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DreamWorks Lays Off 500 and Shutters PDI

This is horrible news, and my heart goes out to all those affected by it. I’ve known many people that have been in and out of DreamWorks over the years, though I’ve never worked there myself. When I started working in LA in 2005 there were three places doing full-length CG features: DreamWorks Animation, Disney Feature Animation, and Sony Pictures Animation. The other big ones were located outside of LA: Pixar in Emeryville, and Blue Sky in New York. DreamWorks was unique because it had also acquired PDI (Pacific Digital Images) a VFX house in northern California, in order to meet production needs for Antz. This was the time when studios were trying to replicate the success of Pixar. DreamWorks had several successful films (not all were critically acclaimed, but they were financially successful), and Sony Pictures was trying to compete by hiring producers from DreamWorks and some talent (directors, artists) from Pixar.

Theoretically, making your own CG feature was a sound investment. CG works in a pipeline, so you could constantly feed the pipeline with new stories and then they would cascade through departments. Everything would be under the control of the studio from start to finish.

This did not turn out to be the case. The other studios never quite got the knack of it, and even Pixar had a few movies pulled. Stories were often held up and retooled, which resulted in idle time for artists. It is not cheap to pay people to sit around and do nothing, so they would usually have training, or other things to fill time and enrich artists — also not cheap. The thinking was that they’d have skilled, educated, happy workers that were up-to-speed and ready-to-go as soon as the work was there.

The current school of thought is that an idle artist is expensive overhead that should be immediately cut. Rather than invest heavily in producing quality stories to keep the pipeline fed, it makes more sense to management to cut the artists. And why not? Historically, every company has been able to staff up to meet production demands whenever they needed to. There’s no real fear of missing a deadline because artists aren’t available. Some key people are kept on, and everyone else is a nomadic workforce that can be hired and fired at a moments notice.

With the exception of some smaller layoffs, Pixar, and DreamWorks, have been the most stable places to work.

Today DreamWorks announced 500, of the 2,200 people that work at the company, would be laid off, and the PDI offices in Redwood Shores would be shuttered.

Five.

Hundred.

From Variety’s reporting by Marc Graser:

“My time and my focus needs to be on making blockbuster films,” Katzenberg said during a call with analysts after announcing the re-org. “We have the people to do it. That’s where my energy is going to be focused.

“Feature animation is the core of our company. Getting our feature film business back on track is our number one priority.”

So what, exactly, was Katzenberg doing that distracted him for years leading up to this? All of the articles cite poor performance of films, and specifically call out Rise of the Guardians by name, but they weren’t all 2014 releases. Many of their films have been grossing more than their budgets.

Maybe part of the problem is management? That can’t be the case though because in November of 2013, Obama personally visited DreamWorks Animation in Glendale to give a rousing speech about how great the management at DreamWorks was. He talks about how much he wants to work for DreamWorks. Perhaps you would like to start at the part where Obama says:

At the time he made this speech I was immensely frustrated, and disappointed. Unfortunately, it seems that he believes these things about his friend, Jeffrey. No one told Obama that Katzenberg is a firm believer in outsourcing labor, like with the 2012 founding of Oriental DreamWorks. It’s not an anti-Obama stance, or an pro-USA-workforce stance. I am pointing out that this isn’t what the reality was at the time of the speech, and it’s not what the reality is now.

16 months after Obama’s speech, 500 people are to be laid off. 500 middle-class jobs this country needs.

Obama awarded Katzenberg the 2013 National Medal of Arts in a ceremony at the White House in July of 2014. Five months later, 500 people at his animation company are laid off.

It’s also worth pointing out that Jeffrey Katzenberg was a party to Ed Catmull’s “no-raid” agreement which stagnated wages in the industry. So obviously, Jeffrey has had quite an impact on the field of animation.

I am unconvinced that Jeffrey Katzenberg should be lauded for his achievements in the arts. I am extremely unconvinced that laying off these 500 people will rectify real problems at DreamWorks. A troubling sign of further layoffs is hinted at with the positive spin placed on Captain Underpants:

DWA also said “Captain Underpants” will be produced outside of the studio’s pipeline “at a significantly lower cost” with a 2017 release.

The “significantly lower cost” comes from hiring a small studio on a fixed bid, just like VFX work. I can’t find reference to which studio won this bid, or if bidding has even occurred yet, but this is not great news people should cheer. That is not stable, reliable work.

Like I said at the top, this is the kind of thing people were trying to get away from. People wanted to have total control over everything, and to have a production pipeline that could be fed with great stories. There might be a glut of employed, skilled talent right now because of all these layoffs, but how does this entice anyone to enter this field in the US? There’s no way that I would recommend to anyone that they pursue anything involving computer animation. Will schools see a decline in animation students? Will all the laid off people pursue other (sane) lines of work?

Maybe people will still push to get in to this industry because they dream of working at Pixar or Disney Feature Animation? After all, Frozen is an immense success so it’s not like it’s impossible for companies to justify keeping staff.

