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James Horner

Tonight, on Twitter, I saw reports that James Horner’s plane crashed near Santa Barbara. At first, no one was sure it was him. His assistant confirmed it, and I was overcome with sadness. He was a tremendously talented man, and hugely influential on my appreciation of films, and of film scores.

His scores for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock contain musical cues, and themes, that I can hum on command. His work for Aliens contains mainly similar elements, to his Star Trek scores, but arranged in a distinct, and bone-chilling way. I have a playlist that pulls action pieces from those three (as well as from Cliff Eidelman’s Star Trek VI score) that I listen to sometimes when I’m driving around in LA traffic (it’s exhilarating).

Even some of his work on the “cheesy” things early in his career – like Battle Beyond the Stars and Krull – are full of bombastic, action beats.

Chronologically, I think the first film I heard his score for might have been The Land Before Time. It’s a heartbreaking, sweeping score, and the animated feature would lack weight without it. The scene where Littlefoot’s mother dies still breaks my heart, even though this is a film I saw in 1988.

Horner’s score for the Rocketeer captures a child-like wonder, as well as Americana. Glory‘s choral elements are very moving, and spiritual. Titanic has that element of romance.

To me, I’ll most often think of him when I hear the blaring crashes in Surprise Attack.

He will be missed.

2015-06-22 23:00:00

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One Year of Defocused

With the release of “A Podcast Loaf”, Dan and I have just past a full year’s worth of podcasting. 52 episodes released in total. It might not sound very impressive compared to the output of many other programs, but I feel quite rewarded by the experience.

While it may be a hobby, and not an empire, Dan and I treat it pretty seriously behind the scenes. Microphones, recording spaces, software, etc. We have a calendar, we schedule our late-night recording times. We have a Slack group with multiple channels for organizing work for the show, and show-related tasks. Even the silly, little flourishes like gifs (soft “g”), or a couple seconds of a song comedically spliced in, all require collaborative work.

Speaking of work, Dan has edited almost every single episode of the show. Though I am quite happy to dabble in the task from time to time (most recently with The Birdcage.) He really deserves a round applause for it.

I’m also pretty proud of our lively mix of movies we’ve discussed. It’s not a sci-fi podcast, or a 90s podcast, or an action movie podcast — it’s a little bit of everything.

Here’s a list of films that you can traverse to go right to an episode if there’s anything you might have missed and want to check out.

Our show mythology isn’t really all that deep. There’s the notion of the “shame burrito” (which has it’s origins in giving up on life and just getting a burrito you know you probably shouldn’t eat). “Cats Per Mango” is just nonsense, so really, don’t worry about what that means. Of course there’s the fan favorite pastime of Star Trek and Simpsons references that go over Dan’s head (something he is very proud of).

It’s a fun show to make, and we’ll keep making it. Thank you to all the fans that engage with our brand on Twitter, and to the few guests we’ve had on (something we will hopefully have more of in the future). You’re the real heroes for putting up with us.

2015-06-21 09:30:00

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Unjustly Maligned 15: Watchmen with Merlin Mann ►

Ever since I was aware of Antony Johnston’s podcast premise – discussing with a guest why something has been unfairly derided – I suspected someone would get around to Zack Snyder’s Watchmen film. A couple weeks ago, when I saw Merlin Mann tweet a lot about Watchmen I suspected he might be the guest on the show doing that. He was. Turns out.

I always get a little trepidatious about people discussing the film for a few reasons:

  1. I worked on visual effects for the movie.
  2. Most people do not like the movie.
  3. It is my favorite movie I’ve ever worked on in my 9+ years of doing visual effects.

Set trepidation to maximum:


I enjoyed listening to the episode, overall, and I’m recommending you listen as well. One of the more surprising aspects (to me, anyway) is that this was the first time Antony had seen the film.

