Thursday, February 28, 2008

To Boldy Go Where No Matrix Has Gone Before

I know this may not seem like much but I'm quite proud of it. There's still something funky going on with the perspective transform and the field of view calculation otherwise I'd be very proud of it. This wireframe cube you see above was rendered using some software I wrote in the Processing language. I have a long-term project I want to do once I've ironed out the wrinkles in my code but for now I'm quite pleased that it's drawing a cube, roughly where it's supposed to be. Although there is still much to do, even now you can define a camera position, a point for it to look at and some geometry and my little renderer will produce a perspective(ish) picture like you see above. I don't think it's too shabby for an afternoon and an evening's work. I've already learned a lot, my rudimentary trigonometry and matrix skills are hanging on by their finger nails but I know more than I did a week ago.

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More of the same

This week has, as you have no doubt come to expect, been completely work dominated. I spent 4 hours yesterday going to, coming from and waiting for a meeting at Pinewood which lasted precisely twenty minutes, including handshakes. On the up side we did get quite a swish Mercedes to take us there so we could at least pretend to be a bit important en route. We normally get taken up in a mini-van and then feel like the naughty kids in the back of the car on the family holiday.

I'm still rushing to get my work on Hellboy 2 finished. I suspect I shall be working the weekend again, but I do at least feel like I'm headed into the final bend on this show. It's been a bit of strain on the nerves, willpower and soul but with luck it should look OK and I daily count my blessings that I have a great team of people to work with. Whilst discussing the project in the car yesterday, one of the guys told of his experience of working on Chicken Little for Disney. He worked on the show for four and a half years, during which time they made the film twice thanks to executive meddling. He said after the first two years you had to talk yourself into going into work every morning. I can believe that. The longest I've ever worked on a project is eighteen months on the last Harry Potter and that damn nearly did for me. Reading back through my posts from the end of that time I can still sense how stressed and miserable I was. This current show is nothing compared to that but I am pretty shattered right now.

One fun thing I did discover last night whilst poking about in the latest version of GarageBand that came with the new laptop was that it now has some rudimentary EQ controls for each recorded track. I re-mixed that guitar thing I did a few weeks back to add some more mid-range to the second and third parts and it has improved it, to my ears at least. If I get home at a reasonable time tonight and Tinseltroos goes out to Stitch and Bitch then I might record a little more. One of my work buddies, who's really good at this sort of thing, suggested that if I manage to get a week's holiday or so after HB2 wraps I should spend a week making and recording some sounds. That does really appeal I must say - I think it would be very therapeutic. I also want to get my Processing renderer working. At the moment my trigonometry is still broken. I might have another crack at debugging that tonight too, if I get time. Music first, nerdy playtime second I think.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Some of this, some of that

Just had quite a mixed bag of a weekend. I worked all day Saturday but I did at least have a very productive day and managed to get a few of the little, but never seem to get around to tasks done, like adding flocks of CGI birds into shots. Saturday evening Tinseltroos and I watched my favourite film of all time, Once Upon a Time in the West. T did not care for it all that much, which didn't surprise me, but she did say that she liked it more than other westerns she'd seen. That is a good thing I think and the best I could hope for.

Yesterday I was terribly productive. I baked a pound cake, also known as madeira cake, so called because of what you used to drink with it rather than what's in it. I also made Tinseltroos and me a salad with quinoa. I know quinoa is terribly good for me but I'd feel happier about eating it if it didn't remind of seamonkeys quite so much.

The rest of the day I spent writing a 3D renderer in Processing. Processing is a lovely graphics programming language and is my new favourite thing. I have a plan for an art project to do using it but in order to realise it I have to write a 3D geometry renderer. I am fortunate in that Tinseltroos has done this kind of thing before and can help me out when I get stuck. Also her maths ability vastly outstrips mine and she is a very patient teacher. At the moment I can render a rather elongated cube with some strange behaviour in the camera transforms. Methinks I have buggered something up so today I shall begin the tedious but necessary task of debugging it.