There’s also the software side of this. Many of these studios employ people to make custom software that handles tasks better than off-the-shelf software does. Software development is an enormous expense, and many have lost their jobs already. Will this stifle innovation in this sector? If everything’s about a film deadline, and not a facility pipeline, then what time is there to really get anything done? Where’s the money to get it done?

What if we’re in some terrible cycle where the homogenous, myopic business grads will run companies into the ground, and we’ll see staff positions in the US? Probably not, because that’s not what happened to the 2D animation industry. Better living through restructuring. Always be cutting.

In the future, all the companies will exist merely as licensing entities with starving artists tripping over themselves to win fixed-bids. The budget for production will be dictated by market research of all the preceding franchise reboot attempts, minus a percentage to get additional savings — the IP guy wants to get a yearly bonus after all. The real innovators will be the ones that figure out how to make money licensing IP to other IP licensers and return year-over-year growth. Thank god copyrights will never expire so we have plenty of time to continue to work towards this utopia.

I’d like to close with this, emphasis mine:

DWA made the announcement of the re-org after the stock market closed. Wall Street reacted fairly to the news, with the company’s stock rising more than 3% in after-hours trading.

2015-01-23 07:11:00

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See Gee Eye

This morning, I had the rather irksome experience of reading this Cracked article Todd Vaziri tweeted about. You need not trouble yourself with reading it (their site is a garbage fire).

David Christopher Bell starts with this minor concession:

And, to be fair, some movies have great CGI! However, even when the CGI is good (see the new Star Wars, Mad Max, or any graffiti-ridden Neill Blomkamp film), it still has to be used right.

He goes on to make all sorts of claims that seem at odds with this reasonable statement, so I’m not sure why he bothered to lead off with that.

David is objecting to “trends” from 2014. Which is kind of silly, on the face of it, since nothing in movies really trends within a year, with the exception of marketing.

Right off the bat, David objects to the use of fake blood. He cites The Expendables 3 (he says 2, but that’s a typo because 2 was in 2012, and thus not a 2014 trend) and provides a little gif of a head exploding into chunky goop. Then he refers to the excessive blood in the sequel to 300. (David, unfortunately, forgets that the first movie was also full of this stuff in 2006.)

This isn’t a trend, and it isn’t the medium that causes this to happen. These are conceptual flaws. A director thought this would be great, more blood, really focus on it, high-five, bros!

You can easily strap excessive squibs to someone in any movie. Remember 1988’s Die Hard when a guy’s legs exploded in blood because of gunfire? That didn’t look real, and it was, I would argue, excessive. Blood in movies has always been controversial, and oftentimes excessive, and unrealistic. Computers are not the cause of bad taste.

The next item on David’s list of trends is “Replacing Real Car and Plane Stunts With CGI”. This, again, is not a trend of 2014, it was not the style of 2014. He focuses on set extensions, instead of vehicles. Set extensions have been going on forever. Really, a set extension is the same principle as a matte painting, only it can move. Great set extensions look great. Bad set extensions look bad. Again, not a trend, not computer graphics. There are some truly egregious matte paintings in films that predate computers. Remember Ghostbusters? There’s a transparent gargoyle painting that doesn’t track with the background. That doesn’t mean all matte paintings are inherently bad.

Set extensions are in film and television projects of all varieties and genres, and often featured in ways that are totally invisible to the audience. That is the great tragedy of photo-real VFX work. If it looks real, then no one ever knows, and you just get someone bellyaching about unsuccessful ones.

Here’s an example that’s kind of mixed: the Times Square sequence from The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Watch the VFX breakdown. Sure, you’d watch this and point out a lot of “fake” stuff, but did you know absolutely none of it was real? (Whether or not you like the movie is separate from that.)

I hope that clearly demonstrates that it’s not just the medium. It’s conceptual, and technical. Just like everything else in a film, and just like any practical effect. Use it effectively. Just because Sylvester Stallone has poor taste, doesn’t mean that goes for everyone by default, and for the medium as a whole.

Computer generated vehicles, or vehicles augmented with some kind of post processing, are very common in films, but that doesn’t make them bad, and it’s certainly not a “trend” of 2014. Car commercials are where you will most often see fake cars, because it allows for pixel perfect art direction (pixel fucking). Some are done better than others.

The cars that David points to in Lucy suffer from some technical problems. Conceptually, it would be impossible to put this many stunt drivers into action, all at once. You can make a case for staging a different shot that is achievable, but I would argue that this is still a shot that works relatively well for what it is, it just needs some adjustment, in my opinion. Highlights are too bright, and too crisp. Same goes for the shadows. Since they’re all cars, and all made of close to the same materials, the highlights and shadows should match to the practical cars very closely.

The examples David cites from Furious 7 (a 2015 movie, which is still, not a 2014 trend. Whatever.) Is egregious because it’s such a bad idea. This is a bad idea if you wrote it, let alone actually tried to shoot it. That’s not the fault of a computer, or a computer graphics artist. That’s the directors, writers, and producers thinking this is a good idea.

