Thursday, 29 April 2010


Blender 2.5 is coming. I've been exploring the alpha version on the Blender website: both exciting and frustrating. Not all the features from 2.49 have been activated yet, there still seem to be a lot of bugs, on my system the program crashes every other time I hit "render" and some of my favourite features, including the telepathic spacebar (which always used to give you exactly the submenu you were looking for) don't seem to be included.
On the other hand the advances are looking great. Having struggled in the past to create smoke and fog using the particle system I'm enjoying playing with the new smoke simulation:

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Sci-Fi London 2010

The Sci-Fi London film festival opens this week. The opening night is already sold out but there are some real gems elsewhere in the programme including a rare showing of Daleks: Invasion Earth, the office comedy Drones and Sandy Collora's much anticipated Hunter Prey, as well as the awesome shorts programme.

Also, the 48 Hour Challenge Shortlist is now online here. Our entry, Half A Million, didn't make the top 12 so congratulations to all the teams that made it. I'll post my thoughts on the entries (shortlisted or otherwise) in a bit.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Emo Horror [Review: Just After Sunset]

"Just After Sunset" is a new collection of short stories by Stephen King. While they are undeniably still horror stories, they strike more of a melancholy note than King's earlier writings: more emo than gothic horror. The tone is struck in the opening novella "Willa" when a woman running to escape a serial killer still manages to take in the solemn beauty of a sunset. Many of the stories focus on horrors that have already happened and deal with the grief and denial that follows. A common theme for many of the stories is a magical portal connecting places, times or universes.

"N." is a particularly interesting story: the descriptions of Ackerman's Field, a location dripping with evil, the conjunction of pan-dimensional horror and mental illness, and the multi-layered narrative of journal entries and unearthed letters, even the name of the horror point to H.P. Lovecraft as the inspiration - but in his footnotes King credits the earlier, Welsh horror writer Arthur Machen, also an alchemist and contemporary of Aleister Crowley, as well as the inspiration for many of Lovecraft's tales.

Not all the stories are as gripping as "N." - this is a readable collection but by no means King's strongest writing. Other highlights for me were the surreal and colourful "Stationary Bike" and the finale "A Very Tight Place" - a hilarious and nightmarish non-paranormal horror which could have been written by Gordie LaChance, the narrator of "The Body/Stand By Me."

Monday, 19 April 2010

World War II In Colour [Review: Victory Of The Daleks. Spoilers]

Some thoughts on this Doctor Who story: underwhelming for an episode that needed to be much stronger. When it's good, it's very very good: Ian McNeice - that's Baron Harkonnen to you - as Sir Winston Churchill, the War Rooms setting, and the inevitable spitfires vs flying saucers scenes are all cool, and the appearance of the Daleks as soldiers - trusted by Churchill and the British - is extremely sinister.

I was disappointed for two reasons: firstly, I thought the Doctor's demeanour was a little too cheery for a World War II story, particularly at the end. Secondly, something about the new Dalek race. I guess the BBC needs to keep redesigning the Daleks so they can sell remote control toys to supplement the license fee, but I wasn't impressed this time.

Compare this story to two of the Christopher Eccleston episodes: The Empty Child, a brilliantly loopy tale also set in World War II London but one that really managed to convey the darkness of the period; and also Dalek, the story that re-introduced the monster. The Daleks were redesigned then too - a new, battle hardened look that suggested they had modified themselves in the course of the Time Wars. Real behind-the-sofa stuff. Now something like the Sixties colour scheme is restored, and instead of the single Dalek killing machine that could have wiped out an entire continent if let loose, we had a line-up of bulky, technicoloured machines that would struggle with a doorway let alone a flight of stairs. Oh well. KBO, right?

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The Fall Of Mankind [Review: Brothers Of Earth]

Kurt and Djan are human warriors from opposing sides of an interplanetary war that has all but destroyed both their civilizations. The sole survivor from his warship, Kurt finds himself alone and stranded on the surface of an uncharted planet. He is found by the nemet, indigenous humanoids, but soon discovers that this region of the planet is ruled by Djan, who has taken power with her cache of advanced weapons although she is also the sole survivor of her own Hanan crew.

