Sunday, 30 March 2014

Fantasy wins the war on fantasy

Very soon the next series of Game of Thrones hits our screens. The anticipation is palpable, and it is the biggest news in the fantasy and sci-fi community. Since the Hobbit part 2. And it'll no doubt soon be eclipsed by the new Star Wars movies. The point is that these types of genre fiction, where girls raise baby dragons, where dwarfs flirt with elves and Princess Leia and Han have kids (maybe) is massive business.

However, as Annalee Newitz has just pointed out in a good article at iO9, the public feeling about fantasy (and in particular pen-and-paper RPG games) were oh-so very different in the late 70s. D&D enthusiasts were not only ridiculed by their peers, but organised right-wing religious groups actively campaigned against these hobbies. And if you read some of the archived pamphlets, you'll realise that "campaigned" is quite a mild term. "Hate-peddle" might be a better one.

By the late 80s, when I was becoming culturally aware and getting into fantasy, the furore surrounding RPGs had died down. However, the popularity of RPG gaming was also ebbing so I was only dimly aware that there had even been a debate. Skip forward 25 years (yes, I am that old) and a friend recently told me he was thinking of exploring Judeo-Christian demonology as material for a role-play setting. This is a guy whose work in RPGs and tabletop gaming is already widely published and he's a household name in the industry. The very fact he's considering this is testament to how far we've com. And how the geeks have won the war against the bile-filled nonsense that the religious right saw fit to trot out.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Addams family... in colour

Below is a shot of the Addams Family TV show set. As you can see, it's far more colourful than anyone watching the morbid black-and-white show would have guessed.

My, admittedly brief, delving still leaves me none the wiser as to whether the 'real' colours of the set were chosen as some kind of ironic statement, or because those hues worked well when reduced to the monochrome of the television broadcast. It's also worth noting that Charles Addams' original cartoons were almost always monochrome. Either way, the colour image surfacing poses lots of interesting questions about our monochrome cultural memory from the days before colour technology.

John Brownlee at Co Design points out that, weirdly, the pastel hues of the set are very reminiscent of Tim Burton's 50s vision of American Gothic. In the 1993 Addams Family Values movie, Uncle Fester is coerced into a marriage and finds himself in a pastel-shaded hell not a million miles away from the
set below. So perhaps the real Addams Family mansion has, by happenstance or by design, successors despite its monochromatic fame?

Via Co Design

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Life After Pi

Life After Pi is an excellent documentary about the troubled state of the Hollywood visual effects (VFX) industry.

I've been hearing rumblings about the situation for some years now, but it seems that the movie The Life of Pi has become a flashpoint for the issue. The project crushed the 25 year veteran VFX studio Rhythm & Hues to the point where they filed for bankruptcy. VFX campaigners tried to raise awareness about the issues their industry faces when it became clear Life of Pi was destined for critical success. However, the Hollywood studio engine attempted to stifle the bad press, but some clumsy decisions only inflamed tensions. And now the VFX industry is really pissed off.

The irony is that Hollywood now relies massively on VFX for its revenue. The main cash-cow blockbusters, arguably vacuous and predictable, now demand ever more sophisticated and voluminous CGI. However, for reasons outlined in the documentary, they've been able to drive down price to the point where the US VFX industry is crumbling.

Although excellent, I do feel the documentary fails to address the question of why the VFX industry doesn't unionise (further) or go on strike. I am supposing that they fear the work will go entirely overseas to foreign contractors.

Being a big fan of the craft of effects, from Harryhausen stop motion to the wonder years of physical effects in the 80s, I am sad to see the North American industry in such poor shape. I do wonder how it's going to pan out.

Monday, 3 March 2014

UnderCover 2014 collection by Jun Takahashi

There have been some awesome shots floating about tumblr recently of girls with blood-shot eyes wearing baroque crowns. I bit of google-fu pointed me to the Spring/Summer 2014 collection by Jun Takahashi at UnderCover.

I've previously mentioned my love for Coppola's (flawed) version of Dracula and I rather feel Takahashi updates Eiko Ishioka's East-meets-West gothic fusion. It will be interesting to see if any diluted portion of this look makes its way into more conventional fashion circles, especially as we now have more Eastern Bloc money coming into the West.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Three beautiful 2D silhouette games

There have been quite a few game popping up over these past few years making ingenious use of silhouette graphics. Three of my favourites are below. The runaway success of Limbo has, no doubt, had much to do with the trend. I love Outland because if its wonderful fusion of TRON-like luminosity against black, and the forthcoming Forma.8 looks pretty cool too.

In all these instances, un-lit foreground allows the art directors to use more sophisticated (often 3D) effects for explosions and incidental action. In Limbo motes of light dance and a Lord-of-the-Flies world of German expressionism, while in Outland rocks imbued with primitive magic glow as the adventurer strides across them.