Even without computers, you can make terrible things. I recently watched Real Genius again. The plane in this movie is utterly ridiculous, even by 1980s standards. No computers were used at all for this:

His second-to-last point (make sure you click over to page two! Page views! Page views! Page views!) is “Completely Ignoring Horrific CGI Murder” [sic]. He makes good points about how terrible it is to lay waste to a bunch of extras. That it becomes numbing, pointless violence on a grotesque scale. The only problem with his logic is that he’s blaming that on computer graphics. As if no one was ever needlessly killed in a movie prior to digital doubles.

A digital double (also digi-double) is a computer model of a person that can be used in impossible, or dangerous situations. Early uses of digital doubles don’t hold up very well. A notable example is the Neo and Agent Smith(s) fight from The Matrix Reloaded. It’s pretty cartoony now. It also featured a lot of stunt men that had their faces digitally replaced. It’s happened a lot in film, on varying scales, including several occasions before this.

Now that I’ve explained digital doubles, let’s delve into the problem with David’s logic. Animatronic puppets have been murdered, dummy stand-ins have blown up, stop-motion people have fallen great distances, squibs have exploded all over the place. Heck, you could look at the body count of just Paul Verhoven’s work and be appalled if you really cared about it cheapening death, or violence against humans. That has nothing to do with computers though. Don’t pin that on technique.

Finally, David ends with his least important point, at least I assume that’s how this list is ordered because “Movie People Are Turning Into Rubber” [sic] is silly. To reiterate this once more: This does not qualify as a 2014 trend. It’s not even something new to 2014. Violence, of this sort, leaving the hero of a picture unscathed has basically been around as long as film. How many gunfights have you seen where there’s statistically no way the protagonist would be unscathed? Again, go back to the computer-room fight in Die Hard where automatic weapons annihilate everything, except John McClane, he steps on some glass. Remember Total Recall when the animatronic heads were going to explode, but then everything was totes fine?

The idea that this is the fault of computers, or of recent filmmaking practices involving computers, is misguided. You don’t want to see this stuff in films then you’re going to have to change the decades of filmmaking that existed without computers. There’s goofy shit all over the damn place.

David’s last example of this is Gandalf vs. the Balrog in The Lord of the Rings movies, and Gandalf in The Hobbit movies. Stupid example, because they’re both CG. Unless he thinks the Balrog was a hand puppet, or a small dog in a costume. Maybe he believes that Peter Jackson’s crew built all of Moria. Perhaps he believes it was all wirework dropping Gandalf, and the practical Balrog, in the totally real, giant cavern in the second film.

Gandalf highlights my counter argument perfectly, it’s not about the medium, or the tools.

In my next post, I’ll argue about disturbing trends of cherrypicking a few things you don’t like and applying it to an entire industry. It’s about how we should stop using computers to write, and Cracked articles should be distributed on paper so they actually have to think about wasting ink.

2015-01-17 14:23:42

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Canon Wars: The Trek for Understanding

A recent episode of John Gruber’s The Talk Show with John Siracusa, and Guy English as guests. The topic was Star Wars — basically all of the films, with a few mentions of expectations for the upcoming films, the Expanded Universe, and how it fits together. The really interesting part of the conversation is hearing the three of them describe what is, and is not, Star Wars, in Star Wars. Fans refer to this as canon. Canon surrounds fictional works, it permeates them, it binds a fictional universe together — It usually results in a lot of heated arguments.

Recently, there have been rumblings about Star Wars’ Expanded Universe characters, and stories, being removed. Some Star Wars fans are quite distressed by this, while others are relived the new films won’t be tied to the stories that have been told, and a third group had no idea any of that stuff existed.

Canons with Benefits

There is a tendency with nerds to analyze the minutiae of stories. To catalog what we find, assign it a spot, and weave together relationships with other elements. A number of reasons exist for this behavior:

Suspension of Disbelief

If everything is logically consistent in a story, then it makes it easier to believe the events of the story, and the events of other stories. This is a blessing, and a curse. People can know about a race, characters, or ship combat mechanics, from a previous story and it the current story doesn’t have to earn that. Unfortunately, that also means that if the current story behaves in a way that contradicts prior stories, without explanation, then you’ve thrown a bunch of fans out.

Mastery of the Subject

There’s a confidence that stems from knowing, and understanding, all the rules, and facts, of a universe. It wasn’t a waste of time! It was all worth it! The knowledge is comforting, even if it doesn’t yield any practical reward.

There is an unfortunate offshoot of this with the know-it-all-nerd stereotype that we’ve all seen in The Comic Book Shop Guy from The Simpsons — or probably witnessed in an actual comic book shop. A desire to lord their knowledge over others, and keep out all but the true believers. To use “facts” and “logic” against other nerds’ “facts” and “logic” and provide comfort, in a negative way.

