Saturday, May 23, 2015

Introducing Siberian Times and News of Massive Musk Oxen Baby Boom


When I despair of reading news of interest in our provincial and boring news media, I remember that often the most important news is local, and through the events in the lives of people in these fascinating and foreign venues the real humanity of the world is revealed.

Furthermore, when our major news outlets are so humorless except for especially selected “humor providers”, some of the people of the world recognize the odd situation they are in and play on it, usually with a straight face.

Such is the case with the very interesting and somewhat remote Siberian Times (

Whenever I have visited the Siberian Times over the last few years, perhaps every six months or so, I have been rewarded with a series of articles and topics that are interesting and often well photographed.

Musk Oxen in a circle

In the current instantiation, we have articles about a baby boom among Musk Oxen, the secret mating rituals of rare Siberian leopards, an analysis about whether a recent meteor was shot down by a helpful UFO (with excellent comments), an excellent pictorial about a Siberian coal mine and an alarming article about out-of-control pond scum on Lake Baikal.

Comment about the Space Brothers

I have added the Siberian Times to the list of selected news media.

Musk Oxen

Secret Mating Rituals of Siberian Leopards

UFO / Meteor Discussion (see comments at end)

Secrets of the Universe to be Sought from Lake Baikal

Down in the Siberian coal mine

Friday, May 22, 2015

Bad CGI in Movies? Is That Even Possible?


I continue to see people out in the world, on Internet forums and blogs, complaining piteously about the alleged overuse of bad computer animation in film. Here is a recent example pointed out to me by the people at

Six Reasons Modern Movie CGI Looks Surprisingly Crappy

Is it possible that there is too much CGI in modern filmmaking?

No, of course not. Everything done with computer graphics in visual effects is exactly as it should be and the audience should agree if they know what is good for them. But sadly, some among the audience, a pathetic few, have not gotten the message. Two messages in fact.

The first message that these whiners have missed is that the modern art of filmmaking is all about the bad use of computer graphics: that is its very raison d'etre. That is its highest goal, second only to making a fast buck, of course. When the audience sees computer generated garbage, that is a manifestation of the new art which demands new artists and perhaps new audiences as well. Some of these filmmakers, like Michael Bey, may be ahead of their time. But it is the duty of the real artist to lead, and society's taste will follow along eventually.

The second thing to realize about the tsunami of shit that we see in computer-generated visual effects is that it is not merely a lack of skill on the part of the effects providers, although that is often true as well.

Those who kvetch must look further into the heart of the madness itself and realize that it is almost certainly the filmmaker's vision that is on the screen. If it is ugly, it is the ugliness that the client wanted. It is perhaps, an element of their style made manifest.  Sometimes unconvincing or sub-par work is the result of a lack of skill on the part of the VFX supervisor or facility, but even then it may be the case that this lack of skill is why they were chosen for the work.  Their aesthetic perhaps matched that of the filmmakers and a perfect harmony was found. It is not accident that things look the way they do.

To paraphrase a gem of wisdom from our friends in Communist China, “the fish stinks from the head”. In other words, when something smells bad to understand why it smells bad, you must look at who is running things because what you are seeing (or smelling) is probably what they asked for or represents who they are in some manner.

Yes, there are details in this realization of vision that we can be technical about. The failure to realize that a camera must to some degree act like a “real” camera. The failure to embody the characters with appropriate gravity is often cited which is itself merely one manifestation of  bad animation. The failure to realize that visual effects is about slight-of-hand, it is about making the audience see what you want them to see and not about number of pixels or “photorealism”. The failure to realize that too much of anything may be counterproductive.

But in Hollywood (the Globalized, virtual Hollywood, that is), nothing succeeds like excess. There is something about visual effects done with computers that can cause a producer and or director to lose all sense of proportion and just throw 3D computer generated shots at the movie.  Perhaps this is a way to avoid the anxiety of having to work with a writer?   Perhaps 3D will in the future be classified as some sort of dangerous drug that causes the filmmakers to peck without restraint at the lever that releases a 3D CGI pellet to the drug-crazed pigeon-filmmaker?

To understand this phenomenon, perhaps we must abandon the "rational actor model of filmmaking", which says that those who are making this expensive entertainment product are reasonable and talented human beings doing what they think is best for the kind of entertainment they are trying to make, and understand that the people involved have seemingly lost their mind.

