Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Update 2/27/2013


For those of you who are reading this blog regularly, this is a non-post post to let you know that there will be a brief delay while I recalibrate after a hectic few days.  We are going through another one of those crazy periods and it is difficult to concentrate.

The shock of going from what seemed to be a reasonable career to no career at all is very traumatic.  I hear a lot of idealistic chit chat about the future on Facebook as many other people start to come to grips with the train wreck that is computer animation.

We will return to writing the blog shortly.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Apology, Academy, When?


So I presume that the Academy is going to apologize to Bill Westenhofer and the Computer Graphics community in general for cutting Bill off at the awards.  In their apology, they should include a statement from Bill which has what it is he was going to say, which was presumably to thank R&H and wish them the best outcome of their current crisis.

And Ang Lee will apologize for not thanking R&H and the artists who made his award possible.

I must say that they are to be congratulated for taking a bad situation and making it worse for themselves.  I have seen this once or twice before.  Its as if the people with the power want to make sure that the little people organize, because they really don't care if they do or they don't.  I think they are correct, nothing will change.  But it is fun to see the effects people wake up and see how screwed they are.  Its only taken them 20 years or so.

[draft, I have to run go apply for food stamps to eat, so I will return to this later]

Monday, February 25, 2013

Anecdotes about Unions from the Early Days of Computer Graphics


The recent disturbances in the force involving visual effects and computer animation people protesting their lot in life is a good thing I think. I may feel that some of it is misdirected, and some of the goals and beliefs are incorrect or unachievable, but I have no doubt that the workers must organize in order to look after their interests. Even if they do not achieve their goals, they are guaranteed to not achieve them if they do not organize.

Many of us, myself included, have strong mixed feelings about unions. There are several reasons for this in my case, including coming from a white collar, intellectual family where unions were seen as good things, but for the blue collar worker. I am not sure that that association (union with blue collar) is either fair or correct, however, but it is something for me to overcome.

The second reason I never appreciated the need for a workers union or force is because I was treated so damned well early on in my career. The University of California at first and the RAND Corporation second, were very fair and good to me. Thus I had false expectations for the future.

I want to describe two events from the Robert Abel period, because I think they are relevant to this whole discussion.

Although I was only involved in computer graphics R&D, I deliberately chose working at Abel's in order to pick up what I could of other special effects filmmaking technique. So, I would hang around the camera department, and talk to Tom Barron over at Image G and so forth. From time to time, Abel's would have a big shoot on a stage and one day they were shooting a 7UP job with Bob Abel directing and Randy Roberts the art director. It was a big front projection shoot, Bob was on a crane and I was watching. I remember hearing an assistant whisper into Bob's ear "Meal penalties, Bob! Meal penalties!"

I later figured out that this meant something along the lines of "if you don't stop and let people have a lunch break by 4PM in the afternoon, then the production will have to pay everyone extra". In other words, Bob, the obsessive perfectionist, would not have stopped for lunch unless someone put a gun to his head, or his wallet.

The second thing that I saw, as we moved raster graphics into production at Robert Abel & Associates was how producers would move elements that could have been produced any number of ways into the 3D department. Why? Because if people worked 12 or 16 hour days in 3D, it did not cost them any more. 3D was on a fixed hourly rate, a certain number of hours a week. But if they did it in a department that was involved with a union (even if there were special deals with the union as there were), then people had to get paid more.

Oh, I thought as I watched. That's interesting. You mean you are willing to burn people out and damage their lives to save a few bucks? And the answer to that question, was "Yes, absolutely, we have no ethics whatsoever". Oh. Ok. Thanks.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Hollywood's Most Sacred Day of the Year


Tonight is Hollywood's most holy night of the year. It is the day when our people come from all over the world to virtually or literally celebrate themselves in a giant, ugly display of sheer power, whimsy, boredom, and oh so rarely, class. There are a number of things to know about this important day from my point of view.

This post is mostly general background, intended for people who have never attended or had the pleasure of working extensively in the glamourous and rewarding motion picture industry.  Another post will go over some of the nuances of this year in particular, as it affects computer animation and visual effects.

The first thing to know is that it is important to start practicing your acceptance speech now, wherever you are, however early in your career it may be. Because when you actually work in the industry and are up for an award you will be too busy to have the time. And God forbid you should make a fool of yourself in front of a billion people.

Second it is so important to remember to thank all the little people who have contributed to your award. You know and we know that they are not really important, that all the ideas came from you, of course, but they do like to be thanked, its human nature after all, and it makes you look like a better person who is willing to give credit to the unworthy.


Yes, they really are heavy.  I think they put depleted uranium in the bottom or something.


Third, when you get out of your car, your limo, or hybrid Prius, be sure to wave to your fans who have waited so patiently to see you and only you. It is such a courteous thing to do. I always wave to them when I get out of my car at the awards.

Fourth, depending on the year, they often have members enter the Academy behind whichever star is being interviewed at the moment. One year, the first time I attended with my friend Lisa Goldman, we happened to enter when they were interviewing Jodi Foster. The trick is to pass behind the star, then turn around and go back, and then of course reverse direction and go back in. That way you get three passes in front of the TV camera (admittedly in the background, of course). (1)

Fifth, do not be concerned about getting a date. If you are a single member of the Academy, or if you happen to wrangle a pair of tickets to the nosebleed section, which is possible but difficult, it does not matter who you are, what your gender preference is, or how much you are hated and despised the rest of the year, you will be able to get a date to the Academy Awards (tm). Trust me. (2)

Sixth, probably if you attend, you will be up in the nosebleed section. In fact, although it does make things a little less convenient, you will be watching television monitors mostly even though you can see the stage, you are much better off than if you are in the more prestigious orchestra section. Because you will be able to move around, you see, and those in the orchestra section can not move around if the camera is there to witness it. And when you do leave your seat down there, they have someone ready to occupy it when the camera is back on so that there are no empty seats.  But in the nosebleed section you can wander around, talk to people, get a soda water, and go to the bathroom.  This is much more convenient.