Friday, February 22, 2008

All Good Things...

Last night Tinseltroos and I finished watching the last of the original four series of Futurama. This has made us both rather sad, as though a good friend has left our lives. I shall be trying to find a copy of Bender's Big Score soonest. I am generally not good with television series. Even the good ones bore me quite quickly. The only series I've got through prior to this was The Prisoner and that is probably my favourite telly of all time. And this should tell you how much I loved Futurama. There has never been a show with so perfect a geeky sense of humour. It pokes fun at the things that annoy geeks, it panders to our whims and fantasies (where, exactly, is my flying car?) as well as having characters with whom we can empathise and can share a laugh.

Today has only been made bearable by the iTunes discovery I made during the week. I finally figured out how to make a Smart Playlist that sorts a band's output chronologically. Because of this, today is a very special Rock Friday. Today we have every Led Zeppelin album, in order. It's two o'clock in the afternoon and we've hit Physical Graffiti. All Hail "Hammer of the Gods Friday".

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

From The Trenches

I am at present in the midst of a maelstrom of trying to finish my current project, arranging and attending meetings about what will hopefully be my next project, organising a talk I'm due to give at a university the week after next and putting the finishing touches to a course I shall be delivering at work. Argh, makes my tiny brain ache keeping this number of plates spinning at once.

My main source of entertainment at present is the US Presidential election campaign which, as Warren Ellis has noted, is "better than sumo" as a spectator sport. I tend to agree. The levels of spending, vitriol and protracted cruelty outdo anything we have in Europe. Hell's teeth, Bubba, here in the UK we don't even get to elect our head of state so we must leap on these crumbs of comfort from across the sea when we can.

As I do whenever there's a Presidential campaign I am reading Hunter S Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. It's as delicious an exposé and satire of the whole venal enterprise as can be conceived of. Thompson, known primarily for guerilla incursions into the worlds of the great and the good, tackles the whole campaign from first caucus through to Nixon utterly stomping George McGovern in November. This had an extra poignancy during the last campaign watching Bush getting elected again, legally this time. Ye Gods and little fishes what strange, dark times they were.

One of the more impressive qualities of Thompson's book is how he stuck to his task no matter how relentless and degenerate the whole process became. It is a long drawn out book describing a long and drawn out process but a brief pithy account of a campaign just wouldn't do it justice. Presidential campaigns are for people who are in this game for the long haul, those who like cheap, quick thrills can look elsewhere, like the UK where the whole national election process is done and dusted inside six weeks. I enjoy the US approach, the trial by endurance and meaness, rather like watching the candidates being dumped in the middle of the Sahara with a single canteen of water between them to see who makes it out alive and who, and how brutally, they've had to despatch in order to get there. This is the stuff of real drama, earthy and bloody.

And now, as I settle back into my chair at work with a final cup of tea for the day I can catch up on how Senators Obama and Clinton have each attempted to gouge the eyeballs out of the other in the last twenty four hours. Every day rings a new slur, a new accusation or twist on an old tale. The GOP must be loving this. As the great man once observed, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro".


Monday, February 18, 2008

Manhattan Transfer

bday_IMG_0446.jpg, originally uploaded by trinamaria.

Here is me helping my chum Trinamaria celebrate her birthday on Saturday night. I had worked all day which is why I'm looking a little jaded. Well the some number of manhattans I'd had by this point may have had something to do with it too. Still any excuse for spending an evening with friends, cocktails and delicious tapas is a good one.


There was an excellent turn out of chums and the bar was lovely for the most part of the evening. After about 11.30 the (very bad) music was cranked up to ear-drum shredding levels but by that point we'd eaten and drunk enough.


The birthday girl seems happy with her choice of supper. The caipirinhas and Corona look to be helping out too.


As you can see I did my duty by the multiple bowls of chicken wings we got through.


