Monday, July 31, 2006

Prom 23

Prom 23, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

The best seats I've ever had in the Royal Albert Hall.

It's All Lies

Here we go again. A photographer has been fired from the Charlotte Observer for altering the colour of a sky in a picture. Quoted from here:

"Accuracy is among our most sacred journalistic values. That goes for the photographs, as well as the words, that we publish."

So tell me, O wise editors of the Charlotte Observer, when a photographer crops a photo does that make it less accurate? When they frame their image to include one thing and exclude another does that make it less accurate? When they choose a higher ISO setting and get a grittier, grainier result, does that make it less accurate? When your printer prints your picture with too much magenta because newspaper printers never reproduce colour with any kind of consistency, does that make it less accurate? When the photographer shoots with a telephoto lens to compress the depth of a shot, does that make it less accurate? When a photographer shoots from a low angle to make a more dramatic image, is that less accurate?

When is a photograph accurate? The answer is never. Berndt and Hiller Bescher, the German photographers who inspired people like Andreas Gursky have spent an entire career taking pictures of water towers and blast furnaces from exactly the same angle on flatly illuminated days and printed them with as little contrast as possible in order to retain detail to try and prove that photography can be objective. And they fail utterly. Why? Because it is impossible for a photograph to be objective. It is taken by an individual, who by necessity must crop some things out when he or she frames the image and also by the position they choose to take the shot from. Even given perfect mechanical reproduction these two factors alone preclude objectivity. Once the subjectively selected photons penetrate the lens the colour response of the camera sensor or film will further change the look (whether it is done deliberately or not) and then the picture will probably be cropped further once it hits the picture editor's desk.

You don't have to use Photoshop to manipulate images, you do it automatically by taking the damn picture in the first place. This notion of objectivity that journalists cling onto is a fraud, and its persistence in our mass-media culture is pernicious and I know I bang on about this, but the sooner the general perception of all images is that they are "subjective", if you are feeling charitable and "fake" if you're being brutally honest the better this world will be. Let's not forget it's photo (light) graphy (drawing) not "photomimikos" or whatever light-copying would be. Right my blood-pressure's gone through the roof again. Nurse, where's my medication?

Hat tip to Pimplomat for drawing my attention to this lunacy.


Sunday, July 30, 2006

A Highly Londonish Weekend

Saturday started more abruptly than I'd hoped as I realised whilst relaxing in Tinseltroos' flat that my Prom ticket was not in her flat but was rather in my flat which was most unhelpful of it. So having pulled on some shoes I raced across town, looked at the queues of buses held up by the extensive roadworks, and decided to get the train back to Atrocity Mansions.

Once there I changed into fresh clothes (still hellish hot) grabbed my ticket and got a bus to Victoria. I walked from there to The Royal Albert Hall, approaching from the South so I could see where they filmed bits of "The Ipcress File". Inside the hall I met The Furry Straaayan and Tinseltroos, who was sporting a top to show off her new tattoo, mostly for the benefit of her parents who we met after the concert and hadn't seen it. The tattoo is really beautiful.

The concert was amazing. Gershwin, Orlando Gough, Poulenc, Bernstein choral works. The BBC is allowing streaming of the concerts for a week after they air, so if you're interested Prom 20 is the one I'm referring to. The first Orlando Gough piece featured a circle of singers spaced around the Gods of the hall singing a low chant which filled the hall. Positioned at either end of the hall were two vocalists who sang a call and response piece in what sounded Arabic to me. There was also a full orchestra and a huge choir for the other pieces. I think the second half which featured a specially written piece by Gough and Caryl Churchill and the Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms" were especially good.

After the show Tinseltroos and I headed back into town and went out for dinner with the 'rents and her sister. I hadn't met the Creators of Tinseltroos before and it's always a bit nerve-wracking being introduced to the parents of your love for the first time. I think I managed to avoid making a complete tit of myself and had a lovely evening. It's always interesting to watch how people you know well behave completely differently around their parents and how they slot back into "Family Mode". Perhaps it's different for families who are split up by divorce but I'm most aware of it in families which are intact. There's probably an anthropology doctorate in there for someone.