Everyone has stories about when they went to the awards and who they saw and so forth and so on. I want to mention one here, although it does not involve a famous movie star. About five years ago I went to the awards as the last-minute stand-in for the date of my friend David Coons (no reason to waste the ticket after all), and as we entered, I saw a receiving line of amazingly lovely young women from a local Catholic School in perfect Catholic School regalia, the dresses, the gloves, the knee socks. About 30 of them in a line, all about 17 years old. Why they were there, one can only speculate.


This picture makes me wonder if the Catholic School girls were part of a special security squad to protect Academy Members.  I did not notice any any weapons, but maybe they were concealed.


Exactly who is a member and why can be a little complicated. But it is fair to say that most of the members have a good reason for being members. Not everyone, not by any means. I know many, many people who are not members who are plausibly more deserving as members than some I know who are. But that is the case in many things in life, and it is not so surprising here. (3)

And yes, it is a little squirrelly who gets nominated and who wins. We all know some major gaffes in the Best Picture, Actor, Actress categories. But it is true in the technical areas as well, as you would expect. I will just mention one case because I think it is unfortunate. Without doubt, two of the most important visual effects films in the history of film are Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Bladerunner. Those two films were both nominated for visual effects but did not win either year. Admittedly those were tough years. But it happens that those two films were the two times that Trumbull and Yuricich were nominated, and they should have received an award for their work. In my humble opinion. If this world were fair, which it clearly is not.  (4)

Finally, one last thing, and since this is Hollywood, it is appropriate that it be about money. Because at the end of the day, whatever you may think or believe, and whatever else Hollywood may be about, Hollywood is about money.

This single night which may be the single most viewed event each year on television, with an international audience, also finances everything the Academy does for the year. They have major expenses and run some expensive infrastructure involving theatres, film archives, libraries, some restoration, and presumably some other worthy activities I know nothing about. And this single evening of the year finances all their work and activities, and that is probably a good thing, as they, from time to time, do good work.

Not always of course, but from time to time.

And the winner is ...

__________________________________________

1. That year ILM was up for an award, was videotaping the event, saw me and very kindly sent me a copy of myself behind Jodie Foster. That was very nice of them! I think it was Doug Kay who arranged that. I wish I knew where that tape was.

2. The only two events that come close as far as I know is the Presidential Inauguration parties (which I have been invited to, by the way, ahem), and/or if your country has a King or Queen, and they get coronated or married in your lifetime.

3. Each area (e.g. subsection) has its own story here. I am particularly amazed that Nancy St. John does not appear to be a member of the visual effects subsection, but it may have to do with the problem of admitting producers in certain areas, particularly visual effects, and some not-so-amusing history. None of this should, by rights, affect someone like Nancy, but apparently it does, or at least I presume so since Nancy does not seem to be a member of the subsection. Probably if Nancy really wanted to be a member she could be, is my guess.

4. The work was done at the Entertainment Effects Group, an important early visual effects company owned by Douglas Trumbull and Richard Yuricich, ASC.  Many interesting and talented people worked there, and many of them went on to do other things in the field.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Inspirational Work of Sally Cruikshank and Quasi at the Quackadero


Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was something called independent animation. To see it, a friend had to have the secret stash of 16 mm film or you had to go to a university screening, or a screening of an animation collection at a repertoire theatre. You couldn't just bring up a low quality version on Youtube but actually had to go somewhere to see it, on film at the correct frame rate and the actual colors.  At first you would have to see it on film, then later on as time passed, you could see it on video with weird interlace and wrong color, and then, finally, today, the lowest of the low, on the Internet.  In this way, the artform is degraded by the decadence of the society it is embedded in.

Oh well, quality doesn't matter, we all know that. Not when it comes to making money!

But making money was not the purpose of independent animation. Far from it. In fact, Gawd only knows what the point was, or is, or might be, but not money. A labor of love, perhaps? A struggle for acceptance amongst ones' biped peers? Perhaps just a hint of obsession or even obsessive compulsive behavior? There has to be some organic cause of the willingness to sit over a hot animation stand and draw frame after frame, each one just slightly different from the other, inflicting paper cuts and the smell of powdered graphite on your long-suffering body.

One day, perhaps at Filmex, perhaps at LACMA, I saw "Quasi at the Quackadero" by Sally Cruikshank.




I was stunned and amazed to see the Quackadero, some sort of deranged midway of amusements, with "Your Shining Moment", the "Hall of Time Mirrors", "Roll Back Time", "Think Blink Paints Pictures of Your Thoughts", "See Last Night's Dreams", "9 Lives 2 Live", and last but not least, "Time Holes"! Each of these would make a fabulous theme park / carnival attraction. And all of them drawn perfectly in Sally's very distinctive semi-psychedelic style.


Out on the town!

Our Master of Ceremonies

But as they say in another theme park attraction, "Its a small world after all, its a small, small world". A friend Rene Daalder, artist and filmmaker, introduced me to his friend, Jon Davison, a really nice man, graduate of the Roger Corman school of filmmaking, and the originator / producer of the Robocop movies. Jon, of all people, was married to none other than the lovely and talented Sally Cruikshank. For some reason they invited me to a benefit event at Jeff Bridges' house in the Palisades so I got to meet my hero, Sally. I don't remember what I said, I probably made a total fool of myself.

Recently I came across Sally's page on Youtube. Quasi was just as brilliant as I had remembered it, or more so. I wish the "youtube" quality was higher, but this is probably deliberate on her part.

I am out of touch with Jon and Sally but I hope they are doing very well.

Sally, your films are an inspiration.




Sally's page on Youtube:

Quasi at the Quackadero

Make Me Psychic

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Procrastination Secrets Revealed: The Decipherment of Linear B


I realize that one should not brag, but I believe that I am the best procrastinator that I have ever met or heard about by at least one order of magnitude if not more.  I feel confident that I could compete against just about anyone in the world in this area and be victorious. But it isn't just raw talent, as with anything in order to be the best, you have to work at it, you have to practice, and you have to learn technique.

