Thursday, January 30, 2014

Who Stole Japan's Submarine?


Great events of history often start with deceptively small incidents.   A glacier melts and suddenly we have Global Warming.  Several gay men dying in a ward in San Francisco in 1984 and suddenly we have the AIDS epidemic.

Or a submarine disappears and we suddenly have the beginning of the end of all civilization.

Recently, Japan lost one of its submarines in the Tsugaru Strait between Honsho and Hokkaido.  They have looked everywhere but can not find it.   They were using this $5M remotely operated submarine to map the ocean floor although some news articles have said that the submarine was actually used to detect other submarines at a distance.  The lost submarine was on a tether, it was not free and autonomous. It is very hard to lose such a submarine, but they did.

Somehow, the cable got cut. No one knows how. They looked everywhere in the area for the submarine, but they could not find it. It did not just drift to the bottom in the area, it did not float to the surface. It disappeared.

Maybe it was an accident and the submarine got caught on something underwater and they just could not find it.  It is, after all, very dark down there.


Graphic from a news article on where the submarine was lost

Or maybe someone cut the cable and took the submarine because they figured it would tell them a whole lot about Japanese technology.   

But, if it was stolen, who would do such a nasty thing? Would China or Russia perpetrate such a criminal act?  These countries are peace-loving dictatorships that regularly talk about destroying the West.   We might do something like this to them, of course.

No, those who would suggest that China or Russia did such a thing are just war mongers looking to increase the defense budget.   This explanation is just a front to hide the possibility of what really happened.  

What else could have happened then?   Notice where the submarine went missing.  That is not so far from the worst oceanic radiation leak in history, Fukushima.   Perhaps the radioactivity from this disaster has caused the mutation of giant underwater monsters.   Everyone has seen the movie Godzilla, we know the score. What if those movies channeled the future of the end of our civilization?  What if these giant radioactive monsters were sleeping but were disturbed by someone dragging a submarine over them?

That is an explanation that you will not read in the Western press anytime soon.

We may all look back at the missing submarine and realize that we were witnessing the Beginning of the End.


I want more submarines !




Commentary on the Proposed Voynich Solution


This news item is getting a lot of Internet play but I felt that the the commentary out there did not emphasize one of the most appealing elements of the proposed Voynich solution and so we will do so here.

To backup a bit, a manuscript was acquired in 1912 by a collector of rare manuscripts whose text appeared to be enciphered and whose illustrations were exotic and whose provenance appeared to be about 16th century. Many, many people have tried to decode the text and failed. Many others have asserted that the document is a forgery or fraud and at least as many have said they believe it is genuine.

But the biggest mystery was, if it was genuine, what is its backstory? How could it have come out of nothing without someone having known about it? A secret cult ? A mysterious religion ? Proof once more of aliens from outer space who have come for our women ?





What makes this story all the better is that the proposed solution comes from a retired botanist and antiquarian who has published in the journal of the American Botany Council.

So far the response to this paper, from other botanists at least, has been very positive.

What appealed to me was the implied answer to the questions of why the language seems unknown, why no one knew of this document, why the plants are exotic and so forth.  The answer suggested by the proposal is because it was created by indiginous people in New Spain (e.g. Mexico) who later died of one of the epidemics, whose dialect went extinct with so many others in that period, and whose related documents were all burned by the Spanish as they burned so many documents in order to destroy the culture of their conquered territory.

See


and the essay itself




Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Acquisition of Deepmind and the Humiliation of the Proletariat


A recurring subtheme of this blog are the silences that occur when the author melts down into a puddle of indecision and/or rage at his failure to transcend mere poverty and the mediocrity of his society and achieve some financial and intellectual standing. Eventually I come out of my pique and return to writing productively. (1) But in the meantime I am harrassed and annoyed by example after example where those more intelligent and more capable individuals and teams demonstrate over and over again just how superior to me they really are.

This outrageous behavior on their part is no doubt personal and reflects their deep and inexplicable hostility towards me and towards my otherwise blameless and even exemplerary existance. Why do they behave in such an outrageously successful fashion if their only desire is to humiliate me? We do not know but we do know that they do it very well and over and over again. Bastards.

A recent case of abject humiliation occurred when Google purchased the three year old company "DeepMind" for roughly $575 million dollars (US). Yes another University professor took a leave of absence and with a couple of friends started a company which in three years they flipped to Google for a little under $200/million per founder.

Why would Google spend so much money for a company that has no revenue and could not possibly have generated much intellectual property? Why not? Maybe they did it for the great logo that Deep Mind has which is all we are permitted to know about their company.


You gotta love this logo.

We at Global Wahrman would like to apologize to my readers for the delay in posting to the blog, but it is to be expected as long as outrages like the Deepmind acquisition keep on happening.

Deepmind
www.deepmind.com

The Proletariat

_________________________________________________

1. ... instead of unproductively as has been the case in the last week or so started in part by another interaction with the State of California. You gotta love the State of California, they are so much better than we are.



Friday, January 24, 2014

Semi-Automatic Ernst Haeckel & Procedural Modelling


The following demo is online but only while my server is up and until AT&T changes my IP number. Go to http://108.232.26.40/mscript53/mscript.html.  

