Sunday, 20 August 2017

Into the Unknown: The best show going

The day after I waited and waited and waited to see Star Wars Identities I saw the Barbican's sci fi extravaganza Into the Unknown; A Journey through Science Fiction. There was less waiting. The Barbican is much nicer. And the show was one of the best I have ever seen.

Into is a history of our imagined future. It begins with early examples of science fiction with exhibits from as far back as the 17th century, then moves on to explore the genre through themes rather than a straight chronology. Thus 1930s comics rub shoulders with modern concept art and Bladerunner stills sit alongside edits of the 70s Wonder Woman TV show. I sometimes find that organising things in such a way can lead to bafflement on my part and an inability to grasp the bigger picture, but not so here. And I didn't have to work to ignore an 'experience' the likes of which Identities forces down your throat.

So; on to the good stuff:

One of my favourite production designers, Patrick Tatopaolos, had lent a good deal of his work to the show. I've blogged before about my love of the original Stargate movie design and OH MY GOD they had all three masks there. Their detail was stunning and I had no idea that even the fabric hanging doo-dahs were superbly made and delicately weathered. I took loads of photos of them and got odd looks as I pressed my face to the glass for ages.

This chap needs no introduction. I am pretty sure he is one of the stunt heads from Aliens (and not a 'hero' head). I had read before how the paint scheme on these was deliberately high-contrast so it had a chance of registering on camera under the low-lights. This prop seems to confirm that fact. I still prefer the clear-domed first movie version though. There was also the painting of the road to the Harkonnen palace and the Harkonnen chair from the Giger estate on show. Que second nerdgasm.

Just to be clear - this guy was up high, not lying down. This is Kane's space suit from Alien and what a piece! The fabric work is insane and testament to Ridley Scott's attention to detail. It put the rather dull suit from Interstellar, also on show, to shame.

It was a crap movie, but in the 90s Species was the only way geeks could see new work by Giger on screen. I think this might have been a piece from one of the sequels. The most interesting thing about Sil is that she represents what Giger originally intended for the finish of the skin of the Big Guy in Alien. The 70s production methods couldn't handle his desire for translucent skin, and it eventually took a rubbish and mildly pornographic franchise to make this a reality.

I wet myself again when I saw these. They are props of trippy-VR games from David Cronenberg's eXistenZ. They deliberately channel the (awful) design of tech packaging I remember from the 90s.

A rare example of the curators really dropping the ball on lighting. This is an actual Speeder from Empire Strikes Back (probably about 1:50 scale, no not large). It was almost impossible to see, being underlit in a dark room.

The final room was devoted to evolution, the nature of humanity and robotics. Twiki from Buck Rogers stood alongside robots from AI, but it was a cute array of Japanese tin toys which caught my attention.

It was clear that the curators have a great love and knowledge of sci fi. I was really impressed with the breadth of the exhibits and the obscurity of some (like the eXistenZ props). The tour is finished by two conceptual pieces - a film and a kinetic sculpture which are quite at odds with the body of the show. You can take them or (as I quickly did) leave them. Don't let this put you off though - this is one of the best curations of sci fi artifacts you're going to see in a long time. If you can combine it with Identities you're on for a double win!

Monday, 14 August 2017

Star Wars Identities - a show worth waiting for

I've just returned, tired and satisfied, from a weekend of exhibitions in London. The first one I caught was Star Wars Identities at the O2. It started off badly but eventually won me over with its amazing collection of original props, models and costumes.

As I get older I've come to realise I'm now fairly grumpy and dislike being told what to do. The trend of exhibitions wanting to 'take you on a jouney' just irritates me. When you add in dodgey audio guides, they make me feel like I'm locked to an on-rails shooter that won't allow my head to turn. After way too much waiting, poor crowd control and some unhelpful staff, off came the audio guide and I headed for the fun stuff, resolutely ignoring the rather strange meta-narrative of the show.

This 'story' behind the exhibition panders to a culture obsessed with social media. The curators clearly thought that the viewer needs to be at the centre of everything. Hence the tour is broken up by way stations where you get to make choices and learn about how identity is constructed. While I found this distracting, baffling, and creepy (coming from the multi-billion dollar corporation that is Disney), folk seemed to enjoy it so I shouldn't be too harsh on the creators. I was there for the props and costumes, and - oh boy - was I not disappointed. There are originals from throughout the canon including a load from the pre-production of A New Hope. Here are some of my favourites, which included the more obscure stuff.