After the meal Tinseltroos and I headed back to Atrocity Mansions for the night. We watched "Escape from New York", which I love and she didn't. I'm writing this listening to the soundtrack which I've just downloaded from iTunes.

Today I went to Lord's for a very entertaining day's play, Middlesex beating Durham by 13 runs. Much beer and cake was consumed and a good time had by all.

I love London, I can't think of anywhere else I'd be able to all these things I love so much.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Nerds Gone Wild (Vol 1)

We all love eBay. Who doesn't? And now we all live in a Bloggy wonderland of RSS feeds the notion of using an RSS reader to collate all the crap we want to fill our lives with has ceased to be weird, scary and dangerously new. So it was with a particularly nerdy delight that I discovered today that eBay will automagically generate an RSS feed for any search term you put in. Any time an item is added to eBay that fits your search terms it'll generate an article to be put into your RSS feed. How cool is that?

There's always a couple of things I'd like to bid on if they start at the right price and now I don't have to go and religiously check eBay every day to see if something's been added. This pleases me. Probably more than it should to be honest, but then I'm an unashamed geek and when bits of technology just work like this it makes the world a slightly better place to be.

So if someone could put an Apple Newton, an Ibanez Low-Pro locking tremolo and a pair of Quad 11L loudspeakers for ridiculously little money on the eBays I'd be even happier.


So far they've only turned off the air-con here, so I can still theoretically work, I just can't actually work because I'm melting. These people are now higher on the list of complete bastards than the rail companies last Saturday.

I'm a tallish, pale-skinned North-European. I am not built for this kind of weather. I am certainly not built for it when encased in a 1980s office building that has no openable windows and the air-con's switched off. Meh.

OK sulk over, at least Sohonet's power's back on so "the series of tubes" are unbunged and working again.

Today, I'd like to get new version of the five shots I have to do for the HPatOotP trailer and I'd like Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook to score about 200 runs each please.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Scary as Hell

Today I nearly lost 2 weeks of work as my workstation hard-drive gasps and wheezes in its death throes. I should have seen the warning signs that the day was going to go awry when I left my iPod at Tinseltroos' flat. This meant that I was going to be subjected to the vagaries of the studio's radio and since I had a lot to get done I wanted to shut myself off in my own little world.

After a reasonably fruitful morning's work (despite the horrid music) I borrowed Tinseltroos' keys and went back to her flat to collect my noises. This in hand I headed back to the office ready to get properly stuck into the afternoon's task at hand.

I started to get an inkling that something was wrong as the directory structure on my machine began to misbehave; then I decided that a reboot was in order and all hell broke loose. The hard drive had corrupted itself. I suspect the shockingly bad power supply in London's West End this week may be partly culpable but the end result was no data, no bootable machine and potentially a lot of art work lost. If I'd spent the last fortnight coding, or doing more technical tasks I don't think I'd have felt as sick. Granted it would be dull to have to redo it all but I would be pretty confident that I could recreate everything exactly as it had been before. But the last two weeks I've been engaged on creating concept art for a key sequence of HPatOotP. It's been the most amazing fun, as I actually get some say in how the sequence will be designed and I got to do some painting as well as 3D CG work to create the concepts that were sent to the clients. Fantastic. The problem is that it's a very organic, creative process and as they say, lightning doesn't strike twice - there's no way I'd be able to recreate these pieces of design again. I could do something in a similar style, but it wouldn't be the same and it's very hard to motivate yourself artistically if you know that you're trying to retread old ground.

