Flash Animation

Since I can’t get this damn song out of my head, I figured I’d share:

Everyone Else…

There may be some adult language in there, I can’t understand some of what he’s singing. But the song is damn catchy.

The animation is pretty detailed for Flash. I wonder what it is about Flash that defeats me so badly? It’s not like I haven’t gotten pretty good with some other programs, like TrueSpace and such like. But I fire up Flash and I can’t get it to do anything like this. I’m lucky if I can get the sphere to roll across the screen. Which is, I hasten to add, utterly and totally lame.

Doing something like this seems utterly out of the question.

The Abandoned Realm

Hey, how about some more graphics!

These are from a whole series of CGI images called “The Abandoned Realm.” I made it because I wanted to make something really depressing (oh, really?), the sort of place that, if you found yourself here, you’d say, I wish I was somewhere else.

Fortunately, the whole place seems pretty uninhabited. But that’s just my opinion. Some of the images, like this one, seem to have some kind of organic activity going on.

You can see the whole series of images here; this is page one of six.

“Deadline”

Here’s another old painting, from, uh…some time in the 90’s.

Deadline

Unlike pretty much everything else I’ve ever done in my entire life, there was an actual purpose behind this one. It’s a sort of “Get back to work!” image.

Did it work? Sheesh, whaddaya want, an autobiography?

It’s Friday: Open the Door for Mr. Muckle!

Sometimes, you have one of those days that just don’t go well, to put it mildly.

They pretty much start at midnight; sometimes it’s something as minor as a stubbed toe, but the very ring of pain seems to send a peel of echoes toward the future, and you think, Uh oh.

You know it’s the start of a bad day, and the badness is going to hang on to every moment from then on, its gnarled, damp, gelid fingers finally being pried off by the arrival of the next midnight. Which, as we all know, can simply mean it’s handed the job off to one of its relatives. It’s kind of like one of those hamster wheels simply everyone uses as a metaphor for things that could use a good metaphor or two.

Sometimes, you just want an image that shows you disapprove. Leela basically disapproves of everything, so she was happy to oblidge.

The Way You Wear Your Hat

Tuesday I spoke at some length about movie creatures that completely lack human features, and how I feel this makes them scarier, because there is absolutely no common ground between us where we could reach any kind of mutual understanding, let alone a cease fire.

Today, I’d like to start out by saying two things, before moving on to the next topic: creatures who look entirely too much like us.

1. I should have mentioned the Blob yesterday, but I forgot about him. He was, after all, the source of my digression about how remakes can go southward, so apologies to the Blob. The thing is, the Blob doesn’t have alien features–he has no features at all. He’s more of a force of nature, like a tornado, than an antagonist. Besides, everyone knows you freeze him and he’s harmless. Problem solved. I’m sure a large bucket with a lid would work too.

2. I take movies I like seriously. By which I don’t mean that I believe that they depict real events or real personages (I’m being inclusive), but that I look at them in terms of storytelling instead of cinematics. I want to be caught up in the story and characters in a movie; I want to say, “I hope that guy gets away!” or “There’s only 30 seconds til detonation!” and things like that; I am willing to give a good movie what it wants most, and pretend that what I’m watching on screen is real. I don’t particularly like saying, “That scene was very well edited,” or “The color palette really supports the emotion, here” or things that indicate it’s all just folks playing with forms. I mean, what’s the point in that? Don’t show me a film, tell me a story.

That’s why I spent so much time detailing the Silicates and their nature. Not because I think they’re real, but because they were so interesting, I wanted to treat them as if they were real.

Okay, now that that is out of the way, here’s today’s topic: movie creatures that look entirely too much like us. In other words, zombies.

Let’s get one little problem out of the way, first of all. A huge number of zombie movies are, well, pretty bad, and that’s being kind about it. There are a handful of really good ones, but for every good one, there are probably forty to fifty bad ones. And most of those were made by Italians.

I honestly don’t know what it is about the Italian film industry and zombies, but they just can’t get enough of each other. I bet even Fellini threw a few zombies into some of his films. Note: I am not trying to dis Italians here, but their zombie movies are generally awful.

Anyway, zombies. If you’ve seen the George Romero zombie films, you know the basic situation: for an unexplained reason, the recent dead have returned to a limited kind of life and are attacking (and devouring) the living. In most zombie films, a gunshot to the head will “kill” a zombie. If you’ve seen any of the Italian ones, you know that even after the heroes find this out, they still shoot everywhere else until they run out of ammo. But I digress. (I do that a lot.)

As a character in Dawn of the Dead notes when asked about the zombies: “They’re us.” They’re human beings like you and me, they just happen to be dead and operating under different motivations than you and I do. Which is, I think, one of the reasons we find them scary.

They look just like you and I; why can’t we reason with them, person to person? Why is finding common ground impossible? One could say that, appearances aside, they are no longer human but something other; appearances, though, are very, very powerful. They not only look like people, they sometimes look like people we know.

