Friday 24 August 2012

The Comet Dream

Comet Hale-Bopp wowed everyone with its stunning perihelion in 1997, and is not due for another until the 44th century.
The recent talk of the Perseid Meteor Shower amongst news websites and space enthusiasts has begun to remind me how much of a fascination I hold in the vast universe that encompasses our planet, and just how little we know about said universe and the potential discoveries that await within it. Although my girlfriend was able to view some meteorites in this recent shower, I myself was not as fortunate due to living in an area drowned in artificial light - not to mention that it was cloudy here during the peak on August 12. But it has reminded me of a dream I had once - it was back in May 2011 so it's far from recent, but the theatricality and coherence of it was extremely interesting and something I would crave to see happen in real life. So, in my most random blog post ever, I am going to tell you all about this really awesome dream.

Essentially, the dream spanned three different games: Pokémon Silver Version for the Game Boy Colour, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes for the Gamecube and Animal Crossing: City Folk for the Nintendo Wii. It was based around (308635) 2005 YU55, a hazardous asteroid discovered by R.S McMillan in December 2005, announced at the time to be approaching a perihelion in November 2011. There is no significance of the asteroid (which was more like a comet in the dream), as it is one I never had much interest in, but seemed to appear in the dream due to my own recent discovery of its approach at the time and my interests in meteors/comets in general.

This is how the comet looked through Cherrygrove Observatory. It was a flashing sprite.
So, how could these games and a lone rock drifting aimlessly in space possibly coincide? Through my totally screwed up brain and the randomness of dreams, that's how. In Pokémon Silver Version, I was at Cherrygrove City, a small town seen early on in the game and home to a very wonderful piece of 8 bit music. When playing the game in November 2011, a new building had appeared in the small town: Cherrygrove Observatory. Further inspection revealed it to be the home of a large space telescope to view the star riddled night sky, which when doing so would bring up an image of a blue backdrop dotted with white pixels and a large, triangular flashing sprite in the center, a small blocky trail flowing from behind it. This portrayal of the comet was probably the most memorable of the three, and something I would be amazed to see Nintendo do. The reason for Cherrygrove City being the setting is most likely because it is one of my favourite areas in the game, with a lovely background music track that feels far more apt during the nighttime hours.

The sky here was very sunny, with the comet appearing as a blinding yellow light.
I have exemplified the entirety of my graphic skills with that last image, so I cannot provide any half decent ones to display the comets appearance in the two subsequent games - time for your imaginations to kick in! In Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, the comet was visible everyone on Aether - but the key moment I remember viewing it was in Torvus Bog, the game's second main stage, in the sunny sky. Once Torvus Bog is cleared of the evil within, the endless depressing rain and gloomy skies morph into pleasing sunshine, through which the comet was visible as a huge, glowing sphere shrouded in a blinding yellow light. A slowly descending pointed trail was drifting from behind, and it also had some animation attached which portrayed the gases surrounding it slipping across the rocky surface as it passed through space.

The stars were accompanied by an animated rendering of the comet, glowing white.
At night during Animal Crossing: City Folk (I know I'm British, but the European name is beyond stupid), one can view the starry night sky plastered with incandescent white dots and a glowing pale moon, with constellations even visible. In the dream, the comet was soaring above in the night sky, appearing to be stationary but animated in a way that proved it was definitely moving; the gases passing over its rocky surface and the trail drifting slowly behind, just like in Metroid Prime 2. It was a bit less realistic looking than in the aforementioned game, appearing as a smoothed out and animated version of the Pokémon Silver sprite, glistening white in colour. Some of the characters in the game even mentioned it and why it was here - and were even celebrating and admiring the sight. Unlike the previous two, I am pretty certain why this game appeared in the dream; most likely due to the fact that it takes note of real life events such as Christmas, which I find very enjoyable, and so was an apt choice to feature an event like the comet passing. Not that I had any choice, mind you - my sleeping brain did all the work!

So, that's the dream in its entirety. Pretty strange but extremely interesting, and left me feeling very satisfied and craving to listen to some Cherrygrove City music. Most of my dreams are deranged, incomprehensible nonsense, but once in a blue moon I experience a really entertaining one that plays off of my interests. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it, and I may do some more stuff like this in the future!