Fortunately, the Tech Droids at work were able to (temporarily) rehabilitate my drive. I now have to keep my fingers crossed that it can survive the night till a new drive can be fitted tomorrow. Whatever happens now I won't feel as bad as I did at 4 o'clock today when I first thought I'd lost it all.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Now tell me the world isn't a fabulous place

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Coke Zero

Oh joy. So now the UK has "Coke-Zero", Coca-Cola with no sugar in it, or to put it in terms we all understand, "Diet Coke". I assume the new name is make it much more masculine and edgy for all of we boys who are not too comfortable with our sexuality and are terrified of anything that might be seen as effeminate like, apparently, the word "diet". So you remove the sugar (half the reason for drinking the damn stuff) and give it a harder name. I propose to remove the caffeine (the only other ingredient that makes Coke worth drinking) and by extrapolating the naming policy call it "Coke - Grrr Punch Head". I look forward to picking up a bottle soon and reveling in my own machismo.


Monday, July 24, 2006

Fancy Dress

Triumvirate of evil, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

This weekend was Vivswindy's barbecue spectacular. And spectacular it was. Above is a photo of me as MacReady, Vivswindy as Captain Jack Sparrow and Tinseltroos as Laura Palmer.

Tinseltroos and I departed London Euston on Saturday morning and discovered that due to computer crappage all seat booking information was lost so we couldn't sit together. I got to sit next to some fat old geezer who spent the entire journey looking disapprovingly at my iPod and choices of magazines (Private Eye and American Cinematographer) whilst simultaneaously spreading his copy of The Financial Times as wide as possible and picking his nose. Charming. Eventually we arrived in Crewe, the town of my birth, which is notable only for it's huge train station. After a suspicious BLT and a drink we got a tiny train bound for the North Wales' coast. I'd booked seats in Coach B so you can imagine our disappointment when only coaches A and C turned up. There were many other disappointed faces too in the packed carriages as we all tried to cram ourselves in amongst the suitcases of those going on holiday and the pushchairs. That said, it did improve my opinion of human kind as fellow passengers helped those in wheelchairs negotiate the luggage and sorted out luggage for the elderly holiday makers.

Finally we arrived at Rhyl, which is not an example of provincial lovliness. It has in fact been a long contention of mine that the Welsh, not known for their love of the English, conspired to have the towns of Wrexham and Rhyl just over the border to ward off any English visitors, the theory being that anyone encountering either town would turn and flee back whence they came. It's a pity because North Wales beyond these towns is incredibly beautiful. Vivswindy collected us from the station and, with the windows wound up and the doors locked, drove us at speed away from the horrors of Rhyl and back to St. Asaph to his parents' house where the party was to be held.

As we were a few hours early we helped set up tables, and rearrange the furniture ready for the revellers and then at about 6.30 we all trooped off to our rooms to get changed. It took me about 15 minutes to successfully brace the hattest hat with enough double sided sticky-tape and masking tape to be confident it would survive the evening. Once that was done my costume took about four minutes to change into. Meanwhile, Tinseltroos had to apply bluish, deathly make-up, wet look hair gel into which bulger wheat was poured to add a river gritted look and only then could the actual costume go on. I taped her into her plastic-sheet fabulousness and we were ready to go.

After a couple of brief heavy showers, which improved Tinseltroos' authetic "just dragged out of a river"look and threatened to turn part of my costume into papier mâché, the skies cleared and it was lovely for the rest of the evening. Everybody looked fabulous and most had made a real effort with their costumes. Inevitably some were too cool for school and couldn't bring themselves to look a bit silly by dressing up, but that was their loss I felt. It's one of the best aspects of fancy-dress that it really breaks the ice with people you don't know if you can chat about each other's costumes. We met some really cool people, and it was great that there were people who'd been Vivswindy's teachers at school, people like me who were contemporaries of his at college and also some of his current students (he teaches film to 16-18 year olds). A really good mixture of people. So we all ate, drank a lot of beer, danced, played air-guitar, and chatted until the wee small hours.