These were the little buggers who caused my downfall however. Quel surprise. Tasty downfall, mind you.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Age Before Beauty

Yesterday was the day when I decided the time had come to get a new domestic laptop. I have two laptops, one for work that has Maya, Shake, Photoshop and so on, and another consumer spec machine for surfing the net, iTunes and all that kind of thing. My original domestic machine is now nearly five years old and in this high-def, broadband, widescreen world its creaky 800Mhz Power PC chip doesn't really cut the mustard anymore. Having done my research I'd decided upon an Apple MacBook. My feelings about Apple, their stores and their corporate culture have been covered in detail in the past here so you will no doubt be unsurprised that I entered the Apple Store on Regent Street with some trepidation.

I was almost immediately accosted by a spotty emo youth who was, at a guess, about nineteen. Did he have a black MacBook with 2Gb RAM in stock I asked? He consulted his Star Trek tricoder thingy. Indeed he did. Thirty seconds later, and without getting anywhere near a cash register my bank account was suddenly considerably lighter and I had a very pretty cardboard box in my sweaty little hand. The callow youth inquired whether I had used a Mac before? I answered in the affirmative. He then asked if I used any of their professional applications? I answered that I used Shake. He informed me that they did training courses in Shake in the store. This was the moment where I had to bite my aging lip. My desire to say, "Young man, I have been using Shake, in all its many guises, since before you started secondary school" was almost uncontainable, but contain it I did. I smiled and explained that I was quite used to the sofware now and had become reasonably adept. He seemed surprised that somoeone so old should have even heard of their professional compositing application, let alone claim to know a bit about it. Bloody kids.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Treble Spot

Today, whilst I was buying myself a bacon and fried egg sandwich to cheer myself up after an 8 a.m. meeting with Guillermo, our director, I found Hugh Grant queueing up behind me. He ordered a sausage sandwich and a tea to take away and was shorter than I'd imagined.

Later I saw Mike Leigh looking very confused as he tried to make his mobile telephone work.

So including Guillermo that's two sorta celebs and one bona fide celeb in one day!


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Foggy London Morning

Sometimes you get an insight into those heavy, legendary London Fogs so beloved of Victorian melodramaticists. Today's don't compare due to the 1956 Clean Air Act but a hint is better than nothing. As we left Schossadlerflug this morning we could see the fog up the street so I popped back inside, grabbed my camera, and took these photographs on our walk into work:

Foggy London Morning

Foggy London Morning

Foggy London Morning

Foggy London Morning

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Veggie Shepherd's Pie

One of my favourite winter warmer dishes is shepherd's pie and for years I've made my mum's recipe with beef mince and lots of Worcestershire Sauce. Living with Tinseltroos has meant that I needed to find a veggie alternative and I may have now done that. I cooked the recipe described below last night and am finishing it off for my lunch right now.

For the filling:

3 largish carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 large parsnips, peeled and finely chopped
1 large red onion, finely chopped
1 pack of Quorn veggie mince substitute protein stuff
2 cloves of garlic, crushed and sliced
Slug of chipotle sauce
Slug of mushroom ketchup
Handful of parsely and oregano, chopped

For the topping:

6 potatoes (King Edwards are good) peeled and chopped
Grated cheese
Crème fraîche

Heat some olive oil and a knob of butter in a large pan. Fry the garlic and onion until they just start to colour. Add the carrots, parsnips, mince-stuff and the herbs. Stir until it's all well mixed. Add the mushroom ketchup and chipotl sauce, season and put the lid on the pan and allow to cook over a medium heat for 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally and adding a little water if it looks like it's needed.

Meanwhile boil the spuds until mashable. Strain the water off the potatoes and mash them with the crème fraîche and half the cheese.

Pour the filling into an ovenproof dish, seasoning more if needed, and cover with the potato. Use a fork to score the topping into the pattern of your choosing. I favour a sort of check but each to their own and then sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top. Put into an oven at 180°C until the cheese has gone golden on top.

