Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Esoteric Knowledge and the Hollow Earth


At Global Wahrman, we plan to reveal the hidden knowledge, sometimes known by the elect as the esoteric knowledge.

Of course, not everyone is ready to receive the wisdom and those of you who are not yet ready should go away until you are. Go beat on some drums and burn incense or read Blavatsky or something, and then, when you are ready, come back and the knowledge will be revealed.

Today's esoteric knowledge primer will be on the hollow earth, or as I like to say, the Hollow Earth.

Of course, we all know that the earth is hollow, and that vast subterranean caverns exist beneath the surface, filled with utopias, civilizations , and statuesque women in tight clothes that stagger the imagination. How could it be otherwise? How could it not be true with all the fiction that has been written about it? In fact, were it not true, that would cast doubt on all sorts of things that we know are true, like Nazi UFOs and Atlantean Crystal Wisdom, so I think we can be certain that it is true.

The apparent reason for this post is to record notes from a book about the Hollow Earth, by David Standish. You can find that book here.




The following may seem a little cryptic, but that is to be expected about esoteric knowledge, don't you think?

0. What is the relationship between the feminist utopian fantasies and the Hollow Earth?  Why are women authors compelled to use the Hollow Earth as a setting for their anti-male diatribes?  Is there, dare we say it, some subtle phallic or vaginal symbolism associated with the Symmes' holes?  (See illustration below)

1.Clearly, the relationship between Baudelaire and Poe needs to be further investigated.  For those of you who may not know this (and I did not), Baudelaire single handedly rehabilitated Edgar Allen Poe in the eyes of literary criticism with his translations of Poe into French.  Here is the first paragraph of a scholarly paper on the topic: 




2. Poe's novel about the hollow earth, "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket" is available online here.

3. Poe's "Ms. found in a Bottle" is a great title and could be repurposed into a film or story about a young woman who drinks, for example. The title has been unintentionally updated, of course, "Ms." used to mean "manuscript".

4. Some documents by David Symmes here.

Subliminal Anti-Phallic Symbolism, Perhaps?

5. Alexander Dumas wrote a novel about a "wandering jew" who goes to the hollow earth. This novel has never been translated into English. It is called Isaac Laquedem: The Wandering Jew. This sounds pretty damn weird, there must be a reason it has not been translated.  Weird.

6. Standish rattles off a whole litany of Hollow Earth titles that I had never heard of before.  A later post will list some of them.   They will be assigned reading.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ancient Computer Animation Artifacts and Homer Simpson


In this post we discuss a very early use of computer animation in the mainstream, before the tsunami of computer animation we are all suffering from today, back when it was a novel and expensive choice. And we discuss how to appreciate the ancient motifs of those early days of animation.  In other words, the particular piece we describe is filled with computer animation in jokes, as you will see.

It is part of the ancient history of computer animation, back when it was an experimental and impractical medium for entertainment and art, that the best way to see computer animation was to attend the annual ACM SIGGRAPH conference and see the Electronic Theatre, which was originally shown on a few nights of the conference only. Not only was this the best way, it was usually the only way, as this is in the days before Youtube when computer animation was an acquired taste of eclectic researchers and artists only.




Since the audience on those two or three nights of SIGGRAPH was essentially the entire audience for computer animation in the world and everyone who attended, or almost everyone, was very knowledgeable about computer animation, there had developed a series of motifs that were either funny, or silly, or just mistakes, that we all knew. For example, an early computer animation model was a teapot that someone at the Univ of Utah cobbled together out of patches to make a surface with a certain complexity. He modelled the teapot by hand by typing in numbers into a text file, and that teapot, that very same teapot, was used in a lot of papers and films.

So then, when some outsider from the motion picture industry would slum with us and attend the Electronic Theatre, to find a way to exploit the medium for their corrupt ends, they would walk away puzzled. Why, they would ask, would a glass teapot dropping on a table and shattering in slow motion be the cause of a standing ovation?   "Why can't they do more films like the one with the lamp, you know, a funny film that doesn't have any ideas?"

But we were living in a fool's paradise. Computer animation became more practical and more accepted, and that led inevitably to the corruption and decay that you see today.

The transition period between R&D and mainstream production when 3D became both more practical and controllable, as well as accepted by the motion picture and television industries, and by the audience, was, arguably between 1991 and 1995. Terminator 2 (1991) and Jurassic Park (1993) established computer animation's respectability in visual effects and Toy Story (1995) in animated features.

The piece we are going to discuss premiered roughly three weeks before Toy Story, and thus was produced before computer animation was considered to be real and respectable in animation.

It was called "Homer 3", where 3 is a superscript, which means Homer to the 3rd power. It was for the seventh season of The Simpsons and their sixth episode of the "Treehouse of Horror" Halloween special. In this episode, Homer tries to escape from being subjected to his wife's relatives and escapes behind a bookcase into a mysterious dimension, the 3rd dimension. After being lost, and causing the destruction of that universe, he is saved by Bart at the last minute and returned safely to the 2nd dimension.

Homer notices his new 3D physique

Boy, this place looks expensive.

The computer animation was done at Pacific Data Images (PDI) before they were acquired by Dreamworks Feature Animation.

You can see a very bad dub of this piece here:

Of the many homages to the SIGGRAPH Electronics Theatre in this piece, here are the ones that stand out to me:

1. The crazy, artificial, and unrealistic camera move that goes nowhere.

2. The signpost that has an X, Y and Z direction.




3. The use of the cone (and other primitive objects, e.g. sphere and cube), a simple geometric object used a lot in the early days of computer animation for all sorts of things. The III logo (1) was a sphere, a cone, and a cube.

4. The emphasis on simple water and fluid, fluid being a hard problem in computer animation and a lot of various tests made it into the film show.