In this essay I am going to discuss one of several topics I have used to waste weeks if not longer of my time, and they can be used to waste your time as well, if you choose. The specific subject matter may not work for everyone but they will work for some of you. I hope you will try them and that they will be as productive in producing non-productivity for you as they have been for me.

The trick is to find a topic or story that is sufficiently complex that it will naturally lead to other interesting topics, which will lead to other interesting topics and so forth. It helps if there is some sense of romance involved, of mystery, or of controversy. By the time you are through, six months or a year or more can be spent becoming your local expert on the otherwise useless subject.


Michael Ventris, the architect who deciphered Linear B, and an example of part of a tablet

In this post we discuss our first example of such a topic: the decipherment of Linear B.

Once upon a time, a famous archaeologist proved that the Minoan and Greek civilizations were literate long before the classical period. But no one could read what they said. There was no Rosetta stone and it was not believed that the language would turn out to be a known one. But a young architect, with a talent for languages, had heard the famous archaeologist speak when he was a teenager and determined to decipher the tablets. And after many years, he did and he did it in such a way that the scholars in the field accepted the correctness of this outsider's work even though it revealed things that proved many of their theories wrong.

I can not express to you in this brief post how unusual and how important this was.  First, it is very difficult for an outsider to participate in current academic research in a field as obscure as ancient history because to really do it well you need to spend years learning things that have no utility outside of the field. In this case, this includes such things as not only knowing Greek, but having an idea of what the field of philology thinks ancient greek might have been like.  Or know a lot about what we think we know about the economies of Greece and Crete at the time in order to help judge whether a translation might be reasonable in context.   But more than that, this is an area where some very good people in the field had tried for 50 years to find a solution and none had been found, although some progress had been made.  And it was important to know about this work, this progress, because it ultimately opened the door for Ventris's solution.   And last but not least, there is something about ancient languages that attracts the nutty people, John Chadwich at one point had three file boxes of lunatic slush from people who thought they had translated Linear A or the Phaistos Disk.

So not only did Ventris have to solve the problem where others had tried and failed, but he had to do so in a way that this very elitist and closed community of scholars could accept and pay him serious attention.   Ventris knew all this of course, and he had some good fortune.  Part of the story is how he happened to be able to present his ideas on the BBC as part of a discussion of the problem and how a scholar at Cambridge, an expert in ancient Greek languages, heard him speak.  The scholar, John Chadwick, checked into Ventris and tried his proposed solution and, to his amazement, was able to decipher about 20 or so plausible Greek words in a few days of effort that made sense in the context of the tablets.   Then as a team, Ventris and Chadwick published the paper that presented the ideas, and that worked very well for academia: a lead author who is an outsider, but a reputable and known scholar as second author.  Perhaps Ventris alone, although he found the solution mostly on his own, would not have been as strong as the two of them together.

Here is the way John Chadwick begins the story of the decipherment:




So at this point in our story, an outsider has come to the field and presented a solution to a very difficult problem.   But now you have to get people to accept the idea.   And the story just keeps getting better.   Chadwick and Ventris knew that new tablets had been found but had not seen them.   But the archaeologist whose dig had found the new tablets had a copy of an early draft of the decipherment paper and tried the system on several tablets.   But one tablet, a very famous tablet if a tablet can be said to be famous, was particularly useful.  It was an inventory of various things that looked like tripods and cups/vases with a number of handles.   And the translation  listed "tripods" for things with three legs, and vases with four handles said "four ears" (an ear was a term for handle of a vase used in Homer) and one with three handles, said "three ears", and so forth.  As the archaeologist who sent it to them said, "This is all too good to be true, is coincidence excluded"?

But here is where the procrastination comes in, the part where things start expanding into other areas that are related and also fascinating.  It turns out that these are not just any old tablets of an ancient and lost civilization.  No.  Whatever may be historical about Homer, most scholars who study Homer believe that it is an authentic transmission or memory of an early period of Greece, however much it may have been distorted or romanticised.   And these tablets are almost certainly the accounting records of the civilization that Homer wrote/talked about.   And this civilization happens to also be the one which at that period, participated in the catastrophe of about 1200 BC which archaeologists refer to in various ways, but generally as "the end of the late bronze age in the eastern mediterranean".  At this time, most of the civilizations of this area, were either destroyed or attacked, by people who have not been identified but whom the Egyptians called the "Sea Peoples".

And it turns out that we have these tablets at all because they were in cities that were burned to the ground.  These clay tablets are almost certainly the temporary records, recorded in unfired clay, which got fired by accident when the cities were destroyed, and left where they fell in the ruins, where no one was left to clean things up, and rebuild.   

How interesting could the accounting records of a lost civilization be? One of the first tablets they decoded said, and I quote:

At Pylos. Slaves of the Priestess on account of the sacred gold. 14 women.

L. Ryder Haggard would have been proud to write such a sentence.


www.ancientscripts.com has a good summary introduction to Linear B
http://www.ancientscripts.com/linearb.html

Begin researching this topic by reading the following book by John Chadwick:
Amazon.com will let you read about 1/4 of the book online.

A conference on the decipherment of Linear B after 60 years
http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/cracking-the-code-the-decipherment-of-linear-b-60-years-on


Its Greek to me.


In later posts we will discuss other topics which have the potential of wasting a huge amount of your time.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Totoro and the Absence of Traditional Story Structure


As anyone who has tried to finance a film knows, Hollywood has very clear ideas about what sort of film is marketable in this country. And very, very clear ideas of what sort of ANIMATED film makes money in this country. And since they are very specifically in that business to make money, they attach a lot of importance to these rules.

Among the rules are these: (a) an animated film will have frequent breaks with music for the small children in the audience, (b) an animated film will not be over a certain length, and (c) an animated film will rarely if ever have a female protagonist, and if it does, she shares center stage with a male protagonist. From there, Hollywood goes on and applies a number of other rules and requirements about story structure, most of these ae applicable to other types of films as well, and includes certain things about the types of conflict in the film, the pacing, the reversals, the climax, etc. Hollywood has a strong opinion on these matters. It is one reason so many Hollywood films seem the same, one giant robot or alien invasion after another. That is because they are the same at one level of abstraction.