The success of this is down to the mushroom ketchup and chipotl sauce combination I think. The mushroom ketchup helps to add a bit of depth to the flavour plus some of that umami protein flavour that I find most veggie food lacks and the chipotle sauce adds some spice that traditionally would have come from the Worcestershire sauce.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

A Compressed Weekend

Although I worked all Saturday and then Sunday morning, by two o'clock I felt I'd done enough and so took myself off to Hammersmith where my pal CJ was having her birthday drinks. It felt really good to be in an unfamiliar part of town and away from Soho, just for a little while. It was also huge fun to sup a few pints of ale and catch up with buddies I haven't seen in a while.

The second treat was the day light. It was beautifully sunny all day, great news for the Chinese New Year parade that I had to fight my way through to get to work (in London, Soho and Chinatown are adjacent), and even better for when I left work it was still sunny. At 4.30 I looked out of the window of the pub and, even then, it was still daylight. I suppose I've been in work pretty much every day for the last three weeks or so and I just hadn't appreciated how much the nights had started drawing out. An extra treat.

The final treat of the day came during the evening. It was BAFTA night (the British film industry's annual bun-fight) and my chum Benny Mo won a BAFTA. I am so pleased and proud of him. I cannot think of a nicer man for it to happen to either. It was odd to watch him on TV looking fairly uncomfortable in his dinner jacket thanking his crew and family because the last time I saw him was at my birthday when he was in his usual scruffy jeans, quite tipsy and cursing the hours he was spending working on the very same show he's just won the award for. I'm sure he'll be far too grand to talk to me now he has something to put in the trophy cabinet.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008


Office, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

This is where I shall be all weekend.


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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Chinese New Year - Gerrard Street

Chinese New Year - Chinatown, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

It's Chinese New Year tomorrow and in London's Chinatown area, centred around Gerrard Street they've been putting up lanterns everywhere. I was in work very early this morning for a meeting with the director of our current project but I took a detour to take a couple of photographs. You can tell how early it was by the fact that dawn has only just broken.

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One word review:


More than one word review:

I didn't think it possible to make a dull monster movie but I was very wrong. The premise of this film, a giant monster movie made from street level is brilliant and the mock-documentary idea isn't a bad one though it has consequences. The problems with the film are its horrible dialogue, its thoroughly unlikeable or uninteresting characters who were not well acted and lastly the fact that the film had no pacing. This may be partly because of the documentary, found footage style of the piece but Orson Welles managed to do real-time terror with his "War of the Worlds" adaptation so it can be done by skilled hands.

The shaky hand-held style of the camera work is OK, the trouble with it is that you soon mentally adjust to it being the norm and thus when the film-makers want to up the dramatic ante with more kinetic movement they have nowhere to go. Successful film-making works by juxtaposition and contrast and even the melancholic scenes in "Cloverfield" are shot in the frenzied manner of the action. It becomes normal and bland very fast.

I have other issues with specifics of the plot but they would put me in spoiler territory so I'll leave them for now. Suffice to say that this is 3/10 film and all those points go to the visual effects and the creature designers.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Sheldon Brown (1944-2008)

I have just learned that bicycling oracle Sheldon Brown has died. There are few fields where one person reigns supreme as the final authority but in matters of bicycle mechanics Sheldon Brown had that distinction. There are countless arguments that run on bicycling fora until someone goes to for the definitive answer. And then there is no need to argue further, Sheldon has spoken.

When I was building my bicycle last summer I frequently visited his site because I knew, firstly that the answer would be there, and secondly that it would be explained clearly so that even a knucklehead like me could understand it. If one man can be said to have demystified the mechanics of bicycles of all vintages to allow anyone with a modicum of mechanical nous to get one up and running, then Sheldon Brown was that man.

Thank you, Sheldon.

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Monday, February 04, 2008


I worked all day Saturday but yesterday was Fake Pancake Day at my old house-mate, Tommy Dog's, flat. The clan gathered from far and wide to abuse the traditional beginning of Lent. The tradition is that all fatty food is eaten up prior to Lent so all good Christians can then spend Lent being extra devout (and hungry). As regular readers will know I am not in the slightest bit religious but I do like pancakes. So yesterday became a feast of pancakes and booze. Here are some photos:

Me awaiting a pancake

All hobs are go!