5. The implausible architecture and Tron-like environment.



Professor Frink explains "The Third Dimension" and also demonstrates why translating 2D characters to 3D is a very tough problem.  Imagine translating the Professor to 3D naively from this image, it would be grotesque.

6. Homer Simpson says "Boy, this place looks expensive. I feel like I am spending a lot of money just standing here". Which he was, computer animation used to charge by the second (sometimes it still does), and it was both difficult and expensive to just have a character on screen scratching his butt.

7. There are also some shading artifacts on Homer's face that probably came from the simple shading model. This may or may not have been intentional, and the artifacts may or may not have been because Homer was modelled from polygons (I am pretty sure he wasn't, but I am not positive). But it looked like the artifacts we used to see all the time in the early days. If it was intentional, it was a homage. But it was probably just happenstance.

8. Homer asks if anyone back in the 2nd dimension saw the movie Tron.  All but one say no, and he changes his story so as not to admit of seeing Tron.

I think PDI did an excellent job on something that was at the time a very prestigious piece indeed.

But the best thing that this piece has going for it was not standard at the Electronic Theatre but is very common for the The Simpsons: it is very well written.


Treehouse of Horror VI on Wikipedia:

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1. III is Information International, Inc.   This large company which is still in business and thriving, had an early computer animation group that used their film recorder technology, and worked on Tron.  Many famous and important people either founded or worked at III.  We will discuss III's adventure in "digital scene simulation" in another post.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Early 18th Century British Underworld Slang


The Thieves Cant (or language) is a work written sometime between 1690 and 1720 by one B.E. Gent in London. It purports to be a dictionary of terms of art of the various "underworld" groups of the time: thieves, gypsies, beggars and so forth.

Its full title is:
A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient & Modern of the Canting Crew, in its several tribes, gypsies, beggars, thieves, cheats, &c.
In other words, this is underworld slang from what historians call the Early Modern Period in England..

The term "canting crew" is itself completely obscure to me, but it may refer to beggars, and their "cant", or speech, or possibly their begging rap.

When looking up the meaning of "canting crew", I came across the following review in The Nation:
http://www.thenation.com/article/161410/canting-crew#






It is the case that subgroups of this type, e.g. outsiders, have always had their own "language", usually a vocabulary used by members of this group and the people they interact with. We have them all the time to this day, particularly with various groups of outcasts from polite society such as economists, philosophers, astrophysicists and so-called visual effects practitioners, who must disguise their anti-social and disagreeable beliefs behind a cloud of mysterious jargon known only to the elect.

Exactly how correctly this work describes the actual language used by these groups is not clear to me. But it is amusing in its own right whatever its historical accuracy.

Entry in online library:

Scan of The Thieves Cant in PDF form:

Text of The Thieves Cant

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Photograph Demonstrating the Permanence of High School


New York Magazine has an excellent essay on the subject of whether or not we ever really leave High School.   Its a topic of great interest to most of us, but may be slightly misdirected, as it seems that so many of our peers have the emotional maturity of someone stuck in Jr. High School, not High School.

But nevertheless, its an interesting article and it can be found here.

But the real reason I am mentioning it is because I thought that they introduced their article with a truly great picture.


Does the "Happy Face" button and haircuts identify the year of the original photograph?

Notice the attention to detail.   They are wearing very similar clothes, if not identical ones, and are trying to duplicate their facial expressions, slumping body positions, the sense of a group of friends on the loose in New York City (presumably), etc.   Its the same t-shirt that the guy 2nd from the left is wearing, or an amazing replica.   Notice the vacant grin on the guy sitting down.   Its beautiful.

What makes it great is not the technique: the goal of the technique was to duplicate the cheesy feel of the original.   Technique is important in anything, but it is not the only thing.  These pictures could be out of focus and they would still be great.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Explanation in Cinema: A New Synthesis

[1/27/2013  It turns out that The Departed has a fabulous, nearly canonical example of an Explanation, in a different scene.   That scene can be seen, so to speak, here.]

We contend that the highest form of the filmmaking art, the very pinnacle, is the art of the explanation. In this cinematic form, a character explains "what is really going on" to another character or characters in our drama. It may or may not be in the form of a confrontation, or it may be a pleasant chat over dinner, or in a hallway.

The exciting new structural form is superior to the old method of filmmaking which might show the character doing something.   How dreary it is to see in film after film, characters demonstrating who they are through their actions.   Another giant robot fight, another planet exploding, another superhero revealing him or herself as a super villain and so on and so forth.   What a relief it would be to have one of these superheroes make a conference call and just explain to all the super villains why what they are doing is a bad thing to do and that they really ought to stop doing it.    This new approach, the explanation,  is much less expensive, avoids unnecessary action, reduces noise, and can be very dramatic and memorable for those few films which indulge in that optional element of filmmaking, the story. We will review these advantages in this essay.

The first benefit of the explanation is that it is always much more efficient and cost-effective to shoot then actually showing what happened. Why bother to show it if you can just talk about it? For example, instead of spending millions of dollars showing giant robots beating the shit out of each other, you might have one character say to another "Wow, did you see those giant robots beating the shit out of each other?" Then the other character might say "I sure did, we were lucky to get out of there! Whew". The plot point having been established, giant robots beating the shit out of each other, the film can move on and has saved millions in production costs.


Jack Nicholson and Leonardo di Caprio preparing to have a little chat.


The second advantage of the explanation is that it avoids the drag of too much action. Many movies have too much stuff going on, it would be much better if they just had a few characters talk about what was going on. I suppose that is an aesthetic choice, but I think having too many giant robots or exploding planets in a film is an impediment, not an asset. Maybe that is just me.