My favorite animated film however follows none of those rules. It has no happy songs, it is much longer than average, and the protagonists are two little girls, one about three years old. It goes on from there in its eccentricity. It is not clear that there is a villain in the film, except perhaps whatever it is that is making their mother sick such that she must stay in a hospital. There is one homage to standard story structure: the climax of the film involves the youngest girl running away to see her mother, and the effort to find her.  This could be seen as a classic 3rd act rescue mission.


What's up in the scary attic?

The film did not do well at first in the Far East, where it was made. But eventually the toys got marketed and that fed back to the film until it became successful there. The film found no distribution in this country (1) until, unusually, a firm with no experience in this genre picked it up, added English subtitles and tried a theatrical release in N. America. I believe it did not do well, and the film disappeared, except to the few who knew of it and loved it, until Disney, at John Lasseter's urging, picked up all the films of this director and started marketing them in this country.

The director of course is Hayao Miyizaki and the film is My Neighbor Totoro (1988).


This is my corn and you are not going to take it from me

The company that attempted the distribution was Troma, a firm better known for making and distributing films such as "Surf Nazis Must Die" and "The Toxic Avenger". But in this case, they spent their own money bringing Totoro to the notice of Americans and, I think, lost their money. I happened to see it because my friend Chris Casady, owner of Roto Efx of America, had worked for Troma in the past and was invited to the screening at the DGA and invited me along.

I have excerpted my favorite scene from this film and put it at Youtube.  Well, I had put it on Youtube but it seems that someone is blocking it.  So you will have to review the pictures below, or of course, rent the video, which is what they want you to do which is fine with me.



Its an umbrella

On another occassion we will discuss the issues of trying to make a 3D character from one designed for 2D and review all the reasons that is hard, using two characters from this movie: the dust spirits and Totoro himself. Here are some images of these characters which I hope will set you thinking about why doing them in some sense in 3D (as in modelled in geometry) would be very difficult if you wanted to keep the essence and charm of the characters. And if you would not want to keep their charm, then why oh why would you even bother?




My Neighbor Totoro on IMDB

Miyazaki on Wikipedia

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1. Most animated films, indeed most films, made in the Far East never see formal distribution in this country or North America. There have been a few exceptions and some of them are quite notable, e.g. many Kurosawa films would find some independent distribution here. This is especially true for animation made in the Far East, where many of their best and most successful films traditionally never made it over here, except in a very limited form marketed directly to fans of the various genres.

By way of counterexample, Bruno Bozzetto's Allegro Non Troppo did get distribution of some sort in this country.  I am not sure how that happened, but that does show that it is possible.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Computer Graphics and the Doctrines of Original and Derivative Sin

[Substantially revised 2/19/2013]

Anyone who looks at the field of Computer Graphics and Animation today sees vast misery, incredible and increasing unemployment, despair and uncertainty. (3)  The political actions of other nations have made it impossible to do computer animation in this country and compete thus increasing the offshoring and outsourcing of 3D animation.  Our people are driven to the four corners of the earth;  parents are forced to work in slave-like conditions and separated from their families in order to earn what is barely a living, starving to increase the profits of the rich.   And the rich are very rich indeed, privileged and ruthless at maintaining their privileges and laugh at the misery of the poor.   Unemployment everywhere, despair everywhere, injustice everywhere.

Many years ago  I heard a talk by computer artist William Latham (1) in which he proposed that computer graphics imagery was different from other forms of imagery because, by its nature of being computed, it was thus free of the Original Sin, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, eating from the forbidden tree of knowledge and then expelled from Paradise.

But since we are clearly not in Paradise, but are being punished daily, then it is likely that whether we are guilty of Original Sin or, even more likely, an unoriginal sin, a "derivative sin", but definitely a sin of one type or another, or so one might reasonably judge from the reality of the punishment that we are receiving. (7)


3D animators being laid off from a CG studio


Although this may seem superstitious to us, for large parts of history, people of all types believed in the concept of divine punishment so, for a moment, lets ask ourselves how people of the 1st Century AD might have looked at these things. How would they have perceived these disasters and calamities?

Ancient people believed that plagues, famines, war and so forth was God punishing a wicked people or evil nation for their sins.  They would look at a fallen meteor and see a sign from God that he or she was displeased.  They would look at our misery and say that God (or the Gods) were punishing us and that what we had to do was to ask ourselves in what way we have sinned, that we may sacrifice to the appropriate God(s), and change our ways, and repent.

If one were sincere, a number of cattle might be sacrificed, or if really sincere, in some cultures, a good human sacrifice or two was required.   (4)

So let us review the many ways that the field of Computer Animation has sinned.

First and foremost, 3D animation has utterly destroyed the commercial basis of the traditional arts of 2D animation and visual effects.   Thus we are so very guilty of putting many innocent and talented people out of work, forcing them to put down their pencil or their optical printer and get a job as a day laborer for slave wages.   You may call it progress, but I say that we caused a lot misery, however unintentionally.

What other sins are we guilty of?

Pride, arrogance, a failure to help our fellow biped, greed, indifference to poverty, to unfair practices, guilty of setting up and worshiping false gods, competitiveness without mercy, driven by self-interest, ignorance of our effects on the other arts, ignorance of our own history.  Not to mention the sins of making bad movies and creating very bad animation.

Without doubt, we are guilty of all of these.

And the Gods have responded to our wickedness by providing subsidies to foreign nations to uplift our enemies and cause great misery through divinely-sanctioned unfair trade practices!   Heaven has sent the Angels of Unemployment to strike down Sinners even as they type at their Workstations!

As a prophet of doom, I suggest that things will only get worse unless the people repent of their sins and return to the path of righteousness.

