House of Time v03

The House of Time, a scale model of earth history, public beta v0.3 is now live. While it’s still pretty empty, this is the first release where I feel the important pieces are all in place (if only as stubs).

Dreadnaughtus schematic for modeling
(Be kind, I’m no Mark Witton!)

New This Release:

  • ADDED: Your Friend & Mine, DREADNAUGHTUS!
  • ADDED: Stars
  • ADDED: Pro/Arch Bridge
  • ADDED: All Remaining Location Plates
  • IMPROVED: Bloom & SSAO
  • IMPROVED: River
  • MOVED: Custom Shaders, Shared Materials & Client-side Textures (currently unused) into larger, cleaner scenicEffects Object

To Do:

  • ADD: Membership/Info Card
  • ADD: Titanosaur & Other Models
  • ADD: The Moon
  • IMPROVE: Stonier Beach
  • ADD: Stars
  • IMPROVE: Framerate-Independant Movement Speed
  • ADD: Lazy Shader Compiler
  • ADD: “Crawler” Mesh
  • ADD: Touch Controls
  • IMPROVE: Frame Rate
  • FIX: Ocean Vertex Displacement Not Following Waves
  • FIX: Ripples Only Visible When Looking East
  • IMPROVE: Safari Support
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House of Time 0.2 Updates

The House of Time, a scale model of earth history, is now in public beta v0.2.

New This Release:

  • IMPROVED: Terrain
  • ADDED: Proterozoic-Archean River
  • ADDED: Cambrian Trilobites
  • IMPROVED: Tree Ferns
  • ADDED: Hadean Fill Lighting
  • ADDED: Low-res Ionic Columns
  • IMPROVED: More Natural Colors Overall
  • FIXED: Better Distribution of Sprites
  • ADDED: Camera Follower Tag
  • IMPROVED: Better Terrain LOD
  • FIXED: Sprites Not Working Correctly
  • FIXED: Shadow Dupes
  • FIXED: Sun Angle, Sky Consistency & Sunset

To Do:

  • ADD: Membership/Info Card
  • ADD: Titanosaur & Other Models
  • ADD: The Moon
  • IMPROVE: Stonier Beach
  • ADD: Stars
  • IMPROVE: Framerate-Independant Movement Speed
  • ADD: Lazy Shader Compiler
  • ADD: “Crawler” Mesh
  • ADD: Touch Controls
  • IMPROVE: Frame Rate
  • FIX: Ocean Vertex Displacement Not Following Waves
  • FIX: Ripples Only Visible When Looking East
  • IMPROVE: Safari Support
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The House of Time: Public Beta

The House of Time, a scale model of earth history, is now in public beta. Introducing v0.1.

New This Release:

Assets

Holocene Gate – Pleistocene Drain – Pliocene Verge – Miocene Planters – Oligocene Drive – Eocene Circle – Paleocene Stairs – Hall of the Cretaceous – Hall of the Jurassic – Hall of the Triassic – Permian Veranda – Carboniferous Grove – Devonian Stand – Silurian Deck – Ordovician Walk – Cambrian Path – Proterozoic Acreage – Archean Waste – Hadean Shore

Engine

Babylon.js-Based Engine – Zero-Texture-Map Detailing (world space and model space GPU noise functions, SVG importer, client-side extrusion) – Positional Asset Loading/Unloading – Sound Manager – Environment Manager – Async Terrain Updater

Bug Fixes

Not enough


To Do:

Assets

Membership/Info Card – Titanosaur & Other Models – Low-res Ionic Column – Moon – Stony Beach – Stars – Sunset – Much Much More

Engine

Framerate-Independant Movement Speed – Lazy Shader Compiler – “Crawler” Mesh – Fill Lighting for Darkness – Touch Controls – Frame Rate Optimization

Bugs

Unpredictable Sprites – Ocean Vertex Displacement Not Following Waves – Hadean Cliff Artifacts – Ripples Only Visible When Looking East – Safari Support

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Closer to a HoT Beta

In a short while, the link to the venerable Bestiary of Geekdom up top will move to the sidebar, and be replaced with the House of Time.

This is a project I’ve been tapping away at for six months or so, on and off, and in an effort to play a little less of my usual gin rummy, I’m working toward soft-launching a public beta. It will be missing a lot of features and content, but should be a good start.

The 3d engine is built in Javascript on the Babylon.js WebGL framework. My goal is for it to run in all modern browsers–including mobile–with low-to-modest hardware requirements. There will be no loading screens, HUD or narration, no accounts or other tracking, no objectives or “gamification,” and certainly no ads. The House of Time will be free and available to all. If you’re old enough to remember the experience of Myst when it first came out, you’ll understand the quiet, contemplative, even lonely atmosphere I wish to create. Art as science as art. This is in furtherance of my personal philosophy that education should be free.