Type "H" for help information.

Boy is it slow!   I think that is the fault of the speed of the upload of my internet connection.  Not all that interactive on this server, I am afraid.  But if you are patient, it should refresh.  And a "reload" gets a whole new set of objects.


Generations of computer animators have been inspired by Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), famed and sometimes controversial German scientist and artist, whose Ontogony Recapitulates Phylogony is one of the more famously incorrect, yet memorable, scientific principles of the natural sciences.

But for us digital dependent imagers, it is his meticulous drawings of the natural world that hold endless appeal. Obsessive, stylized, and completely delightful, there isn't a one of us who would not be thrilled to own a print of one of his works on his or her wall.

Whether Radiolarian or Anemone, his Kunstformen are an endless inspiration.






I wrote a modest program to generate small, probably water based organisms inspired by the master. Although the results are no where near where they would need to be be worthy of the art that inspired them.   I need to emphasize that I am trying to duplicate Haeckel, although it almost sounds that way, nor am I trying to recreate the fabulous range of creatures.  I am trying to procedurally define a class of objects that somewhat resemble what you might see in a microscope looking at a drop of pond water ... one of the classes of those creatures, not all of them by any means.

The idea is that you are looking at a semi-automatic catalog of obscure life forms, each of them different, yet related by an unknown (to the viewer) process or processes.

There is also some shader stuff going on to try and achieve a certain technical look.  There is much more to do there.

Each time the program's browser page is refreshed it comes up with a new set of objects. It was written in Webgl.  Of course that wont work on the following images, it only works when running it live.  If you are lucky my server will be up and the IP number at the top will be working.  (One day I will have my own server or a server I can use with a real, known IP number.)

The creatures and their look is defined by about 32 (or so) parameters.  8 of these parameters define the physical object geometry, 8 define an overall look, and the rest are miscellaneous parameters to define things like scale and overall reflectivity.  










Ernst Haeckel on Wilipedia

Die Radiolarien

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Secret Meaning of Stanley Kramer's "Mad, Mad World" Revealed


There are reasons to believe that when the studio cut Stanley Kramer's Its a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), down from 210 minutes to 154 minutes that much more was lost than miscellaneous sub-plots. We are told that the studio took the film away from Kramer because of its length and the effect that would have on potential boxoffice. But others believe that something much more evil was behind the studio's actions, that the studio was upset by the director's dark vision of the greed of the average American, and conspired to take the film away and transform it into the shallow, madcap comedy that was released.

Consider the greater body of Stanley Kramer's work as a director. These are some of the most serious and acclaimed films of the 1960s including such films as On the Beach (1959), one of the best films about the dire consequences of nuclear war, amd Guess Who is Coming to Dinner (1967), an important film about racial integration in 1960s America. Add to that Ship of Fools (1965), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) and , Inherit the Wind (1960) and ask yourself, are these the films of a director of madcap comedies filled with pointless car chases?


The rage of a frustrated common man?

Degrading sex and drug lifestyle?

Perhaps the "W" stands for Weltanschauung ?

The main story line calls out for a serious interpretation. The plot is one of greed getting the better of groups of average Americans who become aware of a hidden cache of stolen money buried in a little California town several hundreds of miles away. Their behavior quickly devolves from one of cooperation to one of vicious and deadly competition, shedding values like old clothes, and acting reprehensibly towards each other as they gallop after the money.

The story gets darker as the Spencer Tracy character who plays a policeman on the Santa Rosita police force is told to his face that he will not receive a pension on retirement because everyone on the force hates his integrity and stern enforcement of the law. Driven to desperation, he chooses to abandon his values as well, wait for the others to find the money, then come in and posing as an active duty policeman, take the money and run for Mexico. Surely this is as tragic a fall from grace as we can find in all of the American cinema?

The dark irony of this misunderstood film is only made more powerful by the brilliant choice of lead actors, an ensemble cast of the country's most noted comedic actors here at last given a chance to show their serious side in a powerful parable about greed. Could there be a better choice of ensemble cast than Phil Silvers, Jonathan Winters, Milton Berle, Buddy Hacket, Ethyl Merman, Dick Shawn, Mickey Rooney, Sid Caesar, Jim Backus and Edie Adams, all well-known comedians in what may have been their first and certainly most serious dramatic role?

If we could see the footage that was left on the cutting room floor, the missing 18 minutes that would extend the film from the restored 192 minutes to its full 210 minutes, what would we find? Would we find impassioned soliloguies from a degraded and unrepentant Phil Silvers? Perhaps a secret and unhealthy S&M relationship involving Dick Shawn and his mother Ethyl Merman? Was this Jonathan Winter's great opportunity to demonstrate his worth as an actor of tragedy? Perhaps Edie Adams' portrayal of a sex-addicted love slave of Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett and Mickey Rooney would have been the apex of her career and led to an Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actress. We may never know.

And how ironic if these hypothetical masterpieces of the cinematic art were sacrificed to the greed of the shallow studio executives in a film nominally about greed!

How often must we hear that the corrupt and corporate Hollywood system betrays the filmmaker and compromises his or her vision? It is time to call a stop to this disgraceful behavior.