My opinions about the project are strongly colored by my time working on it. When I think of it, I think first of the Dr. Manhattan shots, and then about everything else. The amount of effort, and time, people put in isn’t immediately evident to viewers, but it was all difficult VFX back in 2008 (keep in mind the movie was released in Spring of 2009). It was a huge team effort. Animation, effects, textures, rigging, lighting, resource management, compositing – literally everyone.

Most of my favorite shots are the subtle ones, where there’s just a curl of the lip, and a tilt of the head. The subtle churning of effects under his skin providing some extra life. Most of that is overlooked in the film, particularly if the film is just a general affront to your sensibilities as a comics fan. That’s a shame, from my point of view, but I am a little biased.

Many of the shots are still used in my demo reel.

Fortunately, Antony and Merlin agree that they approve of Dr. Manhattan. That’s all the validation I really need. Group hug.

Also, I’m really sorry about blowing up Rorschach.

2015-06-09 09:30:00

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Unhelpful Suggestions 2: A Better Idiot Box ►

A couple weeks ago, Marko Savic and I recorded our first episode of Unhelpful Suggestions. A podcast about technology, but discussed through a slightly different lens (very-slightly different, depending on how you classify lenses, and people as lenses). It’s not a gay podcast, per se, but it’s part of that whole lens thing I was talking about.

Reactions weren’t negative, so we made a second one, and released it last night. That’s also my cue to blog about it here.

The first and second episodes discuss the Apple TV, and we ride a sweeping, emotional roller-coaster from rumors of a new box, and OTT service, to rumors that there’s no new box, and no new OTT service. It’s a pretty short roller-coaster.

Feedback on the show is appreciated.

2015-06-05 08:30:00

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Clockwise 90: Cord Nevers ►

I always enjoy the Clockwise podcast. It’s a bite-size tech podcast (compared to most) and still packed with interesting people, and perspectives, interacting in unanticipated ways.

Unfortunately, this week, the Apple TV news dropped a few hours after it recorded. It still contains many things to keep in mind about the anticipated service, and platform changes. Notably, Christina Warren is on the episode to share her insight on entertainment. As always, I agree with her predictions about bundles, etc.

2015-06-03 21:30:00

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The Same Progress as Last Year

Brian X. Chen at The New York Times is reporting that Apple will not be announcing the rumored Apple TV at next week’s WWDC event:

Yet one much ballyhooed device will be absent from the conference: a new Apple TV, Apple’s set-top box for televisions. The company planned as recently as mid-May to use the event to spotlight new Apple TV hardware, along with an improved remote control and a tool kit for developers to make apps for the entertainment device. But those plans were postponed partly because the product was not ready for prime time, according to two people briefed on the product.

Apple declined to comment.

(Takes a deep breath.)

“The product was not ready for prime time” is not a hardware issue as Variety chooses to interpret it.

It’s not even the HomeKit integration, as 9to5 Mac discovered in an official Apple support document that the third generation Apple TV will do all the HomeKit stuff too.

Gaming didn’t kill it, because that was on wish lists more than it was ever hinted at by any of these reports or leaks. Seemingly the “TVKit” rumor had more to do with apps, which we know can include things like streaming media apps.

What really killed this was the OTT service. Recode reported earlier this week that the OTT deals would not be in place by WWDC and so no service would be announced.

Supposedly, that missing piece has killed every would-be update that’s been rumored for the last three years.

That’s fine, really. The OTT service was never announced, but it was so heavily rumored, and reported on, that it felt like it was inevitable. Les Moonves, President and CEO of CBS, was openly discussing a streaming service for Apple at the Code Conference only a week ago. He hinted that the big hang-up was money, but was “excited” about his ongoing conversation with Eddy Cue.

Indeed, Showtime, which is owned by CBS, has gone ahead and announced Showtime as a standalone service available for Apple TV and iOS devices today, but nothing about CBS’ other properties or even existing digital programming.

As Jason Snell noted on Six Colors, it’s “one of those stories that reads a bit like Apple managing expectations…” I agree. Better to disappoint everyone this week, than leave the media, and audience, wondering why it’s absent next week.

