Friday, March 30, 2007

Everybody Gets Everything They Want

So my bicycle plans are starting to coalesce. After being patronised by the rude and unhelpful staff at Condor Cycles, where I will now not be buying a bicycle I have decided to see if I can get one of these single speed fixies on eBay instead:

To this I shall have to add some non-drop handlebars and I'm thinking that these Soma ones will fit the bill perfectly. I really like what this fellow has done with the Brooks brown handlebar tape and I think I might do likewise.

Finally, just to assuage my traditional instincts and love of tweedy and leathery goodness I don't think I shall be able to resist a lovely Brooks saddle like this. This is definitely an indulgence but one that's worth it; it's so pretty.

If anyone knows about cycling and thinks any part of this scheme is barmy then please let me know. I've done my research but it's quite possible I've missed something. With luck this'll be a fun mini-project to do during my month off following the completion of HPatOotP in May.

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A Better Tomorrow

Well, strictly speaking, this is about a better yesterday which is resulting in a thus far cheerier today and with luck a better tomorrow (yes that is a film reference, Hong Kong movie geeks). Yesterday was good for two reasons, one actually significant and important, the other more trivial but still tickled me.

The big news is that I got my first final for HPatOotP. As I've explained before a final is a shot that's designated done and ready to go into the film by the VFX Supervisor of the film. We've had a few finals collectively but yesterday was my personal day for victory. It's a pretty challenging shot to boot, a lovely close up of the character we've been creating with some really subtle performance cues. These are often the harder shots to do because in shots where there is a lot of action and movement the sheer frenetic energy can help conceal mistakes but with a gently paced shot where the focus is on the character and his performance there's nowhere to hide. I was lucky that the animation on the shot (for which I was not responsible) was excellent which made for a firm foundation to add all the extras like the skin detail, the lighting and so on. Tinseltroos is buying my lunch as a prize today. I shall return the favour when she has her own final of course. Today I shall make tweaks to a few more shots until they're all of an acceptable standard, but now I feel the back of the project is broken and it's just a question of pushing for the finish, which I conservatively estimate will be about a couple of weeks away for me. I cannot tell you what a sense of relief and satisfaction that is. A year and a half's work is finally looking like leaving the building and in a reasonable state too. Phew.

The other happy event of yesterday was a trip to see a recording of Radio 4's "The Now Show" a satirical sketch show with Steve Punt and usually Hugh Dennis, though he was on holiday yesterday. They record over an hour of material which is then edited down to the thirty minutes you hear on the radio. Sadly much of this editing involves the removal of all swearing and jokes considered too risqué for the delicate sensibilities of the God-fearing, Times-reading, gardening and antique-collecting geriatrics who radio controllers seem to think make up its core audience.

The end of the show features the results of the audience questionnaire. When you take your seat in the theatre there is a piece of paper with a topical question to which you are invited to write a (hopefully) witty answer. This week's question was "Jim'll Fix It is about to make a return to our TV screens. What would you like Jim to fix for you?" Before the show starts the papers are collected, much in the manner of an 11-plus paper and the hosts of the show read through them when they aren't on mic during the recording, selecting the best to read out at the end of the show. Why am I telling you this? Because they read out my answer, which was, "The result of the Ireland vs Pakistan cricket match. Oh hang on..." This may be deemed a bit tasteless and therefore will probably be excised from the broadcast edition but I had my tiny moment of glory anyway; it made the panellists laugh. If you want to find out what I heard last night you can listen to the show here from tonight.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

How Do I Not Like That

Apparently I bear a marked similarity to a hamster-lovin', Nazi-propaganda making and sympathising, red shoe wearing conspiracy nut. Hmmm.