We at Global Wahrman believe that the studios must undo this travesty and restore this important film to its original vision. If it means remaking it over and over again at vast expense until we get it right, then that is the price we must pay in the service of great art.

__________________________________________________


IAMMMMW on Imdb

IAMMMMW on Wikipedia

Inflation Calculator of $350K in 1960 adjusted for inflation to 2013

An analysis of the locations used in IAMMMMW

Imperial Chrysler Club Web Page on IAMMMMW

On The Beach (1959) on IMDB

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Thoughts on the Visual Effects Nominations for 2014


Here are my comments on the visual effects nominees for this year's Academy Awards.

To recap, there were ten films on the longer list, and five films nominated for the award. The films which were nominated are Gravity, Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Lone Ranger and Iron Man 3.

The films that were not nominated are Oblivion, Elysium, Pacific Rim, Thor: The Dark World, and World War Z.

Many of these films had over 1,000 shots, in fact most of them did. That is an astounding amount of work, I am not sure it is a record for any one year, but it might be. However, quantity is not quality.

Of these, Gravity will win the academy award for visual effects. I have forseen it and so has everyone else. Yes, there could be an upset, but no one expects that so far as I know (I guess that is the definition of an upset...). Although there is some confusion about the various techniques being used, there is no doubt that Gravity is a filmmaking tour de force that uses visual effects brilliantly to bring off their story. Of the people I know who have seen the film, all but one of them declares that it is an amazing film. It deserves to be there. The fact that we will now be forced to endure nightmarish imitations is just a sad fact of life.

Hobbit/Smaug was interesting but did not overwhelm me. The 48 FPS was, again, interesting, but I have seen this all before (admittedly projected on film when I saw it before) and yes the same problems that Showscan had, Hobbit/Smaug had as well. Since no one seems to be the least bit interested in learning from the past, I won't bore you with this. There is nothing new under the sun. I had trouble seeing why people acclaimed the visual effects, though. Dragons are hard and this dragon is pretty good, but it never once convinced me it was really there, nor did many of the other visual effects convince me that we were there. If there was a category for visual effects in the service of a fantasy/animated film, it might qualify but in the pure visual effects genre I do not get it. However, obviously the subsection did get it and it was nominated. It was certainly a tremendous amount of hard work, whatever else we might say.

Star Trek Into Darkness was very good, but was it that much better than Elysium or Oblivion to have received the nomination over the other two? I don't really see it. The problem is that there is a very high level of effects across so many films. How can you choose ? I felt that Elysium and Oblivion had elements that were innovative and I did not feel that way about Star Trek. But whatever.

It is the final two films, The Lone Ranger and Iron Man 3 that I take some exception to.

The Lone Ranger reminded me a great deal of Its a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). Lots of car chases, I mean train chases, lots of practical effects. Nothing new. Good solid quality work. Could it be that the more mature members of the subsection united behind the two films that used the most practical and traditional (scale models) effects? (Lone Ranger and Iron Man 3). I think that is very likely what happened.

Best part of the movie.  Could there be some subtle sexual imagery here?


Unbelievably stupid skydive rescue scene.  I don't care how hard it was to do if the idea was dumb.

Of all the films, Iron Man 3 was by far the worst. The classic visual - effects - means - exploding - shit film, par excellence. Loud, but stupid, with none of the charm of the first movie. Just a lot of exploding stuff and improbable physics, the parachute rescue was about as stupid as I have ever seen. How could this have been nominated over Elysium or Oblivion or Pacific Rim? Perhaps it is just nothing more than the factions uniting to support the traditional technology. I happen to like traditional technology, but not on stupid films, please.

For me, the best water was in Pacific Rim, the best monsters were in Pacific Rim, and the best use of scale was in Pacific Rim. Sure it was a silly "monsters eat Hong Kong" movie, but hey, so what else is new at the VFX bakeoff?

Which brings me to my final point. The problem with the bakeoff is that it is all about visual effects films, and that does get tiresome. Maybe we could slip in a little romantic comedy or something now and then just to liven things up ?

Arlene Schloss in Hospital


My friend and performance artist Arlene Schloss (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arleen_Schloss) has had an accident and is in intensive care in a hospital in NY.

Since Arlene has MS and does not get around well, we speculate that she fell, but no one really knows. She has had brain surgery and the doctors seem to be quite optimistic.

This is all unfortunate, Arlene had more than enough problems as it was.

She does seem to be blessed with very good friends who are visiting her every day and looking after her.


Arlene in Berlin 


Saturday, January 18, 2014

You Could Upload an Image from WEBGL or You Could Just Go Shoot Yourself


Lets say that you embrace the WebGL world and write some nifty graphics application in it.   Now lets suppose you want to save an image or two from your interactive application and doing a screengrab is not appropriate. Perhaps this is because you wish to save many images, such as an animation.   Maybe you are debugging a complicated problem and wish to save snapshots in various parts of a process.

Maybe you are iterating through a space and need to make a record of each step.  I do this all the time in animation production to do what is called a "wedge", which is a way of making choices among many parameters.  

But this is WEBGL and the bold new Internet paradigm, so things are not so easy.