And that leads to our third advantage of the explanation: less extremely loud noise. Although the film industry today creates product in many very different but important topics, from giant robots fighting, to mutant superheroes saving the world, to hordes of zombies eating every brain in sight, these very different themes do seem to involve very long sequences of things exploding and hitting each other, loudly.   How much more civilized to have several members of the cast narrating the action instead of showing the action:  "Look!  The horde of zombies!  Oh my!  A planet exploding!"   Then one would not have to bring earplugs to the theatre as one has to do so often today.

But nothing in life is free, and the explanation does have its downsides in that it makes certain requirements and demands on the script.  The biggest demand, and the most problematic, is that, generally speaking, the script needs to have a story.   This by implication may mean that the production may have to have a writer who, naturally enough, writes the story.   Many modern films have neither writer nor story, and without one our new technique here does not work well.  

But when it is done well, the explanation can be some of the most memorable in film. We have previously presented several such explanations, see herehere, and here.

Here we present another one, from the movie The Departed (2006).

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Why Are So Many Pioneers of Computer Animation Chronically Unemployed?


Needs to be revised.

The people that I know in computer animation, who can be said to pioneer the field, fall into a number of categories.   Some are well entrenched in academia, some seem to have jobs for life at the one or two stable companies in this field, some go from job to job every 5 or 10 years, and some, quite a few, are chronically unemployed and financially ruined, or nearly so.

I think it is sensible to discuss why this might be so.  It will have implications later on when we discuss recommendations for SIGGRAPH and other topics.

Of course this is my own opinion.  So far as I know no one else discusses or is interested in the phenomenon.

My intuitive take on this matter is that it involves a lack of respect for one's elders, goddamnit.   We had to walk through the snow every day to do computer animation.  When we needed a computer we had to build our own.  We thought 250 MBs was a lot of disk.   We were excited by getting 800 vectors on the screen 15 times a second.  You kids are just spoiled, cough, cough.

Unfortunately, the rest of the essay is serious.

My first general observation is that the reasons for this chronic unemployment is that it is not just one thing, or one mistake, unless that mistake was to go into computer animation at all.  The reasons for the problem are many, with some applying to one person, but others to a different one.   The list below is an attempt to mention the major topics but not all of these topics apply to every person.

The second observation is that many of the issues below are not really mistakes at all, they are in many cases a natural result of being in this field when it was early, or other circumstantial things such as being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Also, whatever the issues are here, I do not think it is about the current economic depression we are in that the government denies exists.  Perhaps that depression and the dot com bust has made things worse, but its not the primary cause.

1. Most of the pioneers are colorful individuals who took chances, in a world which expects everyone to be like everyone else and not take risks.  So when they are considered later for employment, people who are not their peers judge them by saying they are too colorful, or controversial, or take too many risks, and they are not hired.

2. In inventing the field they made unconventional career choices or worked for companies with very short lives, and thus have a non-traditional employment history.  Again they are judged negatively and not employed.

3. Computer animation/graphics/3D turns out to be a niche field.   The few companies that advertise for 3D people are generally looking for production people to use tools, not to do new kinds of work.

4. The relationship between computer graphics technical knowledge and other related fields, such as user interface design, is not recognized.  Furthermore, even areas which use specific computer animation/3D technology have split off to form their own fields with their own credentials, such as medical imaging, or scientific visualization.

5. All of the early computer animation companies made mistakes.   Those who stayed in business were able to show that they had learned from their mistakes, those which did not were tarred with the brush of those mistakes.   

6. Many if not most of the pioneers of this field were/are multidisciplinary, and by definition multidisciplinary people are a hard sell, because they have a confused marketing image. There is lip service to something called the Renaissance Man (or Woman), but it is just that, lip service. It has no niche in the employment market.

7. Many of the pioneers ignored formal credentials because they were not relevant to inventing the field. But when the field became mature, those credentials became required for employment, so the pioneers were out.

8. Many of the companies that the pioneers worked at are no longer in business, which means that one can not return there, nor are the people to see that you get the appropriate awards, credit, etc. 

9. The field is very competitive.  People from the early days are generally slandered, unless they are in a position of power which does not describe the people who are unemployed.

10. People and companies in this field are not the least bit interested in where ideas came from, nor do they care to invent new ideas or techniques. Even if they were there is no belief that those who did the original work will do new work that matters.   Doing good work buys you nothing for the future is the lesson I have learned.

11. By definition, the people who invented the field are autodidacts and learned what they needed to learn in the process of doing. Today, people are only hired if their resume and work experience show exactly what is required and nothing else.   That does not describe the pioneers.

12. As the field matured, it became wildly oversubscribed. The tsunami of new people have no idea who or how the field was invented and could not care less.  The companies who hire have lots of choices and also could not care less.   

13. The companies that survived are generally run by people who are very competitive with the people who are out of work.

14.  Pioneers often have the problem of not being able to show new work, since their skills were often tied to proprietary software which is no longer available to them.

15. It is easier to hire someone new, recently from school, then to hire someone with experience.

16.  Jobs are limited because so many have been off-shored.

17. Ageism.   Computer animation is one of the few industries I know (along with the music industry and the game industry) that proudly admits it is ageist.

18. There is no noblesse oblige in the computer animation industry.

Are there lessons to draw from this?  Yes.  In America, to be early in a field such that you are not able to profit from it is to be wrong.    Second, it is true what they say, there are no prizes for second place.

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1. There is a longer topic lurking in here, that I am skimming over in the interest of not making an already over long post even longer.   And that topic is why not do something entrepreneurial?   That is a very good question and deserves a very serious answer.  For the sake of this discussion, we are leaving the entrepreneurial issues until later.   A brief version of my take on it is that in fact there are some entrepreneurial opportunities, but that they are dicey.