God only knows that our misery could not possibly be the result of our own actions, our failure to act, our cowardice, or the inevitable result of our own corrupt practices and stupidity.   It must be a result of divine displeasure.  Because if it was a result of playing it safe, of failing to protest foreign subsidies as a way of keeping quiet and "minding our own business" (2), of rewriting our own history whenever it was convenient to do so (or simply being ignorant of our own history), then we would have no one to blame but ourselves. If we are guilty of transferring our technology to foreign venues as a way of making a fast buck, then who is at fault other than us?   If we thought the studios that finance films cared about the computer animation community in this country, from whence their current riches originate, then that would be particularly stupid and indicate a complete failure to face reality of how these things work. No, the answer must not lie here, among ourselves, the answer must lie in the realm of divine displeasure.

I recommend sacrificing at least one goat or maybe two at once. (6)

Doctrine of Original Sin on Wikipedia

___________________________________________________

1.I http://www.nemeton.com/static/nemeton/axis-mutatis/latham.html

2. Ironically, of course, it is our business.  But it would mean making waves and possibly offending the rich and powerful.

3. Of course this does not apply to some people.  I believe, for example, that my friends at Pixar are treated quite well.   But if they could not work at Pixar for some reason, and were thus like the rest of us, and had to find employment outside of that special reality, they would very much not be happy.

4. Human sacrifice is in most cultures past whether or not they admit it.   But there was quite a diversity in how many humans, who they were (e.g. captured prisoners or citizens) and when they eliminated the practice.   Other than hating Christians, the Romans were tolerant of nearly everything among their multitudes of incorporated cultures other than human sacrifice.  They had no trouble with the death penalty, but that was completely different in their eyes from killing people for religious reasons which they considered barbaric.

5. Most Prophets of Doom are not volunteers, but claim to have been chosen by God more or less against their will.   Also prophets of doom normally do not make a good living but have to live as hermits in caves and so forth.  Much better to be a prophet of hope and joy if you want to make a profit, so to speak.

6. A little off topic, but the best political cartoon found on the topic of human sacrifice is:



7.  This is of course circular logic, and proudly so.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I Was a Limo Driver for Bruno Bozzetto


Once upon a time, back when I was a fan of animation, animation meant 2D animation for the most part.  Certainly not 3D animation. And in those days, perhaps 1977,  I used to attend various international animation film festivals, or at least, would see collections of animation from those festivals.  And although I was not working in animation (1), I was a member of ASIFA. I remember having posters about animation festivals from Zagreb and Sofia on my wall at RAND. People must have thought I used to go there to visit Soviet Intelligence and pass secrets or something.

As a member of ASIFA, I heard that Bruno Bozetto of Milan, Italy was coming to this country to speak at UC Santa Barbara and needed a ride from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara and back again.  As an alumnus of UCSB, and a fan of Mr. Bozzetto, I volunteered to be his escort both ways in my old, red, un-air-conditioned, Chevy Impala.


Mr. Bozzetto having his picture taken with his limo driver.  Just kidding!

This was a very long time ago. It must have been sometime between 1977 and 1978.  I am pretty sure his film Allegro non Troppo (1976) was out by then.  

I remember driving him both ways, I have an image of him in my head. I remember a few things from his talk. That he had a small animation studio in Milan, Italy, and that they mostly made a living doing commercials. I remember him describing a system whereby the Italian government would sponsor short animated films, but that one of the requirements was that they had to be about 11 minutes long no matter how well the idea fit into that length. These films showed as short subjects at movie theatres in front of the main feature, I think. Just like we used to do in this country in the early days of film.  I think he went on to say that this is how his film Allegro non Troppo got made.

A portion of Allegro non Troppo on Youtube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSEJC-cVPuA



An alien spacecraft litters an alien planet with a soda pop bottle and starts off a whole cascade of evolutionary doom.

Marching to their inevitable destruction!


I dropped him off at the end of a very long day somewhere in Los Angeles, said goodbye, and went home. I always wondered how he was but had no way to get in touch with him, and besides, I doubted that he remembered me.

Then one day, somehow, I saw his name on a post that Tom Sito, now a professor at USC, had done. So I gathered up my courage, and sent him a friend request


Hi Michael! I remember your driving and my...
Bruno Bozzetto
3:59am Feb 14


Hi Michael! I remember your driving and my friend Roberto, the music composer, trying to tell you a joke in english:) Nice to hear you again!

Yea!

Mr. Bozzetto's Studio on the Internet
http://www.bozzetto.com/index.html

Allegro non Troppo at IMDB

Article about Mr. Bozzetto in an Italian magazine (in English)

Bruno Bozzetto at IMDB

Allegro_Non_Troppo

________________________________________

1. Of course essentially no one was working in 3D animation back then.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

R&H Closing Causes Panic on Facebook


R&H closing has caused panic amongst the 3D bunnies. They have had jobs for 26 years while the rest of the field suffered, and now that it is their turn, the world is ending. In a sense it is. But we don't really know what is going on so I will find out and report back.




Updates:

2-13-2013 Late in the day, I had a long discussion with a friend who knows R&H well, the visual effects business well, John and Pauline well, etc.  I am still processing his information.   As I understand it, there is a good chance for R&H to emerge from this, but it is an unfortunate and complicated situation, and whatever happens, it does not look good for LA employment.  Thus in rebuilding, they are more likely to rebuild in, for example, Vancouver, than in LA.  Oddly, Vancouver is more expensive than LA, except for that 60% refund that the Canadian govt provides, of course.   The studios are doing their best to put R&H out of business through their stupidity, but that is nothing new.

2-13-2013 An unauthorized source at the local SIGGRAPH meeting reports talked to two former employees, and quite possibly misheard stuff, but that R&H has laid off 100 - 200 people, mostly older and more expensive people.   The source also speculates that it was the real estate acquisition in El Segundo that caused the problem of cash flow in part.   There is further speculation that R&H may not need more than 100 people in Los Angeles to manage their overseas work force.   This information was from the previous day, I just got it today.