In fact, its a really annoying process to save an image under program control and the reason for this has less to do with WebGL than it does to do with Internet architecture and the awful state of documentation in our bold new Internet based reality.

I present here one solution to the "save an image" problem.  Here are choices that had to be made to get to this solution:

1. In order to save an image, you must upload it to a server.
2. In order to upload anything you must use "Ajax", which really means XMHHttpRequest.
3. The server side is written in node.js
4. We are going to use POST.
5. We are going to use base64.
6. We are not going to use FORMS or BLOBS.
7. Our server is going to do nothing but receive an image and save it out.
8. You may save as many images as you like, the filename will be incremented by 1 each time.
9. All images are saved in PNG format.
10. We are going to use getDataURL() directly from the canvas and not use gl.readPixels at all.
11. Therefore we do not have to set any special flags when we acquire the 3D canvas.
12. If a file already exists of the same name, it will be written over without comment.
13. The images are put in the directory that you run the node server out of.

If you are new to this, these choices made above eliminate a billion or so other possible solutions and therefore makes the problem solvable (instead of iterating through an infinite search space getting half baked quasi solutions on the internet).

When it is all said and done, the result is about 1/2 page of code on the browser/client side and about 1 page or a little more on the server side.  Everything is written in Javascript, with the server side making use of node.js.

Here is the code that works for me.  If you try it and it does not work for you, please let me know.   

Uploading An Image (Client/Browser Side)

When the 3D canvas has an image you wish to save, do the following: 

// generate "dataURL" for the image on the screen
// "canvas" is what is returned from document.getElementById on your webgl canvas

   var newimg_dataurl = canvas.toDataURL("image/png"); 

// NB  The server is going to be looking on socket 8080 and a path of  /imagehandler.  
// But these are arbitrary and can be whatever you like 

   s_postimage(newimg_dataurl, "image/png", "http://localhost:8080/imagehandler"); 

// the function that actually posts the image 

var s_postimage = function(dataurl, imagetype, dest_url) {

    var xr = XMLHttpRequest(); 
    xr.addEventListener("error", xfer_error, false); 
    xr.addEventListener("load", xfer_complete, false); 

    xr.open("POST", dest_url); 
    xr.send(dataurl);

    return;
}; 

var xfer_complete = function(e) {
    // document.write("<br>xfer complete");
}; 

var xfer_error = function(e) {
    if (e) throw e; 
}; 


Uploading an Image (Server Side)

This is run with the command "node imageup.js" where the file imageup.js contains:

var http = require('http');
var url = require('url'); 
var querystring = require('querystring');
var util = require('util'); 
var fs = require('fs'); 

var img_seqno = 0; 

http.createServer(function (req, res) {

    switch(req.url) {

     // This is where you would put in handlers for situations/requests other than 
      // the request to upload an image

    case '/imagehandler':

if (req.method == 'POST') {
           console.log("[200] " + req.method + " to " + req.url);
           var fullBody = "'';
           var fname = "upimage_" + img_seqno.toString() + ".png"; 
           console.log(fname); 

           req.on('data', function(chunk) {
          // append the current chunk of data to the fullBody variable
              fullBody += chunk;
             console.log("data received"); 
});

        req.on('end', function() {
           // request ended -> do something with the data
           res.writeHead(200, "OK", {'Content-Type': 'text/html'});
           console.log("end received"); 

           var base64Data = fullBody.replace(/^data:image\/png;base64,/,"");
           fs.writeFile(fname, base64Data, 'base64', function(err) { 
              if (err) throw err; 
             console.log("image saved " + fname); 
             img_seqno ++; 
}); 
        res.end();
});
} else if (req.method == 'OPTIONS') {

            var headers = {};
            headers["Access-Control-Allow-Origin"] = "*"; 
            headers["Access-Control-Allow-Methods"] = "PUT, POST, GET, DELETE, OPTIONS"; 
             headers["Access-Control-Allow-Credentials"] = false;
             headers["Access-Control-Max-Age"] = '86400'; // 24 hours
             headers["Access-Control-Allow-Headers"] = 
                 "X-Requested-With, X-HTTP-Method-Override, Content-Type, Accept";
            res.writeHead(200, headers); 
            res.end(); 
            console.log("OPTIONS received"); 

        } else {
            console.log("[405] " + req.method + " to " + req.url);
            res.writeHead(405, "Method not supported", {'Content-Type': 'text/html'});
            res.end('<html><body>Method not supported</body></html>');
}
break;


    default:
        res.writeHead(404, "Not found", {'Content-Type': 'text/html'});
      res.end('<html><body>Not found</body></html>');
console.log("[404] " + req.method + " to " + req.url);
    };
}).listen(8080, "127.0.0.1"); // listen on tcp port 8080 on the localhost

// end of server code




Friday, January 17, 2014

The Goddess Phoebe in Manhattan

the rewrite

The following essay does NOT contain any spoilers beyond a throw-away joke at the beginning of a play.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I used to live in NY and only went to see plays when visitors came in from out of town and forced me to go. One such occassion involved a very distant friend (1) who bought us tickets to see the play Communicating Doors (1994) by Alan Ayckbourne. This would have been about 1998.