[revised 6/9/2014]



The Amazing Planetarium Museum


In our post-sputnik world, the 1950s and the early 1960s, the US Government funded the creation of planetariums throughout the country to inspire our youth to dedicate their lives to science and so overthrow and defeat Godless communism.

I loved Planetariums, I love them still, but most of all I love the fabulous contraptions built to simulate the Universe on a dome above our heads.







One day, at the old Griffith Park Observatory, I hung out after a show and checked out the Planetarium control panel. It had big knobs like you found in 50s science fiction movies: and they had labels like "Comets", and "Beginning of Time", "The Planets", "Meteors. I realized suddenly that the true Planetarium was an interactive display, under the guidance and control of the master of ceremonies. There was probably a way to automate the shows, I am sure, but fundamentally, at heart, it was designed to be live and interactive.

There were only a few manufacturers of Planetariums, in fact, I was only aware of the big three: Zeiss, Minolta and Spitz until I came across this dedicated and comprehensive Planetarium museum. Now I know of a whole swarm of planetarium devices I had never heard of before.

Please review this site if you care about Planetarium history. I think he is trying to sell his collection, I wish I had not gone into Computer Animation so that I could afford to buy it.

See the museum here:

Video clip of various planetariums spinning around

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Anomalous Depth Perception Illusion



One of the most traditional phenomenonological questions is how do I know that what you see is the same thing as what I see. If we both look at a picture, and it has the color red, and we both agree it is red, even so, how do I know that the red that you perceive is the same red as I perceive?

The answer is, you don't know. There is natural variation in the red and green cone sensitivities at the very least, and there are other issues involving how the brain processes the information. And of course there are the various types of color blindness and the tests that have been designed to diagnose them.

This post is about an example of an optical illusion that I see, but that no one else that I have tested it on sees. One reason for posting it on the blog is to see if one of my readers will also see the illusion.  So far, I seem to be a "unique". 

Those of you who know about the perception of illusions may skip the next few paragraphs.

For those of you who have never studied the perception of illusions, here are a few things to know. Although we "see" with our eyes, what we see is perceived by our brain, and there is a lot of interesting circuitry in there to process and make sense of the data. This is also an ongoing research topic.  If you have never studied issues of color perception and optical illusions, when you first encounter what we think we know about it, you will be surprised. It is pretty wacky. We are very good at detecting color differences for example, more than the precise color itself. We have lots of circuitry to see movement on the periphery. The point is, seeing is much more than just reporting what may be "objectively there" through the lens of our eye. It is being highly processed all along the way.

But be warned, once you start down the path of understanding color perception and vision you will find that it goes on and on and on.   And then on and on.   Its not simple.

Many optical illusions are essentially bugs in the perception system, that is, the image is causing the perception circuitry to see something that isn't actually there (e.g. motion when there is no motion, colors, when there are no colors, etc). 

Here is an example of a famous illusion that most people are able to see. Its called the Cafe Wall illusion, because its discoverers first noticed it as an architectural detail on the facade of a cafe.




All the horizontal lines in the above image are straight and parallel with each other but most people see the lines at an angle to each other, and also bending depending on where they direct their eyes.  Everyone seems to be able to see this illusion.


The Special K Cafe

Now, look at the following blurry image.


Founders of Google in China from The Register (www.theregister.co.uk)

Most people will see this image as completely flat, e.g. no depth.  It is of course a very blurry image.  I on the other hand always see a lenticular depth effect of something like 3/8's of an inch.  

By "lenticular depth effect" I mean the illusion of depth one gets from a lenticular picture or postcard when you hold it in your hand.  These were more popular years ago, they would often be post cards of the United Nations, or of Elvis.   The postcard would appear to be perhaps an inch thick or even more, but you know, because you are holding it, that is just a piece of cardboard.   The same illusion of depth that you get from such  a postcard is what I see above, except of course that it does not change as I move my head.   It is a picture with depth from one point of view.

I spent a day trying to recreate the illusion with other images, and I think I know what is going on that causes the illusion for me.   But I have not yet found anyone else that the illusion works on.  One thing I find interesting is that, for me, this is a robust illusion.  I see it every time I look at the picture.

Depth perception is notoriously individualistic.   There are many people out there who can not see "3D" from stereoscopic projection.  I have heard the number is 10% of the general population, but I have never gotten a formal confirmation of that percentage (e.g. a reference to a study).   Alternatively, there are people who can see what appears to be stereo in circumstances when they are watching a movie projected flat that moves through an environment.  I get that sensation, in particular when the moving imagery covers peripheral vision.  

But the first question I have, does anyone else other than me see depth in this image?

_________________________________

Wikipedia page on the Cafe Wall Illuson

Wikipedia page on Lenticular Printing

Science News article on research into color perception variation:

The following two abstracts discuss research in the molecular and genetic basis of variation in color perception.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

1st Baron Bulwer-Lytton Writing Contest


The Bulwer-Lytton Writing Contest is a competition to write the worst possible opening sentence of a novel, in a homage to Bulwer-Lytton, one of whose novels began with the infamous "It was a dark and stormy night ...". (1) Any such sentence should be florid, dramatic, and disconnected.


This is not the novel that had the famous sentence, this is another novel of Bulwer-Lytton about the Rosicrucians.

My friend, Steve Speer, in NYC believes that Bulwer-Lytton has been swept under the rug of history, and does not get the recognition that he deserves.  And so, in his honor, I have written my first attempt at a Bulwer-Lytton-like opening sentence.