Perhaps these critical swine must look within themselves to see the real faults.   Could it be that it is not "bad" computer per se that they are reacting to, but their own provincial point of view that is not sophisticated enough to understand the director's vision?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Three.Js Documentation Errata

This post will be updated regularly as new anomalies or corrections in the Three.js documentation are found.

[Further exploration has revealed that three.js has in fact an active group of developers who communicate via forum on Github, (search and you will find), and are making important changes to this framework with diligence and integrity.   Apparently it is just less important to them to document it in the main public documentation.  And indeed it may be the case that those who really care are reading the developer's forum.   In any case, I will volunteer to update their main documentation and see what they say, although I have learned the hard way that one often needs to think twice before volunteering for anything.  In the meantime, you have this post and I hope it will be a help.]

As I have mentioned before, I think that one of the biggest issues in keeping current and using various technologies on the Internet is the problem of incomplete or out-of-date documentation. Now, documentation in technology, it turns out, has only rarely been very good. But there have been exceptions, or exceptionally good counter-examples, and they all usually happened because it was important for the people developing that technology to put serious and sustained effort into it even though they had other things they wanted to do.

But today, when everybody is getting paid (but me) and yet no one is getting paid, we end up using technologies that are unsponsored or are labors of love and one is lucky to get the documentation that is there, let alone really good and professional documentation.

What that means is that the potential user of that technology, who often has no choice what framework or middleware to use, is stuck learning the technology by trial and error. Is it a waste of time, sure it is. But two things, first, it is the way it is, and second, it is symptomatic of the times we live in.

Some classic examples of this is WebGL and Three.js. WebGL, wherever it really came from, is a version of OpenGL designed to work in your internet browser. It is as far away in philosphy as what motivated OpenGL that you could conceive of. WebGL is insanely difficult to use.

Built on top of it is something called Three.js. Three.js is pretty good in a lot of ways and I am using it on three different projects right now. But every time I try to use it after a hiatus, I keep slamming back into the documentation which is better than some documentation out there, but still very irritating in what it leaves out and what it gets wrong.

These may seem minor to you but I think it is very important.  People are busy, we want to use these technologies and "not reinvent the wheel" but it is a pain in the ass, literally not less than twice as time consuming as it has to be.

So in the spirit of positive action, I am going to start documenting the issues and mistakes that I find in the documentation. I am not sure where this will end up, but in the short run the changes will be added to the bottom of this post in no particular order. Then one day, perhaps, they can be incorporated into the main documentation.

As a separate matter, I also include a brief sections on requests/suggestions, e.g. those things that would be nice to have.  This is more in the area of functionality, not so much in the area of documentation.


In all the cases below, I am referring to the documentation that should be modified, not the code itself, although it is possible that the code itself should be changed to make a parameter more consistent with other parts of three.js.

Finally, all the suggestions below are the result of the following process.  First I try to do something in three.js and read the relevant documentation but whatever I am trying to do either fails or in some way does not solve the problem.  Then I search the internet and find examples that show me how to do what I need to do that was not mentioned in the documentation.  Or I just try things that I think might be there based on how I would do things if I were writing this code.  Eventually something works, I verify that it is not in the documentation and I add it to the list below.

1. The Three.js tutorial features a rotating cube which one rotates with "cube.rotation.x += .1;".   The cube is a mesh, and the mesh documentation does not list rotation.x, position.x and they .y and .z variants as attributes which can be set.

2. In Object3D, the parameter “position” should be documented as “read only”. An attempt to set it will result in an error. This attribute is not marked read only, even though other attributes are.

3. In PointLight, the method "position.set(x, y, z)" should be added.

4. In BoxGeometry, each of the attributes that are read only, such as width, height, etc, should be listed to be consistent with other parts of the documentation.

5. In Scene, the "add(obj)" method should be added and it should be made clear what kind of objects can be added: cameras, lights, meshes, object3D, whatever.

6. It is not clear when the documentation says it is "todo", whether that means the functionality is there but not documented or whether it means that the functionality, e.g. "gyroscope" is missing entirely.  In any case, it would be very helpful if all the items in the documentation that are marked "todo" could be moved to their own section so one does not waste time on a feature which is apparently not there.

