Sunday, November 26, 2006

My Desk Area

My Desk Area, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

I'm posting this by way of showing the picture I bought and which LC has been looking after for me. I suppose I shall have to find real wall space for it at some point, but at the moment I'm content to let "Bubble-Guggle" watch over me as I work at my desk. He's also serving the dual function of obscuring the story boards you can just see poking out from behind him and which are for a project I planned out nearly a year ago and have done no more with.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Meme Silliness

More meme-type nonsense, but what the hell, it's Friday and my renders are sloooooow.

You scored as II - The High Priestess. The High Priestess is a card of intuition, instinct and hidden knowledge. She knows all your secrets, you can hide nothing from her. Yet you will never know the secrets she herself protects.If well aspected in a Tarot spread, this card can indicate the use of intuition to solve problems; trust to your instincts. If badly aspected, it can mean suppression and ignoring of such instincts - following your head at the expense of your heart.

II - The High Priestess


IV - The Emperor


XI: Justice


VIII - Strength


I - Magician


XIX: The Sun


XIII: Death


X - Wheel of Fortune


VI: The Lovers


XVI: The Tower


0 - The Fool


III - The Empress


XV: The Devil


Which Major Arcana Tarot Card Are You?
created with

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Grim Future for the Blockbuster?

Science fiction author and liberalising copyright evangelist, Cory Doctorow, has written a piece for Locus in which he argues that the future of mega-budget blockbusters is threatened by the new generation of high-definition televisions.

Doctorow's thesis is that making blockbuster movies is expensive. The amount $200 million is used repeatedly in the article. Whilst some films cost this much and perhaps more, many films that have all the trappings of blockbusters are made for a fraction of this. Much of this $200 million budget, Doctorow suggests, is spent on "special effects". I think he means visual effects, i.e. those created in post-production rather than special effects, those created on set but let us not quibble:

Special effects have come to define each season's new hotness at the box-office. Since the days of morphing, we've gone to the big screen in order to see what impossibility was wrought by the new crop of computer wizarding tools. Whether it's flying Yodas, morphing Terminators, or lumbering Ents, nothing is so memorable about a movie than the impossible things we see on the screen. And no genre is more amenable to visual impossibilities than science fiction.

Every year, the effects are more impressive, the impossible more daring. That's because today's special effects are almost universally generated on computers, and computers get better every year.

There is no denying that the increase in the power of computing has enabled artists to create effects which were previously too computationally expensive but this only tells half the story. There has also been a comensurate increase in the knowledge base of these artists and the techniques used to create the majority of effects have become streamlined whilst production pipelines became more efficient. If you give a group of graduates in computer graphics access to the most powerful render-farm in the world they will not produce work of the quality of experienced artists. The technology assists, but it is the brains that use the technology that make the magic; the tools do nothing by themselves, however new-fangled they may be. Having acknowledged that CGI can be pretty, Doctorow continues:

It's a good reason to go to the box-office, but it's also the source of an awful paradox: yesterday's jaw-dropping movies are today's kitschy crap. By next year, the custom tools that filmmakers develop for this year's blockbuster will be available to every hack commercial director making a Coke ad. What's more, the Coke ads and crummy sitcoms will run on faster, cheaper hardware and be available to a huge pool of creators, who will actually push the technology further, producing work that is in many cases visually superior to the big studio product from last summer.

Not only is this rather insulting to the directors of commercials but there are also some factual inaccuracies that need addressing. Most of the cutting edge work done in film visual effects is created using proprietary software written in-house to address the needs of a specific project. These are closely guarded secrets and because the livelihood of every CG studio depends upon the the skills of the artists and the tools which are created to enhance the way they work these new techniques are not widely disseminated.

There is a trickle down of technology into the public sector to be sure, but it is watered down and made more generic by necessity. The manufacturer of 3D software wants to be all things to all people in order to maximise the potential customer base. The software must be able to produce reasonable quality results in a huge number of creative situations. Bespoke software, written by CG studios is designed to solve one specific problem that a particular project has and solve it utterly. This is why no matter how much an individual may spend on off-the-shelf software they will not have access to the quality of tools used to create film visual effects.

I can think of no circumstance where "a large pool of creators" has pushed the technology created for feature films further than their predecessors in a year. An example of the opposite argument: The best dinosaurs yet seen on television are probably those from the "Walking With Dinosaurs" series, the latest installment of which was made within the last 12 months. There is a very talented team working on these shows using for the most part off-the-shelf technology because the production schedules and budgets of TV do not allow for the creation and use of bespoke technology. Their achievement is impressive and yet can still not compete in terms of quality with "The Lost World" which is now nearly a decade old. Therefore to say that which is the pinnacle of visual effects one summer is trash by the next is manifestly untrue.

