Sunday, May 29, 2016

Working With Other People (Project Methodology)


The question has been asked about whether I can work with other people. The answer to that is yes, of course I can.

Well, ok, most of the time.

What do people mean by “working with other people”? Does it mean blind compliance? Does it mean good communicator? Does it mean a desire to find a workable compromise? Does it mean maintaining one's equilibrium when someone lies to your face? Does it mean doing it their way to the detriment of the project?

Yes, it means all these things and more, depending on the circumstances.

You should rest assured that I can act professionally when the situation is professional. Crazy people can make me appear crazy, non-professional people non-professional. Under those circumstances, I try to extract myself from the project as quickly as possible and with as much grace as possible. No need to make the project suffer because I think someone is a loony, I extract myself as soon as it is good for the project, or do what the loony wants and tell the producer that is what I am doing. Under these extreme circumstances, the project does not need my input.

So in response to the question of “can I work with other people”, the answer is “certainly, as long as the other people can and are willing to work with me.” As long as people are treated with respect.  That is all the people on the project should be treated with respect, not just the top people. As long as it is remembered that we are all human and can make a mistake. As long as we all remember that we have a role to play, and that role may not be the role we would want to play (e.g. I really want to direct, etc). As long as we all remember that we were all beginners once and that people are learning on the job.

As long as we remember, in basketball terms, that while the center or forward may make most of the scores, they could not do so without assists, and therefore to acknowledge and reward the assist.

The key word is professionalism, I think, and making an effort to get along, and to give everyone a certain amount of slack as we move the project forward.

As an aside, I have noticed that people who come out of live theatre are often easier to work with than other types of people.  Why that should be true will be the subject of speculation in another post.

Now lets turn to the equally complicated issue of “the deadline”.

Friday, May 27, 2016

A Dialog About Firearms and Superheroes in Cinema with a British Intellectual


I sent a friend in London a link to the opening of Deadpool (2015) to show off some excellent use of 3D animation in the service of art, or at least superhero movies.

His response was less than ecstatic:

(edited slightly for formatting purposes)
Yeah pretty good i guess...
I'm just so bored with all american productions and their fixation with guns... I mean what is the attraction in watching people firing guns? And in most of the shows it is all unimportant characters that are being shot. The main cast rarely get hit. Its really boring...
I much prefer Scandinavian tv dramas which like British shows rarely have guns because basically we don't really have them... But i currently prefer the Nordic noirs because UK drama is being influenced by US ideas and although they don't have many guns (although they are succumbing to that too) they have picked up the American sentimentality with people hugging at the slightest opportunity - Where is our stiff upper lip anymore? But the Scandi's they have almost no sentimentality so i really like them...
Have you seen the original danish 20 part version of The Killing, or Borgen or The Bridge or Wallander... I really love those shows - in the whole of Borgen there wasn't one gun or one hug - sheer delight! Its like they took away the guns and hugging from madame secretary ;-)

I do not completely understand all his references here (e.g. “madame secretary”) but I do see what his point is. Here is my response:

We must make allowances for cultural diversity. When Paul Verhoeven in the 4th Man (1983) revealed that the nurse at the end was none other than the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of God, he was taking a bold step for a Dutch protestant to acknowledge, in a practically Papist way, the Virgin Mary.

You see where this is going?

So it is with Americans and firearms.

The American cinema and its intellectual elite has moved beyond the giant robot and turned to the comic book superhero as a medium with which to express the totality of our civilization. And yes, there is a certain number of firearms in these movies, but there is also quite a few samurai swords, as well as more European broadsword types.

In the first Thor (2011) you will find very few firearms, but rather a lot of swords, some hand to hand, and most of all Mjolnir, the mighty hammer, "for if he is worthy, let him who wields this hammer have the power of Thor". (see attached picture)

To understand America is to understand the frontier of the old west. In the classic Western, good and evil must contend and settle once and for all which will triumph, and meet at noon for the shootout. What would you have them use instead of firearms?