Law & Order: Canon Intent

People might believe canon should exist — in the abstract — but lack any mastery of it. They want to know that things function on a surface level without having to get into the details and wade through wiki articles. They want to know police are protecting them, but they don’t want to be the police.

Head Canon

The first time I ever heard the term “head canon” was from Erika Ensign on an episode of The Incomparable. I don’t think she invented it, but I can’t find any sources for it. Conceptually, it refers rationalizing things, filling in the gaps, and generating a personalized truth. Head canon is not official in any capacity, but the person’s belief in it is unshakeable. Some might think of this as a form of denial, or pointless speculation, but that’s just, like, their opinion, man.

Comparing Canons

The idea of canonicity stems from religion. Not to touch that third rail, but it’s pretty easy to see how there’s a lot of material that organized religions sift through, and approve, as the actual beliefs of the religion. Let’s move away from the discussion of religion, and talk about something a lot less controversial: Star Wars vs. Star Trek.

Oh yeah, we’re boldly going there.

While I love both Star Wars and Star Trek, it’s pretty obvious that I love Trek more. I can easily say this is because I grew up with Star Warsbeing a trilogy on VHS tape (which I would watch over and over) and grew up with Star Trek while TNG was on the air, and the original cast was still making movies. Even by that point, there was a lot of Star Trek and there was good, and bad to be found in much of it. Star Wars was just the three VHS tapes. Kids my age were so starved for Star Wars that they bought in to much of what The Expanded Universe had to offer, particularly the N64 game, Shadows of the Empire, and anything concerning Mara Jade.

Star Wars had, until very recently, the dubious luxury of George Lucas deciding almost everything. Even though George Lucas didn’t direct two of the Star Wars movies, he was certainly involved with them. He owned the company responsible for licensing books, comic books, games, and cartoons. Even though he didn’t approve each of those Expanded Universe titles, he was the top dog.

Star Trek, in contrast, has a long, chaotic history with many different views, and opinions being expressed by showrunners, producers, and writers. Even during the original series, Gene L. Coon, not Gene Roddenberry, ran many of the shows. Indeed, he created the Klingons, Khan, the Prime Directive, the United Federation of Planets, and Starfleet Command. Even a non-Star-Trek fan knows all of those iconic things. Roddenberry, the show’s creator, did not always like the things that the fans liked, much in the same way that George Lucas didn’t really approach Star Wars the same way fans had.

While Star Trek has books, comic books, games, and a cartoon, it’s always been additional stuff that the shows, and movies, have never been bound to. Star Wars dismantling some of the officialness of the Expanded Universe just knocks it down to Star Trek tie-in properties. The market for that is still there, people still buy it, and actors still lend themselves to the tie-in projects. It’s not the end of the universe, and not the end of the expansion.

Star Trek fans have been dealing with continuity, and canon, issues for decades. The sheer amount of Star Trek material is immense, and allows for sprawling, multi-series, multi-movie analysis. That doesn’t mean fans won’t bump against those issues, but there’s so much bumping that it’s not a new experience. Phasers fired out of the torpedo tubes? Ferengi and human first contact in Star Trek: Enterprise? Klingon makeup? The warp factor scale? Almost everything else?

Star Trek is Silly

So is Star Wars. What’s your point? Is your point that Star Wars is so perfect, and rarified that it should never be subjected to the kind of inconsistent treatment Star Trek has been? It has silly stuff right in the sacred films, ignore it at your own peril.

Silliness doesn’t matter, introducing silliness, to a degree, doesn’t kill anything. Otherwise, the best you can hope for is a weird stasis with Star Wars being protected to the grave. It needs new fans, new audiences, new stories to tell. I don’t like the JJ Abrams’ Trek films as much as most Trek stories, but I’m glad that something exists because it might push people to look back on historical Star Trek.

A person doesn’t need to like all of Star Wars, or integrate all aspects of Star Wars into a cohesive whole. It is possible to accept that Star Trek: Nemesis is a movie that happened, even though I thoroughly, and unequivocally, hate the movie.

Luke is Spider-Man

Retroactive continuity was first used to describe changes made in comic books. Rewriting “history” in the fictional universe to better suit current stories, or current attitudes of the authors. It’s not the same as plot inconsistencies, but it can be used as a way to fix inconsistencies. Errors are not retcons, and George Lucas’ Special Edition doesn’t count as a retcon.

It is entirely possible that Lucasfilm will keep elements from the Expanded Universe as part of the canon of Star Wars going forward. Possibly characters, but not the stories involving those characters. Rewriting them to fit in to the new stories, and the continuity going forward.

Whether or not you consider that a retcon, a reboot, a revision, or a reimagining, is all open to interpretation since it depends on what you feel is canon.

People might cry foul over this, that Admiral Thrawn demands respect, but the situation is no different from the competing, conflicting, coexisting timelines Disney’s other acquired company, Marvel, goes through. The movies are separate from the comics, but use them as inspiration, they tell whatever story they want to tell. People still buy the comics, and enjoy them, and buy movie tickets, and enjoy them. It is possible to cope with these changes, other fans do it all the time.