Doctorow believes that the next nail in the coffin of the blockbuster comes from high-definition televisions:

HD is poison for special-effects movies. Whatever sins are hidden in a standard-definition 12-inch TV set are thrown into stark relief by big, crisp displays. Whatever longevity can be wrung from a movie by releasing it to smaller, more forgiving screens is cut short by the living-room behemoths that are being pushed on us today.

High-definition screens offer pictures which can be more than 4 times sharper than standard televisions. The maximum resolution these devices can run at is a whopping 1920x1080 pixels. Compare that with a regular PAL television's paltry 720x576 pixels. If movie visual effects were produced with the standard television in mind Doctorow would have a point, these new high-def screens will show a lot more detail and that would be a problem. The difficulty in arguing this is that the minimum resolution at which visual effects are produced is 2048x1556 pixels and 4096x3112 pixels is not unknown. The lowest quality which is acceptable for cinema release is already better than the very best that a high-definition television can display. In terms of accutance, high-definition holds no fear for the visual effects industry. In fact all the detail the artists labour for months or years to put into every frame of these films will perhaps at last be appreciated as home viewers can see the films at a quality almost as good as that at which they were created. Further if a film has poor effects these will generally be apparent even on a standard definition television. Effects which appear lower in quality generally have fundamental problems such as poor shading models, lighting choices and bad compositing rather than lacklustre fine detailing. Films with shoddy effects will, 9 times out of 10, look poor on a normal TV, no high-def required. Those that sing will look even better with the extra pixels.

So high-def does not place any extra demands on visual effects that they are not already designed to cater for, but what of Doctorow's assertion that better looking pictures will make films appear older sooner and thus drive down the effective lifespan of a movie? If this were true then the transition from VHS to DVD should have driven down sales of movies and shortened the time the general public were interested in them. This could not be further from the truth; more DVDs are sold than VHSs ever were, partly due to their higher quality content. That high-definition television sales have now outstripped standard sets for the first time in the US shows that this preference for higher quality, with no lessening in demand over time, would look set to continue.

Doctorow offers us an alternative future. He cites the small screens of devices such as the iPod as potential breeding grounds for new talent and new ideas where the relatively low cost of production allow for greater creative freedom away from the claws of Hollywood. The risk of losing on a $200 million film is too frightening to contemplate and thus no creative chances are taken in mainstream filmmaking, accoring to Doctorow. There is some truth to this; there is indeed much good work on youTube, or video podcasts from the likes of Channel Frederator but they will not attain the sheer spectacle of the blockbuster for the reasons I outlined above. In the 1950s when television arrived in force and began making smaller-scale dramas, previously the bread and butter of Hollywood, and putting them into the living rooms of the nation, Hollywood reacted with colour and widescreen: spectacular technologies with which the fledgling television industry could not compete. The same is happening now. Television can make "Walking With Dinosaurs" but it cannot hope to rival the visual splendour of a "Pirates of the Caribbean" or a "Star Wars". The future as I see it features both the large and the small. There has always been an audience for visual spectacle and Hollywood will supply that as only it has the funds to pay the enormous costs of production. Similarly at the lower end of the scale it is possible for anyone with a high level of artistic and technical competence to make CG films that are of an acceptable professional standard. Neither of these markets infringes the territory of the other as they each supply a different product. It is not a competition, the one complements the other giving the viewing public more choice and a wider selection of entertainment and art than has ever been possible before. We could even be approaching a new golden age of visual art.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Doing Something Good

Lion Sculpture, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

The photo relates to nothing in particular, but I took it on my way home tonight as I passed the back of The British Museum on my way to the new Waitrose supermarket in The Brunswick Centre. Having uploaded it, I still like it so here we are.

Today I finally did something which I hope is helpful and I believe is the right thing. I wrote my first Wikipedia entry. I've been fixing little typographical errors and such in other articles for a while but I'd never found an article missing until I came to look up what Wikipedia had to say about one of my favourite graphic designers, Robert Brownjohn. The answer was nothing and this I felt was remiss. So I took matters into my own hands as Wikipedia allows us to do, encouraging those with knowledge to share it. I began making a few notes on Sunday morning and finished refining them into what I hope is a fairly brief, yet cohesive and informative piece. If you want to correct the inevitable remaining typos, spelling mistakes, grammatical SNAFUs and whatnot then it is here. If you spot a mistake, please do the Wikipedian thing and fix it.

