Thursday, 31 May 2012

Paths of Hate

Quirky Weird War II dogfight animation:

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It's a router.

They're ugly little critters which blink all the time and spill wires over your carefully-chosen bookcase/desk/occasional table. Routers. Yeah, you know the ones. Anamu has just come up with an excellent solution to camouflage these ubiquitous bits of kit and, I must confess, it looks darn good. Check out the shots below.

Via Gizmodo

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The UI designs of Jayse

Jayse is a freelance visual artist based in Las Vegas who specialises in developing fictional UIs and HUDs. His work has appeared in movies like Tranformers III, Contagion, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and, most recently, The Avengers.

What I really like about his stuff is that it rails against the trend for simply replicating Apple's chrome. It draws more on the bitmap era when text was blocky and backgrounds were dark. There are obvious nods to TRON where aqua glow is king.

Via Abduzeedo

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Classic Who - The Caves of Androzani

My recent bout of enthusiasm for all things retro lead me to re-watch this classic Doctor Who story. I first saw it on DVD in about 2000 after a good friend of mine recommended it as being one of the series' best. He was not wrong. The story is a well-thought-out and well structured tale full of complex characters.

The Fifth Doctor (the fresh-faced Peter Davidson) and his assistant Perry land on the pink-tinted desert planet of Androzani Minor. The world is a 'hard sci-fi' setting and hosts a tale of state-sponsored drug use, gun running and android paranoia. There's a lot going on, but the writing is slick enough to ensure you never get lost. There is clever use of an infection sub-plot which gives the Doctor a reason to not just up-sticks and leave. The acting is tremendous and this is most notable with the story's villain. Sharaz Jek is a truly terrifying but flawed rogue dressed in what, for the time, was a daring semi-gimp suit (compete with Cat Woman-like stitching on the face mask).

There were two things that struck me about the story. The first is that some of the design is still very fresh even today. I rather like the mauve sky which can be seen in some exteriors and the cave interiors are nice and misty. Although clearly a bit bargain-basement, the android, mercenary and Jek's costumes are very convincing and menacing (the corporate troopers, on the other hand, are endearing but less realistic). However, some episodes are nearly ruined by some terrible camera directing and editing. I know the BBC was under strict time constraints and it was hard to move the studio cameras, but the story really falls apart when a monster appears. These episodes were shot nearly six or seven years after films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Alien had been made. No one at the BBC seems to have learned that a nice wide shot showing a gribbly in all it's (slightly shitty) costume detail is a perfect recipe for guffaws and not shrieks.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Ghost Recon Alpha - Official HD Film

The official short film of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon. Great production values, an awesome mech AND it stars the hands-down badass Charlotte Rampling.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Wollaton Hall

A few weeks ago my sister and I visited Wollaton Hall on the Western side of Nottingham. This Neoclassical building is set withing spacious grounds and - I was excited to learn - houses a natural history collection. Cue fantasies of adventures amidst turn-of-the-century exhibits.

Broadly speaking the building was constructed at the end of the 16th century. As is the case with many old structures accident and erosion have meant that large sections were remodeled and rebuilt. At Wollaton much work was done in the period 1801-1830. The central room houses an impressive organ, there are many beautiful frescoes and there is a viewing chamber in the highest tower with breathtaking vistas. The building was sold to the state in 1925 and is now run by Nottinghamshire Council. The local natural history museum moved there before the war and fills many of the rooms on the first floor. There is also an industrial museum in the outbuildings.

The fact the site is now state-owned is both a blessing and a curse. Although it remains impressive there is an air of the 'municipal' about it. My fear is that this will only increase as Council budgets are squeezed. As I drifted through the lovely wood-paneled halls, past the glowing 'Fire Exit' signs, cheap metal stair treads and dumbed-down museum exhibits I could not help wonder how glorious the place must have been when it was the home of the Middleton family (no - not those Middletons). I must not forget, though, that I would have no opportunity at all for visiting were it still in private hands. This is the price we pay for such sites being free and open to all.

I was overjoyed to learn there was a mock Doric temple in the gardens. Imagine my disappointment when I was greeted with this sorry sight. What the photo does not show is the group of hoodies who were drinking something they were too young to buy who had settled there for the afternoon. They left when I produced my camera. The Greek gods are truly dead, it seems.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Prometheus - a bit of my face

I can now announce that, in the smallest, most tangential way I have been involved in the upcoming Prometheus movie. The viral video Quiet Eye has just been unleashed and it features a bit of my face. For a split second. Possibly.