Other fanbases have to deal with this too. John Siracusa points to James Bond, and Doctor Who for examples of franchises that see sweeping changes.

I Only Eat Real, Pasture-Raised, All-Natural, Original-Recipe Star Wars

There have been so few official sources of Star Wars that people have developed very intimate attachments to what existed. This stands in stark contrast to nearly every other popular franchise of the last 30-40 years. It is possible that this is a key factor in many fans taking hardline stances about what’s “real” Star Wars.

It is also possible that fans feel so burned by the official prequels that they have hardened to any changes to Star Wars. It’s the original trilogy only (mostly they just like Empire Strikes Back).

This isn’t the same thing as “head canon” because there’s no self-awareness. Their personal preferences are truth, not just to them, but must be respected by others.

The easiest way to see if you’re talking to someone afflicted by this:

  1. “Do you like The Phantom Menace?”
    1. Yes.
    2. No.
    3. It’s not Star Wars.
  2. “Do you like the other prequels?”
    1. Yes.
    2. No.
    3. They’re not Star Wars.
  3. “Do you like Return of the Jedi?”
    1. Yes.
    2. No.
    3. (unprompted) They should have been Wookies instead of Ewoks.

If anyone answers with the third options then give them this map.

When what literally counts as Star Wars is The Empire Strikes Back and parts of two other movies, then that person can’t interpret anything that might upset a very specific, narrow view they have. It is unlikely that person will see the JJ Abrams movie and think it’s official either.

People are smothering Star Wars with their love of a select set of things. The franchise needs to grow, shift, and change.

You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.

2015-01-14 08:30:00

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Analog(ue) #21: Get Your Work Done Doing

Last Thursday, I had the day off for the holiday, and I happened to have Skype open from a recording I had just done with Dan for Defocused’s 29th episode, when all of a sudden Myke Hurley called me. I missed the first call, because I had disconnected the mic and walked in to the next room to get some water, but then I raced back over to set it up. Casey and Myke were talking about movie trilogies, and I wasn’t going to let it go by without saying something. Then they asked me to stick around for the rest of their recording. It really threw me off to be on a live recording, so I certainly wasn’t as articulate as I should have been. Sure enough, the title is a dumb thing that flopped out of my mouth.

I have achieved a meta-white-whale moment by being on the podcast, and having a “guest” page on Relay now.

I don’t think I was particularly insightful on the episode, but I wasn’t that bad. The subject was on criticism, and I skipped over one very important aspect of criticism that I hope Myke and Casey will address later: Unsolicited, ‘just kidding around’, snarky feedback.

There’s an asymmetrical relationship from following people on Twitter, and listening to their podcasts. The follower/listener can pickup on running jokes, including jokes aimed at the podcaster. They can recite that inside joke back to the podcaster, in a way that seems like appreciation. Like, “Oh hey, Fast Text is so old, blah blah blah” might seem like it’s just kidding around because all the other people on the podcast are saying it to that podcaster. The listener is joining in, and being a part of it. They want to be in on the joke with them.

However, because this relationship is one-sided, the “joke” might not land. It can come across as weird, unfunny, or even as an actual insult instead of the winky-wink-smiley-face comment the person intended.

It is difficult for someone following a Twitter account, or listening to a podcast, to insure their comments are taken in the spirit they’re offered. From the perspective of the listener, they’ve done all they should do, and they feel like they’re downright friendly. We’re all friends here, we’re all cracking the same jokes, we’re all just having a laugh. Except the listener is basically a person walking up to you on the street and saying that joke, without any context, in the real world. It can be a little weird.

Some advice, from an expert jerk:

Before you make those trolling in-jokes, get them to know you by having conversations with them. Jokes are fine, but steer clear of jokes about people that don’t know you. Comedy is still possible without it being an insult. Self-deprecating jokes are fine, but go easy on them, because it can sound like the person is full of self-loathing, and seeking pity.

For example: I know Casey well enough that I can tease him about movies. Casey also knows me well enough that he can tease me about how I “hate everything”. We both know the other is making a joke. If those had been some of the first things Casey and I had said to one another then I don’t think Casey and I would be talking. I certainly would not have been invited on their show at all.

Lastly, I say all of these things because I have done all of these things. Be internet buddies with everyone, but don’t get swept-up in the single-sided familiarity the internet offers.

2015-01-06 08:58:03

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I’ve Got Five Bridges to Sell You

I started listening to Hello Internet after the endorsement of Myke Hurley, and now I’m a subscriber. Myke just recently selected this as his favorite podcast of the year to give you some kind of an idea of how much he likes it.

I quite like the show, though honestly I’ve been unable to formulate a way to pitch someone else on it. It’s two guys that make YouTube videos about stuff, but the podcast is mostly about the peripheral issues in the lives of these two people. They discuss state flags, or they discuss fiddly little protocols and forms they follow concerning Twitter and email. On the most recent episode, Brady Haran starts up a conversation about bridges. He loves bridges, and he wanted to talk about them with CGP Grey.