It is one of the things that annoys me most about criticism of Wikipedia isthat it is seen as bad because it is editable. Obviously this leaves it open to abuse and yes, Wikipedia is abused and regularly. What is not so widely reported is that is also fixed regularly, and improved and extended regularly. Looking at the log for the page I wrote I notice that someone I have never met, nor am likely ever to meet had spotted a typo and corrected it. Thank you, Malerin, it is appreciated. Wikipedia is not immutable by its very nature, it is fluid and it has errors. It also has some of the most carefully considered content, contributed by people who have a deep and profound knowledge about that which they write and whose aim is to expand this fabulous arena for human experience and thought.

Steven Colbert, with whom I agree regularly, especially in his definition of "truthiness" missed the mark when he went after Wikipedia. He proved it is easy to subvert Wikipedia. This is very obvious. It would be very easy to go into a museum or gallery and change the information boards next to the exhibits. That we don't is because we have respect for these institutions. Wikipedia encourages us to behave like adults not children as the spoon feeding of traditional encyclopaediae would like us to be: unquestioningly accepting what is presented on the printed page as gospel truth. It is not infallible, far from it. The only lesson we may learn from Wikipedia's ease of editing is that we should treat what we read with due caution and check the sources and references. This is what any thinking person has been doing all along with all other printed and broadcast media of course but it is only now that we are finally forced to confront this truth. And of course when one spots an omission about which one has knowledge, Wikipedia makes it easy to contribute.

I really enjoyed writing my entry and now I shall cast about for other areas where the weird collection of knowledge I've accrued over the years might be employed to the benefit of others. It is such a painless task to expand knowledge and help others that if we all did it and looked after the delicate network we build, we might end up with something truly magnificent.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Me and Emily

Emily looking at Andrew, originally uploaded by Beverly Sutphin.

Isn't she a beautiful Irish Setter? I adore these dogs, even if they are as dim as a Toc-H lamp.

You May now Tickle My Tummy

You May now Tickle My Tummy, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

I've had a lovely few days. On Friday night I got the train from London to the North to visit my mum. Aside from simply wishing to visit my mum because she's my mum the reason for making it this last weekend was that the choir that she sings in were putting on Monteverdi's "Vespers" in a local church and as I like old, late renaissance religious music I said I'd like to come along and hear it. Though the choir is strictly amateur, professional soloists and and period instrumentalists provided the parts that the choir could not themselves. The church was packed and the concert was, to judge by audience reaction, a great success. My mum, whilst decrying her own efforts in typical style, seemed pleased with the result.

After a lovely fry-up I got the early train back to London, having to stand much of the way and from Euston took the tube to Earl's Court where I met Tinseltroos for "Discover Dogs", a show put on by The Kennel Club to show off various breeds of dog to those who are considering getting, or breeding them. For us it was an excuse to play with lots of dogs, which is exactly what we did until we were tired and there were no more dogs left to fuss. After that we wended our way back to Atrocity Mansions and had a restful evening.

Today, after work, I finally met up with LC, my pal who's finally qualified as an architect. Not only did we have birthday presents for each other, but she also had a picture which she's acquired on my behalf which I've just lugged all the way up the hill from where we had dinner back to the house. It does look resplendent though! And with an admiring glance at it I feel I have now had enough fun for one day.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Gmail Tweak

Here's a useful, but not very clearly documented feature of Gmail. If you type the URL as a secure SSL type path:

rather than, Gmail will log you in with a secure connection and maintain that for your entire session. Why it doesn't default to this behaviour is anyone's guess but if you want a bit more security then add that extra "s" to your URL.

Friday, November 10, 2006

I'm trying another thingy to put articles that I found fun or interesting in the sidebar but that doesn't bust the layout on Internet Exploder like the Google Reader widget did. So, I'm giving a whirl. It should also allow me to sync bookmarks and whatnot between all the computers I use which might be helpful or may make bugger all difference. Anyhoo if the page now renders weirdly in your browser add a comment and I'll take it out again. Ta.

