Sunday, June 29, 2008

Have You Ever Been to Electric Ladyland?

Friday night was fun. TR makes a mean margarita and I had, erm, a few of them . However I did not get utterly banjaxed as I had to be on a train to Southend on Sea by 8 a.m. on Saturday morning. Why, you cry, would Mr Atrocity be on a train to the coast on a Saturday morning? Well there's a little story attached. Don't worry it's a nice one.

Cornell Plexi Seven

A couple of months ago I treated myself, as my Hellboy 2 overtime self-present, to a new guitar amp. I sold my last one before moving in with Tinseltroos. It was lovely, but it was also 80 watts which is way too much wallop for domestic use. I had looked high and low for a low-powered (5 watts or so) valve (tube to the American readership) amplifier capable of producing those late 60s Jeff Beck, Robin Trower, Cream, and early Van Halen type sounds at a reasonable volume level. I ended up coming across Denis Cornell's amplifiers. He builds amps for Eric Clapton and Robin Trower so I figured he must know what he was doing. His amps aren't cheap but they aren't insanely expensive either and they are all hand-built with point to point soldering; none of your printed circuit boards here if you please. As part of his non-custom range, Denis Cornell builds a 7 watt Plexi amplifier which seemed perfect. After waiting for about a month the only shop in London to stock Cornell amps got a batch in. The batch of twelve amps arrived on Wednesday, by the time I was able to make it to the shop on Saturday only two remained, one of which was the red 7 watt beauty you see above. I tried it and could almost have wept, here was the fat, edgy tone I'd been trying to recreate for years. So I ponied up the cash and took the amp home.

Tragedy! It was still too loud to use at home, even on its lowest setting I couldn't get it to overdrive without serious volume, in the space of the guitar shop it hadn't seemed so loud but at home, nope it wasn't going to fly. So I jumped on the internet to see what could be done. After searching about for a bit I found that there are some power attenuators manufactured specifically for valve (tube) guitar amps and so here, I thought, I might find salvation. Before I bought one I thought I would just check with the manufacturer of my amp as to the wisdom of adding the attenuator. So I wrote an e-mail to Denis Cornell, expecting a short, formal reply in a week's time. Within the day I'd received a lengthy, very friendly e-mail in which Denis said he thought the attenuator would work, though this wasn't what he had in mind when he designed the amp. Would I, he inquired, be able to travel down to Southend with my amp and he'd see what he could do to lower the volume. This was too good an opportunity to miss and that is how I came to be on the train yesterday morning.

The taxi from Southend station dropped me at the company's address with my amp in one hand, guitar in the other. I was confused. I was standing in a street of detached bungalows, the sort that people retire to. Perhaps I'd made a terrible mistake I thought, perhaps I copied the address down wrong? I knocked on the door. A moment later a smallish grey haired gent, probably in his late fifties answers the door. His glasses are held together with sticky tape. I ask if he's Denis Cornell. He replies in the affirmative and I am invited in. Denis's workshop/tinkering area is what would have been the front bedroom had the building still been a home. Denis sat me down and pottered off in his slippers to make us a cup of tea. Looking around the room was like looking at an electrical engineer's sweet shop. The walls were covered with neat little drawers each with a hand written note behind which could be seen capacitors, resistors, potentiometers and on and on. Leaning against the wall next to the door were a variety of half constructed amps, on the work bench next to me were a variety of soldering irons, oscilloscopes and transformers.

Cornell Plexi Seven Innards

Denis returned and asked me to explain my problem again, then he asked me to play though the amp so he could hear how loud was too loud. I did this. He unscrewed the back of the amp, scratched his chin, removed a couple of components and soldered new ones in their place. I am always impressed by good soldering, mostly because I stink at it. Denis was like the Bernini of hot tin and lead; a beautiful job. We tried the amp again, still a little loud. Another scratch of the chin another couple of components replaced. This time it was great, it was still loud but not too loud. Denis screwed the casing on the back of the amp and then pottered out of the room. He returned a moment later hauling a huge roll of red tolex (fake leather that amp cases are often covered in). "This is what we're going to cover Robin Trower's amp in" he says, "Red and black, with gold piping. Sexy eh?" I had to agree. Denis dragged his Tolex back out of the workshop and returned having, I noticed, swapped his carpet slippers for shoes. "I'll run you back to the station." he said. I could have died. Here was a guy who had not only designed and built an amazing amp, he'd invited me down to modify it to better meet my needs, he'd refused any money for doing the work, and now he was going to take me back to the station. Denis Cornell is a legend. So now I have a custom Cornell Plexi Seven, a host of anecdotes and an overwhelming desire to be evangelical about the man himself as well as his creations.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

One More for the Road?