The bridge conversation rules were:

  • They would take turns naming bridges they liked.
  • They must have been on (or under) the bridge in person.

Brady was so excited by this topic, and Grey so baffled by it, that I found myself wondering what bridges I would select if I were to make this hypothetical list.

I won’t keep you in suspension any longer.

Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Sunshine Skyway on the Tampa Bay.jpg
Sunshine Skyway on the Tampa Bay” by Zword97. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I spent much of my life in the Tampa Bay Area of Florida. Your condolences are appreciated, but unnecessary because I had this beautiful bridge to enjoy!

Ahem.

This iconic bridge was constructed after the first, SUPER-UGLY, cantilever, steel bridge was hit by freighter in 1980. Parts of the concrete sections from the old bridge remain up today and used mostly for recreational fishing.

Because Florida is so very, very flat, the bridge can be seen from miles and miles in all directions. Like many bridges trying to emulate the colorful success of the Golden Gate bridge, the Sunshine Skyway’s cables are painted an eye-catching, yellow hue. It really stands out against the blue sky. I’m glad they went that route and didn’t paint it with green zinc paint like Los Angeles’ Vincent Thomas Bridge. Barf.

Brooklyn Bridge

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Naturally, Brady and Grey took the Golden Gate Bridge off the table, as well they should have. However, second on the list of famous, and not to be overlooked, bridges is the Brooklyn Bridge. It was completed in 1883, which is 1,000 years ago in American History Years. I walked across the bridge once, on the pedestrian path, and you get an impressive view as you walk towards the spans, with the cables drawing your eye skyward. Literally everyone takes exactly this shot.

“If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you” — and variations of that phrase, have become part of our culture because a con man repeatedly “sold” the bridge. Most bridges can’t really compete with that kind of trivia.

Sixth Street Viaduct

Sixth Street Viaduct
“Sixth Street Viaduct” - Laurie Avocado
Sixth Street Bridge over Los Angeles River.jpg
Sixth Street Bridge over Los Angeles River” by Downtowngal. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Downtown Los Angeles is a bit of a festering sore. Early in the life of the city, people lived there. Then people were attracted to the suburbs (Beverly Hills and Santa Monica held “weekend homes” for people downtown that wanted to get away from it all). After World War II, LA put all of its effort into a “hygenic” car movement. Roads, bridges, freeways (highways), tunnels, all exploded over the town. The structures designed in that time are incredibly interesting, even if they are poorly maintained, and covered in graffiti. The Sixth Street Viaduct is a perfect example of that.

Even if you don’t know the name of it, you’ve seen this viaduct bridge in many films, TV shows, music videos, car commercials, and games.

The bridge is in three sections. Two reinforced concrete structures, and then the set of steel arches in the middle. Below the bridge is the scenic Los Angeles River — That’s sarcasm, it’s a concrete ditch with a trickle of industrial and residential runoff. After many devastating floods LA got the Army Corps of Engineers to pave the whole river.

The view from the bridge is actually quite interesting — in a very industrial kind of a way.

Original from Sixth Street Viaduct over the Los Angeles River.

If you have any interest in seeing it, I’d recommend you do, because people estimate there’s a 70% chance it will collapse in an earthquake due to the quality of the concrete used in its construction.

Ponte Vecchio

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This bridge is so strange. It’s barnacled with shops and buildings that break all the lines. It’s haphazard — grown instead of designed — but the assemblage is so interesting that you want to explore it. Most famous bridges are obvious from afar, but not this one. When I saw it for the first time, from the street along the Arno, I thought it was pretty ugly. Over the next couple days in Florence, passing by it, and over it, I had to acknowledge that I found it too fascinating to ignore.

Bow Bridge

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Central Park’s Bow Bridge is the second-oldest cast iron bridge in the US. It is quite small, but that also gives it a feeling of intimacy in its setting. The circular bows that span the bridge create give it a soft look. In fact, the view of the bridge is more picturesque than the view on the bridge.

2015-01-01 13:45:00

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Yet Another, Another End of the Year

I closed out 2013 with a post about my feelings on the year. It was the style at the time. Seems only fair to go through it and continue forward, like time was linear, or something.

2012, and 2013, were not especially good years for me. I don’t want to dwell on the negatives, but there were two events that shaped each of those years. I was laid off (that’s both of them). It is a very dramatic way to put it though because I was hired back both times. The revelation is that my work has become almost seasonal. It was always project based, but It was nearly seven years before I experienced the first layoff, and a year later I experienced the second. I am currently working, so don’t get too sad. It does appear it will happen in 2014 as well, and the cycle will repeat.

Point for me, I was right on that one! Not long after this, I was laid off, along with many others, when Amazing Spider-Man 2 wrapped. Unlike 2012 and 2013, SPI did not hire me back because they shifted their business almost entirely to Vancouver.

