Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Film review: Jason and the Argonauts

As Sally Bowles sings, “money makes the world go around”. When that world is the cinema, money leads to the movie equivalent of reinventing the wheel: the doomed remake of a highly regarded classic.

On this basis I didn’t expect much when I embarked on watching the 1998 Hallmark version of Jason and the Argonauts. The Harryhausen version isn’t a perfect film by any means, but the effects are still jaw-dropping and the scene where the skeletons bust from the ground is undoubtedly one of the great moments of cinema history.

The Hallmark production strings out the story over the course of three hours. A young cast (with a few older, established actors, mainly in bit-parts) do their best but ultimately the show is let down by some hammy acting and bad structure. It’s actually the latter that’s the real problem. The writers fail to spot that the strength of the epics is that they are a series of exciting encounters. Jason tramples about with overly-long bits of melodrama which detract from the all-too-short action sequences. The scenes with the bickering Apollo and Hera simply slow the film down and are marred by ill-judged effects.

However, the series is not a complete wash out. Its production design is really top-notch. The sets and costumes are realistic, gritty and spectacular and their quality is buoyed by some stunning locations. The producers took the brave decision to make the “look” of the film very archaic, with the properly researched weapons and architecture catching my eye. Some of the CGI isn’t bad too for it’s time. Many of the beasts encountered by the Argonauts have been completely re-imagined which deserves kudos. The Talos is now a steampunk bull, the harpies are raptor-like devils and the skeletons are…well, you’ll just have to watch it.

If you’re an aficionado of the Classics, or interested in production design it’s worth seeing. If you are after a sprightly romp and want to see lots of action, don’t bother. Instead watch the Hallmark version of the Odyssey, which I will review next.




Monday, 27 September 2010

The London Stone

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”, wrote Samuel Johnson. He clearly hadn’t suffered at the hands of a London Tube strike or been forced down a Kafka-like maze of the capital’s one-way streets when trying to get somewhere in a hurry.

I staved of my growing ennui of the capital’s trials by visiting The London Stone. This is a rather overlooked little monument connected to the legend that London was founded by those fleeing the fallen Troy (which is clearly bonkers, but nevertheless awesome). The Stone was regarded as important thereafter and was used to mark the site where speeches were given, laws were passed and allegiances sworn. John Dee, magician to Elizabeth I, was obsessed with the block. The Victorians, fascinated with folklore and drunk on the expansion of their empire, were keen to promote anything alleging their heritage stretched back to the great days of the fall of Troy. They posted Police guards to protect the relic and Dickens wrote articles about it.

The Stone’s profile dwindled in the twentieth century and the today the thing is not granted any protected status and is not cared for by any museum (though it does have a cute little cage). Modern scholars point out that, although the block is clearly ancient, there is no way to determine its heritage and little to prove it is the same stone that is mentioned in various chronicles.

The Stone resides in an a rather cramped niche oppose Canon Street Tube station. A plaque explains briefly a sanitised version of its history. Regardless of whether it is THE stone of reputation, its legend and pre-Classical associations deserve to be remembered. It should be spoken of in the same breath as the proverb asserting London will fall if the ravens in the Tower take their leave.

Some of the best articles on The London Stone are listed below. I discovered that my old university friend Jon Yeomans had penned one of them and I thank him for his work. Small world!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Stone

http://heritage-key.com/britain/history-london-Stone

http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/635

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4997470.stm








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Saturday, 25 September 2010

Louise Boyland upholstery

Below are some shots I did for my neighbour and friend Louise. She is starting a career as an upholsterer and needed some promo shots of some of her best pieces.

As a start-up business Louise is keen to give her company an "edge". Thus she is hyping-up the fashionable East London origins of her work. We decided against a studio shoot and instead took her chairs into the depths of Bethnal Green to snap them on the streets. Luckily we live but a stone's throw from the bustling Columbia Road flower market and an enormous Banksy mural.

I chose to use natural light for these pictures, with a large reflector just out of shot to reduce the shadows. The top image used a grad to darken the sky so I did not loose the details. I was really pleased with the way the Banksy mural's colours match those of the chair's fabric, the the way the figure appears to be sitting on the chair.

Louise is currently setting up her website.




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Thursday, 23 September 2010

Genestealer cult

Life's a bummer when you get impregnated by aliens. In the 41st millennium a genestealer doesn't have to do anything more nasty than give you a "kiss" and you (or rather your kids) are screwed. You find your firstborn is a terrifying hybrid of man and alien. From there things get a bit better over the generations as the alien characteristics are bred out and you think you're doing OK. Then a whole swarm of the buggers turn up in the form of the Tyranid master race. They utterly ravage your world, ingesting all forms of organic life and leaving it a bare rock. Bummer, as I said. We should get some guys to dress in armour and fight these things. Maybe we could call them the Ordo Xenos or something?