I've been quite the society darling this week. As always happens at the end of films quite a few people leave for pastures new. There's a mixture of things at work there. First of all because the talent pool for this type of work is relatively small people tend to travel the world over to work. At the end of a show they often want to try another country or return home. The other reason people drift away is the attritional nature of the work. People can and do burn out and have to take a few months or a year off to recuperate. This happened to me after Charlie and the Chocolate Factory so I know how the current crop of escapees feels.

On Tuesday we said good bye to our overall supervisor for the last show who's now returning to spend time with his girlfriend who he hasn't seen in three months in L.A. I don't think he's seen anything other than inside of our studio offices in those three months either. I only wanted to stay for one because I had a cold and was feeling pretty tired but I ended up having a couple but still managed to be home before ten and slept like a baby.

On Wednesday was the latest in a series of good-bye drinks/dinners/what-have-yous for my friend TR. She's in the latter camp of wanting time not working so I think she's off travelling and after that who knows. She'd heard me, and others, rant about the virtues of the fillet steak at The French House, a legendary restaurant and bar in Soho so on Wednesday she decided to book a table and a few us were asked to join. I met up with her, The Berg and Dr H for a pre-dinner cocktail straight out of work at seven o'clock and suitably relaxed we went up to the restaurant and took our table. The steak was, predictably and reassuringly, excellent as always. As an extra bonus I even got a couple of slices of the chateaubriand that The Berg and Dr H were sharing after they declared themselves full. I couldn't bear to see such deliciousness go to waste. Also I'd only had a smoothie for lunch and was ravenous by the time we sat down to eat so I didn't really feel gluttonously guilty either.

Last night Tinseltroos and I worked on fancy dress. We measured out, cut and stitched a rough-hewn waistcoat/jerkin out of fake suede for my outfit. It needs buttons and a collar but it looks pretty good already. I was very pleased to be able to rely on Tinseltroos' clothing construction experience as although I can sew and hem and such I don't have much experience beyond hemming the odd pair of trousers and so on and this was a step beyond that.

Tonight is another of TR's dos. This time our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to help her dispose of the collection of tequila that she's amassed in her flat over the last couple of years. We can only do our best of course but I think we'll be able to help out.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Truly I am a God

The Spore Creature Creator was finally made available and after a couple of false starts (you can buy it for the Mac now but you can't actually have it yet) we got a version working on Tinseltroos' PC. We were pretty cross after all the installing, uninstalling, upgrading and other Microsoft based yadda yadda needed to make it work but when it did, boy it didn't disappoint. For those not in the know, Spore is a game where you can design your own organisms and watch them live out lives, evolve and develop until they become sentient and then go off to explore their galaxy. Pretty much the ultimate in God Games. At present only the creature designer is available but that on its own is so much fun. Sticking limbs and sensory organs all over your creature, scaling them, tweaking their shapes until you have your finished beastie is incredibly entertaining. Here a re a couple of creatures I made yesterday. First is a Snufflodon with its young:

Snufflodon and Young

And here's my take on an Elder Thing from H P Lovecraft's At The Mountains of Madness:

Lovecraftian Elder One

What a little cutie. You can probably expect more creatures to appear over the coming weeks, I don't see myself getting bored with this one anytime soon.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Bitching Dr Beeching

Clare Station
Here's a photo that sums up how well the railways were working this weekend

As was trailed in our last thrilling installment of The Renaissance Monkey, our hero was about to go and get trolleyed with work colleagues to celebrate the departure of a certain Red Demon thingy after which he was to jump on a train North to see his mother for her birthday. One of these exercises went well.

I was very restrained knowing I had to be up early the following morning and the thought of dealing with my mum with a raging hangover didn't bear contemplating. At a little after 10 I called it quits and went home to pack a few things and then to bed. Tinseltroos didn't rock in until much later but she was allowed the hangover as she wasn't coming with me. Duly on Saturday morning I set forth in the medium drizzle to London Euston where I arrived at 8.30. Normal procedure travelling to my mum's is get on a train at Euston, travel for an hour and forty five minutes, get off the train at Crewe. Done. A cursory examination of the internet before travelling revealed that due to the inevitable "planned engineering works" my journey would be somewhat circuitous. I boarded a train at Euston, an hour later we rolled into Northampton where we were all thrown off and driven, rather in the manner of prairie cattle, into 'buses to drive to Birmingham. Sisoftroos maintains, and I think she may be right, that the three most terrifying words in the English language are "replacement 'bus service". We trundled up the M6, stop starting in the traffic for an hour and a half until we arrived at Birmingham International.