Danny flipping action

It's all in the wrist

More Batter

Atrocity flips

Atrocity lands.  Result.


One. Last. Mouthful.

Empty Plates

Mission Accomplished.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Too Good Not To Post



Last night was "Oscar Peterson Night" on BBC4. It started at 10 and I planned to watch an hour or so whilst I supped a beer before going to bed. Tinseltroos has the snots and was so already tucked up and dozing. As T hates jazz with a passion (nobody's perfect) I did the honourable thing and drew one of the dining chairs up to the T.V., plugged my headphones in and sat to watch. Our dining chairs aren't the most comfortable and yet there I sat for the full three hours of the show. I was powerless to resist. To see such a titan of his art play and discuss his music was a treat to be savoured.

The interview segment at the end of the show was a repeat of an edition of Omnibus from 1980 (I think) where André Previn and O.P. talked piano and played for an hour and ten minutes. It was a delight. The humilty of the man was also refreshing especially considering the esteem in which everyone held him. These days in music we don't really have an equivalent of the likes of Oscar, by which I mean musicians held in equally high regard for their musicianship as well as their compositional and performance abilities. Oscar had all that by the truck load so you might expect a degree of ego. There was none. he was certainly conscious of his ability, how could he not be, but there was no sense of one-upmanship. He explained this was a result of an incident during his teenage years. At that age he really thought pretty highly of himself and his ability. His father, noticing that the young Oscar's ego was getting out of hand, came home one evening with a record. He suggested to his son that he should give it a listen. The record was Art tatum's "Tiger Rag". Oscar described how he didn't play piano for two months after hearing that piece, and how he cried every night such was his astonishment at what he had heard. His admiration for Tatum continued long after the two eventually became friends.

And now I'm listening to The Sheik of Araby and shall have to go and buy some Art Tatum records after work.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Curiouser and Curiouser

For the last half hour I've consistently had over 20 people reading this page. That's about 21 more people than is normal. Hello! Where have you all been coming from, I'm curious? Should I be feeling paranoid?

Update: And then like Keyser Söze, they were gone and normal service was resumed. What just happened there? For 40 minutes I was popular. I guess that's 25 more minutes than Andy Warhol felt was my due.


Rangefinders and Me

Most people don't care what camera they have or if they do take some time to choose they will pick the one with the most mega-pixels or the smallest dimensions. Both of these are important factors but there are some profound effects that different cameras can have on the way we take photographs. I've been thinking a lot about this since I finally saved up enough to get a Leica M8, the digital rangefinder camera and have been reacquainting myself with rangefinder photography.

Over many years of using, film, digital, large-format, medium-format, 35mm Single Lens Reflexes (SLRs) and rangefinders I find that each type of camera has a different character that combined with my own psychological peculiarities profoundly affect the photographs I take.

A quick run through how I got where I am now for context. My first "proper" camera was a second-hand Olympus OM-2, a camera I bought when I was 13 or so.

It was a lovely small 35mm SLR and I used that until I was 18 when my dad allowed me to borrow his medium-format Bronica SQ on a semi-permanent basis.

I used this camera until I was about 20 when my grandfather left me some money in his will with strict instructions to spend it on something. At the time my favourie photographers were Henri Cartier-Bresson and Andre Kertesz, both of whom used Leicas. And so it was that I got my father to pick up a second hand Leica M6 and a 1970s 50mm Summicron lens for me from Campkins Cameras in Cambridge.

I still remember handling it for the first time, the way it felt so natural in my hands. I'd loved the compactness of my OM-2 but for years I'd been used to the Bronica and Mamiyas at college. It was a breath of fresh air to have so small a camera again.