I’ve been designing a system that uses as little bandwidth as possible. Most interactive 3d is built around the expectations of PCs and consoles: That transfer is fast, storage is large, and the GPU is the bottleneck. Here that’s reversed. There will be zero texture maps. Shaders will supply most of the visual detail procedurally, generating it on the fly in your graphics card. SVGs will be rendered to bitmap in a hidden canvas element to supply more specific 2d imagery. Most of the shaders will rely on world space coordinates, so that two instanced models sitting side by side may look radically different. Instanced geometry will be used as much as possible. Complex extruded shapes will be generated in the browser from a path and cross-section. Chunks of geometry will load only when needed, and free their memory when no longer in use.

The overall scene (more than a mile long) is being built in Blender, as it plays well with Babylon.js and glTF export. Even with the UI improvements in the Bforartists fork, this has been a major pain point, and creation of complex 3d assets (dinos!) lags badly. (My preferred 3d package, Hash Animation:Master, has sadly become a paid zombie, with no meaningful updates this decade. The quest for a replacement continues…) I split the large scene into chunks manually and export them for browser loading with Babylon.js’s Blender export plugin. Tags in the names of models and lights are digested by the engine on load, to do things like assigning noise shaders, creating extruded shapes, or replacing a mesh with sprites.

This week, I’ve built a new stageManager object to move scenery on- and offstage and in and out of memory, as well as written a new pine foliage shader I’m reasonably happy with. Before going public, I still need to create and fix a few more things:

Assets

Membership/Info Card – Footstep sounds – Titanosaur – Low-res Ionic Pediment – Evergreens – Brick Walkways – Tree Ferns – Cambrian Marker – Beach – Stars

Engine

StageManagerNew evergreen shader – Sound manager

Bugs

Crash on deleting assetContainerFalling sprites not finding ground – Sprite systems not reusing correctly – Too much fog at start – Left-hand side of gate not animating – Miocene grass too short – Cretaceous Hall light wonkiness – No Carboniferous shadows

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The House of Time: A Walkthrough

You visit a page and find a punched metal gate, with an arrowhead design on one half and an Apollo capsule on the other. It slides open. You realize this is a 3d scene, like a game, and you can move about with familiar keyboard, mouse and touch controls.

The fog rolls back to reveal a paved driveway leading to a museum-like facad ahead. The outlines of animals line the walk. Strange animals

You hear your footstep as you pass through the thin gate, stepping over a drain and past some grassy planters. You cross the turnaround circle and mount the steps.

Inside, sunlight streams through a modernist glass domed roof, falling on stone sculptures of dinosaurs. Titanosaur towers over you. Beneath your feet, a plexiglass floor shows creatures from the sea. On you pass into an older-looking part of the museum. More creatures: Allosourus, stegosaurs. Forward into a gothic section, with still more creatures: plainer somehow, more crocodile-like. You pass outside again through a charred portal, burned to its hinges.

Outside, sailback lizard sculptures bask in the sun of a palatial back veranda. You descend the steps into a stand of pines and ferns. The path continues. Lonely, rough-hewn sculptures in rusted metal mourn a world they once ruled. Soon there’s nothing but a thick carpet of trilobite fossils, crunching beneath your feet. A plain marker declares even their end.

There is nothing but the scrub, the path, the sun. Occasional stone columns pass to either side.

Half an eternity later, the sun begins to set. As you pass over a small rise, the moon disappears. Below is a rocky beach leading to an endless sea. You descend as the stars come out and stand at the dark surf, watching the stars above and below.

This is the House of Time, a scale model of Earth history. Each step you’ve taken represents a million years.

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I Asked Some Friends If They Wanted Their Own “Twilight Zone” Introductions

“Into every life a little rain must fall. For some this is a blessing, for some a curse, and for some it may be both in disguise. Meet Rama Rodriguez–account number 2425133, 4.2 stars, no accidents. A storm chaser in a late-model Honda Accord. But what is a surge when the surge never ends? For Mr. Rodriguez’s next pickup is flagged on an unmarked back road of an unnumbered census designation between Old Hither and Yon Terrace… in The Twilight Zone.”

“Say hello to Mr. Robert Patton, undertaking the most dangerous act that mankind has yet devised: stepping out of his front door. Because somewhere out in that angle of short memoried softwood and lost soccer balls lurks something not native to the crisscrossed streets of man’s housing-developed world. Something lean, and hungry. A creature wholly unknown to Mr. Patton’s cozy world, but attested to in numerous travelogues… from The Twilight Zone.”