Upon arrival there it took a little detective work to find where the suburban trains into the city of Birmingham ran from but eventually I fought my way onto a platform full of grumpy shoppers and then squeezed myself and my bag onto a tiny, packed commuter train which stopped at every tiny station in every suburb of Birmingham until we finally arrived at Birmingham New Street.

I stomped the length of the gargantuan New Street concourse looking for trains that stopped at Crewe. After several false leads and bum steers I tracked one down and boarded. From New Street we made reasonable time and I eventually arrived in Crewe, starving and parched at about 2 o'clock, five hours after I'd set out.

My mum had a fun time, I took her out to dinner and she took me to the arts fair in the town she lives in (highlights included me, trapped in a church full of singing primary school children surrounded by some horrible paintings by "local artists", with no way of escape) and then on Sunday morning at a very early hour I was out back on a train as my mother had church duties and so needed to be rid of me. The journey back was more straightforward - no changes were necessary. Unfortunately due to more engineering work and some jammed points we sat outside Milton Keynes for an hour and eventually pulled into Euston an hour and half late. A two and a half hour journey became a four hour journey.

Having dumped my bags Tinseltroos (who had just about recovered from her hang over if not her cold) and I went and had a late lunch in my favourite restaurant. From that point on the weekend took a marked turn for the better and today I'm back in work for more fun and games.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Another One Bites The Dust

Big Red has left the building and it's time to celebrate the fact. I'm now done with Hellboy 2 and tonight it's our WRAP party to celebrate his departure. One show down, two to go at the moment.

Tomorrow morning I shall be on trains to go and see my mum, it being her birthday. Unfortunately for me the powers that be have chosen tomorrow to do some major engineering work so I have to change trains three times and the journey is going to take four hours. Normally there are no changes and it takes two hours. Time to pack a good book and make sure the iPod is fully charged. Erk. Even better would be to not have a crushing hang-over too. Fingers crossed on that one...

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Iowa Rebuilds


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Finger Painting

Fingers Painted, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

Tinseltroos and I are in the midst of putting some fancy dress costumes together and for one of them some dismembered fingers are required. Last night we stuck our hands into alginate and filled the resulting moulds with plaster of paris. This evening, upon getting home from work, I painted them up. Tinseltroos had already given them a good fleshy base coat, I added some texture and detail to the skin and painted in the nails. I knew all those years at art school would pay off eventually. I'm rather pleased with our ghoulish creations. I love making costumes, it encourages all sorts of cutting, painting, sticking, sewing, and is thus, I feel, a good thing.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

A Year On

Me and T

A year ago today my life changed dramatically and in a way more delightful than I could possibly have dreamt. On the 16th June 2007 Tinseltroos and I moved into Schossadlerflug. I wasn't nervous, though perhaps I ought to have been. I'd never lived with a girlfriend before and this should have felt like a "big step". But it didn't, not really. It just felt right and natural. I don't actually remember which one of us first broached the idea of moving in together. The whole process, from realising that we wanted to do it, to finding and then settling in to Schossadlerflug took a few months but after we'd finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix we had the time to do it right.

And a year on I couldn't be happier. It's been the loveliest year of my life to date and I haven't regretted it for a second. In retrospect it still doesn't seem like a momentous decision and although I realise it was a life-changing moment it felt more like an evolution than a revolution and one that we both (I think) reacted to in the same way.

I know I am a very fortunate man and I do thank my lucky stars daily that my life is as good as it is. I complain quite a bit, often about work and sometimes with justification, but deep down I wouldn't change a thing. Here's to many, many more years.

In other news I finished working on Hellboy 2 today. I have earned a drink.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Waiting and Sketching

JFK sketch, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

Well it's Saturday and I'm still in the studio even though I was supposed to be done on this film a month ago. I begin to wonder which higher power I have offended to have this punishment meted out upon me. Anyway this really should be the last weekend on Hellboy, which is just as well as I have a host of other work on other shows to be getting on with.