7. The object "Group" is not defined anywhere in the documentation, even though there are examples that use it.  It is apparently like Object3D but simpler, and is a preferred way to group various objects together before adding them to a scene.  In the example I found, one creates meshes, assign each mesh its own position with mesh.position.x = whatever, add the mesh to the group, then at the end add the group to the scene.  The documentation should be updated to have a page on "group" and be sure to add the method "add()" as well as all the relevant attributes and what can be updated.

8. The documentation for mesh does not list such attributes as "position", "rotation" and how to set them (e.g. by setting each parameter individually such as postion.x) or whether they should be (or could be) set with a vector.   There should also be a discussion in this page of what is inherited by higher level objects associated with the mesh (e.g. if the mesh is a part of an object3D or a group, what happens when that object3D or group is rotated, etc).  Although it may seem obvious that the lower level meshes will just inherit the higher level attributes, that is not always the case.  First, it may never be the case with group, in that group may be just a bundle of meshes that do not inherit anything.  Second, in the case of Object3D, some attributes are indeed inherited as you would expect but at least one parameter, "visibility", only sometimes is.  The developers forum goes over in great detail why this exception exists (it has to do with performance issues and the use of WebGL).  But had I been trying to make this work without reading the forum I would have wasted a lot of time.   Had it been in the documentation, it would merely be an annoying exception which one can easily get around.

The following is information that seems plausible but has not been tested by me as of yet.

9. Also from reading the forum, one learns that the various "traverse objects" in Object3D have been renamed.  Again, one would not know that from reading the documentation.  Not tested by me.

10. There is supposedly a scene.remove( object ) function which is the opposite of scene.add (object ).  It is not clear to me whether one can also remove other entities such as lights, groups etc.  It is not clear to me if you can use the undocumented "name" property to find and remove objects.

11. It is said in one of the forums that each Object3D has a "is_ob" flag which when true indicates that this really is an Object3D and that this is necessary when traversing a list of children intending to remove things.  Not tested.

12. In quite a few forum posts, it is implied that Three.js is well integrated into the DOM such that one can do such things as "getElementById" on three.js entities.  Well, if true, it should be documented.

Requests / Suggestions

1. Of course the big issue when something doesn't work is "what happened?".  It would be great if Three.js had a flag that could be enabled that would cause error messages to be output somewhere, presumably the console.


Stuart Cudlitz (? - 2015)

My friend Stuart Cudlitz has passed away after a long illness. I know of Stuart through my friend Sally Syberg as she had worked at Colossal Pictures in SF for many years, and so had Stuart. Stuart had the misfortune of working on several interesting visual effects projects and formed the incorrect belief that this was a creative way to work in the motion picture industry (the belief is incorrect, because the two pictures were exceptional, which is one of the reasons their visual effects were sent to Colossal to begin with).

At one point his significant other got a good job with Nickelodeon in NYC and he moved there, perhaps a little over a decade ago, and we spent some time together. He told me how difficult it was to have a beautiful wife who loved him and supported him in Manhattan where all he had to do was paint fine art or whatever else he wanted to do. It seems funny in retrospect, at the time I was bitterly jealous, of course.

My friend Stuart was a complete character and he will be missed.

Please go enjoy your day while you still can.

A biography of Stuart as taken from his website (see below)

Stuart Cudlitz is an artist, writer, filmmaker and educator. As an exhibiting multi-media studio artist and a published illustrator, writer and composer he has applied these legacy skills to the design and direction for his work many credits on commercial and independent films and interactive media employing emerging technologies. As a guest lecturer and adjunct faculty Cudlitz utilizes a professional studio approach to teach curriculum in both MFA and BFA programs with emphasis on techniques in visual thinking, interdisciplinary animation methodology and the integration of traditional arts and narrative techniques across all media. He is currently writing a book on the relationships between the legacy of traditional art methodology and digital media creation and distribution while continuing to provide creative direction and design solutions for the media, communications and electronics industries. Recent accomplishments include co-invention of a proprietary patented technology for the storage, retrieval and exchange of personal profile data enabling consistent interpretation across multiple device, applications and data services based on a social networking model.  Professional Associations include ASCAP, ACM and IEEE.

Stuart's Website

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Countermeasures Once You Have Been Spoofed

Several months ago, my friend Ken Cope reported that my name was being used on Facebook to sell some horrible weight reduction product. That was weird but I did nothing about it. I now think I know how it happened and I am writing it up so that you can possibly avoid these things.