“It’s a lonely vigil being the last knight and defender of the esoteric, even if only the corner-of-the-pub variety. Take a barstool next to your new old friend Matthew Blazek, topic expert. Tip one back and learn a thing or two, for it’s last call, and you may soon need both a stiff drink and a bit of advice–because this public house, along with you and its other occupants, are about to be transported to a time and a place that can’t be. A misremembering by the universe. An anachronism wrapped in a mystery, shunned to a quiet corner… of The Twilight Zone.”

“These two outlined, highlighted, tired eyes belong to Ms. Naomi Cabrera. Following the press of a button they’ve just slid off an instrument panel familiar to many of us: a brass oracle that’s long since taken the place of a man or woman in a hat, who once guided us up into the belly of a steel-boned, stone-clad, concrete beast. Did departed Romans pay their ferryman for his boat, or for safe escort? When the tower is alone, and angry, what revenge does it take on those tiny homunculi that circulate within? Naomi is about to learn, because she’s just pressed the wrong floor; a number between numbers, with a broken light; home to empty suites, the drone of air conditioners, and a small import/export concern with one other office… in The Twilight Zone.”

“Measure, tick the grease pencil and rack focus on one Eric Cheung. A man of his time, once conjured by two thin threads applied with a bit of spirit gum and a ‘comic’ accent. But the comedy masks, real and false, are not on the propman’s call list today. Our man’s sides specify a location well beyond the comfortable sets and Kino daylight; past the disused facades of once popular genres; past even the empty business offices of 90 year old hack writers and producers too cold to even meet with death in this town; through a parking lot, over an arroyo; somewhere in memory’s tall grass between the Ventura Freeway… and The Twilight Zone.”

“You’ve rolled past him on moving sidewalks at every wheel and spoke; half-watched as a dozen stewardesses poured him a thousand tiny drinks; maneuvered a bag between him and endless racks of tchotchkes that somehow serve only to make their emblazoned airport feel less like a definable location. Risk an extra minute in your boarding group, squint into the sunbeam, and you may just make out the tall form of Shlomo Harnas–citizen of the world, native to nowhere. Neither super spy nor wandering jew, just another mug trying to catch a codeshare to a little-trafficked field coded ‘H-O-M-E,’ with a connecting flight… through The Twilight Zone.”

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A Production Plan for “The Watchfire”

“The Watchfire” is a deep time science fiction screenplay that plays as symbolist fantasy/horror, in the mode of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth, or films like EvolutionInnocence, and Sauna. Two 10-year-old girls guard a flaming beacon alone on a hill by the sea. One day a third child appears.

Concept art on the blog here.

At barely six pages, “The Watchfire” can be filmed on a modest budget with a small crew. This is a breakdown of how.

Three young actors are needed. The two “sisters” (the Dawn Girl and the Dusk Girl, age 10-12) will need matching long blonde wigs, and simple handmade-looking dresses matching their hair. One will need to memorize two long-ish blocks of text–to be recited as stories, not performed as lines–the other only one recital. They should be rehearsed together in the weeks prior to filming, with a focus on being comfortable and engaged with one other. The third (the Golden Boy, 10-12) will need a simple handmade “castaway” outfit of canvas and rope. He should be rehearsed separately. The childrens’ parents/guardians will need to sign off on some violence in the film, though very little that’s apparent to the actors on set. I won’t pretend to be an expert on directing children, but per Lenore DeKoven it’s best if the children are minded on set by someone other than a parent; children tend to have trouble focusing with a parent present. (Think home vs. school.) Limitations on shooting hours will have to be researched and planned for.

Filming will take place over a weekend. As I’m currently based in Boston, coastal Maine will be the most accessible shooting location, although northern California (near my sister) or the Swedish coast (near Denmark) would also work. The requirement is a temperate wooded area where the hills meet the sea. Shooting in Maine would allow me to save on accommodations by using the visitors’ apartment at my mother’s house. (Two of the kids even get bunk beds!)

Three filming locations will be needed:

  1. The Beacon. An overgrown field bordered by trees.
  2. The Hillside. A wooded clearing overlooking the ocean.
  3. The Seashore. An uninhabited beach.

The Beacon

The primary shooting location will need to be built in situ beforehand. It consists of a central object (the beacon) resembling a dead tree turned to stone, with eternal flames playing across its branches. Beside it sit two small pools of indeterminate depth. A ring of stones surrounds the beacon. The surrounding tall grass is trampled into a crop circle about 40 feet in diameter, with a second ring of stones marking its outer boundary.

A property owner’s back field would be ideal. The house can be quite close by, as long as it’s out of the shot. (A friendly house is also helpful for costume changes, bathroom breaks, emergency battery charges, craft services, etc.) Sync sound would be needed on this set, so proximity to a busy road is a no-go.