I can not tell you with what loathing I approach the disagreeable task of presenting to you, against my will, the events leading up to the disaster which you all know so well, which even now brings the taste of failure to my mouth as I write on this bitterly cold and windy morning on the desolate island of my exile, abandoned by all society and left to an undeserved and miserable fate.
[Modified per anonymous's suggestion on 1.23.2013]


Read about the Bulwer-Lytton Contest here:

The contest itself is here:

The Wikipedia page on 1st Baron Lytton is here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bulwer-Lytton,_1st_Baron_Lytton

_________________________________________

1.  The sentence in its entirety, is "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness." It is from the novel Paul Clifford by Bulwer-Lytton first published in 1830.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Michel Gondry and "Come Into My World" (2002)


Dennis Muren said, the problem with special effects is that it is not special anymore.

Although true, there are a few cases in which raw talent can take an old idea and make it new again. These talented people are so annoying that they may show off more than once and do several brilliant films in a row thus making themselves all the more hated by the rest of us.

Michel Gondry is such an annoyant (1) that he has done at least three of my favorite music videos (aka music promos) of all time, and all three are among my favorite short films.  We discuss "Come Into My World" here and the other two, "Let forever be", and "Like a Rolling Stone", another day.


Four Kylies and one Gondry showing off in Come Into My World (2002).  In the terminology of Zoologists and Bird Watchers, I believe that Ms. Kylie here can be said to be "displaying".

Unusually for the genre, the first minute of this four minute piece is a complete setup and doesn't reveal what is really going on until 1:07.    The first time I saw Come Into My World (2002), I innocently watched it, wondering what was great about this, "So she is walking around in a city in Europe somewhere.  So what?"  Then boom, at 1:07 the second Kylie picks up her dry cleaning and I thought to myself:  Wait, stop that, what just happened?

Even more astonishing, this tour de force of special effects takes place without a single giant robot or exploding zombie.  How could that be?

Things to look for as you refresh your memory about this film include (a) who drops and who picks up the pink shirt and how many pink shirts are there by the end, (b) the additions each time around of colorful people in the background, e.g. how many beds are thrown out of windows, how many skateboarders, how many men in blue putting up posters, how many balancing boys in green, how many men arriving at a hotel, how many hostesses in blue leaving a note on the windshield of a car, how many people in red on ladders, etc, (c) the strategy for keeping the various Kylie's out of each other's way, (d) what the layered matte strategy must have been, and (e) do any of the Kylie's intersect, and if so, is it Kylie that intersects or the dry cleaning she is carrying? (2)

For those of you who are mathematically inclined, you may wish to contemplate how many times Kylie has to run around the block.   Poor girl, she was probably getting dizzy.

Finally, we may ask if there is some relationship between the audio layering of Kylie (other Kylie's are at various time layered on top of the main Kylie in the audio domain, e.g. she is her own chorus as well as responding to herself) and the layering of Kylies in the image domain.



At this point, the number of hostesses in blue and guys in red have multiplied to four

Students of the history of this technology will note the amazing difference in the capability between modern compositing and the original chemical blue screen process, as discussed in my previous post on Bye Bye Birdie here, in which a major point of discussion was the issue of a moving camera and the special restrictions on blonde and red hair.  Here we have a completely free camera and a lot of dirty blonde hair, and its not a problem.  Actually, a better way to put it is that here we have an avalanche of moving camera and a tsunami of flying blonde hair and it looks effortless.

Come Into My World on Youtube:

Then after watching the film, you may wish to watch the making of documentary, below. Its up to you, I like it just the way it is and have a pretty good idea how it was done.

Raw talent, that's how.

In this case, I recommend not watching the documentary, however, but create your own plan on how you would make the film.   How you would cue the extras, how you would keep the Kylie's out of each other way (One might put a chalk mark on the ground for the path each Kylie should take with a different color for which cycle we are on (3), for example).

Making of "Come Into My World"

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1. We are proud at Global Wahrman to premiere a new word in the English Language. "Annoyant" means someone who annoys.

2. The answer is yes, I think so, maybe twice that I noticed a Kylie intersects with herself and I think there are times when the laundry will intersect, but they don't call attention to themselves and it all works fine, I think.

3. I haven't found them yet, but I am still looking.

(Deprecated) News Providers, Exploding Batteries and the Subtle Nuance

[2-8-2013 Since I wrote this post, I have not read the information cited below anywhere else, so I am becoming more and more doubtful that it is true.  Thus this post is being deprecated]

As always when we at Global Wahrman come across examples of incompetence or stupidity, we have to ask if it is really incompetence or stupidity, or whether it is in fact incompetence AND stupidity or even worse, whether it is an example of how the Space Aliens are using hypnotic mind control as many suspect?

Take for example the latest problem with the Boeing 787 involving the exploding lithium-ion batteries. Second only to Islam for the bad-marketing-award of the last 20 years, lithium-ion batteries have been famously exploding in people's laptops (and laps) for years. So when one exploded on a 787, fortunately on the ground, a picture of the battery exploded, so to speak, across the internet.

Oh, there is one little detail about this picture that I forgot to mention ... 

But there was actually a little detail about that picture of the exploded battery, a subtle nuance one might say, really barely worth mentioning: most of the news articles, well all of them but one actually, failed to tell you was that this is a picture of a battery that had been hit by an ax when the firemen came into the plane. I hope it wasn't a metal ax because that could have had a shocking result, ha ha, but maybe that is the real reason firemen wear rubber work gloves.

Well, yes, it turns out, this is just a technical detail, that if you hit a battery that is distressed for some reason with an ax, hard, it doesn't surprise me that the battery might explode. In general, we recommend to not hit a distressed battery, or any battery at all actually, with an ax: that would be the recommended procedure. The battery is much less likely to explode under those circumstances.

So whatever is going on about the Boeing 787 and their extensively tested lithium-battery (no sarcasm here, it was extensively tested), its not about them just going off and exploding.

Unless you hit it with an ax, of course.

One might wonder if the news organizations thought about the issue that they might have something to do with the fate of the many, many American jobs that lie hanging in the balance on the perception of the 787 in the marketplace?