Let’s look at this excerpt from The Verge’s 2014 WWDC predictions from last year:

Apple TV: Tim Cook has been teasing for a while now that more is in store for the Apple TV, but there’s exactly nothing in the way of details. Multiple reports have suggested that Apple is trying to work with cable providers to get live video content and effectively replace your set-top box with something much more powerful — how exactly that’ll work, however, is still unclear. Other reports have suggested that some key improvements will come to even the familiar Apple TV software soon, including support for Siri and third-party apps, giving the tiny box a whole lot more potential. All we know for now is that Apple remains very interested in television — and the rest is still to come.

Again, we’re at the point where there’s nothing new, and it might be on the horizon. We’ll just keep moving the horizon back like that dolly-zoom in Poltergeist.

You’re almost to the door, Diane!

On the Bright Side

There are three, positive things to note about the Apple TV:

  1. Apple’s only selling a three year-old set-top box. There are still 11 months before they’re selling a four year-old box.
  2. No FOMO over not buying a new Apple TV, because no one can.
  3. The Apple service errors are easy for very young children to recognize, and comprehend.

2015-06-03 15:55:00

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Print Magazine Advises Hollywood Subscribers Not to Panic

The Hollywood Reporter ran a piece about global, shifting market conditions for the entertainment industry. The data comes from PricewaterhouseCoopers and it isn’t very shocking if you’ve read about the trends in the industry over the last few years. What is surprising is the “see, everything’s fine!” analysis. The U.S. is stagnant, or shrinking, over time. Much of the growth is anticipated overseas, particularly in China, and mostly for first-run box office numbers.

Look at this bullet-point on advertising:

Web ads will hit $83.9 billion in 2019, overtaking TV ads, which will generate $81 billion.

Advertising is the primary revenue source for broadcast TV networks, and cable networks. Internet advertising overtaking TV ads before TV is really on the Internet is not a good thing. They should be moving lock-step with the ads.

This piece by THR is the reassuring pat-on-the-back that the old ways are still working. That’s to be expected from THR which still feels compelled to print this at the top of the article:

This story first appeared in the June 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

No, you did not travel through time, it is still June 2nd. Hey wouldn’t you like to buy some dead paper with 10 day-old analysis about how old media is fine?

2015-06-02 18:15:00

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Defocused Q&Anniversary

This Thursday night, Dan Sturm and I are recording a Q&A episode of our podcast Defocused. We would really appreciate any questions you might have. Either tweet them at the show account, or contact us on the site.

It’s been almost a year since Dan and I released the first episode of Defocused. It came from trying to record another podcast. We didn’t even have a name for the show when the first episode was recorded. It’s been a long road, getting from there to here.

We are going to record our “anniversary” episode before Dan leaves for a vacation. It didn’t seem right to make it like other episodes, where we usually discuss a movie, or to make it about one particular topic. It’s also been too soon to do another version of our award/clip show.

We really appreciate all the people that listen, and send in feedback. If you feel compelled to write iTunes reviews for the podcast, or share some favorite episodes with the Internet – what are you waiting for? An invitation?

2015-06-02 13:15:00

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Vimeo On Demand Adds Subscriptions

I originally noticed this story on The Hollywood Reporter, but they left out many of the specific details that the official Vimeo blog covers. This an interesting move for Vimeo and can ultimately serve to make it much more appealing to people producing video content. It does build off of the existing Vimeo On Demand service — what? You didn’t know about that either?

Vimeo On Demand premiered two years ago, and I finally recalled it when I started reading about it. It is/was a storefront for paying for individual videos — either by “renting” them, or by “buying” them. The person paying got access to the video in any Vimeo client signed in to their service, though you couldn’t purchase in every app (like YouTube on the Apple TV). Creators had granular control over how the work was presented, how much they charged, and how long rental windows were. However, it was another storefront, and many of the things there were either available through other storefronts, or not worth singing in to pay for. It was just as unappealing as I remember it being.