The beacon itself will be only partially built, to a height about a foot taller than the actors. The upper branches and flames will be created digitally in post-production. Practical lights will be hung from booms atop the beacon, to be covered over with CGI. Although the sisters enter and exit the pools in story, this can be largely faked with staging and cutting. Mylar sheets under a few inches of water may work to simulate much deeper pools. (The bottoms are never seen.) Tutorials for creating a crop circle with planks and ropes are easy to find online.

For the effects work, a chrome ball must be filmed with bracketed exposures at each setup on the beacon set, to generate an Image Based Lighting model. Instances where the actors move in front of the CGI tree elements will have to be hand rotoscoped.

The Hillside

A couple of brief scenes take place just outside the beacon’s crop circle. They’ll almost certainly need to be filmed elsewhere. No build. Sync sound won’t be needed. The scenes can probably be shot guerilla style near a public lookout.

The effects work here is largely subtractive: Removing any trace of civilization from the background. Towns, ships, square fields, vapor trails, roads, etc. will need to be painted out in a tracked travel matte. Elements the actors pass in front of will have to be rotoscoped out.

The Seashore

A single, relatively brief scene. No build. No sync sound.

The trick here is that Maine’s inshore waters are littered with brightly-colored lobster buoys. The best option may be to film near high tide in a cove with extensive mudflats. (Traps are set below the intertidal zone; the farther out the low tide line, the smaller and more distant the buoys, making them easier to paint out.)

Pickup Shots

Establishing shots will present the same civilization problems. These will tend to be fairly static, and can be constructed as matte collages.

Post Production

Special effects will be done by me in Fusion, which was our primary tool on “The Garden, 1910.” Unless I can secure some kind of residency, they’re likely to take a couple months to complete on evenings and weekend.

In All…

The project can be accomplished in about 3-4 months, start to finish.

Required personnel:

  • Director (me)
  • Producer
  • DP
  • Dawn Girl actor
  • Dusk Girl actor
  • Golden Boy actor
  • At least one guardian/parent for the above
  • Hair/Makeup
  • Sound
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Fire Brothers

One of the germs of “The Watchfire” was a partial mishearing of Quicksilver Messenger Service’s 1971 song “Fire Brothers.” The mondegreen method seems about right, as no one can seem to agree on the exact lyrics to this song. Here’s my best attempt:

In the valley where the loons and lovers play
Lived two children who were born on Saturday
One was dark, one was fair
Fathered by the hawk, mothered by the mare

Stranger children you will never see;
Brothers of the forest and the sea
One was land, one was air
And they kept the fires burning there

In a golden vessel and silver vase
Kept them burning in that strange enchanted place
Kept them burning to the sky
For they knew someday the sun would die

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Concept Art for “The Watchfire”

Her bare feet linger just within a crop circle bounded with a ring of stones. A second ring of stones lies closer to the center. In the middle, flanked by two small mirrored pools, looms the BEACON itself–taller than her, topped with a flame that isn’t fire.

A lone BEACON of light shines from the wooded hills above a shore untouched by man.

The DAWN GIRL (10) looks down from the hill, wringing her hands as the GLOW of the explosion below touches her face. She is fair with extremely long blonde hair, draped in a shapeless garment of the same color.

Dusk carries the body to the sea’s edge. She’s about to drop it into the tidal mud when, brow knitting, she leans in. A faint, regular CHIRP-like sound eminates from the golden boy’s mouth, like a ticking counter.

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The Definitive Collection of Narnia Book Orderings

At some point well into my lifetime, C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books were re-numbered into a sort of faux-story-chonology order. My own 1987 Scholastic trade box set numbers them correctly–in the order they were written–but modern editions (including my Gyldendal library-bound Danish editions) adopt the new order.

As we learned with the Star Wars movies, there’s no such thing as a “prequel” to an already released story. There can be sequels that take place earlier, but the structure of reveal, suspense and surprise–that is, storytelling–can’t be reorganized once it’s fixed. Watch the long, suspenseful introduction of Darth Vader at the beginning of Star Wars [*sigh* Episode IV: A New Hope] again. Silence. Sudden violence. Billowing smoke. Then the music… It’s a masterclass in villain reveals. Can one really believe that explaining and humanizing this character beforehand would enhance the scene? I feel bad for any kid who watches the Star Wars movies for the first time in “episode” order.