The answer is no, of course not, they don't give a fuck. They just want to make a buck like the National Inquirer and with all the integrity and relentless attention to detail that the National Inquirer applies to their articles ("Did Space Aliens Steal My Baby and Turn It Into Tom Cruise?"), but with less honesty (the National Inquirer is clear and upfront about their motivations).  Like everything else in America, its not about doing good work, its about lying and stealing the money.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Possible Alternate Career Directions


After many years of wandering in the wilderness trying to figure out how to make a living using the skills and technologies involved with computer animation, visualization and special effects and not being successful, I have started to entertain new directions for my career. I am advised in this by many immensely stupid news articles and boring TED like speeches that "one must think outside the box", which always makes me think about the famous Peace Corps dialectic about the glass half empty or half full. What glass exactly and which box, what are they talking about?

As I suspect that there are others out there with same existential dilemma, here is an essay listing a few alternate career directions that look like they might have promise.

To set the mood, please review this video by a famous scientist explaining to a potential hire the business plan for his new venture, SPECTRE.  The sequence is from Dr. No (1965).


SPECTRE executive explains business plan to James Bond

As much as I respect Dr. No as a scientist and admire his efforts to take over the world by blowing up missiles and extorting money from governments, I do not agree that all power is based on counterintelligence, terrorism, revenge and extortion as he so colorfully claims. Revenge is rarely, if ever, profitable. It is more of an entertaining hobby that can only be afforded by the wealthy, like yachting, or polo, or controlling the US Senate.    Nor do I understand how counterintelligence can ever be profitable, it is at best a cost of doing certain kinds of business, not a profit center in itself. Terrorism and extortion have always been big money makers though.

Here is a short list of non-traditional areas that look to me like they have opportunity.

1. Design and Build Submarines for South American Drug Cartels

There is apparently a long standing, ever increasing, effort to build submersibles and semi-submersibles to transport contraband from S. America to N. America and Europe. All ranges and types of vehicles have been innovated and the S. Americans have received helpful technical and design advice from the unemployed nationals of many foreign countries. I believe that submarines are very important culturally and have been looking for a way to get involved in this industry. Perhaps in this new market, submarines for smuggling, an opportunity can be found.

2. Run for Elected Office of A Small City and Rob Them Blind

The elected representatives of Bell, California managed to steal about $5M in a few years, and Bell is not even a well-off community. Admittedly, most of the local governments in California are already corrupt, and there is no sense in entering an already crowded field, but it might be worth examining other states and see if this technique can not be adapted to a new environment.

3. Bad User Interface Design

America and the world in general seem to have an insatiable desire for really bad, incredibly stupid, user interface design. And now that the car industry has jumped in with both feet, the floodgates of shit are really going to open. One way to make money at this is to have a consulting design firm to help people misapply technology and ignore fundamental principles in order to torture their users. Another way is to review various consumer electronic / whatever devices and threaten to publish how stupid and incompetent they are unless the manufacturer hires you as a consultant for a six figure consulting fee. 

4. Start a Religion and Write A Book

Its been done many times in the past, sometimes very successfully. Its tax exempt which is a great advantage.

5. Go Into Finance, Fuck up, Get Bailed Out and Award Yourself a Bonus

The state-controlled news media in this country has not reported it, but Goldman Sachs in the UK is awarding its employees a modest 8.3 billion bonus this year. That's not a lot of money, but its pretty good.

This is not an exhaustive list, of course, and there are many other directions that seem to also have merit, such as art fraud and arms smuggling, but I wanted to open the discussion and get these initial ideas out there for your consideration.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Archive of Books on Cryptome Courtesy of Aaron Swartz


[January 22, 2013: Cryptome has added more books from the archive, and a discussion of the issues related to how they got the archive.   This is the link and it has the most comprehensive list of books that are available from this source on their site.    See http://cryptome.org/aaron-swartz-series.htm]

Cryptome is an internet site that acts as a reporitory of documents, usually government documents, that are related to freedom of speech, cryptography, spying and surveillance. In the aftermath of the Aaron Swartz suicide, they listed on their website approximately 40 different books in PDF form that were probably part of the cache of documents that Swartz had taken from MIT.

But these books are actually a selection from the larger group of books that Swartz 'liberated' and that Cryptome has supposedly archived.  For a  complete list, see below:
http://cryptome.org/2013/01/aaron-swartz/swartz-dl-docs.txt

The first thing I noticed was one of my favorite books, about the Mitochondria by Nick Lane is on this extended list.

A few favorites out of the 40 or so that are posted include:

The MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Sciences, by Wilson and Keil, a 1000+ page encyclopedia of topics in the field of Cognitive Science.

The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis by Heier, Jr,, CIA book on the psychology behind Intelligence analysis, addressing such issues as bias in intelligence analysis and reporting.

A Culture of Conspiracy by Barkun, which is a discussion and history of apocalyptic vision in contemporary America, including a review of how the radical right wing started picking up aspects of UFOlogy, as well as the relationship between apocalyptic prophecy and various right wing fringe groups.

Complexity and Cryptography: An Introduction, by Talbot and Welsh, which is a book derived from a course taught by Talbot and Welsh at Oxford as part of a MsC course in Mathematics and the Foundations of Computer Science. It introduces basic complexity theory and cryptography together.

Information Technology and Moral Philosophy by van der Hoven and Weckert, a collection of essays on information ethics, the epistemology of blogging, etc.

Principles of Cybercrime by Clough, which is a 500 page introduction to the history, theory, law and practice of international cybercrime.

And about 35 other books.  Go to http://cryptome.org and look for entries marked "Aaron Swartz:".