The original Ponda Baba mask from the Canteena. This thing is nearly 40 years old and I was surprised at how well the latex has lasted.

A Sandperson. The attention to detail on this costume was quite stunning and at odds with many of the New Hope costumes. He also had his gaffie stick, which was a solid affair made of metal.

This guy needs no introduction.

The show's lighting was pretty awesome and in the last room the engineers really went to town with the Death Star-style neon tubing. There was only one 'fail' where a case containing lots of star ship models wasn't working, so the things annoyingly remained in the dark.

I had seen reproductions of this Ralf McQuarrie painting many times before. What I didn't know was this it actually dated from a brief period when Lucas was thinking of making Luke a girl - hence 'his' lithe silhouette in this drawing.

One of Jabba's eyes. The detail on this thing is stunning.

Concepts for Yoda (then called 'Minch') and his house. Many of the hut drawings reminded me of the work of Roger Dean, with a 70s vibe to the silhouettes.

I spent ages looking at these helmets. The prop makers seem to have made the insignia in a variety of ways - some were stencilled on, others were hand painted but many of the small icons seem to be self adhesive stickers which have since peeled a bit.

An interesting behind-the-scenes chart made to keep the fx crew on track when it came to ship dynamics.
 
Concepts for a really wacky abandoned scene where the Emperor appears to Vader in a form that keeps changing - at some moments appearing like a woman (with hindsight, perhaps Padme Amidala?)

In contrast to the Sandperson costume, it was interesting to see how many parts of the New Hope outfits were pretty basic in their construction. This arm detail from Luke's flight suit is a good example, being roughly painted vac-formed plastic. Boots were another instance. In the 70s costumes existing boots seem to have been used, but by the time of Empire the budget allowed for custom-designed footwear.

Star Wars Identities doesn't have much longer left to run so get down there by the 3rd of September if you want to see it. If you're a fan of props, costumes or the IP you won't be disappointed. Just be prepared for some annoying waiting before you go in.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Skulls for the Skull Throne!

For those of you who enjoy destroying puny mortals in the digital realm, you'll be pleased to hear that there is a Games Workshop Steam sale! Skulls for the Skull Throne has up to 90% off lots of licensed titles, a Twitch community and some free digital goodies.

This is a bit special for a couple of reasons; I helped set the sale up and made the marketing assets, including the rather natty logo.


So if you want to field Krell in Total War: WARHAMMER, or stomp about in Chaplain Terminator Armour in Deathwing, get over to Steam now.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Xenos dance off

Sorry for the re-post. Technical issues. Now with pictures!

My regular opponent Mr T laid down some smack talk which, after some clarification, amounted to his Tyranids wanting a bit of a scrap. I was still smarting from our previous encounter and figured this would be a good debut for my Harlequins. We turned up, kit in hand, at Warhammer World, and ended up on a strange but exquisite table. We figured it was maybe a Maiden World. With handy dandy objectives.


I managed to unlock the achievement of a deploying in way that was not stupid. This proved that learning had occurred since my last travesty of a set-up where I left my Whirlwind in the open. My Troupes sheltered in cover while applying the last of their makeup. On the opposite side the Skyweaver Jetbikes hovered behind a tower as they tuned their synths and complained about how their bodysuits always got so sweaty. My Death Jester, took up position in a ruin with his candy cane catapult.


Across the clearing the chitinous hoard skittered out of the ruins. The Broodlord sniffed the air and gnashed his teeth, eager to taste some Aeldari meat.

When the beats started pumping, my Harlequins began the routine they had been practising in anticipation of their big chance. The Skyweavers grabbed the left objective and busted some victory moves. They were utterly appalled when their rhythm was broken by a massive, slavering, four-armed murder bastard jumped from the crowd and tore into them.


After a zig zag little number, one Troupe grabbed the centre objective. The audience went wild! Oh, wait. Maybe a little too wild. And why is that rowdy fan skewering Johnny Lasers with his talons? Cue some Harlequin kissing (no, not like that) and the offender was subdued.


On the far right the other Troupe went for a fairly straightforward routine overseen by their Leader, Atomic Eddie. While ensuring his proteges strutted their stuff he was baffled by how offencive that big sinapse guy was being. "Maybe he's a judge?" he thought. Then casually inflicted four wounds on the thing. Soon the judge and all its chittering supporters were strewn about in pieces. Warlord down! Bonus points, surely?