With the Narnia books there’s something more insidious: The implication that children can’t understand a flashback. Yes, as both explain quite clearly, The Horse and His Boy and The Magician’s Nephew take place before the events of The Silver Chair. Lewis himself took a bright view of children’s comprehension abilities. He was writing for 9-11 year olds, but even much younger children get “because this happened earlier.” They understand out of order storytelling, because that’s how humans communicate. All stories are flashbacks. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the moment of sublime wonder created by the lit lamppost in the snowy forest is in no way enhanced by knowing that, in the Creation era of this world, a villain briefly made it into our world, caused some trouble, tore off a piece of lamppost, lost it in Archean!Narnia, and because the Narnia Inflationary Field was still in play, it grew into a sort of natural lamppost tree thing. It’s a fun moment, when it comes, but that’s because we get to go back into our memory and connect something in an unexpected and fun way, not because we were confused and frustrated by it.

The modern Narnia book order is a mess, but there are alternatives. Below, I’ve attempted to compile is the most definitive list to date of Narnia series orderings.

By Order of Current Publication (Faux-Chronological Order)

1. The Magician’s Nephew
2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
3. The Horse and His Boy

4. Prince Caspian
5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
6. The Silver Chair
7. The Last Battle

By Actual Story Order

1. The Magician’s Nephew
2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
~ 2.5. The Horse and His Boy 
(The Horse and His Boy takes place during The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)
3. Prince Caspian
4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
5. The Silver Chair
6. The Last Battle

By Length

1. The Silver Chair
2. The Horse and His Boy
3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
4. Prince Caspian
5. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

6. The Last Battle
7. The Magician’s Nephew

By How Long They Feel

1. The Last Battle (God what a slog…)
2. The Silver Chair
(Only kind of a slog)
3. The Magician’s Nephew
(Plenty of cool stuff for your time, at least)
2. The Horse and His Boy
(Moves right along, but mostly you’re still fagged out from 
The Silver Chair)
4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
(Moar!)

4. Prince Caspian
5. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
(That was it?)

By Obviously Out of Place Christian Symbolism

1. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (WTF’s up with the lamb?)
2. The Last Battle
(Wait, desert demon Tash of the MusselCalormen is real?)
3. Prince Caspian
(“You must learn to know me by another name-” “Baphomet?” “No you stupid prig.”)
4. The Magician’s Nephew
(Yeah yeah, wizards are all horrible…)
5. The Silver Chair
(Stung by a serpent, blah blah…)
6. The Horse and His Boy
(Same as the lashes of your servant, that’s fine.)
7. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

By Order I Read Them In

1. Prince Caspian
2. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
3. The Silver Chair
4. The Horse and His Boy
5. The Magician’s Nephew

6. The Last Battle
7. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
(My mom found the missing book from my box set at a library book sale when I was in college!)

By Current Danish Publisher’s Order

1. Troldmandens Nevø (Yes, the Danish word for magician is “troll man.”)
2. Løven, Heksen og Garderodeskabet (The definite article is usually a suffix in Danish.)
3. Hesten og Drengen (Shouldn’t it be
Hesten og hans Dreng?)
4. Prins Caspian 
(Free square!)
5. Morgenvandrerens Rejse (Now that is an impressive Germanic compound.)
6. Sølvstolen (Sounds a bit like a French person saving “seulv-.”)
7. Det Sidste Slag (At least the Danes admit it’s a slag.)

By Order I Bought Them in Danish

1. Løven, Heksen og Garderodeskabet (Saxo.com)
1. Prins Caspian 
(Saxo.com)
1. Morgenvandrerens Rejse (Saxo. The bank’s computer froze my credit card.)
2. Sølvstolen (Copenhagen bookshop)
2. Hesten og Drengen (The same Copenhagen bookshop)
3. Det Sidste Slag (I looked all over the damn city for this one.)
4. Troldmandens Nevø
 (Didn’t find it until I was studying in Ringkøbing this year.)

By Quality

1. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (What adventure!)
2. Prince Caspian
(What mystery!)
3. The Magician’s Nephew
(What magic!)
4. The Horse and His Boy
(What a yarn!)
5. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
(What a children’s book!)
6. The Silver Chair
(What… grayness)
7. The Last Battle (What a slog)

By Order of Writing

1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
2. Prince Caspian
3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
4. The Silver Chair
5. The Horse and His Boy
6. The Magician’s Nephew

7. The Last Battle

By Correct Order

1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
2. Prince Caspian
3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
4. The Silver Chair
5. The Horse and His Boy
6. The Magician’s Nephew

7. The Last Battle

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Twitter users! Did you know I twit? Follow @EpithetADay for your daily epithet, courtesy of Matt Rasmussen.

Amazon Should Privatize Our Oceans

Amazon should control the oceans off all local communities. They can replace local beaches and save taxpayers lots of money, while enhancing the value of their stock.

There was a time seasides offered the local community lots of services in exchange for their tax money. They would bring sun, sea, and sand to the masses. Residents could visit any time they wanted, swim, and enjoy an ice cream.