I've spent much of the last week doing a whole heap of simulations and rendering which entails quite a bit of sitting around waiting for the computer to chew through the settings I've made to give me a picture. Here's a sketch I did whilst I was waiting. It's based on Richard Avedon's JFK portrait. I'm quite pleased with the likeness in the actual drawing. From the angle in this photograph it looks a bit like David Lynch though. Ho hum.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008


Cheers, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

I have been out for the last couple of nights catching up with friends.

On Tuesday I was at The Cork and Bottle, a wine bar adjacent to Leicester Square. It is, in spite of its location, a delightful place with a stonking wine list. The four of us, TR, NH, P and myself managed to get through three bottles of excellent red, including a delicious, soft Pinot Noir from Oregon, TR's home state. You can see me here finishing off the evening with a glass of port. Yum.

In addition to the booze, The Cork and Bottle also does food, good hearty solid food. One of their specialities is their Hemingway Burger. It is, they claim, Ernest's own recipe and it is bloody good containing beef, lamb, pork, wine and spices all in hefty quantities. It is a good thing too that the food is substantial as you're never going to satisfied with just a glass or two of wine when there's so much good stuff on the list to try.

Last night I met up with my buddy S, who I haven't seen in months for a catch-up over a cocktail or two, which ended up being a cocktail or two, dinner with a bottle of wine and then the pub for a pint before heading our separate ways home. All good but I think I shall be keeping off the sauce tonight.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Bobby the Gorilla has a Little Drinkie

Ack. work has, once again, absorbed all of my mental processing cycles. I am working on three projects simultaneously and it's making my tiny mind hurt. In lieu of properly structured, velvety prose here's a picture of Bobby the gorilla that I took on Saturday.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

My First Grey Hair - Thanks Hellboy

Oh well, it had to happen eventually. I've had tons of grey hairs in my beard for ages but here's the first one on my noggin. Tinseltroos gleefully reports that it is not alone, she found some others having taken this photo.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

My Book Arrived

My Book Arrived, originally uploaded by Mr Atrocity.

One of the things I wanted to do during my fortnight's holiday was to finally get my book of photographs designed, laid out, organised and printed. Having evaluated all the possibilities open to me I decided to go with as their options seemed better in the types of book I could design and the freedom I had with layout and covers. I actually ended up doing two books, one large hardback book and a smaller paperback that I can give to friends as it's a little less expensive to print. I ordered one of each and yesterday my large book arrived at work. I'm really happy with how it turned out, the prints are exactly the right density which is excellent because I have a penchant for printing pretty dark when I can - I like a lot of blacks in my prints and if I'm not careful a less exacting printer could print the pictures too darkly. So I can really recommend Blurb for anyone thinking of self-publishing, it's a great way to get your work, be it photography or text, out there and available for public consumption, if they want it of course.

Check out my books

When the small version turns up, assuming it too is OK quality wise, I shall order a copy for everyone I know who appears in the book. It seems only fair to say thank you for the time they spent putting up with me trying to take their picture.

There is also a competition on Blurb's website for photography books and I reckon I will enter that. I don't think I have a chance of winning but what the hell. Booda Baby cajoled me into it and for that I'm thankful.

Well it's been a long day; I'm working on three shows at once this week and I'm feeling it tonight, so I shall take myself off to bed.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Don't Upset the Roomba

Here is the back story. On Sunday Tinseltroos was out of the flat for of her regular Bollywood marathons so it was just Murphy and me. Murphy is a regular little trooper but he only has enough puff to vacuum half of the flat in a single charge after which he has to go and have a little rest. I needed to go and do some shopping so I set Murph off to do one half. Later on I went out again to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull again (I make no apologies, I love it) so Murph got to clean the other half of the flat. The little guy did an admirable job and we had a nice clean flat.

On Monday Tinseltroos, not realising that Murphy had already done both sides of the flat, set him off to do the hallway and living room again. Murphy took umbrage at this, I suspect he felt it was slight on his workmanship from the previous day and duly when I returned home it was to a scene of a devastation. Murphy had scattered the neatly arranged collection of recycling everywhere. Cans, beer bottles and milk containers littered the entire flat. In a final, desperate act of self destructive rebellion Murphy had knocked his own power supply out of the wall and driven himself on top of it: a clear plea for help I think.

I carefully untangled the unhappy little robot and plugged his charger back in. After petting him a little and reassuring him that he was still very much loved and was a very good little robot I plugged him back in and went about the flat picking up the remnants of his day long bender.

We haven't had the heart to ask him to clean any of the flat this week. With luck he will have forgiven us by tomorrow.

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