The 4th Man (1983) on IMDB

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Lane Halley and Joseph Goldstone Married


I am happy to report that my friend Joseph Goldstone has, in great secrecy, married his long time companion Lane Halley. Andy Kopra of Berlin officiated as Best Person.

Joseph and I have worked together many times and have been friends since about 1985 or so.

Announcement of marriage in NY Times Society Section

Joseph and Best Person Andy Kopra in NYC rest after shopping

Monday, May 23, 2016

An Open Letter to my Friends at Pixar

People tell me not to get involved. People say, mind your own business. I know they are right, but I can not stand by and see people that I love and respect fall prey to circumstances beyond their understanding, circumstances that could quite possibly lead to a damaged career and a failed and aborted life.

I was not aware of the hardships my friends must endure until I took my first trip to N. California in nearly a decade and visited with my friends at Pixar's Emeryville campus. To the best of my knowledge, no one in the history of animation has worked in buildings where you could build a regulation size basketball court in either of their two main lobbies. No other studio I am aware of has a lap swimming pool on premises. Its all behind a fence and a guard gate to keep the unwashed away. But inside that apparently privileged environment, in secret, they are suffering. They must be. Its a tragedy.

They little know what horrible fate may, no, inevitably will await them if they continue on the path they are on. Working for a respectable company, given job stability, resources, talented colleagues and intelligent management, admired by the world at large, don't they realize the perils that they face? Paid well and able to plan their lives with real resources and all that implies, unlike their colleagues in the rest of the world who have all the benefits that my friends at Pixar lack.

Benefits such as failure that builds character, having to start again at the bottom, or fail to start again because of lack of resources, broken homes, children without medical care, children without elite education. As the CG/3D character in Deadpool (2015) puts it “House blowing up every two years builds character.”

Don't they realize that this soft life of success will let them be self-indulgent, completely ignorant of the real world, allow them to build $10M treehouses in the sky instead of learning what it is really like to be a pioneer of a field like computer animation, where so many of their colleagues from the early days are treated like worthless garbage, and thus have a richly enhanced personality built through adversity?

And the people they work with? Also isolated from reality, and do not share the personality traits of a fly-by-night hollywood producer or shit-for-brains visual effects “professional”. Year after year, they stagnate in a productive environment doing their best work and building upon the momentum they have achieved. The rest of us have the opportunity to recreate ourselves with no resources having wasted our time with people who say they want to go to the moon, but really want to go to the corner.

My friends at Pixar could dive into the gutter for years and work with the worst people they know and we would still be ahead of them. They could become impoverished and watch opportunity after opportunity pass them by without having the means to do anything about it. Those opportunities will not come back for my friends behind their fence and with their lap swimming pool.

I feel so sorry for them.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Black Aerospace Project that Was About To Be Disclosed That Wasn't

This is an update on various posts about the possible public release of information about a black aerospace project from over a year ago.

It is a personal pet peeve of mine that we have on the Internet and other venues (e.g. Aviation Leak and Space Mythology) breathless sightings of what may be a black (e.g. very secret) aerospace project, and then dead silence. Nothing.

Well, nothing is a little hard to interpret. So I am going to attempt to interpret “nothing” for my readers, and for what it is worth.

To recap, there were some very interesting sightings reported on These sightings were of what appeared to be a manned flying wing aircraft which was not the B2. More than one, in fact. The B2 is a very distinctive plane and the observers, who seem to be respectable, knowledgeable and who took reasonable pictures of what they had seen, were of the opinion that it was not a B2. Well, nothing else of that type of airframe that is manned is flying, so that it seemed to be a reasonable conclusion that they had in fact sighted something not only secret, but also in (at least) limited production, as there was more than one of them.

The speculation was that whatever they had seen (and I liked the theory that it was a stealthy tactical reconnaissance aircraft that came from work in the mid-1980s and went into very limited production in the 1990s) was that this aircraft was about to be made public. Hence, they were less careful about bringing the plane back from somewhere (Iraq? Africa?) in broad daylight and so forth.

Ok that was the speculation.

