation of them.
Now I remember why I care so much about films
It’s been a pretty interesting experience writing this, grabbing the shots of the scene, and just flat out enjoying the spectacle of it. No matter which way you slice it, a classic film (and yes, I consider Total Recall to be a classic :) will always pull you back into a different world. It’s a strange combination of the memories of seeing it before, and the possibilities of watching it again, there's just no comparison.
It’s worth a lifetime of dedication to be a part of that experience.
Plumbing the depths of your imagination
As a fan of Science Fiction and Action movies, I've always had a keen desire to draw. Along with 3d software packages, it's the most practical way to explore ideas and concepts. It's also a key skill to have as a film maker, for storyboarding, production design and visualisation. And apart form all that, drawing is fun, its a very rewarding way to spend time. As I found out, there's actually a strong psychological reason for this, but more on that later.
Can anyone learn to draw?
There is a pretty common belief that a person is born with a particular talent which you either have or haven't got. While there may be some truth to this, surely it cant apply to drawing? Can someone be born with the skills to make specific marks on paper? Or can you learn to do something, the same mechanical actions as another person, and achieve similar results?
I've been very interested in human performance and the ability to learn over the past few years. Its one of the key reasons that I decided to launch on this enormous undertaking. I'm assuming that I can develop all the skills I need through deliberate practice. A big basis for that assumption is the belief that skills such as drawing, cinematography, scriptwriting and editing can all be developed to a high standard, with dedicated passion, over a long period of time.
Suffice to say, I'm very motivated to develop good drawing skills, which is why I was delighted to stumble across Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain in a local bookstore a few weeks ago. Before I go on, here's a quick before and after.
I like the first image, but the second image seems a lot more confident. The lines are a lot more solid than the first. There's a difference of about 4 or 5 hours of specific lessons between the two.
Draw what you see not what your brain thinks you see
This is a pretty common message in instructional drawing, where the teacher will simply tell you to 'draw only what you see', but what does it really mean? I wondered myself after reading some books on the subject. It seems the advice is to simply continue your attempts to draw in the hope that you will improve. That's like handing Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason to a 3 year old and asking them to stick with it until they can read.
This book offers a different approach, and one that appeals to me because it offers some rational explanations for the ability to draw, and how your brain perceives objects. As many of you surely know, the brain is divided into two hemispheres, or halves. The left hemisphere (which controls the right hand) is primarily tasked with logical and symbolic processing. The right hemisphere is concerned with relationships, patterns and 'gestalts' or whole impressions.
When most people sit down to draw an object, they look at the object, decide what it is, and then they draw what they think the object looks like. This is key, if you look at a chair, and then try to draw it, you draw what your internal symbol system thinks a chair looks like. This symbol system is formed primarily in childhood which explains why many peoples drawings of real objects appear 'childlike'.
How to bypass your left brain
The key to drawing then, is to allow your self to 'see' with the right side of your brain. To actually observe the shapes, contours and spaces which form an image, instead of attempting to logically understand the object. The author coins this as slipping into 'R-mode', which is characterized as a form of concentration where time seems to pass without awareness. I recognise that as flow, and it fits perfectly with all of the great artistic experiences I have had.
The question is, how do you enter this state? This book takes an interesting approach, with the idea being to avoid the dominant left brain from handling the perception of what you see. For example, drawing images upside down is enough to confuse your left brain and allow the right brain to 'take over' the visual processing.
Another technique is to practice blind contour drawing. This involves following minute details on an object, such as your hand, very intently. You make marks on the paper which correspond to the movement of your eye over the details, without looking at the paper. It seems the intense concentration on these minute details will eventually cause your left brain to recede, almost out of boredom, and allow your right brain to step in and take over.
Maintaining perspective, the importance of goals
Its all to easy to lose focus when you start out on any kind of improvement. Looking at some incredible artwork is truly inspiring. It's also a little sobering. As much as I would love to develop those skills myself, I simply don't have the kind of time that would take. Having (and regularly reviewing) goals really shows its worth here, where it would be all to easy to become engrossed in the development of a particular skill.
Everyone can and should learn to draw
I'm a firm believer that any form of creative expression is its own reward. Producing images from your imagination is an amazing experience. Couple that with the benefits of a way to alter your visual perception of the world around you, and you have an opportunity to make a real impact on your life.
If you have been wondering whether or not you can learn to draw, I'm pleased to say that if you can write your own name, you can learn to draw. So what's stopping you?
It seems like an opportunity to grow always comes when you least expect it..
A short while back I went to a screening of Francesca, playing as part of the local Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. As my girlfriend is Romanian she got the tickets and was keen to go, but couldn’t make it in the end. After a bit of humming and hawing I decided to go alone, something I generally don’t like to do.
Now as I was leaving, I looked the movie up on the film festival website (which, but the way, was not very easy). They mentioned that the director, Bobby Paunescu, would be there. As I read it, I realised I had an opportunity to speak to a real life film director, a person already far along the path I’m undertaking. Naturally, this freaked me out.
Networking is tough when you’re starting out
Why? Because its scary walking up to a complete stranger, especially one you respect, and trying not to seem foolish or inexperienced. And if you’re just some random guy off the street you know for a fact that’s exactly how you will seem. I’m not sure how I managed to overcome that feeling this time round, but I made a firm decision – come hell or high water – I was going to talk to this person. I don’t care if he’s being mobbed by the entire theatre, I’ll push my way through. Not only that, I’m also going to ask him for some contact details.
The film itself was very engaging, I wont go into it too much, there’s plenty of details and clips on the web covering it. It’s bleak, no doubt, but there is a sense of upbeat hope throughout that really reminds me of Romania itself, something the director covered in a talk after the lights came up.
I asked one or two questions, about how he got started, what advice he had for someone else starting out. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that little or no black magic was involved. Hard work, dedication and the desire to do it was the vibe I picked up. It was round about this time that the Q&A came to an end, and the theatre started emptying.
I had to make my move, if I didn’t do it now, I never would.
Man, I must have seemed VERY green, embarrassingly green..
As I was walking up, two or three men beat me to it and formed a closed set around him. They were speaking Romanian, and as I got closer I realised one of them was the Romanian Ambassador to Ireland (whom I met before, oddly enough). By now it was too late. I couldn’t pretend to be doing anything but approaching them. I was in their space and there was no turning back.
I awkwardly barged my way into the small group, shook hands with all present and just blurted out a request for contact details. I was so nervous after writing them down that I could barely put the cap back on my pen. In fact, I don’t think I could manage it and just shoved it into my pocket, hoping no one had noticed. I’m sure they all did.
What’s the message here?
I’m sure you can see it coming. There’s no particularly earth shattering revelation here, and the experience is only really relevant to me. What I would say however, is that there was a sense of reality about what I did. Once you take a step and interact with the world, thoughts and wishes start to materialise into something you can actually see, and work with. It becomes a plan, a goal you can follow. Until you take that leap, its just a thought, easily postponed, regretted, and eventually forgotten.
That’s what I’m trying to do with this blog, put myself out to as many different people as possible, receive as much feedback as possible, and start pushing myself to do all the things I don’t want to do, but I know I have to do.
Create a visually ground-breaking action/sci-fi motion picture and release it to stunning critical acclaim and financial success.
In about 15 years time.
Right now, all I have is that goal, a burning passion and some rough ideas.
This blog will track my progress, I invite you to join me, and hopefully participate.