They also provided residents with a comfortable place they could enjoy nature. They provided people with a place they could swim in peace with the oversight of friendly lifeguards. Oceans served as a place where residents could hold their outdoor events, but this was a function they shared with parks. There’s no shortage of places to hold outdoor events. Also, the parks should be privatized.

The sea slowly began to service the local community more. Seas served up fish, and allowed the free movement of goods. The modern ocean still provides these services, but they don’t have the same value they used to. The reasons why are obvious.

One such reason is the rise of “third places” such as private pools. They provide residents with a comfortable place to swim, sunbathe, meet their friends and associates, and enjoy a great picnic. This is why some people have started using their towel card more than they use their National Parks card. (I realize that “some people” means literally nothing, but work with me here. Also, the National Parks should be privatized.)

On top of this, streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have replaced the need to go outside. They provide nature content to the masses at an affordable rate. Actual natural places, like Martin’s Beach in California, have all but disappeared.

Then there’s the rise of plastic technology. Plastic has turned seashells into collector’s items, effectively eliminating the need for beachcombing.

Of course, there’s Amazon Shore to consider. Amazon has created their own online ocean that has made it easy for the masses to access both physical and digital artefacts of the world’s seas. Amazon Shore is a chain of stores that does what Amazon originally intended to do; replace the local. It improves on the beach model by adding salt water and ice cream. Amazon Shore basically combines a shoreline with an ice cream stand.

At the core, Amazon has provided something better than a local ocean without the tax fees. This is why Amazon should replace local beaches. The move would save taxpayers money and enhance the stockholder value of Amazon all in one fell swoop.

Above all, if the wobbly rhetoric and (nearly) fifth grade writing level of this piece haven’t convinced you, take comfort in knowing that it’s still marginally less stupid than this since-deleted Forbes piece.

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The Garden, 1910: Faking It Right

Currently, our challenge with The Garden, 1910 is finding film festivals willing to program a 30 minute “short” film–never mind one with extensive (non-sexual) nudity. Private screenings both in the US and Denmark have been extremely positive, but we’re not exactly teabagging the zeitgeist.

Our challenge in making it was one of bringing across a big-budget 1910s fantasy film on a 2010s microbudget. As the production designer and cinematographer, I wanted to know what it was like sitting in a smoky cinematograph watching a new, hand-colored print of a film like ours.

We came up with some terminology: The illusion vs. the effect. The effect was how we would actually achieve the shot: greenscreened footage of actors, puppets and miniatures (filmed on an iPhone 6s with Filmic Pro) composited in Blackmagic Fusion, Final Cut Pro X and Motion, with additional elements from still images, Animation:Master and Photoshop. The illusion was how our magician-turned-filmmaker would have created the shot using period techniques: sets with sometimes elaborate stage mechanisms, multiple photographic exposures, splices, color-tints, pyro, forced perspective, piano wire, Pepper’s ghost, and so forth.

The subconscious effect of frame rate, and how variable frame rates can be used artistically, is something I’ve been exploring. The Garden, 1910 actually runs at 60fps; a blurred three-blade shutter fades each frame in and out, running the “film” at the slightly unsteady 17-19fps of a hand-cranked projector. As the camera would also have been hand-cranked (at a slightly lower 13-14fps for a better exposure) each frame of the fully-composited footage also has a slightly randomized gain adjustment, to simulate variability in exposure. (Filmic Pro will record footage at an arbitrary frame rate like 14fps, but from working with the footage my impression is that the iPhone hardware itself will only capture at certain fixed frame rates, and Filmic merely discards the unwanted frames.)

Obviously, we weren’t content to slap an “olde timey film” filter onto the composited footage and call it good. Each composite in Fusion was piped through a battery of patches to extract and then imperfectly add back in false color, to simulate hand-coloring. (This was a nightmare, but probably an instructive one. I’ll drill down into it, with some downloadable material for Fusion tinkerers, in an upcoming blog post.) The completed “film” frames from each sequence (one frame per frame) were edited in Final Cut, with glue splices added as a custom FCP transition from Motion. (Don’t look down on Motion; it’s a real Swiss army knife, and incredibly fast.) The footage then made a round trip to Fusion, where it received unsteady re-timing to 17-19fps, shutter flicker, gate jumping, vignetting, emulsion dust and scratches, exiting as 60fps finished footage–and making a round-round-trip to Final Cut for final editing.

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So I Wrote a Star Wars Fan Film…

1. EXT. COTTAGE – NIGHT

A single dim, warm LIGHT above the front door struggles into the soaking mist, revealing the front of a MODEST REED-WALLED COTTAGE, round and set over the water.