The Wikipedia page on Cryptome:

Friday, January 18, 2013

Statement from Thrift Store Art Exhibition by Jim Shaw (1990)


In the early days of computer animation in Los Angeles, the community was made up of people who were interested in both technology and the visual arts.  Among our community were people who were interested in making a career in the complicated and challenging world(s) of "fine art".  Such people included  Larry Cuba, Rebecca Allen, Jennifer Steinkamp, Lev Manovich, Jim Shaw, Victor Acevedo, and Michael Naimark to name just a few that come to mind, but there were others as well. 

One thing that distinguished all the people I know who are successful in that world, is their immense dedication and single minded effort. Each of the people mentioned above are notable in this way, they are some of the hardest working people I know.

I found in my papers the other day, a handout from an exhibition curated by Jim Shaw on the topic of Thrift Store Art. The year might have been 1990, and Jim was working with us at deGraf/Wahrman as an art director on a huge and completely incomprehensible Japanese motion platform based stereoscopic theme park attraction. He was working with us for the money, while he worked on his real career.





It was all typical Jim Shaw.

Unfortunately, now that the field has matured, if that is what it has done, the artists are off in their own complicated world and I never see them.

Here is his listing on www.artnet.com

Google Books has "Thrift Store Paintings" by Jim Shaw published in 1990.

Amazon.com has the same book, out of print, with the subtitle "Paintings found in thrift stores"

A listing on Google Books has "A Primer on Thrift Store Art" by Jim Shaw, ICA London, September 28 - 5 November 2000.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Fraulein Usage in Modern German and Its Effect on Cinema and Special Effects

[Global Wahrman has had an admittedly ambiguous policy towards comments, sometimes positive, sometimes negative, having its origins with so many spam comments in the early days.  But in a stunning reversal of policy, we wish to encourage user comments on this topic: are these pictures sexist and does it relate to the term "fraulein"?]

There are few more important things to people than what they are called. One person's diminutive is another person's mortal insult. And there are many rules here, culturally specific rules. Eddie Murphy can use the "N-word" but under no circumstances may I use the "N-word", for example.

So fair warning for those of you who are not up on your contemporary German: "fraulein" is a word that is strongly discouraged these days, through a German social process that is the equivalent of our "Mrs/Miss/Ms" dialectic.

When I first heard this, I was not all that impressed.  But I just did a test and it occurs to me that there may be some subtle issues here (sarcasm, sorry).    Just do the following experiment.  Go to Google, type in "fraulein" and then go to images, then stand back.  Holy moly!  See for example:

Is there something sexist about this image?

From a latex couture magazine, yikes, fraulein, please, put some clothes on!

What could be sexist about this?

Click here for the Google image search.

So, to be clear, to the best of my knowledge one may still use "fraulein" in a way that is not insulting when addressing a very young girl, either sternly or genially (e.g. humorously, perhaps, just guessing, one might say "perhaps the fraulein would be so good as to clean up her room" when addressing a six year old gal, perhaps, and that might still be OK). But otherwise, one uses the term "frau" so far as I can tell.

Now I have a few friends who are far more knowledgeable about both feminism and modern German, so they will enlighten us all, I hope, but in the meantime, a word to the wise is hopefully sufficient.

Now does this mean that we should go back and change all our World War II movies and television shows? That is a question with no single answer, I think. If one were going for authenticity in the movie/show, then the answer would be no, it would still be correct to use "fraulein" in that time period. But if one were doing a new show, today, about the period, then one might think about using the modern usage if one did not intend to provoke a reaction. It could go either way, depending on what you wanted to achieve.

Now to get to our final topic: the potential effect this language change will have on the practice and art of special visual effects.  To the best of our knowledge, this change will have absolutely no effect on special effects, now or in the future.   Just wanted to reassure those of you who may have been concerned.

For a wild screaming match on the topic, see the Wikipedia discussion:

For a more balanced discussion and presentation of the issue(s), see:

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Importance of a Classical Education for Writing Renderman Shaders


[NB: Scott Anderson supervised the visual effects of Starship Troopers for Paul Verhoeven, and many facilities participated, including Sony Imageworks, ILM, Tippet and MASS ILLUSIONS.  The pictures below are just to illustrate the movie and, in a few cases the types of elements involved, e.g. thrusters.   I have no idea who did these particular shots, with the possible exception of the one of the escape pod, which was probably done at MASS ILLUSION.  People are very touchy about their credits and who can blame them?]

Through this story I hope to demonstrate the importance of knowing Latin, or of at least having a classical education, when writing Renderman Shaders. It is also a story about what a small world the world of visual effects is.

In 1997 or so, I had been hired by MASS ILLUSION to help them finish their work on Starship Troopers (1997) and get it out the door. They had two other projects that were about to start, What Dreams May Come (1998) and The Matrix (1999), and people needed to segue from Starship onto the new projects. MASS ILLUSON won two academy awards for these latter two projects, an amazing achievement. (1)


If you look closely at the lower picture, the thrust exhaust has a detailed structure which animates slightly

So new talent was needed to help finish the project so that the regulars could move on, and I was available, on the East Coast, and actually like to help finish projects. Often bringing in new people near the end of a long complicated project can be a help, because the new people in many ways are, frankly, unaware of the history and can just look at things with fresh eyes, and they are not yet tired of the project, so they can be energetic. Its not unrelated to some of the tactics of replacements in sports.

I had some credentials for this because I have supervised lots and lots of shots and projects and happen to be very good at rendering, having a Scitech award for writing a renderer, and very good at using Renderman (2), having helped bring it into production in its earliest form at deGraf/Wahrman and enjoyed using it.

MASS ILLUSION was a pioneer in attempting to do visual effects projects remotely from Los Angeles, in this case Western Massachusetts, and not all the bugs were worked out yet, and there was friction which I attributed in part to the problem of communicating 3,000 or so miles away, as well as other complications having to do with a very complicated project and a famously demanding director.