Brothers Of Earth is C.J.Cherryh's second novel, published in 1977 with an original RRP of 80p. It hasn't aged at all. Between them Kurt and Djan's actions tear apart the society they are living in, causing death and destruction, and this tale of interfering in foreign affairs without taking the time to understand them instantly translates to more or less any international news story of the present day. Kurt spells this out when he tells the nemet the horror of war on a human, mechanized scale and tries to persuade them to avoid his and Djan's races' fates. The nemet society is complex, and does not feel alien or idealized: rather it recalls a post-colonial society with a deep history, family, national, social and cultural divisions and long-held grudges and it is this complexity which Djan misses and Kurt only learns through his mistakes.

While Kurt and Djan are newcomers and believe, in different ways, that their own experiences give them superiority and a right to advise the nemet, the planet also contains a colony of humans descended from Djan's people, the Hanan, who have degenerated into tribalism following a century without contact from their homeworld. As well as a plot device, the presence of this tribe in the novel is a reminder of the worst qualities of humanity.

Monday, 12 April 2010

The Day Before The Day After Tomorrow

The 48 Hour Film Challenge is now over - I handed in a finished film for Team Sky's Edge at about a quarter to one this morning, just in time for the deadline.

We finished the production stage in good time - following the Last Zombie model we did the whole shoot on Saturday afternoon and had tidied up, gone out for a meal and got ourselves home all before midnight. The initial plan was to use a friend's urban jungle as a location but unfortunately at quite short notice this wasn't possible so I came up with an utterly foolhardy alternative - shoot the whole thing on bluescreen and leave myself to post-produce everything Sky Captain style for the rest of the weekend, so it's been a race against the clock, particularly with the render time required for every scene. I "finished" at 11.30 this morning and just made the 1 p.m. drop off, and I don't think I want to see ANYTHING blue for some time. Anything arty went out of the window - we went with what our title and prop suggested so ended up making a heist movie which also required one cast member to play an entire army of security guards on her own - which she did brilliantly.

Although I'm temporarily off blue I'll post some more about the bluescreen stuff because I do think it's got some potential & would like to do more of this in future. For this film in some scenes it works well, but if we hadn't been in a competition I would have wanted to re-shoot some scenes.

The Day After Tomorrow - update 3

Only a few hours left until the deadline. I now know I will have something to hand in although some parts have been more successful than others.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The Day After Tomorrow - update 2

This is proving to be quite a challenge to edit this year & I'm not 100% certain at this stage how complete the film is going to be when we hand it in. We had a last minute change of plan and the new plan involved a large amount of bluescreenery - a risk as you can end up with completely unusable material if you're not careful. So far it's just about holding up.

The Day After Tomorrow - update 1

Running slightly behind schedule but we did complete our 48 hour challenge shoot this evening, leaving me with a very ambitious editing & post production job. Still think I can do it but we'll see what happens over the next 36 hours.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

The Day After Tomorrow

Sci-Fi London's 48 Hour Film Challenge starts in a couple of hours. I'll post updates on my progress. We're going to try something a little different this year...

Friday, 9 April 2010

How did this film beat the censors? [Review: Kick-Ass]

When Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction was submitted for censorship, the censors thought long and hard about their decisions. We've come a long way from the bad old days when a flash of ankle would be too much for anyone to handle. Eventually they changed only one scene, zooming in on a needle so you don't see the tip enter the skin. Drug use is OK. Violence is fine. Glorifying them is where they drew the line, and the change they made was the minimum required. Censorship's now a subtle and intelligent business and I have a lot of respect for it.

At first viewing Kick-Ass appears to have walked straight through the censor's office leaving a bloody trail across the cutting-floor. Scene after scene of children dishing out vigilante justice. 11-year-old Hit Girl shooting up a coridoor of bad guys Matrix-style, accompanied by quips, jokes, good humour and a kick-ass soundtrack. Taking these scenes individually you might think they were glorifying violence in a big way, and I was shocked that so much of this remained uncut.

Putting the same scenes back in context is a little different. What sticks out about this film is not the glorified violence but the pain. There's a whole lot of pain in this film. Excruciating pain. And this is not a 3D film, it's filmed in Pain-O-Vision - watch and you'll feel as if you're getting a baton to the knees, or your teeth knocked out. I practically limped home and I can still taste the blood from my lungs. Almost every battle Kick-Ass enters leads to him getting a solid beating, whether he ultimately wins or loses, and even Hit Girl has her moment of doubt, when for a few seconds she's no longer an invincible heroine but an 11-year old cowering behind a cabinet.