The viral is the handiwork of RSA Films stalwart Johnny Hardstaff. It takes the form of a broadcast from Dr Elizabeth Shaw (played by Noomi Rapace in the film) to Peter Weyland asking for his help to transport her to...somewhere. The clip is full of Hardstaff's trademarks - overlayed data displays, multiple voices and a profusion of manufacturer's logos. I am proud to have contributed to this melange, the fruit of an evening visit to a basement studio in Soho several months ago.

Watch and enjoy.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The nine circles of hell in LEGO

Artist Mihai Marius Mihu has completed the hell depicted in Dante's Inferno with the aid of (the serendipitously numbered) 40,000 LEGO bricks. I am sure the toddlers in nurseries the world over will be aping his efforts shortly.

Via Stylenoire

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Doctor Who & The Dæmons

The Dæmons is a classic story from the 70s era of Doctor Who. With my growing interest in the retro-occult I was keen to watch this tale of daemonic incursions into rural Britain.

The story sees Jon Pertwee, the third Doctor, and his assistant investigate the opening of a barrow mound in modern (read: '70s) rural England. Needless to say, the tales of the supernatural which surround the burial ground prove to be true, and unnatural forces are released. In the vein of Who, the gribblies are cosmic rather than occult and the Doctor's long-standing enemy, The Master, shows up to throw more spanners in the works. UNIT, the fictional section of the UN set up to investigate the unnatural and paranormal, play a central role in the story, as does an animated gargoyle named Bok.

Unfortunately the tale is over-long, prone to bouts of silliness and fails to conjure the kind of ancient horror which other occult-themed TV series manage so well. There are nods to the work of Nigel Kneale and Dennis Wheateley, but the way these authors steadily build a sense of foreboding is beyond the talents of writer 'Guy Leopold' (actually a pseudonym for Barry Letts and Robert Sloman). The story starts well, and features many standard devices in the occult genre (lackey-servants, rumors of ancient evil, devious clergymen, a white witch and even morris dancing). However, as with other Who tales, one feels that the plot is stretched too thinly over five episodes, and there is much grasping at straws in the middle. Some rather silly costumes, hammy acting and very bad sound effects further detract.

The idea is nice - that aliens are the cause of demonic myths and one is buried inside a barrow mound, but beyond that I would unswervingly recommend Quatermass and the Pit or The Devil Rides Out. If you want unnerving Who, try the excellent Ghost Light.

On a final note, here's a much longer and rather good review of The Dæmons.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Cute Canterbury graffiti

I found this little chap lurking on a wall in Canterbury about a year ago. I seem to recall he was very low down - only about a foot from the ground. How cute is he?

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The fascinating world of dolls' houses

The Guardian has just published a wonderful profile of a young chap who builds exquisite dolls' houses.

José Alesón is one of a number of adults who build, collect and display fine dolls' houses. These are not the objects you might remember from your childhood, though. These houses are far more considered, serious and, dare I say it, expensive. Their owners are concerned with accuracy (often historical), aesthetics, crafting quality and the story which lies behind the abode. Most notably they often refrain from populating their tiny residences with dolls, on the grounds that they break the illusion of reality. 

The article touches on the history of fine dolls' houses. The oldest were copies of houses belonging to the gentry. These were both an expression of their patrons' wealth and were used to teach daughters about household management. Today, however, such houses are often the opposite - they articulate where people would like to live, rather than where they actually reside. They are miniature fantasies, and as such can sometimes be rather strange. Another young woman profiled in the piece has built an S&M dungeon in her miniature mansion, complete with scale whips and chains.

They culture of fine dolls' houses therefore has links to the antiques trade, architectural models, interior decoration and the study of social history. These rather grown-up facets of culture might explain why the houses seem equally popular with men. There is clearly a degree of obsession which seems to go hand-in-hand with these houses, but this is no bad thing in my opinion. As the journalist Vince Aletti said, "the object of an artist's obsession can open up doors to their soul that might otherwise remain shut tight." In this case, the doors just lead to very small rooms.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Children of the Stones

I have just spent a pleasant couple of nights re-watching the classic '70s serial Children of the Stones. It must have been rerun in the '80s, as I vaguely remembered it from my childhood.

It is a tale about a father and son who visit a village lying within the bounds of a circle of megaliths. The pair rapidly realise that the natives are unusual and there are strange forces at work. Warnings are issued by village idiots, there are old tales of mysterious deaths and a dusty painting hints at a cosmic explanation. This tale is made very believable by a cast of TV stalwarts including the great Freddie Jones and Gareth Thomas (of Blake's 7 fame)

Although nominally aimed at children, the story is complex and the series at times quite disturbing. This disquiet is admirably amplified by the choral chant and wailing that forms the soundtrack. Much of the series was filmed on location in Avebury and the studio sets evoke a chilly, rural atmosphere (in fact, the interiors remind me of places I stayed as a child!)