One of the ongoing and unresolved issues was matching the thrusters, or exhaust, of the starships. The exhaust in the starships done at Imageworks had a specific look and we were not close enough to that look for the starships we were doing. But it wasn't clear what Sony had done to make their thrusters, though, because as is so often the case, the people who had done the work at Sony had moved onto other projects, and possibly also because they had used a consultant who was no longer with them to write the primary Renderman shader for the thrusters.


Escape pod thruster detail 

They were hesitant to give us the shader and when I got on the project this was one of the long standing issues between the facilities. But obviously, given that we were having trouble matching the look, having the specific shader would be a big help, and communicate to us in no uncertain terms what was going on here. We thought that they might have some proprietary technology in the shader, but that was probably not the concern. It may have been nothing more than caution, or concern that they would be asked how the shader worked, or didn't know where it was, or who knows.

The shader was called "ROSASRF" for some reason.

Finally, after some effort, I had a success and many, many months after MASS ILLUSION had first asked, we got the source to the shader after a particularly colorful telephone conference call in which I quoted a famous biblical prophecy of what would happen if they did not give us the shader. (3)

Now, I have to backup a little. I have read and written hundreds, perhaps thousands, of shaders, about half of which are written by other people and about half of which were written by myself. Of those which are written by others, if you find a single comment in their shader its a miracle from Jesus himself. Shader writers do not often write comments, it seems, perhaps they believe that it is all self-explanatory.

But ROSASRF which was a very dense and complicated shader was not only well-commented, but one of those comments was highlighted with the cryptic two letters: NB.

NB?

I started laughing. I hardly ever read shaders with Latin abbreviations, in fact it had never happened before. NB, of course, is Latin for "Nota Bene" or "note well", its a convention used by mathematicians of the old school and classical scholars of all types. It basically means "pay attention".  Its the sort of thing one would expect to find when reading a scholarly treatise about St. Augustine's City of God (de Civitate Dei) or perhaps the notes of a 17th century alchemist. Or a mathematical proof.


So whoever Rosa was, as by that time I had determined that ROSASRF was named for the consultant, someone named Rosa, clearly she had a classical education and was not one of the "repurposed garage mechanics" we normally get in visual effects. The shader was very well written, well commented, and indeed, without it, it would have been very hard to figure out how to solve the problem. So we were happy.

But I was even happier to discover that I already knew Rosa, that in fact this was my old friend Rosa Farre, whom I had met a decade before in Barcelona at a company called Animatica, and who had married my friend Darnell Williams of Symbolics. I had never seen her work before, I just knew her as this very pleasant person from Barcelona, but now I had seen her work, and clearly she was not only good at what she did, but most important of all, had a classical education and was comfortable with her Latin abbreviations.

I hope that everyone reading this will take away the final thought that they should study Latin and incorporate Latin abbreviations in all their shaders.

Thank you.

_______________________________________

Notes:

1. By the time these two projects were done, the company had gone through at least one and possibly two different reorganizations, and may or may not have been called MASS ILLUSION by then. However, the people were the same for the most part and the same spirit and sense of excellence existed, so far as I can tell. Also, a facility does not win an Academy Award, only people do. But they had been the primary facility on those two films (What Dreams and The Matrix).

2. Technically, Renderman is the standard and the actual renderer was called Photo Realistic Renderman or PRman. The name may have changed a few times since then.

3. I dont actually remember exactly what was said during the call, but I vaguely recall telling them that we really, really wanted the shader and for them to remember the prophecy "The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood when the great and terrible (day) of the Lord shall come", which in Medieval Latin, by the way, is SOL TENEBRAS ET LUNA IN SANGUINEM MAGNUS ET HORRIBILIS DEI VENIET, which I think has a nice feel to it. Anyway, they gave us the shader.

_______________________________________

References:

Starship Troopers on Imdb

City of God (De Civitate Dei) by St. Augustine

Latin Abbreviations on Wikipedia

Saturday, January 12, 2013

White House Rejects Death Star Petition


In a stunning reversal, the White House has turned its back on the popular petition to build a Death Star, citing administration policy not to blow up planets and budgetary concerns.


Darth Vader appeals to Congress not to abandon the Death Star

See
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/01/12/white-house-rejects-death-star-petittion/?tid=pm_pop

Thursday, January 10, 2013

2013 VFX Nominations

The visual effects nominees are: Life of Pi, Prometheus, Snow White, Avengers, and Hobbit. My unnamed academy award winning source got four of the five right; he had picked Dark Knight over Prometheus.


Run away!

See here for an editorial about why I think Life of Pi is important for computer animation. 

Lets talk about what these nominations mean. There are five films and four people per film or a total of 20 nominations. Each of those individuals, and to a large extent the company they work for, receive a certain credibility and what I think of as gravity (e.g. mass) because of the nomination. Its a very good thing. It has a half life of about 5 years, I think. Thus the value declines by 50% in five years, by 75% in 10 years and so forth. The same is true for an academy award, but of course they start with a higher mass.

Also, do not confuse the Technical Academy Awards with these awards. I am very fond of the Scitech awards and believe that they have a lot of merit, and I am certainly grateful for the one I have. But do not confuse the chess club with the varsity football squad. Its a lot rougher on the football field.

If you, or someone you knew, who was talented and technical, and they wanted to get a Scitech award, then with a lot of hard work you can probably achieve that.  Maybe not, but you might be able to.  But you can work in the effects business all your life and still not be nominated for an academy award.  Its a whole other kettle of fish.

I think that Life of Pi is or should be the favorite, and that would be very good for Rhythm and Hues.

This all reminds me that I have to write up my John Hughes and Mary Lambert story at Robert Abel & Associates.