If you know your GW product history, you'll be aware that the genestealers weren't initially part of the Tyranid race. They were a minor entry in the Rogue Trader creature list who were developed as the Alien-inspired baddies in Space Hulk. It was only later they were described as the insidious vanguard that preps worlds for 'Nid invasions. Before this was revealed (and, don't get me wrong, it's pretty cool) they were developed as a cult-force for Warhammer 40,000. They got plush cars to drive about in, had lots of wacky followers like Beastmen and sometimes aligned with Chaos to form a cra-zy demon-worshipping-alien sect (clearly they don't discriminate).

I wanted some of these cheeky little beggars but felt they had to be themed a bit more. The utterly brilliant Poltergeist II (no, really, check it out with it's Giger-designed beasties) provided the answer. In the movie the terrifying Julian Beck plays a cadaverous preacher who led his sect into the American dustbowl-wilderness and ultimately to their deaths. My little xenomorphs are a kind of cyberpunk-Gothic-Victorian lot who are heading West to sit it out until the big-ass-bio-construct ships arrive to teach their persecutors a lesson they'll never forget.

They're heeeeeeeeeeeeeeere!




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Tuesday, 21 September 2010

New work: Sedition wars faction logos #1

Nope - I still can't tell you what this is about!

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Monday, 20 September 2010

FinePix X100

Engadget have a preview of the awesome new Fuji FinePix X100 here.

I have always dreamed of having a digital camera with the build quality and aesthetics of an old fully-manual. Sadly the market has not produced anything affordable. It seems the rise of the EVIL and small sensor cameras are encouraging more development along these lines.

Want. One.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Friday, 17 September 2010

How I paint miniatures

I’ve had a couple of nice complements on my Lamenter Marines so I thought I’d talk more about my method of painting minis.

There are a few of base rules I use when deciding on a colour scheme and then painting. They are intended to make the minis look good both up-close, and at “gaming range” (the distance at which you normally see minis when they are in play on a gaming table).
  1. Neatness is everything. Try and keep your paintjobs neat. This makes the minis look good up close. I avoid dry-brushing small areas to comply with this.
  2. No dark colours. At close range and under studio lighting, darks are wonderful. Bright or light colours will have the opposite effect.
  3. Limited palette. Minis which are a riot of colour disintegrate a bit at gaming range. Also, keep to the same colours throughout your army as this ties all the minis together. This seems to be more and more common these days amongst painters, but back in the 90s the amount of variety between units was criminal.
  4. Keep your bases neat and homogeneous. This helps the minis look good up close and binds them all together.
  5. Shading is basic. This is the most contentious rule. I keep my shading neat but there is no blending as this takes too much time. If it’s neat it gives an almost “anime”-like cartoon finish. If I am painting a group of minis I lay down the base coat with an airbrush. I often apply shading at the same time. I hit the minis from the top with a slightly lighter version of the base colour.
I am a big fan of breaking conventions, and these are some norms in the world of mini painting I enjoy rebelling against.
  • Realism - Some of examples I have seen are absolutely stunning, but I don’t want my minis to look real. I want them to look like high-definition, Technicolor jewels which sparkle. For this reason I often use bright colours, gloss varnish and sometimes I even add things like little crystals.
  • Materials – I am a child of the 80s and grew up with action figures which always had gimmicks. These often took the form of chromed pieces, transparent bits or sparkles of some kind. I love to include similar bits in my minis.
  • I also like to play with the presentation of minis on the tabletop. This applies mainly to Warhammer, where the little fellows are all ranked up. I like ornate movement trays and lots of banners, so the unit as a whole becomes an object, and not just a collection of tiny things.
  • I like to have fun with is the tabletop on which the game is played. The super-realistic-terrain movement which we are in the midst of is cool, but I like a more representational battlefield. I have a highly polished dining table and this services as a wonderful surface for battles and really set the minis off.
  • I have also considered other wacky things like enclosing minis in blocks of clear resin to make them indestructible, or using paper standees which are pimped-out with various layers and accoutrement's to make them less 2D.
Here are some miniature painters who employ some of the things I strive towards:
  • ManU26 has amazingly cohesive colour schemes and also plays with imagery a lot (he adds smiley faces to his Marines!)
  • Pitcube plays a lot with presentation and adds various materials to his minis
  • Jody Tucker's Cult of Fire is just bat-shit mental and shows what you can do with LEDs
  • Caiman keeps all his minis very homogeneous
  • Johnny Wong (who, alas, does not seem to have much on the interwebs) is also one of my biggest painting heroes.
I leave you with some high rez shots of some of my single minis.




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Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Lamenters!