Lazy Lasgane Pasta Bake

It's definitely, finally, properly, no messing about autumn now, and that means big comfort food. Thinking about it almost any external influence on my life tends to get related to in terms of food. Oh well. So here's yesterday's effort:
  • Put the oven on to heat up to 180oC
  • Chop and peel a medium sized onion and 2 cloves of garlic. Sweat them in a large frying pan.
  • Slice 2 large tomatoes and a red pepper. Add these to the pan.
  • Get a saucepan of salted water on the hob to heat.
  • Add half a tin of chopped tomatoes and a good squirt of tomato ketchup to the frying pan. Add some torn basil leaves and black pepper. Allow to simmer.
  • When the pan of water is boiling put in a good load of rigatoni and allow to boil until almost cooked.
  • Meanwhile in another saucepan put a medium sized pot of crème fraîche, a good chunk of grated Gouda and a couple of teaspoons of French Mustard and heat gently until they all combine into a sauce.
  • Make breadcrumbs.
  • Strain the water off the pasta, combine it with the tomato sauce and put in an oven-proof dish. Pour the cheesy sauce over the top and then sprinkle the breadcrumbs ontop of that.
  • Put into the oven for about 20 minutes, until the breadcrumbs start to brown.
  • Serve with beer.
This made enough for 4 meals, the second 2 of which Tinseltroos and I will be having for lunch today.

I'm off up North tonight to go and see my mum. She's singing in a choir tomorrow night so I've said I'll go along to show my support.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Tinseltroos and I have our beady little eyes on a Nintendo Wii as a Christmas present to ourselves. One of the fun things you can do is make your own avatar type representation of yourself for use in games and whatnot. This would be me then:

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Victorian Carnivale

The Hallowe'en party was superb, the costumes splendid and the drink copious. Here's a few snaps to give an impression of what it was like:

The Phantom of the Opera

This one is me as Erik, The Phantom of the Opera, specifically the incarnation played by the magnificent Lon Chaney Snr in the 1925 version of the story, which filmwise, is by far and away the best. I think I genuinely managed to frighten people, of which I am very proud!

Conjoined Twins (not very alike actually)

Can You Spot the Unfortunate Missionary?

The Realisation That She May Have Made a Terrible Mistake

Poor Dolly

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaves, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

The photo has no relevance to this post but it is indicative of the low sun in the mornings and the trees shedding their leaves that I see en route to work.

Yesterday I did not see any of the above as during the week the air-conditioning at work had done its level best to destroy my ears, nose, throat and lungs and continue my cold into a second week. So on Friday I decided enough was enough and called in sick, and retired to bed from whence I did not move for the whole day. I managed to read a great chunk of book, watch all of "Blackadder Goes Forth" and "Day of the Dead" on my laptop, the latter of which I listened to through my swanky new headphones which I "won" on eBay for precisely this purpose, i.e. watching films at any hour of the day or night without disturbing my flatmates. Despite spending the whole day in bed and napping throughout the day I still went to sleep at about 10.30 and slept through the whole night, which I haven't managed in over a week what with all the sneezing, wheezing and coughing.

This morning I awoke feeling a bit sleepy but otherwise much better than I have in nearly a fortnight. Having had a long and relaxing bath the phone went. This is notable because our phone line has been defunct for two days. I reported the fault yesterday online and was informed it would be done today. And lo it was. I answered the phone to hear a very cheery BT engineer say "Morning, we've plugged you all back in now!" Lovely, the internets are back. *hugs internet*

Scarcely had I returned the receiver to its cradle when the doorbell went and a package for me from my other eBay victory was presented to me. This one was a wee headphone amp which partners with the new headphones so I can use my DVD player and projector to watch films in bed whilst not disturbing anyone with the audio. It's a very cute little system, quite the most adorable aluminium cylinder I've ever seen in fact.

Now all I have to do is pack my Hallowe'en party costume, charge my camera's battery and head over to Tinseltroos' ready for the party tonight. She's still quite coldy (I'm still a bit bunged up) so we may not party till dawn, but as she observed, when she called this morning, at least we're both vertical. This is indeed progress.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


The 1st of November brings the first proper chill in the air, a real autumnal morning. The wind is up, pulling the red, gold and russet leaves from the trees and the sky is pale blue and yellow with the sunlight gleaming across the great city. I like the colder weather. I like the wrapping up warm in preparation for going outside. I like walking around snuggly contained in my own toasty world and I like getting back inside and peeling off the layers and sitting down with a steaming mug of tea.

I also think that, sartorially speaking, the winter does the British male many more favours. Frankly we do not suit summer very much, being rather pale and feeling a little ridiculous in beach wear or blandly ordinary in jeans and a T-shirt. Winter offers far greater scope for fun and creativity. Today I left the house in a deep blue stripy shirt with silver cufflinks, a thick black wool zip up high-necked cardigan, my black velvet frock coat, bluey-grey cord trousers, brown trainers and my new 8ft long "Dr Who" scarf that my mum knitted for my birthday. I felt great, very warm and very me.

I'm off out tonight for fish and chips with LC to celebrate her qualification as an architect. This is excellent news; she can start designing me a house now.