With its hints of ancient evil, historical clues and a sinister lord of the manor, the series reminds me a lot of the work of the great British sci-fi TV screenwriter Nigel Kneale. It is very much 'of its time' with its preoccupation with folklore and shares DNA with Kneale's The Stone Tape and Quatermass and the Pit.

A cheeky monkey has diligently uploaded all the episodes so click on over to dailymotion to have a watch.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Conrad Veidt = The Joker

According to my stats, my most popular post is this one about Conrad Veidt who played the protagonist in The Man Who Laughs (and was consequently the inspiration for The Joker).

My friend the esteemed Mr West has just sent me this wonderful concoction. Enjoy.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Adventures in Nottingham pt2

It's been almost a month since I last reported on my adventures in the Midlands, so here's an update...

Although not in Nottingham, we did drop in on Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire. The landscaped grounds are quite beautiful and they provide a perfect backdrop to a Palladian bridge. By all accounts the interior of the house is stunning too. After a spell in prison for insurance fraud, the latest in the line of the Brockets has leased the pile to a Hong Kong corporation for use as a hotel.

As an antidote to all the culture I attended a robot party. All guests had to dress up in home-made robot costumes. The evening proved the following formula true: 
Robot costumes + alcohol + Wii games = cardboard carnage

I have been trying to sketch ideas as much as I can of late. This is my favorite way to pass time in coffee shops.

I was kindly shown around the Nottingham Hackspace. I have previously blogged about the Shoreditch Hackspace and was pleased to see the Midlands' sister is equally well equipped and well-run. It also has the most amazing toilets on earth. Fact.

Nottingham is built on soft sandstone. Consequently we have a multitude of natural and man-made caves here. Many buildings have basements which connect to the cave system, providing plenty of opportunities for my favorite pastime - dungeon crawling.The Hand on Heart pub is no exception. The walls of its lower rooms give way to bare rock, and their restaurant is an admirably quirky place to eat.

As in the rest of the world, the death rate in Nottingham is still hovering at a reassuring 100%. The city has its own neighborhoods especially designed for dead people. These developments are called cemeteries. The General Cemetery is located just north of the centre of town and features attractive surroundings for its residents to enjoy until the Last Judgement.

St Mary the Virgin church sits atop a hill in the attractive Lacemarket district of the city. It is a Grade I listed building and is a fine example of English Perpendicular style Gothic architecture. The Wiki lists the restorations made over the years, although I am not sure the addition of new toilet facilities in 2008 should be given equal prominence to the building of a Lady Chapel.

The hilariously named Spanky van Dykes hosted a blues and rock evening featuring Dollar Bill and his one man band. Not only was the music great, the crowd was fascinating. The fifties rockabilly scene is one I have bumped into now and again, but never really engaged with. I was quite taken by the outfits. It was interesting to see how disparate the men appeared to be from the women - the boys wore workwear denim while the girls were much more formal with amazing hair and beautiful dresses.

Another trip took me further afield to Aintree for the annual Grand National horse racing event. It proved to be a wonderful people-watching opportunity. The northern girls (known colloquially as 'lasses') are a hardy bunch. While I was equipped with hat, scarf and boots to fend off the spitting rain, they looked fabulous in their evening dresses and heels. And fake tans.

Game City is a project run by Nottingham Trent University. It seeks to celebrate, explore and encourage discussion about video game culture. Amongst their roster of excellent events is their Game City Nights evenings, run in a local bar. With a theatrical flare the compare introduced speakers who tacked a variety of subjects. These included career profiles from established designers, discussions about graphic design in board games and even video-game comedy.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Yves Behar vs Apple

oobject has just posted a fascinating compilation of products designed by the uber-talented Yves Behar. Behar is most famous for his design of the JAWBONE jambox wireless speaker (top image below) and his concepts for the One Laptop Per Child project.

The article poses the question of whether Behar is one of a number of new challengers in the field of product destign, which Apple has dominated for the last decade. Looking at his work below, the rectilinear, grey-and-primary coloured objects (often featuring the triangle motif) are markedly different from Apple's glassy, brushed-steel offerings. I might even go so far as to say they feel more contemporary, given the way graphic design seems to be going today.

Apple has always proved itself to be adaptable and has not shyed away from updating its designs in the past (the move from glass-white to silver is a good example). I suspect it has little to fear. If the work of Behar and his contemporaries catches on, Apple with adapt accordingly. It's ironic to note, however, that the style of photography used to showcase Behar's work below is unmistakably 'Apple'!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

West Country Witchcraft

Cecil Williamson - founder of the Museum of Witchcraft, Boscastle, Cornwall - describes how he had first encountered the world of village witchcraft as a child in Devon.