2-12-2013 Late in the day, I read some Facebook posts by people complaining about being laid off after 26 years.   Oh, boo hoo. Welcome to the club, goddamnit.  It is clear that people do not really know what is going on and are spreading rumors.  They need to understand that this is understandable but dangerous.  By spreading rumors, you may be contributing to making a bad situation worse.

2-12-2013 Wall Street Journal article on R&H
http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2013/02/12/oscar-nominated-life-of-pi-visual-effects-studio-to-file-for-bankruptcy/?KEYWORDS=rhythm++Hues



Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Archaeology of the Cold War: Espionage and Other Compromises of National Security (1975-2008)


Espionage and spying was one of the defining characteristics of the Cold War. It is easy to be nostalgic about the Cold War, of course. It was a time when America had a functioning economy, when the political system had not been destroyed, when we could still believe in the American Dream in one form or another.

It was a time of the Berlin Tunnel, of the silent war between nuclear submarines, of Mutual Assured Destruction, defections and moles, of spy satellites and science education, of sensor nets under the ocean built at vast expense but capable of hearing a whale at 2000 kilometers, or a door opening on a submarine while submerged.



Espionage and the secret service, some think, are the purest expression of the war between civilizations, fought by a nation's elite secret service that manifest the moral codes that define the opposing civilizations. This makes the secret service the first line of defense, the avant garde of the revolution, the keepers of the faith. They are the mujadeen, the soldiers of God who are willing to die for God.

The Defense Personnel Security Research Center in Monterey, CA, set out to write a report that summarized espionage and other breaches of national security in this nation in the last 30 years. It's goal was to provide a series of case studies for educators of security personnel. It provides good summaries of the different types of espionage cases that have been found and prosecuted in the modern period. It has been regularly updated, the latest version adds 20 more recent case studies up to 2008.

If, as mentioned above, the secret service represents people who are Defenders of the Faith and of the Faithful, then many of the people whose cases are summarized in this report are the Fallen, those who by their actions have fallen from Grace with God and are damned forever.

I have selected a few pages at random for your review and the URL for the full report is listed below. You could read it in its entirety, if you were of a mind to do so, in a few hours at most.






"Espionage and Other Compromises of National Security"

Monday, February 11, 2013

Relationship Between Grad School Acceptance and 6th Grade Clique Selection


[2.12.2013 complete rewrite]

As many of you know, I am applying to Graduate School in a futile effort to be accepted as an adult by society and in order to set the stage for a second act to my so-called career.   I have found the process to be very confusing, arbitrary and limiting thus far.

The impression I get is one of rigid rules and preconditions designed to winnow the applicants down to a small set of people who will act and obey as a ruling elite demand. And who have done nothing whatsoever but exactly those things they are looking for in the most conventional and unimaginative way.  "Those who are like us may apply but those who are not like us should not even attempt it.", they seem to be saying. (1)

It is not a new insight that situations in elementary and jr. high school prepare us for life as an adult by putting us through apparently incomprehensible and damaging social circumstances.   "Life is high school with money" goes the joke.  One example of such a situation is the "prom" nightmare many of us have had to go through.   Another is the weirdness of those who are accepted by a clique and those who are not.

Its been a long time since High School, however, and I was never very good at being accepted by cliques.    But I have come across a 6th grader on the Internet, by name of Hayley, who has two very interesting blogs that may enlighten me on this topic.  Her first blog is called "The Thoughts of an Almost Teenage Girl" and the second, "The Popularity Papers of 6th Grade", about her efforts to be accepted by an elite clique in her Elementary School in Minnesota.  (The URLs for both blogs are below).

So the plan is to monitor Hayley's blog and then report back how the process of getting accepted to graduate school is like or unlike the process of being accepted by a clique in 6th Grade.

Think of it as a research paper in Cultural Anthropology.


A spy vs spy comic I got from Hayley's general blog, demonstrating great taste in one so young.


The Thoughts of An Almost Teenage Girl

The Popularity Papers of 6th Grade

___________________________________________

1. In particular, I have been advised not to apply to any top school because there is virtually no chance in hell that I will be accepted.  Thanks a lot, people, I appreciate your words of support!  But seriously, these people who give such advice are trying to help: by being realistic about the odds, one is more likely to be accepted to a school with good people that does not get the same deluge of applications that the so-called top schools get.

Which school is a top school is different in each field, but it should not surprise you to hear that, depending on the field, Harvard, Stanford, MIT, UC Berkeley, Oxbridge are on the list.  The point of the advice is that there are many other excellent schools in any field you care to name that are not one of the short list mentioned above.  And that is true.  The counterargument, however, is that America has always been elitist and it may only be those who attended the elite schools who will be offered a chance to participate later.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ancient Computer Animation History on Facebook



A Facebook discussion brought up some technology that we developed at dWi, deGraf/Wahrman, Inc, and it sequed into a discussion of some of the talent and impact that we had. That was then, this is now. Nevertheless, it was a good opportunity to mention the following, repeated here, as Facebook is even more ephemeral than a blog.

Because there was so much misunderstanding in the aftermath of dWi, it is possible that the following was not made clear.  

I think that this is a good opportunity to thank everyone who was associated with deGraf/Wahrman for all their hard work. As far as I can tell, everyone who worked at dWi was amazingly talented and did incredible work under very difficult circumstances. Its hard to believe that we worked that hard in order to establish computer animation as useful for the entertainment industry, god only knows why we cared so much or why we thought we had to do our best work for clients who were, shall we say, not always appreciative of our genius. I am sorry we put people under so much pressure at the time, it was not intentional, it turned out that way. Perhaps things were a "little" out of control. You may not have been aware of how much pressure Brad and I were under.

I also think that judging by results, our alumni are without doubt very talented and did very well. Hopefully you will all continue to do well. Each of you has unique talents, remember who you are.
 I think that Jwalt's joke was a very good one, it would have been all that much better if we were actually that much more talented and collaborative that we thought that gag up as a deliberate comedy routine, that would have been truly impressive. People are so sensitive, you know.
I plan to document all of your contributions on my Blog, over the next few years, if all goes well.