After a few hours sleep in the softest bed I've plonked myself into (imagine being dropped into a king-size marshmallow) we got up and helped clear up the detritus in the garden. Many buckets were filled with cans and bottles. I'm not sure North Wales' recycling services will quite be able to cope but that didn't deter us and after a while the recycling was sorted and most of the mess cleared up. Then we all decamped to the pub for Sunday lunch and hair of the dog till it was time to be driven back to Rhyl (also at high speed with the doors locked) and thence onto trains back to London. The return journey was much better and we got back to Euston ten minutes early, tired and sleepy but very happy after a fantastic weekend. It may have only been one night away, but I really feel like I've had a mini-holiday.

And the hattest hat survived the whole ordeal. Result.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Me and Sam

Tonight, The Tall American and I went to see "Fool For Love" a play by Sam Shepard. She is a very big fan of his work and on matters cultural I trust her taste and sensibilities. Earlier on in the year we'd also been to see "The Late Henry Moss", another Shepard play. I am not a very experienced theatre goer and so over the last year or so I have made a conscious effort to go as often as I could as I felt I must be missing out on something. Here's a quick precis of what I have seen, what I thought of it and what it cost me:

Iphigeneia at Aulis - Willfully horrid prosaic language translation robs the play of any poetry or soul. £25
The Philadelphia Story - Utterly unfunny and charmless with terrible accents and no cast interaction. We all left at the second interval. £30
The Late Henry Moss - Didn't really know what to make of it. Suspected it of being Emperor's new clothes. £25
The Producers - Hilarious. £30
The Exonerated - Preachy and strangely uninvolving. £20
Woycek - Icelandic style over substance rendition of German modernist play. Visually and musically very impressive though. £25
Fuerzabruta - Amazing Argentian dance/performance piece. Jaw droppingly good. £25
Fool For Love - The Emperor is indeed naked. It was the same play as "The Late Henry Moss". £25 (but should have been £50)

And I do mean to all intents and purposes identical. They both go like this :

INT: Small grubby room in Deep South. Two siblings face each other. Their dead dad is stage left.

Sibling1 : Everything's screwed up.
Sibling2 : Well it all began to go wrong when you did something a long time ago...It was a dark and stormy night...
Sibling1 : That's not how it happened at all. It was like this...It was a warm spring morning...
Dead Dad : No, none of that's the truth. Here's a rambling but nicely observed anecdote about the past...
Sibling1 : You all done?
Dead Dad : Yup, I'll go back to being dead in the corner.
Sibling2 : Hey Sibling1, everything's still fucked, I'm angry and it's your fault.
Sibling1 : Fuck you! It's all your fault and maybe dad's too.
Sibling2 : How can you say that? And what of mother?


Inoffensive Friendly Character : Hello, I'm the inoffensive friendly character who's nice to people and doesn't shout.
Sibling1 : I hate you and I shall now hit you, though we've only just met and you've done nothing.


Inoffensive Friendly Character : Oww. What did you do that for? I shall go and provide very mild comic relief and sit meekly in the corner to show how angry you two are in comparison to me.
Sibling1 : Shut the fuck up.
Sibling2 : Don't talk to him like that. I shall hit you now.


Sibling1 : Oww. Everything's still fucked up isn't it?
SIbling2 : Yes and we can't agree on the past, the present or about dad.
Sibling1 : But what about mother?
Sibling2 : Mother killed herself.
Sibling1 : Hey that's right? Jeez since we're talking about our dead dad and all I thought maybe we'd have remembered that earlier in the narrative? Guess not.
Inoffensive Friendly Character : I'm scared. I shall run away.
Sibling1 : No you won't I shall hit you again and then bar the door in a very macho manner to emphasise my masculinity.


Sibling2 : Oh God, dad's still dead.
Dead Dad : Yup I am, here's another flashback....
Sibling1 : I hate you Sibling2.
Sibling2 : I hate you too, Sibling1.
Sibling1 : Hey I guess we've found narrative closure in our hatred.