This level of pain has two effects on the film: firstly, it converts it from a violent film to an ultra-violent film, but secondly it changes the message. Far from glorifying vigilantism, this film says: go ahead, but don't come running to me when you get hurt.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Only Rocket Roll But I Like It

This replica of Stephenson's Rocket is more usually seen at it's museum home in York. However it is a fully working replica and for another couple of weeks, courtesy of the Science Museum, it will be chugging up and down a very short stretch of railway in Hyde Park, London. It's a smooth ride although you don't get to sit down and you may get a face full of steam from time to time, also not very fast: six year olds on rollerblades were passing us without difficulty.

Rocket was designed by Robert Stephenson. It was my inspiration for the Martian steam barge in Soupremacy so I enjoyed this first-hand experience. The original Rocket, or at least what's left of it, can be seen down the road in the Science Museum.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

New Girl In The Fireplace [Review: The Eleventh Hour]

We're all Time Lords now. I missed the new episode of Doctor Who as it was broadcast too early for me - each series seems to creep slightly further back in time - but thanks to the dimensionally transcendant alien technology of BBC iPlayer I was able to nip back and watch it.

The Eleventh Hour is a Steven Moffat script. The Doctor is introduced to two new characters - himself, and Amy Pond. He initially meets Amy as a 7-year old, then returns just as her adult self has begun to doubt he was real. It's reminiscent of Moffat's previous script for The Girl In The Fireplace, perhaps my all time favourite episode, and also Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife where the timelines are a little more entangled.

The Doctor is also getting a feel for his new persona, trying out different words, phrases or looks. He's a little disturbed but it's never quite as dark as those first few manic depressive Colin Baker episodes. There's some bits about an alien prisoner on the loose but do we really care about all that sci-fi stuff? Well, maybe. This is a strong, witty episode, a good start to the series, and Matt Smith and Karen Gillan already appear confident in their roles.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Hack and Slay [Review: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo]

Stieg Larsson's novel featuring hacker and avenging angel Lizbet Salander has been made by Niels Arden Oplev into an exciting and beautiful thriller. On the whole. As with District 9 it's great to see a well-cast cast of unfamiliar, non-Hollywoodized players. In particular Salander herself is always a kind of fantasy character in the novels - just too damn good at everything - but Noomi Rapace manages to bring her to life. The film kept me on the edge of my seat even though I'm familiar with the book, and delivers plenty of tense moments. Two forgiveable flaws: it's a long film and it does outstay it's welcome but only by a smidgeon, and the scenes of sexual torture, although absolutely essential for the plot and tone of both novel and film, are also too long - shorter glimpses might have had more horror impact.

On the cinematography:if you read the same filmmaking books I read you might be forgiven for thinking that there is a simple equation linking quality of film to shallowness of field. On this basis The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is the best film ever ever made, as in almost every scene the depth of field is reduced to a few millimetres. I have to admit it is a great look, combined with suitably bleak locations and clever use of ultra-pale colours. Also, and I think this is down to the atmosphere, this film succeeds where Ron Howard's The Da Vinci Code fails - in making the quest to track down information dynamic and fun.

See this film now. The re-make phenomenon is currently at apogee: re-makes of great films are entering production before the originals hit the screens, and there's a Fincher-directed version of this film taking shape in a dark and sinister Hollywood cellar even as we speak. Actually I'm looking forward to the inevitable result of this trend: in just a few years time they'll be making the re-makes first.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

The Rules

The new Formula One rules have some surprising omissions. Firstly, you're still allowed to drive straight into a spectator stand - although now you'll have to perform this maneuver with a full fuel tank. Also there's still no 30mph speed limit even though the races take place in built up areas, and I don't see any mention of mobile phone use. However the biggest omissions are any rules forbidding wheeled vehicles in favour of hovercraft, or enforcing the use of dance soundtracks. Until the sport gets it's act together and starts to look more like this, frankly I think we should just bet on the pit stops.

[video by DJmaniac1 on YouTube]