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Movie Review - Brave

Though without a doubt one of the finest animation studios in the business, Pixar had a minor slip up last year with their sequel to the popular 2006 flick Cars, which garnered mixed to negative responses amongst critics and audiences alike despite its strong box office takings. After two previous years of sequels to existing Pixar projects, the subsidiary of Disney has brought us their next original creation: Brave, a fantasy adventure set in the mythical highlands of ancient Scotland.

The plot revolves around Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald), the firstborn of Dunbroch rulers King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). With her whole life planned out for years against her own will, Merida opposes the wishes of her traditionalist mother and the old age custom set in place as a status quo for centuries by consulting a secretive witch (Julie Walters) and crafting a spell to change her fate, inadvertently causing chaos and discord in the kingdom which she must now put a stop to before everything dear to her is lost.

Those who have been following up with news of the film may know that Pixar rewrote their animation software for the first time in 25 years to develop the most breathtakingly photorealistic animation possible, providing audiences with a vastly rich visual experience. The graphics excel the standards Pixar has set for themselves, with the historic highlands of Scotland crammed with detail and colour, with intricate, imaginative designs injected into the overall visual style to create an undeniably beautiful fantasy setting. The effortless and fluent character animation breathes a huge wave of life into their appearance, making them more than CGI models as is usually the case with Pixar, and the added 3D effect is a decent inclusion even if it doesn't provide any noticeable eye popping moments.

To judge a Pixar film by the subjective 'Pixar standards' is indeed pretentious, but it's a fair enough gesture at times to use it a critical basis; in the case of Brave, the standard is met to an extent but the film is lacking in specific areas and sometimes reeks of disappointment. The history developed in this fictional landscape and culture is actually thoroughly enjoyable and interesting, paving the way for some dramatic elements to the story and providing clever exposition, but the main problem with the narrative is pacing. The film moves at a relentless pace, often giving little time for important character development beyond the protagonist Merida and her mother, and culminating with an underwhelming if entertaining climax with a weak, underdone villain. It's by no means bad, however; the story has a good bulk of drama and emotion, and is also very well supported with a fantastic sense of humour: I have no shame in admitting that Brave is Pixar's funniest film to date.

The story is backed by a strong voice cast of British talent, including the aforementioned Kelly Macdonald (replacing Reese Witherspoon early on in production) who provides a well rounded vocal performance for our main heroine, inducing her with the emotional strength and confidence that makes the character who she is. Billy Connolly clearly has a lot of fun with his character, making him one of the film's funniest, and Emma Thompson conveys the strict but sympathetic and caring nature of her character and proves to be a very memorable actress in the film, despite being absent for a large amount of it, also providing a very good Scottish accent. The cast of supporting voice actors includes famed Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd and Craig Ferguson, all of whom play their respective characters with a charming charisma.

Brave is a strong effort from Pixar, and proves the studio hasn't lost its touch even if the film isn't as good as some of their previous projects. A much less commercial and lazy outcome than last year's Cars 2, the film succeeds in crafting a well rounded story with emotional depth and a fantastic balance of humour, and is a must see for fans of the undeniably brilliant Pixar canon.

As is usual with Pixar, a short film titled La Luna shows before Brave; original, beautifully animated and vastly entertaining, the short is easily one of Pixar's most endearing.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

The Attic at LSFF 2013!

The London Short Film Festival is an annual media event that takes place in January across multiple venues in London which strives to showcase a plethora of short film projects spanning multiple genres, acting as a 'Mecca for the UK's young creative talent'. The festival began as the Halloween Short Film Festival, initiated by founders Phillip Ilson and Kate Taylor in 2003, and is celebrating its tenth anniversary at its next gathering in January 2013.

Why I am telling you this? Because I have submitted The Attic to this festival after fishing about for ideal places to try and screen the film, and if luck is on my side, it may very well be accepted into the line up of films to show and be a contestant for the Popcorn Horror Award for Best Horror Short, an award the festival bestows to (funnily enough) the best short film in the horror genre submitted. The prize for garnering such an award is £300 in cash, a year long subscription to the Popcorn Horror phone app as well as two weeks free promotion for the winning film, which will be done via the Popcorn Horror website. A LomoKino 35mm camera will also be gifted to all of the winning filmmakers, regardless of their award. Pretty sweet!