Well, a fair amount of time has passed since those sightings and whatever they may or may not have seen has not been publicly announced which means one of several things. If it was an aircraft in limited production use, then whatever it is still has its uses or in some way has technology that still needs protecting and is not just ready for public release. Or maybe they saw nothing at all so there was nothing to announce. Or maybe they were B2 bombers after all.

Actually, I think they probably did see something but whatever.  In a sense this is good news, because if it is in limited production this means it is still of value, which means that the money was well spent, at least to some extent. Alright, thats a bit of a stretch.

One more thing, there are a variety of aerospace forums that discuss these things. I am not a regular reader of them but this is often where more information is found, if you have the patience to read through them and all the tendentious bullshit that accompanies the occasional nugget of interest. You can find them by searching for "black aerospace discussion forum" or words to that effect.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Proof of An Unspeakable and Conscious Evil

I believe that there is an implacable evil in the universe, a conscious evil that exists between life and death and which constructs for each conscious being a personalized living hell with which it torments each and every one of us.

For some people, this living hell may be an eternity on Facebook. For others it may be an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend or both who has reappeared and wants to renew the relationship. For some it will be that email out of the blue from an old colleague explaining how much he has always hated you and all the things that he or she has done behind your back to damage your career. Each one of us is different, each one of us will be made to suffer.  We will all have to face his or her own Room 101 and rot in our own individualized hell. 

This conscious evil will wait, it will bide its time, it will prepare, and then when you let your guard down it will strike. I know this because I have gone before, I have faced this evil. It happened like this.

Apparently, and without meaning to, by going into "computer animation" I had become a "starving artist" and so decided to see if I qualified for state assistance.  This was with great reluctance because I still had a residual self image of being self-supporting in spite of our modern globalized economy.  I have not been very good at bureaucracies in the past, nevertheless I persevered and became qualified for what we used to call “food stamps” but now goes by other names.

It is a good program, by the way, and we should support it. In fact, were I actually an artist who cared about the poor in our society, it would certainly be a good thing to discover just how these sorts of programs work and who is eligible. In this case it is only for those who are truly poor, without income and without savings. But if you are in that category, it will allow you to eat. It wont pay your rent, or keep the power on, but you will eat.

I had not been careful with my paperwork, and I had to go get my Social Security papers and return to the social welfare office and present it. It took a day to get the paperwork, and then I knew it would be most of the day to present the Social Security card and deal with that requirement.

And as I sat, alone, in that dreary office, and waited, penniless, for four hours, this unspeakable evil of which I have spoken struck without warning. For there, on the LCD monitors was a “cartoon” to engage the children who waited with me, and there over and over again was a Pixar movie about some cars in the desert.

The Devil's tool ?

Oh cruel fate! Oh despicable evil. To wait until I was down and then force me to watch this movie over and over again while I, a pioneer of computer animation, had been unable to make a living at his craft. To gloat at my (economic) failure, to laugh at my defeat.

Recall that in America, success and failure is judged exclusively by the size of one's bank account.

See, it seemed to be saying, see how worthless you are.

Immediately after this incident, a project started and I no longer qualified for this program.  But even so, I know now that this evil is out there, waiting. I believe it waits for you as well. It waits for all of us. 



1. "Room 101" is a reference to George Orwell's 1984.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Motion Blur and Atypical Flare Over Syria

The following are images taken from the boom position of a McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender aircraft while refueling an F-22 Raptor over Syria. The point of these pictures here is to demonstrate a good use of motion blur and a form of lens flare both “normal” and “atypical” as used by our unwitting photographer for the benefit of those interested in the arts of visual effects.

In our first picture we have the image of a stabilized F-22 underneath the KC-10 with the city in the distance. The F-22 has matched its motion to the boom and our photographer so there is no motion blur (there is actually a tiny amount) but the ground underneath the plane is moving at a steady clip as you can see by the streak of its lights. Additionally both the bright distant lights and lights/reflections on the airplane itself are demonstrating what we might call “typical flare”, e.g. a roughly circular, symmetric and Gaussian glow on top of (double exposed if you will) the base imagery. Also look for saturation blowout where the image “becomes so bright” that the color is attenuated to “a very bright” white.