So I had another go:

Gene Tierney, noted for her lovely sideburns of course. Tinseltroos also had a go and came up with a better list of celebs, interestingly also including Scarlett Johansson. On the basis of my experiments I've had a go at writing what I'm sure is a program that's just as accurate but this one I'm giving away for free. Here goes:


import random,sys,time

if len(sys.argv) != 2:
print "Please supply a picture filename."

print "Analysing picture"

counter = 0

while counter < 20:
counter += 1


deadCert = "Scarlett Johansson"
pullNameOutOfAss = ["Ronald McDonald",
"Lucretia Borgia",
"Brad Pitt",
"Paris Hilton",
"Francis Crick",
"Oscar Wilde",
"Alan Moore",
"Kenny Everett",
"Englebert Humperdink",
"Gary Coleman",
"Germaine Greer",
"Ingrid Pitt",
"Jade Goody",
"Knut the polar bear",
"Mary Tyler Moore",
"Bella Emberg",
"Red Rum",

numberOfCelebs = "You look"
for x in pullNameOutOfAss:
if random.randint(0,2) == 1:
numberOfCelebs += " "+str(random.randint(1,100))+"% like "+x+","

numberOfCelebs += " and "+str(random.randint(1,100))+"% like "+deadCert+"."

print numberOfCelebs


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Purdy Pictures

We've seen some of our latest composites for HPatOotP in the production's fancy DI suite and, though I say it myself, there are aspects that look pretty good. I think we may yet manage to end up with some quite handsome shots. Some I doubt will ever work well but they have conceptual problems that no amount of wizardry will fix, and there's always some shots that, for whatever reason, always seem to look horrid. The skin looks lovely, which is a relief given how much work we've put into that aspect of our boy. Perhaps the last 18 months haven't been wasted after all.

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Spring is Sprunging

Since this is an empirical exercise here is the evidence:

The good: The trees have leaf buds on them, some have the beginnings of blossom.

The bad: Seemingly every street in London is being dug up. Didn't they do that last year and the year before that?


Monday, March 26, 2007

A Stuff What I Done Post

Well I had another whole weekend off, mostly because the side of HPatOotP that I'm on is nearly done and the precise bit I'm responsible for is currently out of my hands whilst I await further instruction from on high. Tinseltroos, unfortunately did have to work on Saturday as she was having difficulty with a wizard. One of the trials of the job I'm afraid. Anyhow, that meant I had Saturday to myself. As I'm still in a post-crisis lull I spent much of that mooching about at home tidying things up, doing washing and whatnot. I did find time to have a good hour or so playing guitar, both acoustic and electric thus satisfying my inner John Renbourn and Eddie Van Halen. The evening's highlight was a concert given by pal Missy P's choir, Coro, at St Alban The Martyr, a church in The City. I hadn't seen them perform before and I was enormously impressed. The piece they sang was Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil (sometimes called The Vespers), a piece which I was utterly unfamiliar with prior to Saturday. It's a very beautiful, powerful and moving piece and to hear a top notch choir perform it in a beautiful church with all the attendant acoustics was a joy indeed. The other pleasing part of Saturday was that Missy P's fella, Clarence, was visiting from the US where he now works. We had a couple of beers and a catchup. A good time was had by all.

On Sunday I laid in reading until about 10, then leisurely went about my day. I walked into town in the afternoon up to Tinseltroos' flat. After a refreshing brew of tea we went with Sisoftroos to see David Lynch's "Inland Empire". The film is three hours and the closest thing to a pure art piece that he has done. I found it mesmerising and very emotive, eerie and beautiful. I don't want to write much about it now as it's still sinking in and I'll need to let it stew in my subconscious and conscious for a while yet before I really know what I think about it. I would utterly urge you all to see it though, it is nothing if not remarkable.

After the cinema we all went to Ragam, an amazing South Indian restaurant near Tinseltroos Towers. Having gorged ourselves on staggeringly good food for about a tenner a head we went back to T's flat for a few episodes of "Pimp my Ride", a cup of marsala tea and so to bed. All in all a delightful was to spend a weekend.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ginger Cake

Here is the recipe for the cake I make most often. It's from my mum and is therefore only written down in her handwriting on a piece of lined A4 that sits folded up in the back of my favourite recipe book.