This subscription changes things because no one else is offering anything like it. It’s not a subscription for all of Vimeo, which gets divvied up between all the Vimeo content creators, it’s a subscription only to the relevant content creator. The money goes directly to the people that give me what I want, and those people keep 90% of it. If they stop making what I want, I can cancel my subscription for them without affecting my other Vimeo subscriptions. This is sort of like Patreon, in a way, except instead of paying Patreon, and going somewhere else to watch what you pay for, it’s right there.

Video creators can still make certain videos free, or available for rent or purchase, in addition to being available for subscribers. That’s a good way to get people to discover a show and sign up for a month.

In a way, the a la carte nature also hurts Vimeo, and video creators, because people are going to weigh the cost of subscribing more carefully than they would with an ad-supported service like YouTube.

Perhaps they’re still not trying to compete with YouTube? Or offer shows like Netflix or Amazon? Vimeo is mostly still a place for one-off, oddball stuff, and demo reels of very unimportant people.

Maybe something new will grow from this petri dish of experimental stuff, with this broth of financial tools.

2015-06-02 08:30:00

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Google Photos and Bar Snacks

One of the larger announcements at Google’s I/O conference today was that Google+ Photos were being spun off as a separate product, Google Photos. Sorry, “+” I guess you didn’t add a lot of value.

A big deal was made about unlimited, free photo uploads. There are some caveats that they have not been super clear about, so you’ll read varying things from news outlets about when they compress, or resize images, and under what conditions, so go to the source. From Google’s support site:

High quality Unlimited free storage Regular cameras: Recommended for phones or point-and-shoot cameras that are 16 megapixels (MP) or less. Uses: Good for typical printing and sharing. Size: Save high-quality photos and videos while reducing size.

Original Limited free storage: Uses your Google Account’s 15 GB of free storage. DSLR cameras: Recommended if you take photos with a DSLR camera and want to maintain the exact original quality. Uses: Recommended for printing large banners or to store your original files. Size: Store your photos and videos exactly as you captured them.

Most importantly, you can change your mind at any time. Confusingly, it affects storage sizes going forward and won’t resize items you’ve already stored. Uh… So… Does that mean I can pay for one month, upload 4 TB of UHD video, and 3 TB of 24 MP images, and then switch to the free plan and it’s all there, and not resized or altered? That would be weird.

This also differs from Apple’s iCloud photo storage which divvies up everything from the same bucket as device backups, media, and application data. Google’s plan doesn’t lump this together with Google Drive’s data plan. They’re separate silos. Unless you use the ‘Original’ plan. In which case, you technically have 15 GB of free space with the ‘Original’ plan before you have to pay for anything.

In fact, many people use all their free Google Drive space to upload photos. Drive does have 15 GB of free storage, and won’t do anything to compress, or alter, your photos. You can even toggle on an option to show your images stored in Google Drive in Google Photos. It is not toggled on by default though. That might be because it didn’t work great under a few simple tests.

Test Drive

I made an edit to a test photo and it wasn’t reflected in the local copy in my Drive folder. I deleted the image from the Drive folder and it still showed on the site, but it had a weird gray box where the thumbnail was. Refreshing the page removed the broken thumbnail.

Next test was opening the Google Drive site, where there’s now a Google Photos button — which doesn’t take you to photos.google.com, but shows some text “Stay tuned! Your photos are coming soon.” If I restore the deleted file from Drive’s “trash” the image returns to Photos. Confusingly, the photo that’s restored has the editing adjustments from before I deleted it still applied in Photos, but not in Drive on the web, or in my Drive folder. This is possibly because Google is storing the adjustments as metadata and applying it on-the-fly in the Photos interface — but that is confusing, and not really “syncing”. Also there’s no versioning for those edits, you can only restore to the original, even though Drive is perfectly capable of saving many revisions. Stranger still, it asks if you want to keep changes if you adjust something that was already edited. Not a modern save-as-you-go workflow. The editing options are also a total joke, so I’m not sure that’s a huge loss for me.