For a variety of reasons, I run Windows on one of my laptops. This is the device I use to read books in bed and on the train so it needs to have a Kindle reader which means it can not be Linux/Unix but must be Windows or Mac OS. It came installed with Windows 8 which is, IMHO, a disaster but I installed classic menu and tried using some apps from the Microsoft store including a world clock. Well, one of these apps had a virus.

Or possibly the virus came with a plugin for Google Chrome.

In any case, Google Chrome started behaving obnoxiously bring up billions of advertisements, so I reverted to Firefox and the problems mostly went away.

But then all of a sudden when I tried to edit my Kindle parameters, it brought up a window to Amazon but unbeknownst to me it was really a hacked non-Amazon window with a questionnaire. I foolishly filled it out and it contained no information of value. I have no idea what the point of that was. But it was clear to me that somehow my browser had been hacked and that it had whatever my browser knew, which included passwords.

I brainwiped the computer and went and changed all sites that had passwords that the browser on the computer knew. You must never use these passwords again because it now has it in its database and it will make use of them on another account of yours should you reuse it.

Probably you should not have your browser ever remember a password. Once a program is infected, delete it. Once a password is compromised, never use it again. Never load applications from the Microsoft store.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Genre of the Short Weapons Film


As we endure the vast explosion of creativity enabled by the long-coming, often heralded, and deeply regretted democratization of the filmmaking and film distribution processes, we would expect, and we are told to expect, the emergence of new genre of film, in particular, of short film. These genre have exploded in number and, almost unnoticed, are embedded in our consciousness and evoke all the human emotions of humor, boredom, disgust, fear, envy, awe and hatred in varying amounts.

Oscar Wilde supposedly said, in a quote I have never been able to find, that “thank God not everyone writes plays, because if they did we would have to see them and that would be tedious.” Or words to that effect. 

One problem with being sarcastic is that every once in a while one is sincere and it can be difficult for one's readers or audience to catch the transition from overt sarcasm to sincere admiration, especially if one has a sense of humor that can be misunderstood. So be warned, this essay, about half way through, will turn sincere in admiration, as we talk about the genre of our nominal topic, the short weapons film.

Ah, the short weapons film! Lost among billions of short films about cute pets, fitness, how to fix your toilet, the prodigal grandchild, sex, young women in their underclothes, young men in their underclothes, narratives about crossing the border, self-hypnosis, TED talks, political or other character assassination, lists of things found in movies (10 best sexist jokes, 10 best science fiction movies that fail), films about the weather, machinima with voice over delivering narratives on how to exterminate aliens in your new synthetic Corvette, among all of these we also have the subgenre of the “short weapons film”.

The “short weapons film” comes in primarily two forms, the professional and the amateur.

The lesser form is the professional sales film that accompanies each new and proposed weapon system. Be it a missile, or a sidearm, or a new French small submarine for special forces insertion and “exfiltration”, these short films are professional (that is, people are being paid to make them) and contain certain standard elements in a predictable fashion. They are less than 10 minutes long and contain a narrative of how new technology and ideas solve a problem in conflict resolution whether that means seeing in the dark, blowing something up, travelling fast or what have you.  The film moves on to describe the particular solution incorporating live footage and synthetic imagery to show how this technology can solve this problem.  Story structure is straightforward and leads to the "obligatory" scenes, such as a solid set of time lapse photography of a missile launch or a target being hit.  Audio is typical for the genre of the short industrial film.  Often just voice over with a theme or inspirational music at certain times.  Occasionally a few seconds of an interview with a key weapons designer or customer.  Each subgenre of weapons film has its own conventions.  For example, few films about submarines can resist using that famous sonar ping at least once or twice in their film.

These films are boring  but they may have interesting elements if you happen to be interested in the technology.  

But there is another genre of short weapons film that is enthusiastic, exciting, fun, unfunded, amateur and occasionally completely drop dead brilliant.

This is the short film that is made by the sailors or soldiers themselves to describe their work, or demonstrate their esprit de corps or just show how much fun it can be to pilot an A-10 close support aircraft, or fly a modern air superiority fighter next to its brethren from WW 2, or the gorgeous choreography and jaw-dropping danger of flying from a carrier, or landing a helicopter at night in the desert. These are edited raw footage with a rock & roll background theme, generally speaking, and natural sounds from the activity from the point of view of the observer, the pilot, the ground crew, the control tower. The technical quality of the imagery varies from excellent to extreme low resolution and quantized night footage, but the authenticity of the imagery is never in doubt. The sense of presence, of being there, in Iraq, on the aircraft carrier, what have you, is genuine and completely sincere. These are young people flying jets, jumping out of airplanes and blowing things up.