Back in the centre the crowd was going nuts! Ultimately the Skyweavers bowed out (thanks to blood loss on their part) but the Troupe was having a ball. They slayed all the Termagants with glittery backflips then dropped the mic by kicking a Carnifex in the nuts. Repeatedly.



In all it was a stellar debut and I'm sure we'll be seeing more from this group. Their only hope is that they get a less drunk audience next time. In truth I was surprised at how well they did, as I was convinced I'd lost by turn two. Testament to the 8th edition rules was that I only won by one victory point, again proving that the Power Level system is very well balanced. I'd be terrified to field these guys against heavy armour, and really suffered by not having a psyker. So next up will be a Shadowseer (probably an old High Warlock mini) and some looted Robots.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. We are The Weeping Dawn. You've been wonderful. Thank you and good night!

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Want some candy?

I've gone all Oldhammer again and painted another unit of Harlequins. These clowns will join what is now becoming a medium sized force, with ten infantry, two characters and three jetbikes (or 'Skyweavers' in new money).



I am really pleased I opted for the 'candy stripe' scheme when I started this army. It's pretty easy to paint and conjures up the circus vibe I was going for. I love the lozenge patterns which are traditional for Harlequins but the thought of rolling them out over an entire army terrifies me. Even more than the idea of bouncing murder-bastard clowns.

I would love to do a looted vehicle next to bulk these guys out. Perhaps something that 'counts as' a Starweaver? Or maybe some Imperial Robots which the Harles could program to dance awkwardly in their performances (while they chant, "Do the robot!").

♠  ♢ ♣ ♤ ♥ ♧♦♦◊△ ▲▽ ▼

Friday, 16 June 2017

Welcome to Planet F**k You!

"Let's f**king do this!"

...screams the heroine in Tormentor X Punisher, E-Studio's twin-stick shooter before a hoard of crazed demons emerge from burning hexes. Cue a lot of heavy firepower, demon-gore and some very bad language.

My favourite facet of video games is graphics and design, and TXP is a real retro-clone treat. Inspired by 16bit outings like Doom, Splatterhouse and Primal Rage, artist Tuuka Stefanson has done a great job on the title. His busy, detailed logo is superb and embodies the kind of heavy metal gore-porn that typifies the game.

Once you get past the loading screens and options menu, massive, red demon-hands rip open the view to reveal the arena where you're going to be making a lot of things die. At this point the genius of the design is its simplicity. The animation is smooth, the sprites stand out in such a way that the frenetic carnage never becomes unintelligible. A neat trick they pull is that the bright red gore quickly fades to a deep crimson so as not to obscure the next tide of attackers. The naive, balloon font used for text is both easy to read and a great signifier that the designers are not taking this game too seriously. But you probably already guessed that.

TXP is published by Raw Fury Games and is available on Steam.



 




Wednesday, 14 June 2017

When a stealth bomber has sex with KITT in a Lovecraft story

I'm usually disappointed at how slowly the look of tech changes. The cases and chassis seem reliably homogeneous and largely ignore any other trends in, say, surface design.

Don't get me wrong, there are great reasons why progress is so glacial. The UI is the thing that changes according to the zeitgeist, and the current trend is to minimise the presence of the casing altogether, so putting the UI at the forefront. Also, these products are expensive to manufacture and there is a lot at stake. Each model is worth hundreds of thousands or millions of pounds in revenue. Hence flirting with a trend just isn't viable. So how about we just give it a matte black or silver case, eh?

When something like the Shadow turns up, it's really striking. The company makes weird, illuminated-but-black boxes of non-Euclidean geometry. They look like a stealth bomber had sex with KITT in a Lovecraft story. In fact, it's so weird I can't quite work out what it does or if Shadow makes just one product or several (but that might be due to the 'Fringlish' copy on the website). But, you know what? I don't care. I just want one. And 'Shadow' is definitely not an ominous name for a tech company.

I am reminded of the Sandbenders in William Gibson's Idoru. A colony of craftspeople, they make bespoke tech using a very Arts and Crafts approach to the externals. A chassis made out of mahogany and slate? Yes please. But no hokey Steampunk tomfoolery - I want good design, without superfluous frivolity.