Sunday, May 27, 2012

Remaking The Shield of Achilles (LOTR, Game of Thrones)

"And Vulcan answered, 'Take heart, and be no more disquieted about this matter; would that I could hide him from death's sight when his hour is come, so surely as I can find him armour that shall amaze the eyes of all who behold it.'

When he had so said he left her and went to his bellows, turning them towards the fire and bidding them do their office. Twenty bellows blew upon the melting-pots, and they blew blasts of every kind, some fierce to help him when he had need of them, and others less strong as Vulcan willed it in the course of his work. He threw tough copper into the fire, and tin, with silver and gold; he set his great anvil on its block, and with one hand grasped his mighty hammer while he took the tongs in the other.

First he shaped the shield so great and strong, adorning it all over and binding it round with a gleaming circuit in three layers; and the baldric was made of silver. He made the shield in five thicknesses, and with many a wonder did his cunning hand enrich it.

He wrought the earth, the heavens, and the sea; the moon also at her full and the untiring sun, with all the signs that glorify the face of heaven- the Pleiads, the Hyads, huge Orion, and the Bear, which men also call the Wain and which turns round ever in one place, facing. Orion, and alone never dips into the stream of Oceanus."

--The Iliad, Book 18, lines 478 ff (trans. Samuel Butler, 1900).

At their digital forges, the masters of CGI have in the past decade rendered Middle Earth, Narnia, Westeros and dozens of other fantasy worlds. Lobster & Canary always sits in the theater watching the ever-lengthening credits rolls, applauding until the lights come on the platoons of artisans who bring the techne to the screen: the programmers, engineers, designers, matte painters, miniaturists, concept artists and storyboarders, compositors, animators, simulation researchers, visualizers, developers, shader writers, special effects wizards of every description. Click here and here, also here and here for insights into how leading firms such as RODEO FX, Pixomondo, Industrial Light & Magic and Weta Digital work their craft.

Weta is the bridge to the even more fundamental craftsmanship that propels the best recent fantasy/science fiction films: the devoted attention to making traditional sets and props in traditional ways to make the fantasy real. Weta Digital's mother company (founded six years earlier, in 1987) is Weta Workshop...which created Middle Earth for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies.

Artisans at Weta-- John Howe, Ngila Dickson, hundreds of others directed by Richard Taylor, Tania Rodger, Daniel Hennah-- made 900 suits of armor, hundreds of swords, 10,000 arrows for 500 bows, 19,000 costumes, 20,000 household implements and artifacts, landscaped and built massive outdoor sets for Hobbiton, Helm's Deep, Minas Tirith, and so forth.

HBO is taking the same care on Game of Thrones. And -- as Peter Jackson does, as Terry Gilliam does, likewise Guillermo del Toro, Ridley Scott, James Cameron, Martin Scorsese--the HBO team, including author George R.R. Martin, highlights the work of the craftsmen and -women who hew and forge, weave and paint the imagined world into a visual reality. Listen to Game of Thrones production designer Gemma Jackson (no apparent relation to Peter) and graphic designer Jim Stanes:

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Maurice Sendak

Like millions of others mourning the death of Maurice Sendak, I recall as some of my earliest memories the images from Wild Things and remember wanting to sail and caper with Max, to start the wild rumpus. Yet influencing me even more were In the Night Kitchen...
....and his illustrations for The Juniper Tree and other of the fairy tales collected by the Grimms...
I just want to be sure we recall these masterpieces as well, not let the brilliance of Wild Things overshadow everything else Sendak produced.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Space Jockey (Ridley Scott's Prometheus)

Ridley Scott's Prometheus hits the screens June 8th--a prequel-of-sorts to the Alien movies. Lobster & Canary loves the fact that Scott is finding out for himself-- and sharing with the rest of us-- what the back-story is to the giant downed spacecraft that houses the eggs that contain the Alien in the very first movie. In that movie--Alien (1979)--when the Nostromo responds to the beacon, the diverted crew's reaction upon their discovery of the derelict vessel is muted. Their exclamations of amazement (a stray "I've never seen anything like it," and "are you seeing this, Ash?") feel perfunctory. They voice no excitement over it being a clearly alien ship, i.e., the movie implies that the humans either already have encountered or expect to encounter other sapient species. The extraterrestrial ship serves more as a MacGuffin to propel the plot than a subject in its own right. And yet one can sense Scott's own curiosity aroused over one detail on the ship: the giant, petrified corpse (its chest shattered, ribs protruding) reclining in what appears to be a pilot's chair, beneath some kind of massive navigation device. The camera goes in close and then lingers over the corpse's face, whose frozen expression, limned by the shadows the lanterns cast, might seem to be one of warning or sorrow. Who was this pilot, dubbed "the space jockey" in fan circles? What civilization did he/she/it and the ship belong to? Why was the ship carrying a load of Alien eggs? The questions are not asked, let alone answered, in Alien (and are not even referred to in any of the three sequels)-- all attention moves immediately to the (admittedly pressing) issue of face-huggers and chest-bursters, and so on. Scott says in a recent interview: "I always figured it's a weapon, and I always figured that [the ship in the first Alien] was a carrier of weapons. Therefore, who is that, inside that [Space Jockey] suit? That wasn't a skeleton, that was a suit. And if you open up the suit, what do you get inside it? And why were they going, where were they going?" [Click here for a good summary in io9 of "what we know about the Space Jockey."] Another wonderful instance of how a story lurks in the back of an auteur's mind, has "a life of its own," opens out on mysteries, pinnacles and pitfalls. Here's the trailer for Prometheus. Looks like we will get answers about the Space Jockey--be careful what we ask for.