Here is an example of an Airborne exercise in which people jump out of perfectly good helicopters when in the air:

This art form is transient and perishable.  The issue of the music copyright for small art films continues to come up.   The classic in this case is the short film about U2 spy plane practice landings and take off.  The U2 is known as the "Dragon Lady" for a variety of reasons.  Among other things it does not have normal landing gear to save weight.  So it discards its gear when it takes off and then basically does a modified crash landing when it lands with the pilot being unable to see much of anything.

The original film was brilliant, but the music was not their's.  So they substituted another track, which is of course not as good.   But if you wish, you can watch the video with the sound off, and then play the real track in the BG with some manual synchronization.  Its really good.   The music is "She Hates Me" by Puddle of Mudd.

U2 being chased by the cops

U2 Dragon Lady: She fucking hates me (the video, turn the audio off)

She Hates Me by Puddle of Mudd (the music)

For those of you who want to sing along, the words to She Hate Me are here:

Yes, they got one of their chase cars to pretend to pull the U2 pilot off the plane and check him for drunk driving.  

Not all these films are this brilliant of course.   But they are generally quite fun in a certain way.

Note: This post will be updated if I can find better versions of the video, or even the video with the original music track. Trust me, this is worth it.


France will Build World's Most Advanced Submarine

Scopene Class Submarine

Friday, May 8, 2015

What is this Cancer Thing All of a Sudden

As you read this, I have four friends who have been diagnosed with cancer that has metastasized and are under various courses of treatment, usually radiation and chemo.  They range in age from 30 to 60.  None of them have particularly evil habits so far as I know, e.g. no heavy drinkers or smokers or obesity, etc.   Furthermore, 3 of the 4 are close friends of mine, people who I collaborate and interact with.  People I will miss should anything happen to them.  (The other one is a more distant friend, but still a friend).

Of the four, three of the individuals are walking around, and one of them is in a hospice and unable to speak. 

When you were growing up, did your parents, or school, or other institution (church, synagogue, community center, whatever), did anyone happen to mention that your life could be cut short at any time and that you could have your body ripped apart by a legion of vicious and deadly diseases?

Did they mention that you could be of any age when this happens, and that while there are a variety of things you can do to avoid this fate at least in terms of the odds, that ultimately it is up to chance and how your genes feel like mutating.

Also, if you catch it early, in other words, if you worry about things like this all your life and get tested regularly, then you can probably, but not necessarily, extend your life, i.e. increase survivability. But if you fail to worry about these things then it is possible even likely that you will not notice the problems until it is far too late.

It seems to me that this sucks.

I also have two friends who are HIV positive and have been under treatment for years, perhaps a decade. But they seem to be out and about and doing well.

I have also noticed that my friends who leave this world early all seem to be the nicer ones.  The evil people seem to go on forever.   What is going on here?

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Anomaly of Enjoying Jupiter Ascendant

George Lucas has famously said that movies are binary: they either work for you or they don't. If they do, then you ignore any little flaw. But if they do not, then every flaw or potential flaw is noticed and used against it. I do not know if Mr. Lucas was original in this observation, I doubt it, but ever since I read that I have noticed that he seems to be correct. All movies have flaws of course, but when you are caught up in a film, one is happy to ignore the problems and issues that in other circumstances would be seen as deadly.

The question then becomes, what leads a member of the audience to lean one way or the other? From acceptance and enjoyment to rejection and boredom or worse? One aspect of this choice may be what is called the “cockroach in the salad” effect. Lets say you are eating out at a fancy restaurant and you have ordered a salad and when it arrives the first thing you see is a disgusting cockroach on top wiggling its antennae at you. You call the waiter over and he removes the offending cockroach and salad but the damage has already been done. It will be hard to get beyond that terrible first impression. On the other hand, let us say you are at a restaurant and see nothing that you particularly want, but you order something and to your amazement, it is really good. From that point on, everything works for you.

So my argument here is that the basis of cultivating a positive impression of a creative work is a mashup of “first impressions” with “low expectations”. If you did not expect much, then getting something really good is likely to push you over the edge to a positive impression. And vice versa. Until you get that push, whether positive or negative, then you are in a state of uncertainty. Is this film any good or not?  