Line a medium sized cake tin and heat an oven to 160 degrees Celsius.

Take 4oz black treacle, 4oz golden syrup, 4oz dark brown sugar and 4oz unsalted butter and put them in saucepan on a gentle heat until they melt and combine. Allow them to cool a little.

Mix 8oz of self-raising flour and 2 teaspoons ground ginger with a teaspoon of mixed spice in a bowl.

Put 4floz milk mixed with a beaten egg in a jug.

Add the sugar and butter to the flour, mixing thoroughly. Finally add the milk and egg carefully. Beat the whole mixture until well integrated. Pour the mixture into the tin and cook for 30 minutes or so. I start checking after 25 minutes in case my oven is over eager. That's it.

It's a lovely moist cake that's very hassle free to bake. It also makes your house smell amazing.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

VFX and Narrative Cinema

Kristin Thompson has written a thoughtful piece on the Bordwell Blog, one of the very few film criticism sites worth reading, on the role that digital visual effects can play in affecting the narrative of cinema. The default position of many critics seems to be that computer generated visual effects (CG VFX) exist to produce spectacle alone, sometimes at the expense of all else. The article, a review of a book by Shilo T McClean, discusses the idea of different types of CG VFX from the documentary (reconstructing that which no longer exists, Rome or a dinosaur for example), the fantastical (Lord of the Rings) to the seamless (e.g. sky replacements). These are interesting distinctions but I think they all share a rather vital point not mentioned in the article and that is, regardless of whatever type of effect is being achieved, they are hyper-realist not photo-realist in nature and this, I believe, is the defining feature of modern VFX which sets it apart from almost all that has gone before. Let me try and illustrate with a practical example of a single shot from a show I worked on and therefore know intimately.



The main pull-out reveal shot of the Greek armada in Troy starts on a real ship, built for the film, and pulls out by means of a helicopter to a distance of a mile showing the whole fleet (some 600 ships or so, all digital). The original photographed plate runs to over a minute in duration. A photo-realistic approach would be to accurately match the angle of the sunlight as it was when photographed along with any atmospheric conditions on the digital ships and then composite these into the photographed plate. This is not what happened. The actual creative process followed was hyper-realist much in the manner that the hyper-realist painters of the 1970s, Charles Bell or Richard Estes took reference from photographs but altered them to create a more aesthetically pleasing, albeit totally believable final result.

For the Troy shot we changed the angle of the sun as it played upon the digital boats to give them a more interesting look and to allow us to see the digital crews milling about on the decks. We added wakes to the boats, including the real one, in spite of the fact that Greek penteconters are keel-less and of shallow draught and therefore create almost no wake. Audiences expect to see a wake on a boat and we cannot disappoint them even though it is not "real". The plate as photographed was very misty. This was deemed unsuitable as much of the fleet would be lost in the fog. Instead a matte painting showing a stormy sky was added to enhance the aggressive and brooding mood of the shot. The sea was darkened and made more contrasty for the same reason. Photographic reality is subverted at every turn to suit the needs of the story and to create a stronger image. To add the final extra impact that the visual narrative required at this point in the film the photographed plate was re-timed so that the footage gradually sped up as the helicopter pulled away. If you were to watch the real crew on the real boat you could see their movements speed up as the shot runs. The increased speed is added seamlessly so the audience is unaware of the deception, the CG crews remain at a normal speed and the drama of the camera move is accentuated. I hope this demonstrates that one of the fundamental changes that CG VFX has brought is the idea that the entirety of the film is plastic, both spatially and temporally. The Troy shot features changes within the frame of geometry, of lighting, and it is changed temporally to allow the precise timing that cuts best with the subsequent shots. Even the real elements of the shot, such as the fog, are changed where it is deemed artistically necessary. The photographed plate becomes merely a guide, a sketch of what is wanted and the visual effects artists render the finished result.