Everyone hates it when they discover they've backed a loser, be it a football team, a politician or a social movement. The results tend to be; losing money, face or time or just getting pretty annoyed. If you're a Space Marine and you pick the wrong side, you're in for a hundred year crusade.

This is exactly what happened to the poor Lamenters. They bet on the wrong pony in the Badab War and got their arses kicked by the Minotaurs. It is their rather chequered history (and chequered shoulder pads) that drew me to them. Below you can see my little skirmish force in all its glory.

I tend to ruminate a lot before amassing a force this big, as I am not a particularly fast mini painter. I wanted to do some Marines but was unsure of their chapter. I knew I didn't want to create my own, wanted them to be "old skool" and brightly coloured*. These crusading little puppies won out and I am pretty pleased with the results. In case you're wondering, the robot thing is a dreadnought from the old Space Crusade Milton Bradley/Games Workshop collaboration.

*As much as I love the current trend for realism in mini painting, I think it has a tendency to leave the models overly dark. When you stand more than four feet away, they turn into little grey beetles. Painting them bright colours avoids this, and, for me, adds to their jewel-like quality.




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Friday, 10 September 2010

Cry God, for Harry, England and St. George!

Click on over to the The British Monarchy's flickr account to see some stunning images from the Royal Collection. In particular the Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and Early British Photography set is an amazing collection of vintage images from the era in which photography was born.

Bam! Bam!




Thursday, 9 September 2010

Problems with images

There seems to be a problem with uplaoding images to this blog. They seem fine when I am composing posts, but sometimes disappear if the post is "scheduled".

Book review: The Star Wars Vault

I grew up with some weird stuff. There was the rat skull I salvaged from a trip to a riverbank, a mummified mole we found under a caravan and the rotting cadaver of a woman in a wedding dress. Admittedly the last of those was a figment of my imagination, but none compete with the truly bonkers and very real childhood possession which was my Chewbacca toothbrush. If you think about it, an eight-foot fictional gorilla-star pilot being the basis for something used in dental hygiene is truly a barometer of how bizarre the world is.

I am a child of the 80s and HELL did I love Star Wars. I still do, but at about the age of ten my tastes changed and I got into darker material. The joy I get from Lucas' baby is therefore more to do with reminiscence. Consequently I don't own much in the way of recently-produced Star Wars merchandise. The Star Wars Vault caught my eye though because it is a comprehensive collection of the ephemera that surrounded the films (mainly the original trilogy), from script drafts to comics to themed mugs to Pez dispensers. This is pretty awesome in itself, but the real selling point of this book is that it has amazing high production values. Not only is the printing wonderful (and features metallic inks) many of the things being profiled are reproduced as pull-outs and detachables. Having done quite a bit of design-for-print in my time I can assure you that this thing would have been a costly monster to produce.

I spent a lovely hour last weekend browsing the tome, and I would strongly recommend anyone interested in Star Wars, the 80s, ephemera or just book production pick up a copy.





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Wednesday, 8 September 2010

On my desk

Ever since I discovered miniatures in the late 80s they fascinated me. They are a microscopic fractal of other worlds to be collected and configured in a myriad of ways. Their small size means they can be controlled, but this also poses an enormous challenge when it comes to painting them. The choices you make when picking their livery means that they are also deeply personal (and why, perhaps, pre-paints exert less of a pull on me).

I decided recently to make more of an effort to get back into miniature painting. I had not done it for a while because I was spending so much time doing freelance design. And suffering from analysis paralysis. Now that my giant personal project is in the playtest phase, I have decided not to be so precious about these microscopic marvels and have got stuck in.

The little bunnies below are Rogue Trader-era Eldar. I have amassed a stack from ebay and various other sales. I chose a very old colour scheme which happened to suit how I want to develop the army. I'll blog more about the little fellows soon.

I have taken to listening to audiobooks while painting and am enjoying Conn Iggulden's rip roaring (and more than slightly fanciful) Gates of Rome.

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Tuesday, 7 September 2010

White Mischief photoshoot

The weekend just gone was somewhat manic, though thankfully in a good way. The fun started at 11am on Saturday morning when I arrived at a photoshoot for the Steampunk club White Mischief. The talented Ben Hopper (flickr stream here - warning, NSFW) was shooting some of the patrons to promote the club's forthcoming Hallowe'en ball.

It was lovely to see some familiar faces amongst the models, and meet those I didn't know. Quite the most amazing thing, though, was the space used for the shoot. It was hosted in a delightful, high-ceilinged warehouse conversion which serves as a flat for our kind host. It boasted an almost M.C. Escher-like array of mezzanines, each of which was an open bedroom from which sleepy figures peered out as the models arrived. The place was filled with all manner of wonderful retro and Steampunk artifacts.

Below are some of my best snaps from the morning. I'll post Ben's photos when they arrive.

Bam! Bam!






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