I don't have any other way of explaining the apparent anomaly of enjoying “Jupiter Ascendant” (JA) a film I was born to hate. What could have caused this odd reversal of expectations such that I actually enjoyed watching this film? Can Science explain this or must it always remain a mystery?

Consider the following:

First, we have a dinner sequence in which our plain jane heroine introduces us to her Russian extended family in America. Its actually very funny. You mean the Wachowski brothers actually have a sense of humor? How would we have known?

 Jupiter's sister before and after a special bath.  Ah, refreshing !

Second, we have a classic theme in fantasy fiction, the “person of noble birth who does not realize that she is of royal blood and possibly the heir to the throne”. In this sub-genre, the kids are separated from the adults by the manner in which it is revealed that our average neighborhood girl is actually “her majesty”. In JA this is actually done quite well and unexpectedly. A fight sequence between two alpha males upsets a hive or three of bees which scares the shit out of our female lead, but no need to worry, the bees have been genetically programmed to treat “royals” differently and so our two fighting alpha males break off their sparring to recognize that something quite odd has happened. The babe has been revealed as a member of a royal family of some sort.

Bees show the way

Third, after our plain jane babe has had her butt saved by our hero, she tries to encourage him to ignore her royal birth and kiss her. He refuses, revealing that he is not really a man, but closer to a dog, or a wolf. She comes back with a splendidly stupid response: she has always gotten along well with dogs. Its does not persuade. This is funny.   It occurs to me that in certain ways this incident is itself a flaw in the movie. If our hero was really descended from a dog, then he would have no trouble taking advantage of the situation.  But I digress.

Fourth, the sequence with the candles and certain aspects of the wedding sequence are lush and clearly represent the director's desire to have a big wedding one day.

Fifth, the two brothers of this royal family are monumentally fucked up.   Parents, take note, do not name your child "Titus", it never seems to work out.

What a creepy asshole this guy is.

But most of all, who could not like a movie where the lead babe keeps having to remind people that "I am not your damn mother"?

So what we have here is an overdone, weird movie in the same genre of, for example, the original Dune novel: a space opera with exotic economies, insane royal familes and fight scenes between things bred to be good at fighting.

Overblown, a misfire, there is no doubt that it is a miscalculation on a galactic scale, truly a stupid movie.

Nevertheless, as a 12 year old, emotionally and psychologically, I found it often to be an entertaining movie and was willing to overlook its tragic flaws.   I also have a tendency to hunt and peck at my movies.  I am not bound, like so many are, to watch a film from beginning to end.  I prefer to "sample", sometimes with the sound off, in order to better appreciate its higher values.   When properly used, this technique can improve most movies.


It did not hurt that the uber-schmuck, John Gaeta, was somehow deposed from his role as visual effects supervisor on this semi-epic. I shudder to think what manner of ego-swine must have replaced him/it. I am sure that Mr. Gaeta will enjoy a new career in the food service industry or some other profession worthy of his talents.

American Cockroaches Lunge for Freedom in Communist China

In a daring escape from slavery, a million cockroaches escaped from a Chinese farm where they were being raised by cockroach slavers. Their escape was aided by an unknown “Friend of Cockroaches Everywhere” who destroyed the integrity of the horrible slave chambers that the cockroaches were contained within.

The cockroaches were being raised as a commercial venture to provide critical components of Chinese folk medicine which is based in part on pieces of cockroaches torn from their still living bodies.  Thus these innocent victims of Communist oppression were headed for certain death had they not made their escape.

In a heartening moment of cultural diversity and American Exceptionalism, the freedom loving cockroaches were American cockroaches, imported from N. America where there is said to be no shortage of free-range cockroaches.

Freedom loving cockroach making a dash

“This is one tiny step for a cockroach, one giant leap for cockroaches everywhere,” said an anonymous cockroach-loving organization in China. “We hope that this will be just the beginning.”

The oppressive Communist Chinese dictatorship was working to destroy the escapees by any means possible, reported sources.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Cost of Retraining Workers in the 3D Industry


[In this post, we discuss what I am calling Strategy 2, which is that the disenfranchised worker attempts to leave the industry he has trained for and worked in by retraining him or her self by getting an advanced degree in a different subject at the university.   In a previous post, we discussed the out-of-pocket costs of Strategy 1, which is to try to persevere in the field he or she has worked in by staying current and attending various conferences.  You can find that discussion here.]