When I saw "The Late Henry Moss" I felt perhaps I'd missed something. Perhaps my lack of theatre experience meant that this play, with no narrative as such, no real emotional grounding of its characters, who are generally not likeable, nor interesting and who shout at each other in uninspired if occasionally wry dialogue had a depth I was missing. I certainly didn't feel that inspiration had struck in the staging nor the performances which were played in that faux naturalism that only the overly theatrical can achieve. Neither fish nor fowl. Tonight, right now, I have this strange sense of deja vu, I've just seen the same play again and I feel cheated and quite angry. I don't know whether it's Shepard himself; I certainly can't remember a single line of dialogue from either play so as a wordsmith I am unsure of his qualities and I found the play pretentiously structured in ways that if attempted by Hollywood would be, rightly, decried as ham-fisted and hackneyed.

And yet both are four star plays according to the critics. In fact all the plays I've seen have received positive, if not always utterly glowing reviews. Yet if I look back, apart from "The Producers" which has nostalgic value and so cannot be judged fairly, the only play to really make me feel something was "Fuerzabruta", which admittedly is amongst the most amazing and profoundly moving artistic experiences of my life. As for the others, I don't understand what I'm missing.

I am told that these plays are either good or very good and yet I feel almost nothing at best , or at worst like tonight I actually leave the theatre seething that not only have I given up 2 hours of my life to this tripe, it's cost me twenty five quid for the privilege. I resent that. If a film were that bad I'd be furious but it wouldn't have cost £25 and if a gig were that bad I wouldn't see that band again, and I'd have left after three songs. And yet the theatre keeps expensively underwhelming me. Perhaps I have been very unlucky? Perhaps I'm not culturally sophisticated enough to appreciate the artform? Perhaps I am far too demanding and picky? But then why shouldn't I be? £25 for an average ticket is expensive and generally for my money I'm seeing a lot of people who seem to be going through the motions - not the visceral, magical, human experience I'd been led to believe I would feel.

From now on I am going to think twice about going to see mainstream theatre. I've given it a year of seeing all that I have been given the option to and by and large I am deeply unimpressed, and that depresses me as I was expecting so much. But maybe the problem lies closer to home.

I'm sorry, Sam, I just don't get it.

Nom de Plume (Attack of the Clones)

The BBC has an interesting article on those who have been dooced, following on from the latest case of petiteanglaise.

I am more certain than ever that I'm keeping my secret blogging alter-ego extant.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Nom de Plume

This post from the very non-anonymous Eric Grubbs at Theme Park Experience takes to task the vitriolic (and often barely literate) anonymous commenters on blogs but goes on to question why people feel the need to hide behind a mask when they write blogs. I stand guilty as charged. I am hiding behind a nom-de-plume at this moment. So I feel now is perhaps the time to have a think about why.

First up I should probably say that there is almost no-one who reads this rubbish who doesn't know who I am, but perhaps there are a few who stop by with whom I'm not personally acquainted. Hello. So why the pretence? Well I think it's two-fold, one part pragmatic and one part psychological.

The pragmatic part is very straight-forward. I work in an industry whose output is very public. Within that industry I am a little known, mostly due to having a website devoted to the work I do which is quite popular and also because I've been interviewed about a couple of blockbusters that I've worked on over recent time. Those interviews were done under the auspices of my employers at the time. I have a corporate responsibility to my employers, who are very well-known within the industry. Therefore my real identity is already taken up with and bound to a certain aspect of my life and if I wish to continue to discuss the work we do publicly (which I do) as well as representing the companies for whom I work I feel that I cannot also use that identity to discuss personal matters which may or may not pertain to the work I and they do. Google is very powerful and if the private-ish misgivings that I may discuss here were connected to my public persona there is the possibility of causing embarrassment in the future to my employers or their clients so I took the nom-de-plume, which is ironically, more akin to the "real me" than the site that bears my name, to avert that possibility.