To avoid spoilers, I must tell only a very minimum version of this joke.

An attractive young woman in an outrageous skin-tight leather outfit is invited to a hotel room in London. She is a "specialist" she says, a dominatrix, no sex. Her nickname is "Poopay" which is not an appropriate stage name for her specialization so she is looking for a more dignified name, perhaps "Severa". This name should connote the idea of a goddess and inspire awe and fear in her customers.

Our Goddess in human form from the San Francisco Production

Another character, a respectable older woman, asks her what her real name is. "Phoebe", she replies, in total disgust at the outrageous fortune that has assigned her such a wimpy first name.

The whole audience laughs.  What's so funny, I thought. Why is everybody laughing?

Then I remembered my classical mythology and realized, of course, Phoebe is the name of a Goddess. Well, OK, technically she is a Titan, one of the sets of children of Uranus and Gaia, and traditionally associated with the moon. But I think that from this distance a Titan can be considered to be goddess for all theatrical purposes.




I was entertained by the notion that the playwright would write a throw-away joke that required knowledge of Greek mythology/religion (4) and expect the audience to get it.  And of course, I thought it was amusing that in fact the audience in NY did in fact get it.  I would not expect that to be the case in most of the country, but hey, maybe I am wrong.  Maybe on the East coast this kind of knowledge of classical civilization is part of the standard kit of people who go to the theatre. 

Out here in Hollywood, I do not think we would make this kind of assumption.   No one would be assumed to know Greek religion/mythology unless it happened to be featured in a recent graphic novel. Perhaps if some underage pop star or ingenue called herself "Phoebe the Goddess" on television or the internet only then could one be expected to know this bit of cultural information.

It is this understanding and appreciation of the American audience and, by extension, the world audience, that makes American films so popular and approachable, I think.  (3) In other words, we dumb it down or in some cases, don't bother to hire writers that would know this kind of stuff to begin with.  That is the best way: ignorance is good for commerce.   

_________________________________________________

1. Bill Joy, one of the founders of Sun Microsystems.

2. By prompting I mean, there was nothing that would indicate a reference to Greek religion was about to occur. Had this been a performance of a play by Euripides, for example, then that would be a different matter.

3. How do we know for certain that American films are the best? By that one key attribute by which all American cultural works are judged: the amount of money it generates, possibly adjusted for inflation and exchange rate. That one criteria above all else condenses all the vague and subjective qualities of a creative work into a single, objective index of excellence. And it is the genius of our culture and civilization to recognize this and put all our energies and resources into this one overarching goal: make more money.

4. Greek religion was always presented to me as "mythology" which implied some sort of fictional folk belief.  Actually, what we call mythology is a form of deprecation, the Greek's thought of it as religion and were quite devout about it judging from some of the votive deposits that have been found and described in literature.   So where you see the term "mythology" applied to the Greeks, just substitute "religion" and you will be much closer to the reality.

_________________________________________________

See also:

Communicating Doors (1994)
David McCallum's Notes on Communicating Doors

Phoebe on Wikipedia


Thursday, January 16, 2014

The "Rhetoric of the Introduction" at the VFX Bakeoff


This is my report on the Academy VFX Bakeoff.  This year I was accompanied by Jon Snoddy and his friend Allison.  Their presence kept me in my seat for the whole affair, one of the first times that has ever happened.

Here are some notes.

A. Male to Female Ratio

Between Pam Hogarth, Rhonda Gunter, Phoebe Zerouni and the afore-mentioned Allison, all of whom sat close to each other, they substantially affected the M to F ratio at this screening.   I know that Nancy St. John and at least one other woman was also there in the audience, somewhere.  Yes, VFX is still nearly completely male.

B. Elitism

This is the first year that the subsection members had their own private reception, eliminating any unnecessary contact with people in the field who are not part of their group. 

C. Rhetoric

I paid particular attention this year to the rhetoric of the 3-5 minute introduction of each film. I have always noticed a pattern in the past but this year it became completely clear in my mind, probably because I was willing to listen to all 10 introductions (in the past I have gotten bored and gone to the lobby).

The structure seems to be this: (a) express humble gratitude that their film was worthy of consideration, (b) describe the genius and vision of the director and producer of the film and acknowledge that all ideas came from them, without them, there would be no visual effects nor any ideas of merit, (c) state the total number of shots and any special constraints such as deadline, (d) then, with the deadline and total shots in mind, discuss elements of the film that are featured in the effects reel that they believe gives them the best shot at being nominated. If they needed 43 special versions of the stupid talking dog, 3 of them physical, discuss this. If they had to put up 53 projectors in a helix or some other weirdness, mention it.   (e)  acknowledge the facilities that worked on the project, so they don't all kill you later. (f)  make a special last ditch desperate appeal for sympathy because of some horrible thing that happened during production that only other visual effects professionals will relate to (g) ignore the red light, (h) conclude that you really ought to have the nomination because of the brilliance and stamina demonstrated by this reel, and (i)  thank the audience and beg for votes.

D. Projection and Stereo

All films were projected digitally. Three were stereo, seven were flat. The Dolby 3D system was used.