Anyway, thanks again.


The Facebook discussion is here. I have no idea if you will be able to see it or not.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Great Performance Reviews in History: Lawrence of Arabia


Since employment and the search for employment seems to be on so many people's minds, I wish to share with you what I believe is one of the best "performance reviews" in film.  There are a few others, some more comical than this, but this is perhaps the best of the serious reviews.  It may even have some basis in fact.  That is less clear.

In this sequence, T. E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia, has just come out of the desert and announced that he and the Arab Revolt have taken Aqaba. He is escorted into the presence of his commanding general, General Allenby, who is many levels above Lawrence's nominal chain of command.

Of course, this is from David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962) starring Peter O'Toole as T. E. Lawrence. 

The sequence is here, until Youtube takes it down.


 The Review

Allenby reviews his file, questions his actions, promotes him, and builds up his morale to motivate him to go back and continue his work. How many of us can say that we have had as well-informed and insightful a review, or one designed to help us do our best work?

Lawrence, who of course realizes he is being manipulated, tells Allenby to his face, "Youre a clever man, sir", and through his presentation makes it clear that he is accusing Allenby of doing something nasty by rewarding Lawrence and making him like it.   I don't know about you, but I think that is pretty funny.  


Allenby manipulates his employee by telling him he has done a good job, promoting him and buying him a drink.  What a tricky, low down thing to do!


As background on the film, many of the key plot points in the movie are historical.   Which is appalling when you think about it.   Of course any detail or dialogue or colorful incident at an oasis or whatnot is certainly fiction, at least to some degree.   I am not sure if Lawrence ever met Allenby or if Allenby invited him for a drink at the Officer's club.  I would tend to doubt it, but I do not know.  But I think that we can be certain that if they did meet, whatever they said to each other was different than what we see here.

The performance review:

Allenby: (reading from a file) Undisciplined .... Unpunctual ... Untidy ... Several languages,
knowledge of music, literature, knowledge of ... , knowledge of ... You're an interesting
man, there is no doubt about it. Who told you to take Aqaba?
Lawrence: Nobody.
Allenby: Sir.
Lawrence: Sir.
Allenby: Then why did you?
Lawrence: Aqaba is important.
Allenby: Why is it important?
Lawrence: Its the Turkish route to the canal.
Allenby: Not anymore, they're coming through Bathsheba.
Lawrence: But we've gone forward to Gaza.
Alleny: So?
Lawrence: So, that left Aqaba behind your right.
Allenby: True.
Lawrence: And it will be further behind your right when you go for Jerusalem.
Allenby: Am I going for Jerusalem?
Lawrence: Yes.
Allenby: Very well, Aqaba behind my right.
Lawrence: It threatened El Harish and Gaza.
Allenby: Anything else?
Lawrence: Yes, Aqaba is linked with Medina.
Allenby: Do you think we should shift them out of Medina now?
Lawrence: No, I think you should leave them there.
Allenby: You acted without orders you know.
Lawrence: Shouldn't officers use their initiative at all times?
Allenby: Not really. Its awfully dangerous, Lawrence.
Lawrence: Yes, I know.
Allenby: Already?
Lawrence: Yes.
Allenby: I'm promoting you Major.
Lawrence: I don't think that's a very good idea.
Allenby: I didn't ask you. I want you to go back and carry on the good work.
Lawrence: No, thank you, sir.

For those who are interested, the scene where Allenby announces Lawrence's promotion at the Officer's club is here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=0VGBDYeEAVk

See also:

The Arab Revolt

General Allenby, 1st Viscount Allenby

Thomas Edward Lawrence

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) on IMDB

Real Time Programmable Shaders and Me


[or is it "... and I" ?]

As part of my Solari Sign simulation, I am working through more of the learning curve on Open GL shader language, e.g. GLSL or programmable shaders.

It is pretty cool but it sure is awkward.

There is a list of things you have to get through that are arcane in the extreme before you can do basic programmable shaders: compiling, linking and running shaders, creating and setting uniform variables, creating and using texture maps, figuring out the relationship between traditional Open GL and the new programmable shader paradigm, and so forth. As with so many things in Open GL, going from the documentation to real applications is not well documented or self-explantory. The list goes on and on, and when you need to add a new feature, you have to be prepared to dive into the bits for days before you emerge.

But once you build up an infrastructure to make these things manageable, then it is a lot like writing shaders in Renderman circa 1988, but in real time.

And real time is fun.

For example, out of frustration with an object that was relentlessly invisible no matter what I did, I mapped a texture map variable I had been calculating left over from a previous test. To my amazement, I picked up the texture map from the last digit of a digital clock I had running on the display. Only in this case it was mapped on an object that filled the screen, and it was changing every second.






Its soft because the preloaded texture maps are 128x128 but that could be easily fixed. 

Anyway, I think NVIDIA or someone should do the following:

1. Document the relationship between Open GL and GLSL with modern examples.

2. Write and document a toolkit, maybe libglsl, that lets one do basic GLSL functionality at a slightly higher level.  If no one else has done it, I may do it.

         Such things as: read shaders from disk and compile into a program, defining and setting
         uniform variables, loading and enabling texture maps, etc.

3. Create a good implementation of noise, classic or simplex, and make it available.

        There is an implementation of noise that looks very good online, but it is 10 pages of
        code and its days of work to transfer it to your program. That is less work than it would
        be if you had to write it from scratch.

As for using real time graphics for work directly in motion picture filmmaking, in other words, as final footage, that will only work for certain kinds of graphics.  For visual effects and most final animation such things as advanced filtering, motion blur and global illumination is either required or highly desirable.

For a very low budget film of course, anything is possible.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Villains! Enemies of the People! Stop Driving Blue Pickup Trucks!