My second reason for choosing a nom-de-plume is that when I began writing the blog I didn't know quite what I would write about; whether it would be a very personal, diaryish account of my life or something of perhaps more general interest. As it's turned out, it has been something of both, but when I started I didn't know whether I would be writing about things that I might get embarrassed about if they were known and connected to me personally. It is one of the beauties of the internet is that we can be very public in one sense and yet utterly anonymous in another. It offers us a freedom of expression which has never been available before. I can read what appear to be the innermost thoughts of people I will never meet and as such I feel I get a deeper insight into what it is be human and I don't need that person's real identity in order to connect. Obviously if a blog sets out to defame a named and identifiable third party and yet its author hides behind a pseudonym then that is cowardice yet most anonymous authors I read have pseudonyms for the people they write about as well as themselves.

Now that many of my friends know about this blog and because I don't try and court controversy I suppose that reason's not so valid, but I must admit that even so I find it quite liberating to write under a name that is not my own and to create this persona to which the rest of the world relates. Mr Atrocity is quite like me, though I certainly don't tell all here, and the real me uses far more good, solid Anglo-Saxon vernacular in his day-to-day dealings than your erstwhile host, but as long as the air of anonymity persists I can be much more candid than if it were written under my real name for both the practical reasons listed above and the emotional crutch reason I have just described. It is easier for me to be honest about myself and those about whom I write if our public identities remain concealed.

It isn't a question of avoiding libel or ducking out of responsibility for my actions or words; unkind comments would hurt the real me as much as they would Mr Atrocity, but the point is that whether we use our real names or not, when we write we create a persona, which may be very like us, but it isn't actually us. It's akin to a literary puppet, a character we control, into whose mouth we insert words and whose pain we feel, but ultimately we are not the same person and I like the defined differentiation between me and my pen-name as linked but not identical personalities.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

R J MacReady

MacReady Flight Suit, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

Next weekend I'm going up to North Wales for my chum Vivswindy's birthday fancy dress party and barbecue. The theme is the same every year - "film", and as always he will have made some amazing costume to out-do everyone else. We are talking about a man who contacted the people who made the actual leather jacket for "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and got them to make him a facsimile when he decided to dress as Indiana Jones one year. Attention to detail is key.

I am not quite so focused, but I like to dress up as much as the next kid and particularly enjoy the fun of "make and do". Last year I went as Number 6 from "The Prisoner" and spent a painful afternoon hand stitching white piping around the edge of a blazer only to discover that my pal Root had a sewing machine. Bugger.

Anyway, this year in honour of my new facial hair I decided it would be churlish not to pick a character from the fine body of work of Mr Kurt Russell, who is probably my favourite cult actor (and not just for the beard). Initially I toyed with being Snake Plisskin, but quickly realised that the number of bicep curls I'd have to do in order to get the costume to fit was too much like hard-work so I settled on R J MacReady from "The Thing". To that end I have spent the afternoon painting the name-badge and general crud onto a cheap pair of overalls which will make a serviceable flight-suit. I have soaked a white, long-sleeved T-shirt in the dirty water I cleaned my brushes in to get a nice grimy feel and have procured snow goggles from eBay. Boots have been sourced, so the only thing left to make is the hat. Oh the hat! The very hat of hats or as it was described here, the hat that's "so hat I can't even begin to describe how hat it is." I have tried to get Mounties' hats from eBay but the damn stores in the US never got back to me to tell me if they could ship it here in time so it looks like it will have to be a papercraft spectacular, a bit like my Ent Costume of a couple of years ago. It's a shame really as I absolutely love the hat he wears and I'd like to have done it "properly". As it is, I fear it'll have to be brown card and camera tape and keep my fingers crossed it doesn't dissolve into papier mâché. I will also have to purchase a bottle of J & B in the week which will double as booze for the party and that final piece of costume attention to detail.