In the second picture, our eyes are drawn to the green flare on the left side of the image. The conceit here is that there has been some moisture on the lens, whether from rain or condensation or other. The water distorts the otherwise circular flare (as maintained for the red light) into a idiosyncratic and atypical flare such as we might see in the so-called real world, which in fact this is.

Notice that the lights on the ground are far less noticeable as we have moved over a more rural part of Syria.

In our final image, we have a different point of view. The fighter still has matched motion to the boom and hence no noticable blur, but the lights are also seen from a different angle and more in the distance, so there is also less blur.

The funny thing about motion blur done well is that at speed the apparent blur disappears.

Wikipedia page on the KC-10

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Is Princess Leia Channeling Hillary Clinton?

Carrie Fisher, a sex symbol of the cinema from an earlier era, has received some mighty unpleasant criticism about how she has matured since the original film came out in 1977. Well that is 40 years with a lot of mileage for Ms. Fisher who was after all a more intellectual, spunky kind of sex object.

But I have noticed that in her role as General Leia in the latest Star Wars film, she reminded me of another senior woman of politics. Yes, Hillary Clinton.

Is this coincidence, my own fantasy, the Force, the lattice of causality that underlies the apparent coincidences of the material world, or is it just saying something about the fashion of being a woman in power in early twenty-first century America?

Globalization and Its Discontents (1/2)

Many people in Washington and in business pretend to be surprised at the backlash against Globalization, which is sometimes presented with the code words “free trade”.  If the politicians are genuinely surprised at a backlash then they are genuinely stupid.  But I do not believe that they are that stupid, I think that one more time they are lying to steal the money.

Globalization has a very clear historical track record at least here in the West.  What is human slavery but an economic alternative to having to pay one's fellow citizens a living wage?  One can just "requisition" labor from the "dark continent" and use them on your sugar plantations without having to pay benefits or for that matter salary. Just a little room and board. And no unions either! Just imagine how much profits were improved for the shareholders. It was a good system until a bunch of do-gooders got involved and ruined everything, making business pay good hard money to the workers.

Globalization serves a similar purpose: increase profits through lowering costs of labor by sending the work to a part of the world where labor laws do not exist. And if it has a result of impoverishing Americans, well who cares? They are not shareholders and the poor have no impact on the political process, as we all know so well. 

Does this mean that I do not want America to be part of the “Global Economy”? No of course not. What I want is for the burden that Globalization imposes on the citizens of this country to be shared with the people who make the profits, and to see that there are legal restraints on their power.  And I believe that the Government can do many things to bring Globalization and its negative side effects under control.  I believe that they are morally obligated to do so.

Why does our government believe that they can put that many Americans out of work and not do something to help them find new work?  If these workers need to be retrained for another job, they are not likely to be able to afford it. The money they would have spent in the local economy, all that money that is being sent overseas, is now not spent in the local, American economy, causing other business to go out and release even more workers. And the improved profits go to the top 1 percent who already had enough money, so the average American sees none of this. The corporations and the rich do not even pay their fair share of taxes, putting even more burden on the middle and lower classes.  How can our government think for even one second that this is fair?

Of course the profits that remain do not just go to the 1 percent, some of that is shared with the politicians that enabled these activities with legislation that impoverished so many of their constituents. Payment for services received, as it were.

So now Americans are finally waking up to what has been done to them. It is reasonable to ask when does unintended consequences become merely the 800 pound chicken that comes home to roost? When is it merely the greed and stupidity of our business and political elite at the expense of any responsibility to long term consequences?  Long term consequences? What long term consequences, you may ask.

Here is one. Even the most shallow observer of recent history is aware that when the United States won World War 2, it was in large part because they had the manufacturing power to win it.  Now that we have destroyed our manufacturing in order to increase the profits of the rich, it makes it unlikely that we will be able to win another World War, should one happen. Do I believe that the United States has a strategic economic plan to see that this does not happen?  Thats a joke, right? 

