Monthly Archives: October 2008

ETEK trip, day 3


Way behind here, but this is what happened on Tuesday.

Rhythm & Hues:


R&H; is particularly known for virtual animals — having done work for Babe, the Golden Compass, and the Narnia Films (Aslan actually makes a cameo appearance in Night at the Zoo). Here our tourguide, Scot Byrd, is pointing out the primitive hair on the Polar Bear in the old R&H; Coke commercial — “It looks a little like toothpaste.” Now the technology is sufficiently developed that animals models can have millions of individual hairs, which need to be tended by digital fur groomers.


Rhythm & Hues still deals with analog film — they were one of the pioneers of high-resolution film scanning. You can tell Scot likes to handle the stuff. They keep a movieola in a back room, which also has this animal mugshot chart — I’m assuming had something to do with the casting of Babe: Pig in the City.


Some 3D geometry for virtual models is scanned from actual physical models. For virtual models, only half of a physical model usually needs to be sculpted, the biological symmetry taken care of by replicating and mirroring the geometry of one side.




Their server farm is cooled by large ducts blasting enough air that the room feels a bit like a wind tunnel. You can get a small taste of the effect with Lee’s (non-digitally-groomed) hair in the picture below.


There’s a lot of art on the walls at R&H; — some beautiful drawings of dancers by Jules Feiffer, and a lot of animation artwork, including some “Princess Mononoke” cells and animation drawings of Bambi, Bugs Bunny, and so on.




Then, on to Sony Imageworks, where we had a demo reel screened for us, and a reconstruction of the elements used for a composite shot featuring a CG beaver from the first Narnia movie (both Sony and R&H; have shots in that film).

We got to duck into an animator’s cubicle (she worked her way up from an initial position as a motion tracker), and a Visual Effects supervisor stepped us through the creation of a complicated effects shot that was created with the Flame system, a quarter-million-dollar combination of hardware and software that allows you extrapolate the implied 3-D geometry of a location shot and its attendant camera motion, and composite 3D and 2D elements into that tracked space. It was a shot he’d worked on for four or five months. Sony is serious about their NDAs, so although the shot is from a film that’s already been released, all I feel comfortable telling you is this: It was a crane shot of the aftermath of a _____ collision. As the camera climbed upward, various _____s of the _____ continued to pile up, spilling into the ____ and knocking over a few _________ _____ as well. Most of the _____ ____ were digitally inserted, as where the trailing vapors of steam and smoke, and a good number of the ____ on the ____ beside the _____ ______, as they receded into the distance. Trust me, it was impressive.

Jimmy Kimmel:


We had a couple hours to kill between arriving at Hollywood Boulevard and being admitted to the Jimmy Kimmel show. A lot of the shops on the strip had Halloween costumes, and it occurred to me that Halloween must be the worst time of year for the folks who dress up as Spider-man and Jack Sparrow and so on, in the hope of cadging money from tourists who want to have their pictures taken with pushy entrepeneurial simulacra. With everyone on the street in costume, every superhero is just another Clark Kent.

For roughly a half-hour before the show, there’s a guy whose job it is to rev up the crowd, which he does by insulting them (or at least a few unfortunates among them). He’s actually very funny, and at some point he noticed the row of our students, three of them wearing hats (and not just baseball hats — we’ve long noted, this semester, our unusually high fedora-to-student ratio). I braced myself for a round of haberdashery-related abuse, but he moved on to other pastures.

The highlight of the show itself was Kimmel’s interview with Cloris Leachman, who’d just been booted from “Dancing with the Stars.” I haven’t been following the show, but judging from the clips they showed by way of intro, Leachman was treating her stint as a profanity-laden piece of performance art, crawling, bouncing and siezuring her way through her routines. She kept up the vibe by starting off her interview with a complaint that her chair was too high, and proceeded to align herself and re-align herself across the seat in increasingly precarious positions, in postures that suggested something between a sexual proposition and preparation for a suicide leap. She finally threw the cushion behind the chair, and eventually deliquesced to the floor, where Kimmel, in gentlemanly fashion, joined her. They ended the interview in a sort of tender tangle, beneath the overhang of Kimmel’s desk, holding hands.

I don’t think the camera caught any of us in the crowd, but Gabor claims his hat made it into a shot.

ETEK trip, day 2


I’m a day behind here, and I may flesh out this post later with more details, but for now:

First up, Spectral Motion, a practical effects shop headed by Mike Elizalde. Hiding behind a nondescript building facade, next to the California Brown Bag company (which literally seems to be a business that has something to do with brown paper bags), there’s a whole bestiary of impossible creatures. Spectral Motion has done design, costume creation and animatronics for a number of films, including several directed by Guillermo del Toro — Blade II and the Hellboy movies among them. Mike described del Toro as someone who’s “never forgotten a nightmare,” and his films feature some of the most inventive creatures ever put on film.