E. Sound

The sound was not excessive this year, and there were less explosions over all.  This turns out to be a mistake.  The subsection has an apparent weakness for and love of the tradition of gratuitous loud noises as demonstrated by the nomination of Iron Man 3.

F. Scope of Work

Many of the films screened claimed to have 1600-1800 shots in their movie. A small effects film might have a mere 700-800 shots. Recall that Star Wars had approximately 300+ shots. The amount of work this represents is amazing.   Some people believe that there is an inverse relationship between the number of shots and the quality of the story.

G. The Year of Albert or Alfred or Something

More than any other year I can remember, the name of the renderer was dropped, and it was "Albert" / Alfred / Whatever. I doubt most of the people on stage would recognize a renderer if they tripped over one.  I believe that the choice of renderer is just as important to the quality of the visual effects as the choice of film stock is to a brilliant photographer: both very important and not important at all.

H. Water, Water Everywhere

But Pacific Rim's water looked much better than everyone else's. Go, ILM.

I. Its not the Effects that Stinks, its the Movie

Iron Man 3 was the canonical, too-stupid-to-live, visual effects for morons sort of movie. Come on everybody, lets hold hands because we can defeat gravity that way ! Well, you wont defeat Gravity or gravity, either one.   But it will get you nominated. 

J. Gravity... the triumph of Lights in Space

Did they composite, or did they rerender the face, only her effects company will know for sure.

K. Best Introduction

John Knoll's for Pacific Rim. Informative, interesting about scale, and within the time limit specified.

L. Dragons

Dragons are difficult and WETA's dragon was acceptable. I think people are confusing visual effects with animation. As an animated dragon it was fine, as a real visual effects dragon, not so much.

M. The Movie vs The Effects Reel

Gravity may be the classic case of where the movie is much more interesting than the effects reel.   The counter example for me was the case of Pearl Harbor, there the effects reel was better than the movie.

N. The Lone Ranger was out by itself

All by itself, The Lone Ranger maintained the traditions of models and physical effects.   The Subsection recognized their efforts with a nomination.   However, I can not understand nor forgive the travesty of the musical interpretation of Rossini's great finale.  Some things can not be randomly fucked with, even in Hollywood.

O.  The Nominees Are ...

Gravity,  Hobbitt/Smaug, Lone Ranger, Iron Man 3, Star Trek.

I will do a post on why I think this is weird.




Monday, January 13, 2014

Los Angeles and the Wages of Sin

El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles, the Pueblo of our Lady, the Queen of the Angels, born in lies and raised in crime, inequity and hypocrisy, known throughout the world for its glamour and its beaches and its women and its economic opportunity, but remember, always remember: the wages of sin is death.

Serious business people could understand the failure to enforce the fire detector laws in buildings whose designs were known to be deathtraps, even though it resulted in the fiery deaths of so many of your citizens. The deaths were only of poor people and minorities, so who really cared, it might affect the profits of the landlords. When freeways destroyed entire communities and you did nothing, you could take comfort in the thought that your actions and inactions had destroyed any chance of a minimal mass transit system to alleviate the traffic that existed and the even worse traffic that was known to be coming. When Beverly Hills sued to keep the subway from coming west of Highland, you bent over in submission to the rich, with barely a whimper. You knew very well who was really going to get fucked, the people you represented, or failed to represent.

Case after case, example after example. Oh you need more? LAX is an ugly nightmare, known throughout the world as one of the most unpleasant airports to arrive at. Dirty, undesigned, stupid. And totally under your control. The Port of Los Angeles, famous for permitting the worst environmental violation, in order to keep prices down, throw people out of work due to globalization, and yet cause a huge percentage of the smog in the area which affects the health and total lifespan of those exposed to it: particularly the children who are raised in it. To damage the lives of innocent children, children in your care, without them even knowing it, can we not call that a sin? The Port of Los Angeles, one of the busiest ports in the world, is totally under your control. Let us look no where else for who to blame, the people to blame are right here, in the administration and government of Los Angeles.

Now the 2020 Commission on Economic Development in Los Angeles, or something like that, has issued a report on some of the problems facing Los Angeles. It is filled with interesting material, the way the City Council knowingly lied about Fire Department statistics for years, and many other tidbits. But it also exudes an unmerited optimism. It thinks it is possible for LA to work its way through the problems. I am not so sure of that. But I do think and encourage everyone who lives here or who might live here to read the report. It is at the bottom of the following link in PDF form. After you have read it, I will continue with some thoughts on how to proceed.


Hope lies only in radical change. You see, Los Angeles, it takes time and very serious money to fix the problems you have created for yourself. You kicked the can down the road and the road ended. To fix things now will be 10 times more expensive than it might have been before. Where will the money come from, well I have some ideas. But where will the strength of character come from? I dont know. I see no reason to think that it exists here in El Pueblo.