Of course, I don't want to get too cocky here - there is a chance that The Attic may very well be rejected once the staff view the preview screener (which was posted today, due to reach them in about 3 days) if they dislike it or find any problems with its formatting or whatnot. The film was reedited before submission to include 100% public domain music, meaning all the tracks taken from Marco Beltrami's score of The Woman in Black have been replaced by new tracks from Incompetech. Copyright is a huge concern when submitting to festivals, and I couldn't risk getting rejected or, worse, landing in serious trouble with angry record companies.

So, we will see how things go, and I will keep you updated in regards to whether or not The Attic is accepted into the line up of short films at the festival! I'm hoping it does, so that the film gets the recognition people think it deserves! Thanks again for everyone who has watched and provided feedback for the film, and also for people who have supported future CarrCom projects!

Wednesday 8 August 2012

The Making of THE ATTIC - Part 5 - The Final Cut


With writing, filming and editing complete, it was time to release The Attic for everyone to see. Originally the film was planned to be finished and released in 2011, probably towards the fourth quarter, but due to aforementioned circumstances this was eventually not possible.

When we resumed filming in October 2011, the release date was obviously going to be 2012 but we had not decided on a specific date or even a month/season. As no posters or trailers for the film were going to be made at first, it was decided that we upload the film whenever it was finished and not build a campaign building up to a specific release date. However, as the film grew bigger and bigger alongside the audience, we decided it would be best to treat the release like a proper film.

This scene was shot on April 21 after filming went on a month hiatus.
When the CarrCom Films Youtube channel was launched on February 18, the planned release for the film was a tentative Summer 2012. No month was set at this time, but I was leaning toward July a bit more, thinking the film would take much longer to complete. Eventually, when filming progressed quickly, the first teaser trailer (released on March 1) confirmed our planned release date of May 17, 2012. Back in early March when the date was set, it was believed to be rather easy to meet this deadline, but as filming went on over time some delays ultimately occurred and hindered the process.

As mentioned in Part 2 of this series, filming went on a hiatus between March 10 and April 21 due to contraints and other matters to attend to. Shortly before filming resumed, it seemed highly improbable to meet the May 17 release date in a month or so (especially when considering our personal lives, dedication to college etc) so we knew we had to make some alterations. As a result, the film was postponed till June 28, 2012 to allow more time for filming, editing and potential reshoots. This delay was announced on March 24 alongside the release of a clip from the film which depicted an anxious Joseph answering a call from Mike at a train station.

This short extension was shot on May 18, the day after the initial planned release date.
The decision to make no posters or trailers for the film at first was to avoid leaking too many details of the plot or ruin the scary moments. If anyone observed the marketing campaign of The Woman in Black (2012), you may notice that all of the trailers and TV spots combined reveal every single jump scare except one or two, which is not what I wanted. However, I eventually conceded and wished to build more hype, and so I decided that releasing a variety of trailers, clips and images would do a good job. I was very careful, however, to avoid giving away any significant moments of the film, especially jump scares which only have their unique effect the first time round. As the opening scene had already been viewed by many of my Facebook friends in October 2011, I decided to upload it as the first appetizer for the film to the CarrCom Youtube channel when it launched in February.

I went for a generic approach to the trailers, starting with a teaser, then a full trailer and finally a longer full trailer that reveals some more details soon before the film's release. The second trailer proved to be the most popular both on Youtube and Facebook, though the third one is ultimately my favourite. Clips were chosen carefully to provide some minor hype and insight to the film but avoid revealing any scary scenes; otherwise, the effect of watching the film for the first time is utterly ruined. I also chose the stills carefully (they were all screen caps with titles added) so they would subtly hint at the plot and scene content but never outright show anything; The Ghost's appearance was never going to be unveiled as it is one of the biggest moments of the film.