For anyone who has never used a rangefinder camera (which all Leica M series are) it is somewhat different to a SLR. Firstly you don't look through the lens, you look through a viewfinder that presents you with a much wider view of your surroundings. Going back to an SLR feels like looking down a tunnel in comparison. Second rangefinders are smaller than SLRs because they don't have all the mirrors and pentaprisms that SLRs need in order to allow you to look through the lens that puts the light onto the film (or sensor these days). This lack of extra mecahnicals has the added benefit of relative quiet. A rangefinder is much quieter when you press the shutter as the camera has no mirror to quickly get out of the way. Many perople do not like rangefinders because they can't accept long telephoto lenses, are seldom auto-focus and don't give you a depth-of-field preview. Certainly were I a wildlife or sports photographer whose stock in trade is long lens shots I would not choose a rangefinder.

So why do they work so well for me? well the majority of photographs I take tend to be of people within the context of an environment or of an environment alone. In both instances the position and relationship of the me, the photographer, to the scene is very important. I like my photographs to give the viewer the feeling of being a participant in the scene, to be within the environment rather than voyeuristically looking on from afar. For this reason I've never liked using long lenses for my pictures as they have the inbuilt quality of removing the viewer from the centre of the action and compressing depth.

When taking photographs I find the wider viewfinder puts me within my surroundings more; I feel part of the scene rather than feeling like I'm only observing a tiny proprtion of it through the lens. Seeing more than I can shoot helps me anticipate action, enables me to play with different compositions more easily, work out whether I need to move closer to or back off from my subject and all the while knowing that the camera is quiet and discreet enough not to become the centre of attention.

When I finally made the decision to go digital (a mixture of not being able to find the chemicals I liked to use for film processing anymore and a desire for an easier life) I opted to get a Canon 20D, the best semi-pro digital SLR available at the time.

It is a very fine camera but I do have complaints though they would equally apply to any other modern SLR. Firstly, compared to the Leica it is huge. It is very hard to work disreetly; the camera is so big and loud that it draws attention to itself at once; you become the centre of the action rather than reacting to what is going on unobtrusively. Second it tries to automate everything. I find that the more I have to concentrate, the more I take better pictures. By forcing me to focus manually, as the Leica does, I feel more connected to the scene. You can, of course, use Canon lenses without the auto-focus but the manner of their construction is so biased toward automatically focussing that using the lenses manually is rather like driving a car with powered steering compared to one without. I don't feel directly connected to the mechanics of the camera as I do with a fully manual lens.

Similarly I find being forced to manually select aperture and shutter speed also concentrates my mind though this works equally well on the Canon as it does on the Leica so this is not to praise one sort of camera over the other.

Many people vastly prefer auto-focus and auto-exposure because it frees them to concentrate only on composition and when to fire the shutter. I can totally understand that viewpoint but it doesn't work for me. The less I have to do, the lazier and less focussed I become. I end up with
very voyeuristic photographs, exercises in composition rather than photos where I am involved in the action. The Leica, being in effect totally manual, makes me work for my photographs whilst its design and dimension allow me to position myself within an environment and work without becoming the centre of attention, without contaminating the scene too much with my presence. It is for this same reason that I don't use flash, it attracts too much attention to itself, but that's a topic for another post in its own right.

So my point is that there is no "best camera" out there for everyone. I've used pretty much every type of camera there is and I can see merits and applications for all of them (except the Leica R9 which is as God-awful a piece of expensive rubbish as I can think of and I still don't understand what my dad sees in his) but everyone has differing priorities and needs. Choosing the right camera is more than looking in at the brochures to see which is the latest and has the most megapixels. It has to feel right, to sit in your hand and come to your eye naturally. The more your camera helps you concentrate on the moment of taking the picture and the more it feels like an extension of your eye into the world the better the photographs you take will be.

Here are a few photogaphs I don't think I'd have been able to take with a non-rangefinder camera. Rangefinders aren't for everyone but they really work for me:

Heg Quizzical

A Tourist, A Pigeon and Admiral of the Fleet, The First Earl Jellicoe



Lazy Afternoon

Quiet on the Building Sites


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