A REBEL slips by. Dark, ragged fabric from head to toe divulges only parts of a helmet and utility vest. We can’t see their face — and we never will.

MATCH DISSOLVE TO:

2. EXT. COTTAGE – DAY

Morning finds us at the marshy edge of a pleasant lake.

Three STORM TROOPERS march toward the door, their white armor Endor-style, and era. The FIRST TROOPER stoops, blaster sweeping the short crawlspace between the cottage subfloor and the lake. A few machines hang down, nothing big enough to hide a person.

FIRST TROOPER

Clear, sir.

SECOND TROOPER

Sub droid’s found nothing in the water.

LIEUTENANT

Send it away.

3. INT. COTTAGE, CONT.

A familiar, visibly ageing Gungan answers the door.

JAR-JAR

Oh! Me’sa got officers coming here!? What can dis’sa be happening?

LIEUTENANT

A rebel against the Empire has been tracked —

Jar-Jar’s foot catches unluckily on a set of ceremonial spears near the entrance, which go CLATTERING to the floor, nearly gutting the first trooper.

FIRST TROOPER

Watch it!

LIEUTENANT

Step aside, Gungan.

JAR-JAR

Oh no! Rebels in meesa house? No no no! Find them!

The interior is spartan. Tidy. One room. Aside from the (many) mementos of state hung around the perimeter, it contains only a small kitchenette and a few sleeping cushions strewn about the floor.

The lieutenant gestures toward the ice box — the only space large enough to hide a person.

SECOND TROOPER

Sir.

FIRST TROOPER

In position…

The troopers push past the hapless Gungan with levelled blasters.

JAR-JAR

Rebels in meesa ice box?! Oh no! This-a terrible!

With interlocking fire, the troopers approach. At a signal, one THROWS THE LID!

LIEUTENANT

Report?

Both look in, nonplussed.

FIRST TROOPER

Half a sculptrin fish, sir. And, maybe, some cake.

JAR-JAR

Ooh! Meesa be saving that cake.

They lower their blasters, look around.

LIEUTENANT

(into a comlink)

Clear.

They leave.

After a moment Jar-Jar quite calmly scoops up the spears, setting them upright and closing the door.

His little pot-bellied kettle WHISTLES.

JAR-JAR

Muy bad business. Muy muy…

He pushes the window open, cocking an ear.

Jar-Jar pours water and a sprinkling of plant grounds into not one — but two cups.

JAR-JAR

(cont’d)

They’sa gone now. Is’a safe.

Two cushions, not touching, stir on the floor. The rebel pushes them aside, one from their legs and one from their upper body, hips sunk into a pit crossed by a bit of flooring — no doubt hidden by a domestic machine below.

REBEL

(whispered)

I didn’t cover my tracks very well.

In sotto voce, we still can’t even tell the faceless rebel’s gender.

JAR-JAR

They’sa droid spying under the lake gone too.

(points reassuringly to his big ears)

You’sa Rebel, eh? You’sa fight the Empire? You’sa make war, so you’sa
spawn make houses, so you’sa spawn’s spawn make poems. Yes?

REBEL

I — Senator?

Jar-Jar sits. In the bright sunlight streaming in from the lakeside window, his every wrinkle seems in sharp relief.

JAR-JAR

I’sa not a Senator no more. Never really was. Shouldn’t have been.
It’s not for making pretty up the past now; just living small life of
the old Gungan. My skin, it’sa not keep good water in or out, that’sa
how Gungans say it.

REBEL

They said you might be able to help me get off-planet.

A swell of displaced water creeps stealthily toward the cottage. A ROBOTIC EYE — not dissimilar to the one at Jabba’s palace — rises to the surface, cleaving the water periscope-style. The rebel scrambles for the false cushions.

JAR-JAR

Ahh! Me’sa lunch here.

Underwater delivery droid EL-ZED disappears beneath the cottage. A manhole-sized iris HISSES open in the floor. The wet metal eye pops up through an appropriately-sized hatch to the side as a BATTERED METAL RACK rises into the room — atop it a metal, but unmistakeable, TAKEOUT CONTAINER.

JAR-JAR

(cont’d)

Mmm-mmm! Smell’sa that good seaweed.

(He takes it with relish)

Thought I said no fish flakes…

EL-ZED BEEPS his inculpability.

JAR-JAR

(cont’d)

Here, you’sa meet a good friend. Meet El-Zed Vee-Three. She’sa being
your ride out of here.

The rebel steps to the iris, gingerly testing the ladder-like delivery rack, and taking a peek down into the cramped, rusty delivery bay. The eye watches interestedly.

REBEL

First class.