[2.12.2013  We do not know at this point how crazy Dorner is and how unjust, if it was unjust at all, was the procedure that got him fired from the LAPD.   But on the surface of things, it looks like another example of the LAPD punishing someone who tries to make them live up to their promise to clean up their overt racism and violence.  If my post is unfair, should we decide that to be true later when we know the facts, trust me when I say that the history of the LAPD makes it a perfectly good conclusion to jump to.  The LAPD has earned its reputation.]

We want to loudly and firmly announce support for our LAPD in these bleak hours when, in our defense, these stern defenders of the peace go on another rampage shooting anyone in a blue pickup truck.

If I were you, I would park that blue pickup truck right now, and walk away. Otherwise, you might be shot, and so you should be, you wretched blue-pickup-truck-driving villain!


The enemy


One of the pillars of Los Angeles is the Los Angeles Police Department, the LAPD, whose motto is "To Protect and Serve".  These selfless and upright public servants protect Los Angeles from the forces of crime and racial equality, placing themselves bodily between us good folk and the nasty bad people out there.

Today they are under immense pressure because of a challenge made by a former member of the LAPD who has sworn revenge against the noble LAPD.

The hunt to destroy blue pickup trucks began when a former LAPD officer was fired for the gross offense of reporting that a superior had brutally and sadistically beaten an innocent and mentally-challenged person. Of course he was fired!   How dare he denounce a member of our famously humane LAPD? This is Los Angeles after all, and in Los Angeles, the LAPD can beat the shit out of anyone with impunity as has been demonstrated time and again.

Our former officer, who is suspected of murdering his ex-girl friend and her fiancee, has sworn to get even, and drives a blue pickup truck. The LAPD has sensibly and reasonably responded to this challenge by going on a rampage and is even now shooting wildly with assault weapons (2) at anyone with a blue pickup truck.

Lets remember what Los Angeles stands for. It stands for crime, criminality, hypocrisy and the exploitation of the poor in the service of the rich. Los Angeles and crime go hand and hand.

With the possible exception of the Aerospace industry, all the major industries in Los Angeles were founded on crime. (1)

Consider a few highpoints of this notable history. The motion picture industry moving here to be able to more easily evade the Edison patents. The agricultural and garment industries based on illegal labor. The theft of water and political fraud for real estate development. The music industry (need I say more). The Construction industry. Import-export and the turn-of-the-century opium trade. Chinese slave labor and the building of the railroads. The destruction of the mass transit system. The oil industry. The porn industry. The consistent rumor that the Heidi Fleiss affair was caused by Sony Columbia refusing to pay their annual $1M bribe to the head of the LAPD. The Rodney King riots which were caused by the video of the LAPD beating the shit out of Mr. King as he lay prostrate on the ground, defenseless.

These are the things that Los Angeles stands for.

We at Global Wahrman support the LAPD in its efforts to suppress crime and call upon on all evil-doers to stop driving their blue pickup trucks at once!

Los Angeles Police Department Home Page
http://www.lapdonline.org/
________________________________________

1. The author wishes to acknowledge that many cities may have been founded by criminals.  Also that criminality is sometimes a matter of point of view.  After all, New Amsterdam became New York because the British Navy stole it from the Dutch, to give one example.

2. A friend gave me a hard time over my use of the term "assault rifle".  He is correct to do so, as assault rifle is really a marketing term, not a technical one.   But the fact is that the only people who make that distinction today are people who are opposed to any kind of gun control.  So, to hell with you, we need gun control in this country.  I think "assault rifle" is a fine term to use in this case.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Eric Cantor, the One Ring of Power, and my Virginian High School

Part One

Once upon a time, I attended the The Collegiate Schools in Richmond, Virginia, a somewhat prestigious private high school in the region. We had a number of people from Virginia society in our school, or their children at least, as well as some well-established outsiders. I propose to describe something about this High School because it affects all of us as citizens of this country.

You may ask, why would Michael's High School be important to all of us as citizens?

Because Eric Cantor is now the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives in Congress and Eric went to Collegiate. 

And Collegiate is a somewhat amusing, somewhat peculiar place. It definitely has a culture all its own, and its place in Virginia society.

But first I want to review with you how our imperialist superpower works because you need to understand this to understand why Eric Cantor matters. Although the president gets the helicopters and the airplanes, and gets to say who gets a drone missile up his ass on a day-to-day basis, it is in fact Congress that allocates the money for those missiles and helicopters. And in general, the executive branch abides by the law, most of the time at least, we hope, and those laws must be passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President.

But to bring a bill up to a vote is not a trivial matter, and it requires the machinations and scheming of the two political parties to do so. Every time there is an election, the House and the Senate reorganizes itself into a majority and minority coalition, and each of those coalitions has representatives on the important committees that are preparing the legislation and the budgets. So if the Republicans have a majority of the House, as they do, their representative is the chair of, for example, the House Armed Services Committee. Seniority in the House and Senate also plays a role in determining who can get things done.  The standing committees take the lead in preparing legislation for their branch of Congress, House and Senate, and when passed by the committee it goes to the floor of the House or the Senate for a vote by all the members. (1)  (2) 


the smoke filled room

So the House and the Senate are each a complicated network of smoke-filled rooms, each filled with power, self-entitlement, influence, obligations, history, villianry, idealism, and hypocrisy and having been driven mad by power, push each other around with their large software packages, working with great vigor to get nothing done.

But one stands above these smoke-filled rooms whose job it is to coordinate their actions and bring it to a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.

One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.

Eric Cantor is the Majority Leader for the House of Representatives, and Eric went to Collegiate.  The mind reels.

End of Part One


Eric Cantor on Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Cantor

The smoke filled room on Wikipedia

______________________________________

1. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences works in a similar way. The various subsections nominate films in their respective categories, e.g. acting, screenwriting, costume design, film editing, cinematography, etc, but then the entire Academy membership votes on who receives the award that year.

2. If you think about each of those representatives and senators having constituents, each with their own strongly held beliefs, and multiply out the different agendas, then it becomes clear that most bills in Congress must be wild compromises almost by definition to "get out of committee".   Thus, having a major party that does not compromise throws a wrench into the system like you would not believe.