I did however find another job in the fall for a television show with some rather intricate visual effects that have resulted in some pretty exhausting demands of my time, but the good news is that I feel like I might be kept on and move forward with it. Strangely, it seems more stable than film work which you would not really think would be the case.

In 2013, I did a much better job handling the “time off” than I did in 2012. In 2014, I’d like to think I will improve further in this area. Nothing bad happened to me in 2012, or 2013, as a result of it. Lack of a current job doesn’t mean I am not a person that’s doing well, in the grand scheme of things.

Another point for me, I dealt with the long period of unemployment pretty well. I took the time to work on this blog, literally the stuff that generates the blog as well as the writing. I also did something rather bold for someone with my personality, and that was start a podcast with my internet-friend Dan Sturm. Neither of these things have actually generated any money at all, but they were an important first step to validate that I wasn’t just a nobody.

Indeed, it’s pretty evident in my post last year that I deeply enjoyed the silly recognition I got for my Terrible Podcast Screenplays. I haven’t written one since May 22, 2014. There are so many I want to write now, when I’m working and have no time, but lacked the inspiration for this summer.

2014 had some unanticipated ups and downs.

  • I cracked a premolar and chipped three teeth (boo!)
  • My sister got married (yay!)
  • My boyfriend of 5 years visited Tampa for the first time and met all of my family (yay!)
  • Sony Pictures experienced a massive data breach and all of my personal information has been compromised (boo!)

I hope that I can continue to work on my ability to cope with sudden changes, and strive to gain a healthier balance between work and my free time. I might not ever be an independent rogue, like Jason Snell, but it’d be nice if I had more time for fun podcasts.

Thanks for all those that read along here, endure me on Twitter, and listen on Defocused. You made my 2014 better.

2015-01-01 13:38:30

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Unauthoritative Gift Guide 2014

What better way to start my birthday than with a useless gift guide for other people? Birthdays near Christmas are the worst. Buy me a birthday cake decorated with poinsettias at your own peril.

For Tea and Coffee Drinkers

Bauer Pottery Coffee Mug

$29

A beautiful, handmade ceramic mug from sunny (it’s raining right now) Southern California. The aqua-glazed beehive is my favorite container for warm beverages. If you want to really wake yourself up in the morning, the orange is eye-searing.

For Fussy Hipsters

The Moscow Mug

$19

This copper chalice makes your moscow mule look like a million bucks.

The main reason it’s on this list is because Matt Alexander doesn’t stock enough of them so you can’t have any. Excuse me while I go back to hoarding copper mugs.

For Aspiring Podcasters

Audio-Technica ATR2100 USB/XLR

$60

I recently switched over from the Blue Yeti to the ATR2100 because of issues I’ve had in my recording space regarding ambient noise. I’m very pleased with it, and it’s a bargain over many competing mics. I need to get better at speaking in to the microphone, because it’s not as forgiving as the Yeti, but it’s worth it to not have it pick up every little noise in the world.

For All Humans

iPhone 6

$199-$849

I love my phone. I still have problems with the rough spots in iOS 8, but the overall experience makes the device something you just can’t put down. Even when you really, really should. Like when someone says, “You love your phone more than you love me.” Probably a hint that the phone is great. (Also might be a hint about something else… whoops.)

For Internet Tinkerers

Digital Ocean

$5/mo

This is for the person that constantly talks about running scripts for things, or how great it will be when he finishes his static blogging engine. You know, the real nerds. Not like you and me. (Cough.)

For Aspiring Writers

Byword

$2.99 + $9.99

I almost exclusively write in Byword. I’ll even write notes in Byword because it’ll sync between my Mac and my iPhone. The publishing features are very nice if you happen to blog with one of the supported platforms.

For Aspiring Screenwriters

Highland

$29.99

This is John August’s special little app. It can convert Final Draft documents, PDFs, and plain text. It even has a very simple text editor inside of it. It wins out over Slugline because I find the “helpful” margin shifting stuff really distracting when I’m trying to write a fake screenplay. There is a free demo of Slugline though.

For Visual Effects Artists

Winner: Rowan’s Creek

$42-$50

This is quite possibly the most hideous bourbon bottle you will ever see. That’s great for you though because it means it’s camouflaged from all the people that would think this isn’t worthwhile. And remember, pretty containers aren’t always good choices.

The bourbon is aged for 12 years, and has a traditional mash mix that is very pleasant. However, it is quite strong at 100 proof. You may have trouble locating it.

Runner-Up: Four Roses Single Barrel

$38-$50

Depending on where you the gift recipient lives, you might not be able to buy, or ship, the bourbon. A decent fallback bourbon, that’s more widely available, is the Four Roses Single Barrel. I’m specifically saying the “Single Barrel” one here because I don’t find any of their other products to be very impressive, and I certainly wouldn’t gift regular Four Roses to anyone.

2014-12-17 08:10:00

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Ahoy Microphone!