The book Thompson is reviewing makes use of a film count of movies featured in Cinefex magazine to determine whether the suggestion that CG VFX are mostly deployed in science fiction and horror films and are thus tools of a certain genre is correct. Her research suggests not but I have to take issue with her logic in assuming that the films featured in Cinefex are those whose effects are regarded as being most significant. This is often not the case. Cinefex is run by a very small team. In order to write a piece they need access to the supervisors on a project, they need interesting photographs to illustrate the article (nerds sitting in front of workstations are not deemed to cut it in spite of the fact that this is how VFX is mostly practiced these days) and they love a show where miniatures or animatronics are used because these are photographable and understandable by the audience of movie geeks who reads Cinefex. Computer Graphics is very technical by nature and without extensive background reading in a variety of disciplines even the most basic techniques can be baffling to the layman. Everyone understands a model or robot conceptually however. Cinefex is not regarded highly by visual effects practitioners for these reasons and many films are featured often because the supervisor is very amenable to interview and speaks well or because there is a pretty miniature shoot that can be photographed. Cinefex must be seen in the context of those for whom it is written, the film geek, not the visual effects artist. As such its choice of subjects cannot be assumed to be the most significant films made.

The final point I would like to address is the timescale of CG VFX within the whole production. Obviously VFX are completed after the film shoot wraps but what is perhaps not so well understood is that generally the process begins before photography commences, often long before. The pre-visualisation process (pe-viz) has become a staple part of VFX heavy film production, of whatever genre, as a vital step between the story-board and the actual shoot. In pre-viz low quality models of all the elements that will make up the final shot, whether ultimately real or CG are built and roughly animated to block out their movement and that of the camera. The sequence is put together so that the director, producer and effects facility can see that a sequence will work before a foot of film is exposed. In many cases the freedom of the pre-viz team to lay out the sequence means that in a cutting, and camera-operating sense they take over from their real counterparts. The director will ask the DP to match what was produced in the pre-viz. This is not always the case but it does demonstrate that CG VFX can play a dramatic role in the construction of the filmed narrative and that, like it or not, it is all pervasive in mainstream cinema, and increasingly common in alternative cinema. The flexibility it offers to determine the flow and staging of the film ahead of the shoot and the ultimate control it offers to manipulate the filmed elements in post-production is simply too powerful an option for film-makers to ignore regardless of genre, budget or style.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Two Custom DS's

Two Custom DS's, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

Tinseltroos and I have just had our first full weekend of the year and we've used a sizable part of it customising our Nintendo DS's. I'll bet you can't guess whose is whose?

Such a fun mini-project and we also finally got to the end of Season One of Battlestar Galactica. Suffice to say we'll be rushing out tomorrow lunchtime to try and get Season Two. I forget the last TV series I got addicted to but this one has me by the short and curlies.

Now we're both scouting about for things to customise. If anything stays still for too long it may end up getting painted. Stay tuned.

Update: DS Fanboy has picked up our efforts. Tee hee, notoriety at last.

Updated update: And the only person to leave a comment there says it's rubbish. Ha ha, oh well, I suppose not everyone shares my love of 80's hair band aesthetics.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Well I never

What do we have here? I'll have to get me one of those when I'm done to remind me of the fun times. Or to use as a voodoo doll, I can't decide.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Bearded Odyssey

Just for laffs.

Holding Court


Me on the Hallowed Turf

Mmmm, Nice Bandana

Me And Lots of Cow

A New Look

New Me


Happy Happy, Joy Joy

Well we finally have our first finals for the sequence of HPatOotP that we've been working on for nearly eighteen months now. For those not in the know a final is a shot that's been approved by both the Visual Effects Supervisor of the show and the director as being good enough to go into the film. Essentially it means that it's done and has left the building. Alright, so they're the simplest shots in our sequence but there is still a palpable sense of relief in the studio this morning that there might actually be light at the end of the tunnel. Although, as my dad always says, the light a t the end of the tunnel may be the light on the front of an oncoming train so we maintain a healthy sense of caution.