What was also bizarre, was opening Google Photos for the first time and seeing images I put up in 2008 … which I guess was Picasa, or something. I’m really not even sure.

Storage Wars

As Jason Snell mentioned on Twitter, “Would be nice if Apple felt some pressure to lower its iCloud photo storage rates, which are twice Google’s.”

Amazon also offers unlimited photo storage for Amazon Prime members, and some paid plans. However, I haven’t really noticed this gaining traction, even though every tech writer in the universe is an Amazon Prime member. You’d think people would be writing about it nonstop.

Dropbox also wants all of your photos. It put a “please let us upload all your iPhone’s photos” button in their iOS app. How else can people fill up the free, two gigabyte tier and pay $9.99 a month (or $99.99 a year) to upgrade to one terabyte?

Flickr has taken some controversial twists and turns over the years (the last turn seems to have been into a ditch). They introduced a free, one terabyte tier a few years ago. It serves gross ads, and offers no first-party syncing, or downloading, off the service. The pro account now offers unlimited photo uploads at $24.95 a year. That’s a great value – if Yahoo hadn’t defecated on Flickr, set it on fire, and tried to put out the fire with urine-soaked novelty T-shirts that say, “We Hate You” in purple Optima.

How Does Google Pay For Photos?

It is not fear-mongering to ask about how this service, and associated apps, are financed by the company. Especially if it is Google, a company that makes most of its income from collecting information and displaying targeted advertising. They have offered no indication how their photo service is paid for, but several reporters have been told that it does not collect personal information to sell ads.

Pete Pachal, writing for Mashable:

The thrust of the new Photos, as described by product lead Bradley Horowitz, is to provide a “private secure, safe place where all of my memories can live without compromise or agenda.”

From the “agenda” part, Google wants to make clear this isn’t Gmail: the Photos app isn’t scanning your photos to sell you things via ads (although it is scanning them for other reasons). Others, including Apple, Dropbox and Lyve, are trying to solve the immensely difficult problem of photo management, but Google thinks it has the best approach, and from a look at the new app, they might be right.

CNN’s Heather Kelly, and my request for a clarification:

From an interview with Bradley Horowitz on Medium’s Backchannel:

The information gleaned from analyzing these photos does not travel outside of this product — not today. But if I thought we could return immense value to the users based on this data I’m sure we would consider doing that. For instance, if it were possible for Google Photos to figure out that I have a Tesla, and Tesla wanted to alert me to a recall, that would be a service that we would consider offering, with appropriate controls and disclosure to the user. Google Now is a great example. When I’m late for a flight and I get a Google Now notification that my flight has been delayed I can chill out and take an extra hour, breathe deep.

Now, those of us that skew a little more to the cynical, or paranoid, might read in some hedging. Once all the worlds’ photos are uploaded the trap will spring! Targeted ads for diapers based on your baby photos! MWAHAHAHA!


I don’t see this as being a major concern, or a major obstacle, for most people. Particularly for the billions of Android, and Gmail, users that already agree to actually agree to actual data collection. NBD – as the kids say.

I have a Gmail account. I use Google Maps every day to go to and from work. I’m not going to get on a high horse about the photos, except that there is a certain intimate knowledge that can be gleaned from photos which we’re not used to thinking about. As Horowitz notes in that same media piece, people want the vast majority of their photos to be private.

Loss Leader

Since there are no (current) plans to do anything with the data collected from the photos, and to offer a lot of free, or discounted, storage, then this is paid for by money from other parts of the company. That’s perfectly justifiable. It immediately increases the value of any product Google has which can take, or view, photos.

It’s like snacks, and food, at a bar. You can pay for some sodium-heavy food items, that make you crave paying for a refreshing beverage, or you can just grab some complimentary, salty nuts.

The salty nuts are unlimited.

2015-05-29 09:00:00

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