I'm so excited about the whole thing. I just got a text from the lovely Tinseltroos to say she has finished her costume too, so North Wales be afraid. Be very afraid.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Job Rant (redux)

Added emphasis for this piece on the retarded way CG effects are reported in the mainstream media by way of an example. From Bob Strauss' SGV Tribune article on "Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest" :
Proof he [Bill Nighy is] a great actor? You recognize him in "Dead Man's Chest," even though the demonic Davy's face is entirely covered by an octopus-like cephalopod generated by Industrial Light & Magic computers.
Now there I was, all ready with my overnight bag packed, my best piece of 2x4 flight-cased and my mouse hovering over the "Buy it now" button on B.A.'s transatlantic flight website when it struck me. "Why would I want to go and pummel Mr. Strauss' face to a pulp when it's his wordprocessor that wrote the article?" I feel a lot better now. Thank goodness Bob had nothing to do with it.

You see my point?


P.S. Pirates 2 is the most fun I've had watching a big summer movie probably since the last one. I would have quite happily watched the whole shebang again straight after the credits had rolled. As it is I shall have to wait until Saturday to see it again .


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I am Doomed

The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Sixth Level of Hell - The City of Dis!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:

Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Moderate
Level 2 (Lustful)High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Very Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Low
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very High
Level 7 (Violent)High
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Low
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Low

Monday, July 10, 2006

Mini Bakewell Tarts

Mini Bakewell Tarts, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

I was inspired by the fantastic bakingforbritain and Spittoon to make some Bakewell Tarts this weekend as the website has been campaigning for people to resurrect this fine traditional recipe from obscurity or worse, the evil clutches of the cake's arch nemesis, "Mr Kipling", or should I say, Ernst Stavro Kipling, hmmmm?

Tinseltroos and I took a wander up Marylebone High Street and as well as stopping of at La Fromagerie, where I got some amazing Alsatian cheese (that's cheese from Alsace not cheese made from dog milk) and then onto Divertimenti where I needed to get cake tins. They only had fairy cake sized tins so I ended up making the mini Bakewell Tarts you see above. Really simple to do, just make some sweet short crust pasty and line the tins. Put a good dollop of decent jam in each. Then beat sugar and egg, once it's creamy in texture fold in ground almonds and melted butter. Put a spoonful of the mixture on top of the jam and put in the oven at 180 degrees celsius for about 15-20 minutes, until the tops go golden. Perfect little treats.


Friday, July 07, 2006

Relaxing Summer Mix

So it's still too hot for me, and I need something to listen to whilst I sup a relaxing beverage. This would be it then:

Fly Me to the Moon - Julie London
Flying - The Beatles
California Dreaming - The Mamas and The Papas
Three is the Magic Number - Bob Dorough
Gandma's Hands - Bill Withers
Hazy Jane I - Nick Drake
Bring it Back Again - The Earlies
Cookie Bay - The High Llamas
This is Not a Love Song - The Nouvelle Vague
Oye Como Va - Santana
Listen Here - G.U.R.U.
Funky Mama (Pt1) - Lou Donaldson
The Girl From Ipanema - Stan Getz and João Gilberto
Glad - Traffic
Hey Baby - J.J. Cale
I Hear You Talkin' - US 69
Guinnevere - Crosby, Stills and Nash (and Young)
Summer's in my Hair - Mouse

I seem to recall on the previous mixtape/playlist-thingummy post promising some artwork. Hmmm, well it may yet come to pass.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Job Rant

Nuts to the lot of 'em I say.

This article from the BBC has finally tipped me over the edge and now I'm going to vent on an issue that raised my ire consistently over the last few years.

First up a disclaimer. I make CG visual effects for feature films for a living. I have been lucky enough to work on some huge film projects and smaller shows too. I have been doing this for several years and cannot think of another job I'd rather have. It is perfect for my half artist, half nerd personality and allows me to create what is, to all intents and purposes, magic. What continues to annoy and upset me is how our work is presented by the media and (mis)understood by the public.