Lets examine the real costs to society of unemployment, especially unemployment that is caused by foreign subsidies that damage industries in other countries particularly our country, since that is what we have in the train wreck that is computer animation, that foreign subsidy thing.

A friend who believes in the free market says that those who got screwed by foreign government subsidies are worthless garbage who lost out on the “free market” and deserved what they got.  How an industry that has been devastated by foreign subsidies could be confused with a free market, I do not know. Besides, we have never really had much of a free market in this country, at least not for the rich. You know what they say, its socialism for the rich but the free market for the rest of us.  

Since employment in this industry in this country was severely impacted by these subsidies, and since our government failed to act, presumably at the request of the studios although again no one really knows, nevertheless we can calculate what it will cost to retrain these workers into another field.

But how many workers were displaced?   No one knows the numbers, so far as I know, and no one cares to know as far as I can tell.   But we can look at a few indicators and make our own rough estimates.   I am going to guess that the peak employment in this country for computer animation in the service of visual effects and animation was roughly in the years 1997 - 2004 or so.   If we look at employment then and compare it to now we will get a rough estimate of the change.

R&H goes from 600-1000 people to zero, Sony Pictures Imageworks which used to have over 1,000 people working has moved production to Vancouver.   Digital Domain which used to also be over 1,000 people I think are down to a few hundred.   ILM which was over 2,000 at one point is now about 500 according to one estimate of someone currently working there.    Dreamworks Feature Animation laid off 1,000 people in S. California and then closed their N. California office.   At this point we are nearing 5,000 people.

Now some of these people have in fact found employment overseas.   And some of these people, I do not know how many, will be able to slide into other careers with only some disruption.   Some will be able to work for Google, some for Facebook, and some will get married and have families while their spouse works. I think that it is mostly the mid-level and senior people who have specialized in computer animation and spent over a decade in that field who will especially suffer.  I do not know the numbers but I am going to guess here for the purposes of this post, 2,500 people.  I hope this number is conservative.

Unfortunately most of these people live in California which is very expensive, and many of them have significant others or families that they are supporting.   I estimate a minimum monthly expense of roughly $4,000 which breaks down to $2,000 for rent, $1,000 for utilities and food, $1,000 for car payment, insurance and everything else.  I realize that outside of California these rates might seem exorbitant.  But it costs a lot of money to rent in LA and SF and you don't get much for your money.  At least in NYC, you are living in NY, goddamnit, but not in LA and SF where it is merely expensive without returning any value that I can see.  And you need a car out here.  Those who do not drive will not be permitted to play.

There are several paths one might take to create a new career, but one of them, and the only one I am going to price here is to go to a university and get an advanced degree.   That will take 3-5 years and cost roughly $30,000 per year.  One might get a masters degree in computer science, or get an MFA in Art and look at teaching.

Thus if we estimate 2,500 people for three years getting an advanced degree then we get 2,500 * (48,000 + 30,000) = 195 million per year for three years or just under 600 million in total, adjusted for interest, net present value and what have you.

It goes without saying that the family goes off health insurance unless the school provides some, and I am not sure what the policy is for students with families.  It goes without saying that the kids get the substandard public education we give to our worker-swine, they don't deserve the elite education of private schools. Also that unemployment insurance, should they receive any and I never have in spite of what the law says or what is taken from my salary, is a pathetic joke and does not amount to much.

Now you may not care about these people and you may object to retraining them on theoretical grounds. You may believe that these people deserve to have their lives destroyed. But I disagree, I do not think they deserve to have their lives destroyed. I think that the society that failed to protect their jobs through greed or malfeasance has the duty to retrain them. That is what I think.

But even if you do not agree with me, then at least I hope we can agree that the people who made a commitment to this field, many of them at the urging of respectable organizations like SIGGRAPH, will now have costs they must bear in order to get into a different field in mid-career.  And those costs, paid for by the individuals affected, come to not less than $600 million over three years.  At least. My point is that there are real costs to society of failing to deal with this issue and of training too many people (or whatever we did) for this field.

The good news is that this money is easy to get. The studios have made much more money than this using the subsidies and making product based on the technology which we invented and was then shipped overseas to take advantage of slave labor and subsidies. So they have plenty of money. Have them pay. That would be only fair and I am sure that they will be happy to do so.