Ugly as sin, they pump around the clock for their anonymous masters

But here are some thoughts, humble thoughts, for your consideration. First, nationalize the oil wells, and use the profits taken from the ground and people of Los Angeles and apply it to saving the lives of the people who live here. How many active wells are there in the Los Angeles area? 10,000 wells? More? The obscene oil sucking insects pump around the clock in Baldwin Hills without even a veil of trees to hide their obscenities. Second, nationalize the Getty that does precious little for the culture of Los Angeles, and use its assets to pay for reform. Turn the so-called Museum in Brentwood into a magnet school, for example. Third, tax every car driven in Los Angeles that is worth more than $50,000 an extra $5K/year and an extra $1.00 per gallon.  Charge the container ships waiting at the Port of Los Angeles an extra 100K / day (or something) that they sit in the harbor blasting out fumes and use the money to pay for an offshore electrical system, more efficient in terms of power generation than just running their engines and fouling the air.   Won't that encourage ships to go to other ports?  Yes, I certainly hope so.   For once, use price theory to help the world instead of just as an excuse to exalt the rich. (1)

But please, please, please don't tell me that any of these suggestions are illegal. Everyone knows LA is built on violating the law and you should know that best of all. If you say these are illegal, I will say you are a lying hypocrite, which you are. The difference is that these illegalities will help the poor instead of your masters, the rich.

These are just a few ideas, simple and just, to generate income for your rehabilitation. After you have done these, come back, and I will have more ideas for you.

You are very welcome.

________________________________________

1. People have wanted to know if I was actually serious in any way about these proposals, and the answer is "of course".  LA is not going to do anything to deal with the problems at hand, so why not make silly proposals.   Nihilistic?  Sure.



Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Visual Effects Bakeoff for 2013


Tonight is the so-called Bakeoff  at the Academy for the Visual Effects nominations. The screening is for the Visual Effects subsection but anyone can attend, space permitting. Ten minutes of each film under consideration is shown, there is a question and answer period which guests can only listen to, and then the subsection members vote on which films will be nominated for visual effects.  This is a very long, very loud night.  I find it annoying but useful.

It is always nice to have an opportunity to see old friends.   And I don't really mind seeing the others as well.  

This year Gravity is going to win the Academy Award.   I have foreseen it with my tremendously expanded mental powers and the use of the esoteric knowledge.

The films which will be screened tonight, in no particular order, are

1. Gravity
2. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug
3. Pacific Rim
4. Star Trek Into Darkness
5. Iron Man 3
6. World War Z
7. Oblivion
8. Elysium
9. The Lone Ranger
10. Thor: The Dark World

This is an interesting list. Not necessarily any great films here, but certainly a few entertaining ones. I have seen worse years.

Obviously everyone wants to win. But winning is very difficult so getting a nomination is much more likely and is also incredibly valuable to one's career. If one is trying to be an effects supervisor, to be nominated for an Academy Award is a big deal and explains some of the politics around who gets to be one of the "four" who are selected by the producer to be in consideration.

There is almost always a surprise that comes from seeing ten minutes from all these films at one time, or perhaps from the questions and answers from the effects team. But in advance of the screening, here is my take on why this is a very important year.

1. This is the year of solid state lighting.

This is the first year that the revolution in solid state lighting completely takes over on stage production in visual effects. Its been coming for a while, and many of the ideas are quite old, but the availability of arrays of LED's at reasonable prices has enabled this in a major way. Using film as a projection map was never very flexible, and using normal wheat lights would generate too much heat to be very practical. But using arrays of solid state lights to project environments brings a whole new level of sophistication to the "blue screen" plate photography process.  Now we can integrate live action photography into the visual effects, and visual effects into live action photography, with a whole new level of sophistication and accuracy.

Historical footnote: wheat lights used to be a significant part of model creation. The Bladerunner pyramid buildings, such as the Tyrell Headquarters, were models made with a lot of wheat lights. I saw the famous Las Vegas model made for One From the Heart years ago. Supposedy the lights on the thing either used to blow out the power supplies or melt the thing down from all the heat that the lights emitted.   Although one could and did build grids of this thing, and one could control them with computers, I doubt it was done much.  It just wan't practical.   LED's are now practical and there are lots of good components around to control them.  And you wont have to wait all the time to replace the damn little lights as they burn out.

A selection of wheat lamps from Bladerunner and EEG


2. This is the second part of the synthetic human breakout

The first element of the breakout was "Benjamin Button". This is the second. There may have to be a third before the tsunami of shit emerges of computer generated lead actors, or this may be sufficient. I am not sure, perhaps I will have an opinion after tonight.

3. Gravity wins and was in part distinguished by its effects

The award is for the film where the visual effects most support the movie and the story.  It is not for the best visual effects per se.  The classic example of that, for me, was the first Matrix movie which was truly enhanced by the visual effects.

For the second year in a row, a movie is distinguished and made notable by its visual effects (last year was Life of Pi). I do not know if this is a good thing or not, but its probably not a bad thing. If visual effects is to be worth all the money, this is a useful thing to have happen. If visual effects people are to rise above being considered commodities, having work that distinguishes themselves and is not just like everyone else's is also helpful.

4. American dominance of this award is completely over

This has been coming for a while.  American companies no longer dominate this award.   No one else beyond ILM or Sony is left except for maybe Digital Domain (I do not understand their status).  This has been true for quite a while now, but this year sets the pattern, I think.   I am less certain what this means for the nationality of the effects supervisor, however.  The award goes to the four people identified by the producer, but the facility that did the work also gets credit in practice.  Every year some films will be done at ILM or SONY, but the vast majority of effects will be done at facilities in London, New Zealand and Canada.