I am sick of films being dismissed as "just an effects movie", or praised by the classic reviewer's line, "this film is great because it doesn't have CG effects in it". Oh really? Wanna bet? The number of films that have nothing done to them in post-production these days is miniscule. Whether it's replacement of a sky, the removal of spots from an actor's face, or the creation of entire shots we are everywhere. It's all lies, every last frame of it. I find this idea that CG somehow makes films worse utterly unconvincing, and this popular perception persists for two reasons I believe. People don't understand how we do what we do, and they are terrified of feeling duped by something they perceive as being "fake".

The first part is pure ignorance. When it was suggested to me by a journalist who was doing an interview that the computer did all my work for me I was prompted to ask whether his wordprocessor did all his for him too? There seems to be an assumption that people like me get into work in the morning, press "d" for dinosaur, then "a" for animate and Jurassic Park pukes out of the back of the computer.

It is, you will be unsurprised to learn, a little more involved than that. The technical and artistic talent of the people I am lucky enough to work with is astronomical. There are painters, sculptors, photographers, mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists, film-makers and so on. Many are multi-disciplinary in their skills; genuinely amazing people. And it requires their tremendous combined talent and huge expenditure of energy over long periods of time. A film's effects generally takes a year to complete, far longer than the time a crew works on set for. There are times when what we do is obvious; dinosaurs no longer exist, you can't film an epic space battle or a giant ape because they don't exist. No matter how good the work that is done on such projects it will always be obvious that it's an effect, and they are derided as such.

That many effects in the past were achieved by matte paintings or the like isn't somehow perceived in the same way though. I believe this is because it is easier to understand, conceptually for the layman, that someone with enormous artistic skill could paint an image onto glass that is so convincing that you believe it to be real. With CG, the belief is that since "the computer does all the work" it is cheating and not as good. Understanding CG is not easy, indeed it's been my entire career to date to figure out that little I have managed to learn and there is still so much I don't yet understand. You need a reasonable knowledge of trigonometry, computing, art history, photography, optical physics, film chemistry and so in order to become really good. It's a very steep learning curve and as with most things that are complicated it has its own insular set of acronyms and jargon; BRDF, NURBS, sub-divs, sub-surface scattering, lattices, ambient occlusion, inverse kinematics etc. etc. To explain any of these concepts is difficult, but what won't do is taking the cop-out view that either "The computer does it" or that an "actor performs and then the computer puts this onto a character". That sells CG artists short, and gives fuel to those who see CG as "fake" and less worthy than films without effects.

I have a little shocking news for these people. All films are fake. Everything in them is fake, whether they are sets that only go up to head height or the simple act of framing up a shot; it's all a trick. And yet people refuse to see this. They get very indignant when they find that extensive retouching is done on every advertising or magazine image. What did they expect? The maxim that the camera never lies is one of the most pernicious axioms of our time. It would be truer to say the camera only lies; it can do nothing else. Even documentaries, because they are edited, because the shots are framed in a certain way, the colours are treated to give a certain look are fake. But movies? C'mon everything is phony; they're a big lie from beginning to end. It's what we do. I have a motto, "Better films through trickery and deceit". I didn't invent it but it sums up what I believe the contribution of the visual effects industry is, and I'm not going to let the ignorance of a small group of ignorami, luddites and nay-sayers belittle what this industry achieves.

The issue is not with visual effects artists or the industry, the issue is that the public has a hard time accepting that an image is manipulated, as they see it, it's a con and we're trying to make fools of them. Not so, the only foolish behaviour is to believe that anything you see on a screen is real. The sooner every image is accepted merely for what it purports to show and that it has no deeper meaning or reality than that, the better off we will all be. Sadly I do not see that happening any time soon and as I result I expect more ill-informed clap-trap about what visual effects are and how they are created for the foreseeable future.

OK rant over (for now), thanks for listening.