JAR-JAR

She’sa take you to the big kitchens at the seaweed factory. There a
slow freighter at the pad, leaving at noon. Just tell the captain an
old froggy sends you. Here —

(takes a small object off the shelf and tosses it to the rebel)

Very slow freighter. You’sa be wanting a book. This’a by a friend,
dear departed long time ago.

At a CLICK, a page of alien text momentarily appears in the air with a portrait of AMIDALA.

JAR-JAR

(cont’d)

She’sa teach you muy thing about rebelling. Now go go. Time not
a’waiting.

REBEL

Thanks for this. I won’t forget you.

The rebel finds room inside the droid’s tiny hull, as the rack CLATTERINGLY retracts.

JAR-JAR

Not forget me? You’sa never met me!

The iris closes.

CUT

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Forest Fire: A Game for Kids

Forest Fire is a simple Pandemic-like (or Pandemic-lite) game for 4-6 kids, age 6 and up. The players work together to put out the fires in a forest. Encourage them to talk over their moves, and strategize as a team.

Make a 6×6 grid. Number the columns 1-6 and the rows A-F. These are the Forest Squares. Place a player piece for each kid around the outer edge of the grid, next to any square they choose.

To add Fires (counters) to the board, you will roll two dice. Announce the roll to the players as: The number from the first die, and the letter corresponding to the second die: A=1, B=2, C=3, etc. Have the players add a Fire counter to the square you call out. Now explain that when there’s a non-burning (empty) square between a new Fire and an existing Fire, the Fire spreads to the square inbetween–horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. (This is like Go, only Fire can only “flip” a single square.) Repeat once for each player, then have the players begin the round.

If at the end of a round anyone is still on a square with a Fire, they’re out of the game. Disaster! If all forest squares are burning, it’s game over. When the kids put out all the Fires, they win!

Difficulty: A Firebreak is a clearing (natural or artificial) in the forest that fire can’t easily cross. With a second type of counter, you may at the beginning of the game roll to add Firebreaks to the board. Players can move onto Firebreak squares, but if a Fire is rolled on a Firebreak square, nothing happens. For an easier game, roll one Firebreak per player. Roll fewer or none for a challenge game. (Remember, the players still lose if every non-Firebreak square is ablaze at the same time!)

Introduce the types of player characters one game at a time:

Hotshot

Have the kids mime holding a firehose. Explain that a Hotshot Team are the firefighters on the ground with hoses and shovels who work to put out forest fires.  (This is where the term comes from!)

A Hotshot gets 2 moves per round. Each move can be either: 1) Putting out a Fire (removing a counter) from their own or an adjacent square (N, S, E, W or diagonally), or 2) Moving one square N, S, E or W. Moving one square off the board, like at the beginning, is allowed. No square can have more than one player on it at a time.

To begin the game, explain that it takes time to get Hotshot Teams to a forest fire. Because of this, the fire has time to spread. Add 2 rounds’ worth of fires to the board (one roll for each player) then have the players begin.

Smoke Jumpers

Have the kids mime holding onto the straps of their parachute. Explain that a Fire Jumper parachutes into the forest near a fire. Because of this, they can’t carry as much, but once they hike out they can jump in again anywhere they’re needed.

A Smoke Jumper gets 2 moves per round. Like the Hotshot, each move can be either: 1) Putting out a fire (removing a counter) from their own or an adjacent square (N, S, E, W or diagonally), or 2) Moving one square N, S, E or W. Because they have less gear, however, Fire Jumpers can only put out 1 fire per square. They also have a special ability: Upon moving off the board, they can “jump” to any square on the board. (Moving off the board and jumping count as one action.)

Add 2 rounds’ worth of Fires to the board, then have the players begin.

Pilots

Have the kids make an airplane with they hand (palm flat, index and ring finger together under the middle finger, pinky and thumb out to the sides). (If this is too hard, just pretend to be holding the flying yoke.) Explain that Pilots fly modified seaplanes which land on a body of water, fill a large tank, and then dump the water directly onto a fire.

Movement-wise, the pilot works a little differently. Every other turn, they must leave the board to refill their water tanks. (The players each pick their piece up and hold it in their hand.) The next turn, however, they can put out all the fire on any 3 squares in a row (N, S, E, W or diagonally).

Add 2 rounds’ worth of fires to the board. When the kids begin, remind them that they must first leave the board to fill up–so there’s actually three rounds of Fires added before they can begin putting them out!

Mixed Game

Now we put the pieces together. Let the kids decide (and encourage them to discuss strategically) what each would like to be: a Hotshot, a Smoke Jumper, or a Pilot. Explain how fighting forest fires is a team effort, with people in different specialties doing different jobs. (Now we understand the pantomiming; it’s to keep everyone’s role straight!)

Add 2 rounds’ worth of fires to the board, and have the kids begin!

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