This was the final shot that was filmed, before Nathan finally got to wash his makeup off!
Upon resuming, filming surged forward at a brisk pace; throughout most of May and early June, we were off college due to study leave and had a lot of time to finish up the forthcoming scenes. As we committed a lot of the time to filming, we finished it all on June 2, 26 days before the film was planned for release. I decided to maintain the distant release date and use this time to build up anticipation with more stills and trailers and also give a couple of my friends and family special advance screenings for early feedback, which was very positive. On June 21, I went to upload the massive 3GB file to Youtube and list it as a private video, ready to be unveiled for June 28, but upload problems hindered this process for a day or so. Eventually the video was uploaded on June 22, taking around six or seven hours, ready for the scheduled release date; however, hype and eagerness made me resign myself to the annoying wait and publish the film on June 23, 5 days earlier than usual, ready for the world to see.

Having a college train pass at the time sure came in handy for such scenes.
I used Twitter, Facebook, this here blog and Youtube to provide as much plugging as possible, asking all my friends to view it and leave comments and then share it via their own Twitter/Facebook/Youtube pages to grab more and more audience members. The film became the most successful video on the CarrCom channel, reaching over 1000 views in just under 2 weeks and is now approaching 2000 steadily. It has received a ton of positive feedback, as well as constructive criticism which I also appreciate, and has even been shown to my Film Studies lecturers at college who have deemed it a highly impressive effort on par with the student films of other directors such as Edgar Wright (who actually attended the uni I wish to go to, funnily enough). The film was screened on July 5 to my Film Studies class and received very warm feedback and some genuine screams!

And that draws my The Making of THE ATTIC blog series to a close! I shall be submitting The Attic to the 2013 London Short Film Festival and will keep everyone posted with the outcome, be it success or failure (worth a shot in the end)! Thanks a lot for reading and for checking out the film, and keep on the look out for news of my next film Nightmare, coming 2013!

Thursday 2 August 2012

Movie Review - The Lorax

When it comes to film adaptations, the Dr. Seuss stories haven't been treated too well; whilst Horton Hears A Who was a fairly solid CGI flick, stinkers like The Cat in the Hat and The Grinch have left a horrible impact on audiences and critics alike. With the aforementioned Horton film boosting the future reputation of such adaptations, now comes The Lorax to hopefully excel that further - but it doesn't.

The narrative is essentially (and badly) split into two halves, with one being the story of Ted Wiggins (Zac Efron) who lives in an extremely artificial metropolis named Thneedville under the watchful eyes of Aloysius O'Hare (Rob Riggle), a greedy businessman who has achieved world fame by selling bottled air. To impress his crush Audrey (Taylor Swift) by gifting her a real tree, Ted seeks out the Once-ler (Ed Helms), who tells him the story of how all the trees in the world were lost at his hands and of The Lorax (Danny DeVito), the charming if strict 'guardian of the forest' who attempted to stop him.

The Lorax's most impressive feature is the visuals, which are colourful, cutesy and most of the time match the visual style of Dr. Seuss (mostly with the lush, fluffy forests). Animation can sometimes appear stiff and jerky though it is generally fluent, and the landscapes are decently crafted. The film is viewable in 3D and the format is fairly decent albeit pointless, adding nothing to the experience of the film and even sometimes making the viewing rather unpleasant.

The biggest problem is the storyline, which is converged in such a manner that it can be difficult to determine what story the film is actually trying to explore. I enjoyed the flashback storyline of The Once-ler and his eventual impact on the forest, but the present narrative of Ted Wiggins, Thneedville and the ungodly annoying O'Hare (which if I may say was not in the original book) feels shoehorned in to provide some more weight and increase the run time. In scenes where Ted reacts irritated to The Once-ler abruptly stopping the story and telling him to return tomorrow, his emotions pretty much mirror the annoyance of the audience as we now drift back into his own lifeless storyline.

The narrative therefore feels only half-decent, culminating with a gratuitous chase sequence that serves no purpose other than to try and inject some excitement back into a dull film. With that said, The Once-ler's story isn't perfect either; it's riddled with irritating humour and The Lorax, who is not included as much as you'd expect an eponymous character to be, doesn't do an awful lot. The film also suffers from forgettable musical numbers and a terrible miscasting of Zac Efron (why the hell is he voicing a 12 year old?), the latter of which is tolerable as the other voice actors are generally good (especially Ed Helms and DeVito). If any of my positives here have enticed you to see The Lorax, then let me be more clear:

It sucks.