5. The nominations are ...

I think that Gravity and The Hobbit will be nominated.   I am rooting for Pacific Rim to be nominated because I think it is important to have giant mutated sea monsters in cinema from a content point of view.    

I will report back what happens.



Cultural Diversity, the LAPD and my Uncle from Chicago


Cultural tolerance is a term that encompasses and encourages various forms of inter-cultural dialogue and respect for diversity. Thus, when a physicist is able to talk calmly and politely to a political scientist, this is an example of "cultural tolerance".

Cultural tolerance is understanding that there are different ways of doing things and that if we are to get along peacefully in this world that we must allow for these differences in spite of the fact that our way is always the best way. It would be better for all foreigners to learn to do things our way but it isn't practical to do so when they first arrive. Thus it is important to be patient and tolerant when dealing with visitors and new arrivals from other places. We must explain the way we do things around here and only then throw them in jail or beat them up if they do things differently.

I have a favorite anecdote demonstrating excellent cultural tolerance on the part of a representative of law and order here in Los Angeles, a member of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) a fine institution noted throughout the world for its own special style of corruption and racism. This story demonstrates that they can act with tolerance towards visitors in an enlightened and possibly even humororous fashion. A visitor from a very far away place, the north side of Chicago, came to our fair city and with complete innocence and naivete got himself into serious trouble.

The person was my favorite uncle visiting us and his mother, my grandmother, from Chicago. The time period must have been the mid 1960's. There are many good things I can say about my uncle, he was one of my favorite people in the world: a successful businessman, an intellectual, the president of his reform temple in Highland Park, Illinois, and a very nice man, married to a classic jewish intellectual neurotic woman who was also one of my favorite people in the world.

We were coming back from somewhere, probably to visit my grandmother, when the problems began. He was driving and did so with an enthusiastic driving procedure which consisted of driving at high speeds on the freeway while moving from lane to lane at will and turning his head around to talk to us, his favorite nephews, cowering in the back seat of the car. We were saved from probable death or disfigurement by a police officer who pulled him over and asked to see his driver's license.

And then my uncle got himself into really big trouble.




You see, in Chicago when something like this happens, there is a standard procedure. And that is what my uncle proceeded to do: which was to hand the police officer his driver's license with $100 bill attached. My guess is that he did not give it a second thought. With his driving skills, I figured, he had probably done this many times before in Chicago.

The police officer looked at the driver's license and "honorarium" and said: "Ah, Mr. Hanig, I see you are from Chicago. Put your money away and never do that again and I won't put you in jail this time".

In retrospect, I think that was a very humorous thing for the police officer to say and that my uncle was very lucky. He could easily have spent the afternoon in LA County Jail.

You see, in this town, you do not try to bribe individual police officers. That would be an incredibly stupid thing to do. The way it works here, as I understand it, is that you bribe the top guy, the Chief of Police, or the Mayor or someone like that. Then they do what needs to be done.

I cherish the memory of the police officer recognizing that,  being from Chicago,  the driver thought that bribing a police officer was a normal thing to do and making allowances for this visitor from a distant place.   


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Repent! The End is Near!


Prophets of doom rarely made a good living in the old days. Prophets of happiness and so forth could count on buying that new goat, wagon, or slave from profits from grateful customers. But prophets of doom, never. They lived in caves and wore sackcloth and needed a bath.

I remember reading all the way through Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" before I figured out what the title meant. (1)

As many of you know, I keep a variety of doctors employed and off the streets. Because of various regulations involving the illegal resale of certain attractive medications, I need to see them every month or so, as the prescriptions are kept on a tight leash. Since I am an outlyer in various ways, it can be problematic to find a suitable doctor and therefore, once found, I stay with them for a while. So I drove to LA to see one of these doctors whom I had been seeing for a decade and they channeled me to one of his assistants whom I knew and liked because, I assumed, my doctor was not available. Well, yes, but not the way I thought.

She opened the conversation with "So let me tell you why you are seeing me today instead of Dr. Friedman. Dr. Friedman died last week suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack. His funeral was a few days ago."

Excuse me? Bob Friedman was in perfect health when I saw him about 30 days ago. He looked about 65 years old (he was a few years older it turns out but so what), and was in great shape. Yes, he could have lost a few pounds and I doubt if he spent too much time doing aerobic exercise, but he had years and years to live, as far as anyone could tell.

But when the penalty flag goes down, death appears like a thief in the night and there is no appeal.

And he left some very confused people, including his many employees who would like to continue their practice and keep working together and probably will, but its all a little confused because, sensibly, Bob did not expect to be leaving anytime soon, so nothing had been arranged.

Therefore do not expect to be warned, or rather, take this as your warning. The bell could go off at any time, make good use of the day and see that your paperwork is in order.

This may be the only notice that you will receive.


______________________________________________

1. It comes from something John Donne wrote a few centuries ago. He wrote, 
"No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee."
The custom in Europe (or parts of Europe) was to ring a single bell very slowly to announce the death or funeral of someone in that parish. People would know to come to the church to find out who it was tolling for, if they did not already know.