Here is another.  A generation of young and old Americans who can not achieve financial security or their goals in life because they and their families were impoverished by this economic policy. When will Washington get it through their heads that enriching the 1 percent is not the same as providing economic security to Americans?

But the worst part of this is that our elected representatives lied through their teeth about the results of Globalization and do so to this day, but do nothing to help the disenfranchised or impoverished.  Their job is to represent the interests of the American people, and to tell them the truth about the policies that they are proposing.  And Clinton, Bush and Obama lied to the American people on an issue that is vital to the well being of their constituents.

Can anything be done about this? Isn't it all just water under the bridge by now? The answer to that is no, not even a little bit. Yes, 20 years of people's lives have been destroyed but there is a lot that our elected officials can do to improve the situation and return some wealth to the other 99 or so percent that they have "inconvenienced".

This will be the topic of part two of this post.

Monday, April 25, 2016

John Hughes, the Doolittle Raid and Globalization

[My sources in Korea tell me that the first project for Mr Hughes in his new studio will be a Bruce Beresford film about the aftermath of the Doolittle Raid in China].

It has been announced that John Hughes is forming an effects studio in Beijing with Chinese money. The first project will probably be one that dramatizes the support the Chinese people gave to the allied war effort in World War 2, in particular the support that the Chinese gave to the Doolittle Raid of Tokyo, and the Japanese response which was severe.

Its an interesting choice of topic for a first project and I wonder who came up with it. My guess is that it was not the visual effects people, as we have learned that to have an opinion in such matters is not our place, and any enthusiasm or intelligence just makes the clients afraid (this is my personal experience). So we must assume that the choice of subject was made by the Chinese and is just a coincidence that it is on such a relevant topic in US / China relations. 

For those who are not aware of their own history, the Doolittle Raid was an improbable surprise attack by Mitchell B 25B medium bombers on Tokyo relatively early in the war.  They were launched by the Hornet, an aircraft carrier which had made a daring and dangerous approach to the Japanese coast.  The bombing itself was of minimal impact. The US had no way to retrieve the bombers or their pilots so the plan was for the bombers to fly on to China and land (or bail out) there.  Then with the help of the Chinese on the ground, the pilots would make their way back to America.  That did work up to a point.  The raid had minimal direct military impact, but it was a giant morale builder for the American people.  What was perhaps not completely thought out was how the Japanese were going to respond to the Chinese support for this activity.

But the raiders’ choice of haven revealed coastal China as another dangerous gap in the empire’s defense. Japan already had many troops in China. Within weeks, the Imperial General Headquarters sent the main force of the Thirteenth Army and elements of the Eleventh Army and the North China Area Army—a total force that would swell to 53 infantry battalions and as many as 16 artillery battalions—to destroy the airfields the Americans had hoped to use in the provinces of Chekiang and Kiangsi. “Airfields, military installations, and important lines of communication will be totally destroyed,” the order read. The unwritten command was to make the Chinese pay dearly for their part in the empire’s humiliation. 
Details of the destruction emerged from previously unpublished records on file at Chicago’s DePaul University. Father Wendelin Dunker, a priest based in the village of Ihwang, fled the Japanese advance along with other clergy, teachers, and orphans under the church’s care, hiding in the mountains. He returned to find packs of dogs feasting on the dead. “What a scene of destruction and smells met us as we entered the city!” he wrote in an unpublished memoir.
The Japanese returned to Ihwang, forcing Dunker out again. Troops torched the town. “They shot any man, woman, child, cow, hog, or just about anything that moved,” Dunker wrote. “They raped any woman from the ages of 10–65.”

B25B Mitchell medium bombers preparing to take off from the USS Hornet

So it is fair to say that a movie the celebrates the long suppressed or just ignored history of our alliances in WW2 and the sacrifices of the Chinese people on our behalf is to be welcomed.

An article in the Smithsonian Magazine about the aftermath of the Doolittle raid

Wikipedia page on the Doolittle Raid