Mike showed a video demonstration of an eye for the above Hellboy creature, which, through puppeteering, was able to rotate, retract, dilate its pupil, and blink a nictitating membrane. The explanation of its functions became a little mini-lecture on oracular anatomy. The same creature has a dreadlock tangle of tentacles unfurling from its cranium, each of which was controlled by servo motors that could be puppeted or programmed. The servo system was devised by an animatronics specialist who also builds robots for the military. Spectral Motion’s work exists at that fascinating point where scientific knowledge and artistic knowledge become interchangeable.


After that visit, we made a quick visit to Big Machine Design, a small motion graphics house that has created a number of intro for TV shows, as well as having recently worked on cut scenes for video games. We were shown a new intro for the Regis and Kelly Ripa show, for which they flew out to New York and filmed Regis and Kelly with Red One cameras, a digital video camera they’ve fallen in love with.

Then, to USC, where we saw part of a presentation and a workshop on Fair Use, sponsored by the Institute for Media Literacy. One presentation was by Eric Faden, the creator of “A Fair(y) Use Tale,” a very clever ten minute video that explains the basics of copyright, exclusively using copyrighted footage from Disney cartoons. The dialogue of the cartoon characters is chopped up, sometimes word by word, to form sentences that lay out the case that copyright law, as it currently stands, is unneccessarily draconian. It’s available on youtube, though Faden isn’t the one who posted it there. It’s received over 2 million views, and you can add you eyeballs to the number by clicking below:

Faden was helped by students in putting the piece together, They scanned their way through Disney cartoons, also utilizing online scripts of the films and searching for their target words. Faden described the process as a truly surrealist viewing experience, any concern for character and plot falling away, all attention focused on the desire to just hear a certain word. Apparently, “copy” is a word that only occurs twice in the Disney cartoon cannon, and the word “artist” never appears at all. All the footage was captured through analog copying processes, as part of a hedge against possible legal action from the Disney corporation. Though Faden would have a solid case that “A Fair(y) Use Tale” is a genuinely transformative work, and would be protected as Fair Use as a form of commentary, he was advised that Disney might ignore copyright infringement claims entirely, and just go after the film on the basis of infractions against digitally cracking the DVD encyption. Using analog processes circumvented that potential tack.

Finally, we went to a presentation on the sound design and the score for The Dark Knight at the Egyptian Theater, which was really fascinating. More details to come soon…

ETEK trip, day 1


We caught the last day of the Bernini exhibit at the Getty. Perhaps the most arresting piece was the marble portrait of Camilla Barberini, her face emerging from the symmetrical folds of her headdress like the imperturbable prow of a white ship, cutting a symmetrical white wake in the sea. The aliveness of the portrait is all the more remarkable for its having being created 10 years after her death, as a commission from her son, with only painted portraits for Bernini to use as reference. It must have been eerie for the son to have his mother so indelibly materialized, a decade after her passing, with no photographs or home movies to disperse or otherwise distribute the authority of her presence. The portrait, in that way, would be as potent, as liable to speak, as any idol.

Marble in particular slows the eye. It invites you to become intimate with the portrait’s subject, perhaps even more deeply than the intimacy invited by movie stars, whose faces we examine for hours on end, with the sense of leisure and ownership that comes from the fact that, however long we may stare at them, they’ll never return or challenge our gaze. The artist of a marble bust invites us to occupy the privileged space he himself occupied, as the official portraitist. We get to gaze upon the face of someone powerful, to really study it, without fear of rebuke. People watching the marble busts in the exhibit also became frozen, rapt in their observation, turned into appendices of the original statuary. One man leaning on a cane, with a UCLA baseball cap, met the intensity of the gaze of a long-dead Pope, their eyes not fixed on each other, but on some middle distance of contemplation.


One interesting detail that emerged from Bernini’s process was the use of painted portrait models for subjects he couldn’t have sit for him in person. There was a Van Dyck portrait of Charles I in three positions, as if he’d been born as identical triplets – side, front, and three-quarters-view, the faint pink around Charles’ eyes giving him an animal vulnerability. It was like an animation turnaround, created prior to embarking on a virtual 3-D polygon model. Except, in this case, it was a freaking Van Dyck turnaround.

Some other Getty highlights for me:

An exhibit of humor in art, that corralled many of my favorites, including Rowlandson, Tiepolo, Goya, and Daumier. Two students caught me in a reverie over a Watteau drawing of an enema, which was kind of embarrassing.


Velazquez’s “Allegory of Artistic Creation,” which contained a smoking curl of red paint wending its way along the edge of a woman’s diaphanous blue-white sleeve, stopping me short.

A marble portrait of Maria Cerri Capranica attributed to Giuliano Finelli, the whorls in her hair like calcified battalions of wasps’ nests.

One of Franz Messerschmidt’s “character heads,” titled (not by him) “The Vexed Man.” Like other “character heads” I’ve seen reproductions of, the face is pulled into an extreme emotion, a grimace that would only last seconds on human musculature, but which becomes as powerful and unsettling as a ritual mask when rendered in marble. From the side, you can see something perhaps comical in the man’s expression, but when seen from below, he looks absolutely agonized.