Sadly neither of the shots are mine, as one of the senior artists I get the tougher, but more interesting shots, which still have some work left to be done. Nevertheless I'm feeling positive, if exhausted at the moment.

Once again, I apologize for the paucity of the posting but I hope you understand the reason and perhaps if you get to see the film when it comes out in July you might think it's been worth it.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007


Commuters, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

Taken with my lovely new lens. Got to love eBay.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007


Another veggie pasta bake.

In a large pan gently fry a finely chopped onion in olive oil. Add two smallish sliced cougettes and a sliced pepper. When these have softened add chopped parsley, tomato ketchup, tomato pureé and basil pesto to taste.

In a seperate pan make a mornay sauce, whilst in a third pan boil some pasta (penne would be good) until it is almost done but still has some bite.

Mix the veg with the pasta and stir in some torn up mozzarella. Put this in an oven-proof dish, cover with the mornay sauce. Sprinkle a little more grated cheese over the top and put it under the grill for ten minutes. Hearty warming food.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

In Better News

I did something useful yesterday. Tinseltroos' light-pull in her bathroom had snapped off. With assistance I was able to dismantle the fitting, fix the cord into place and reassemble the whole shebang without anyone getting electrocuted, poked in the eye with a screwdriver or taken to A & E having accidentally swallowed a screw. I call that a victory.



Social Pariah

I have a new enemy. I do not know his or her name, but I have come across many minions. My hatred is directed toward the evil bastard who designed the new Sony Ericsson Walkman phone. "I *crappy Sony Ericsson logo* music" says the ad. Really? Is that so? What I want to know is what kind of sick mind thinks that putting a small, wretchedly bad quality speaker into a mobile phone and then connecting that up to its MP3 play is a good idea? It's a hateful idea, and it's clearly a conscious one. All phones must have a speaker, I understand that, they must also be tiny and thus poor quality. It is bad enough that we have to listen to ring-tones which loudly announce the owner's wacky personality everytime one of their asinine friends feels the need to speak to them, it is quite another to give these cretins the ability to play their dull, formulaic music in a loud but completely lo-fi manner during the few moments of respite we used to get between calls.

Riding on buses has become a nightmare. Who thought this was a good idea? How can the designers have seen this as anything other than carte blanche for these dull people, with dull personalities and duller taste in music to try and force us to believe that they are individuals worth listening to because their phone can broadcast their fascinatingly diverse musical library to all and sundry? It fascinates me that you never see the truly "different" or "edgy" people behave like this, the ones whose musical taste might be a little left of centre and might be actually interesting or stimulating to hear. Ever since these phones came out all I have heard is generic R 'n' B and chart music being played by anonymous latter-day Charles and Charlotte Pooters as they go about their McLives. That these people think it's an OK way to behave is bad, but most of them are probably too dumb to know any better. The person who should have known better is the designer who made this situation possible. Sir or madam, when I find you, you are in seven different shades of shit.


Saturday, March 03, 2007

Sorry Excuse For a Post

Well it's been mostly a week of work only again. I did get to see "Bat For Lashes" at their ULU gig on Wednesday which was welcome respite from HPatOotP. They were fantastic, probably even better than at Green Man. Their obvious talent was thrown into sharp relief by the whiny, generic indie bands that supported them. But the wonderful women of BfL were awesome, weird and multi-instrumental, charming and pleasingly eccentric.

I've also discovered this week that the bike I've been toying with getting can have a front brake fitted (my only major quibble) so once I'm done on this project I may be sorting myself out a new single-speed fixie steed.

And that, dear reader, is all there is to tell. As I've said before, once I have a life again I'll have things to say. I'd write more about the film but we're under also sorts of draconian Warner Brothers' NDAs so I cannot say ought yet.

Happy weekends to one and all; I have more visual effecting to do. In an hour I can have another Lemsip to deal with the cold that has finally caught up with me. That is the highlight of my evening I think.

*plays world's smallest violin for self*

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