In episode 12 of Relay FM’s Upgrade, Jason Snell discusses podcasts, and his feelings about how people should just get out there and start making things. It really grinds his gears when people snobbishly push other people away. He defends the Blue Yeti microphone as a perfectly acceptable microphone. He does all of his podcast recording on it, so if it’s good enough for Jason Snell’s Podcast Empire, it’s good enough for you, me — anybody.

He also briefly mentions a few other entry-level microphones, some of which he has not had the chance to use, but have been recommended to him. One of those is the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB Cardioid Dynamic USB/XLR Microphone. Right after I had posted my podcasting setup, Listener Jeff asked me if I had used the ATR. (Sigh.)

Even Tim Smith, podcast proprietor of Good Stuff FM, was surprised by the quality of the microphone.

I found a nice video review on YouTube by Andy Slye if you want a quick lowdown.

One of the only drawbacks I’ve found with the ATR2100 is that I think it’s a little too quiet when I monitor myself with the built-in headphone jack. That was the first thing I noticed when I recorded with it instead of my Yeti, where I can hear myself more clearly. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it something to be conscious of while you record since you might not hear yourself getting quieter if you drift away from the microphone.

Which brings up the most important part: mic technique. When you use a dynamic microphone that minimizes sound outside a certain area from the mic, it means you need to talk inside that area. Who knew? This is one of those things where it’s easy to know that fact, but not aware that you’ve suddenly leaned back in your chair. Some adjustment can correct for these moments, but it would be in your best interest to pay attention to where the mic is, relative to your kisser.

One of the interesting features of the ATR2100 is that it handles both USB and XLR. The USB makes it easy for anyone to use, just like with the Yeti, and the XLR makes it easy to incrementally upgrade your recording environment to include a mixer. That dual functionality is pretty unique, and to be honest, piqued my interest. I’m probably not going to spring for a mixer anytime soon, but it’s nice to know I can. (I want a soundboard so badly, like you don’t even know. You don’t even know.)

What About the Yeti?

The Blue Yeti still has the Snell-of-Approval™, and I still recorded a lot of decent stuff with it. It is also a more versatile microphone because you can switch between different recording patterns, push the mute button, and dial the gain to suit many situations. It is definitely more expensive than the ATR2100 though, and if I was buying My First Microphone over again, I’d go with the ATR2100. I bought my Yeti at Best Buy last year, in a (gasp) brick-and-mortar store because they had a sale going on and it ended up only costing me $80. Buying it at normal retail price, around $120, is kind of a bummer.

The thing that I felt like I was fighting with the Yeti was ambient noise. The space I have for recording is surrounded by paper thin walls that don’t block street noise, other tenants, or TVs blaring in the other units. A unique feature is the echo chamber on either side of the apartment building between my building and the neighboring buildings. It’s swell. Even little noises, like touching a piece of paper get picked up by the Yeti. I had to train myself to sit far away from the microphone so I wouldn’t fidget with anything and regret it later.

If you mostly plan to record just yourself, in your imperfect apartment, I strongly recommend you consider purchasing the less expensive ATR2100, it’s a real bargain at $60. Throw in the foam windscreen they recommend, like I did, because it’s what Amazon calls an “add-on” item. I believe that works best when it is added on to things.

Hashtag pro podcasters.

2014-12-16 21:31:00

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It's About Ethics in Link-Bait Journalism

Sunday night, an Aaron Sorkin op-ed was published by the New York Times. The piece was on why no one should be reporting — at all — on the data hackers stole from Sony. He cherry-picks some examples of salacious things that have been printed that aren’t all that worthy of being printed, and then calls anyone reporting on the contents of the stolen data “morally treasonous” and makes a NATO metaphor.

Media organizations had a very strong reaction in exactly the opposite direction — as one might imagine.

Editors, and writers for the online technology site, The Verge, were not happy with Sorkin at all. They cited their reporting on Project Goliath as reason enough to continue reporting. They also wrote a long, hand-wringing piece about the ethics of what they are doing. Monday, they ran a piece that really shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Today, The Verge saw fit to publish a headline that spelled out the ending of The Interview, along with video of it stolen from Sony.

WHAT.

THE.

FUCK.

How, the fucking hell is the end of a movie that isn’t in theaters something that should be published? Even if this was edited, it’s still basically the ending. “Oh well the film is the target.” So? Verge, you don’t get to publish the ending to score some sweet ad dollars, bros.


UPDATE

Shortly after this went up this morning, Polygon (a video game centric website under the same parent company as The Verge) posted exactly the same link-bait garbage that The Verge did. What does this have to do with games? Something-something Sony game console so reasons.

My headline suggestion for them: “You Won’t Believe The Piracy We’re Endorsing”

2014-12-16 08:25:31

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Sony Emails Reveal Failed Efforts to Recruit ‘Lego’ Directors to Run Animation Unit ►

This is huge, and immensely depressing. These emails occurred this summer, and it appears nothing has changed. So very troubling for my friends that still work for Imageworks. Pretending this doesn’t exist is impossible. The only hope is that this might bring about some change for the better.

2014-12-13 12:45:00

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