Behind the Messerschidt is a 1783 self-portrait by Joseph Ducreux, yawning wildly, his arms heroically thrust into the air as if waving invisible flags, his mouth distended into a bright pink yawp.


We also went to the La Brea tar pits, and watched the asphalt blow bubbles for our amusement. Unlike the Getty, you can take pictures of the display, so I have more photographic proof of that particular rendezvous.









Institutionalized Suicidal Tendencies


Thought I would post the lyrics to Suicidal Tendencies song Institutionalized. Does this relate to you? or your work? or the review? or the faculty?

Sometimes I try to do things and it just doesn’t work out the way I wanted to.
I get real frustrated and I try hard to do it and I take my time and it doesn’t work out the way I wanted to.
It’s like I concentrate real hard and it doesn’t work out
Everything I do and everything I try never turns out
It’s like I need time to figure these things out
But there’s always someone there going

Hey Mike:
You know we’ve been noticing you’ve been having a lot of problems lately.
You know, maybe you should get away and maybe you should talk about it, maybe you’ll feel a lot better

And I go:
No it’s okay, you know I’ll figure it out, just leave me alone I’ll figure it out. You know I’ll just work by myself.

And they go:
Well you know if you want to talk about it I’ll be here you know and you’ll probably feel a lot better if you talk about it.

And I go:
No I don’t want to I’m okay, I’ll figure it out myself and they just keep bugging me and they just keep bugging me and it builds up inside and it builds up inside.

So you’re gonna be institutionalized
You’ll come out brainwashed with bloodshot eyes
You won’t have any say
They’ll brainwash you until you see their way.

[Chorus:]
I’m not crazy – in an institution
You’re the one who’s crazy – in an institution
You’re driving me crazy – in an institution

They stuck me in an institution
Said it was the only solution
To give me the needed professional help
To protect me from the enemy, myself

I was in my room and I was just like staring at the wall thinking about everything
But then again I was thinking about nothing
And then my mom came in and I didn’t even know she was there she called my name
And I didn’t even hear it, and then she started screaming: MIKE! MIKE!
And I go:
What, what’s the matter
And she goes:
What’s the matter with you?
I go:
There’s nothing-wrong mom.
And she goes:
Don’t tell me that, you’re on drugs!
And I go:
No mom I’m not on drugs I’m okay, I was just thinking you know, why don’t you get me a Pepsi.
And she goes:
NO you’re on drugs!
I go:
Mom I’m okay, I’m just thinking.
She goes:
No you’re not thinking, you’re on drugs! Normal people don’t act that way!
I go:
Mom just give me a Pepsi please
All I want is a Pepsi, and she wouldn’t give it to me
All I wanted was a Pepsi, just one Pepsi, and she wouldn’t give it to me.
Just a Pepsi.

They give you a white shirt with long sleeves
Tied around you’re back, you’re treated like thieves
Drug you up because they’re lazy
It’s too much work to help a crazy

[Chorus]

They stuck me in an institution
Said it was the only solution
To give me the needed professional help
To protect me from the enemy, myself

I was sitting in my room and my mom and my dad came in and they pulled up a chair and they sat down, they go:
Mike, we need to talk to you
And I go:
Okay what’s the matter
They go:
Me and your mom have been noticing lately that you’ve been having a lot of problems,
You’ve been going off for no reason and we’re afraid you’re gonna hurt somebody,
We’re afraid you’re gonna hurt yourself.
So we decided that it would be in your interest if we put you somewhere
Where you could get the help that you need.
And I go:
Wait, what do you mean, what are you talking about, we decided!?
My best interest?! How can you know what’s my best interest is?
How can you say what my best interest is? What are you trying to say, I’m crazy?
When I went to your schools, I went to your churches,
I went to your institutional learning facilities?! So how can you say I’m crazy.

They say they’re gonna fix my brain
Alleviate my suffering and my pain
But by the time they fix my head
Mentally I’ll be dead

[Chorus]

They stuck me in an institution
Said it was the only solution
To give me the needed professional help
To protect me from the enemy, myself

It doesn’t matter I�ll probably get hit by a car anyway

Pictures at a Junior Portfolio Review

















A partial list of subjects that were broached:

Photography as social interaction
The dearth of rain around Tahoe
The role of documentation in installation art
Art as cultural tourism
The gentrification of Truckee
Whether product photography is in fact a “gigantic muck”
How photographs can make you “remember” events that you never experienced
The extinction of the Neanderthals

I talked last night

Just before my artist’s talk last night, Nick came up to me and asked if I’d like a beer. I told him that in the course of my talk I had to connect fluorescent mice to Hieronymous Bosch, and I doubted I could do that with a beer in me.

Here are some images I showed in the course of the talk. Whether I was able to sensibly connect them is something I have to leave to the judgment of the audience.