I think this is what makes them uncomfortable for us, and why in so many zombie movies a person finds it hard to destroy an approaching dangerous zombie. Because that zombie is a relative, or a close friend, or someone other than that SOB who cut you off on the interstate. Most of the audience, by this time, is screaming “Shoot! Shoot!” while the person stands there helpless. Unless it’s the SOB, in which case everyone cheers when he gets blown away.

But consider, and consider honestly: how easy would it be to shoot your spouse, your child, your parent? Yes, they are now dangerous zombies and it has to be done. But could you do it easily, or as quickly as a hypothetical audience might expect?

I would have real, real problems with that, to be honest. I think my survival instinct is as high as anyone’s, and I would ultimately do what needed to be done. But I would hate every second of it, and I don’t even like thinking about it now. We’re not only connected to each other through social and family relations, we’re also connected through memories. Memories are a great portion of who we, as individuals, are. And those memories are very vivid with friends and families; I suspect our most powerful memories, good or bad, are connected with other people, and not with things or events. I could be wrong about that.

But if people make up a large part of our memory-selves, when we are confronted with people from our memories who are not the same people, I think it’s natural that we want the original people back, to acknowledge us somehow, and thus acknowledge that we are who we think we are. Especially in times of spreading crisis (like, oh, I dunno, mass zombie attacks) the urge to cling to things that give us comfort must be overwhelming.

I think this is one reason why people keep souvenirs of things. Even things like gas station receipts (guilty) remind us that we had a good time with those folks, didn’t we? That was fun; that was a good day, and that made all right with the world then. A golden time from the past with those folks.

So why can’t we stop them from trying to eat us, now? Why do we have to shoot them in the head? Don’t they remember us, and the fun we all had that day? What is this gas station receipt going to mean to me now? It’ll still be a souvenir, but of a far more depressing kind. I want the old meaning back.

(I think this is one reason that movies about demonic possession are, essentially, rescue stories. We want to restore the victim to the state they occupy in our memories.)

Unlike the Silicates, the zombies are perfectly human in appearance (if a bit damaged at times). And unlike the Silicates, there should be common ground for us to appeal to. But like the Silicates, this doesn’t work. The answer seems to be because, also like the Silicates, these aren’t really human beings any more. They’re reanimated automatons.

But are they? If so, what’s animating them? Are they like the “zombies” from Invisible Invaders, ridden by aliens from the Moon? Can we appeal to the Mooninites, then? Since we are talking about aliens inhabitiing bodies to move against us, we are also talking about aliens that operate with a purpose in mind–in other words, they reason very similarly to the way we do. Perhaps we can find common ground, given time.

That’s one idea, but one that is rarely (aside from Invisible Invaders and 1998’s wonderful Dark City) put forth as an explanation for zombie motivation.

Besides, we have other, rather disturbing evidence that these people are exactly who they look like.

In Dawn of the Dead, there are hints of this, in that the zombies congregate at the shopping mall not because they know there are edible people in there, but because “this was an important place in their lives.” An important place in whose lives? Obviously not invaders from the Moon, or supernatural possessive spirits. In fact, it’s kind of depressing to think we might be visited by alien beings who would consider it a highlight of their trip to go hang at the mall.

This seems to indicate that the zombies do retain some memory of their previous lives, and (aside from their eating habits) that they are the people they look like, albeit in highly diminished form. I say “seems” because all the evidence in this film is speculative; it’s just survivors trying to figure out how this new world works.

However, what was implied and speculative in Dawn becomes explicit in the next film, Day of the Dead. Here, the most interesting, multi-dimensional, and sympathetic character in the whole film is a guy named Bub. And Bub is a zombie.

He’s been partially “domesticated” by one of the scientists studying the zombies; he allows this scientist to get near him, and even touch him, without responding by attacking. He even seems to regard the scientist with a sort of dog-like affection.

The kicker is this: when presented with items like a razor, a book and a walkman, Bub knows what they are. He moves the razor the correct way over his face, though a bit awkwardly (the way a baby might). When he sees a person in a uniform, he salutes, showing that he was once a member of the armed forces and that he remembers the proper protocol. He has memories, however dim and instinct-like they appear, of who he once was.

He’s kept chained up through most of the film, but when he frees himself, his first “thought” is to proudly show his trainer what he accomplished on his own. He’s never shown regarding any of the other people as food. In fact, the only time he attacks anyone, he uses a gun.

In a way, this is more disturbing than the Silicates. The Silicates, after all, are utterly alien to us, and understanding their intelligence (if any) may be beyond our abilities. Zombies are different; these are people we know whose urge to eat us overpowers their ability to see us as we see ourselves (ie, they don’t acknowledge us in terms of our shared humanity), as well as their (presumed) urge to have a couple of brews and watch The Return of the King with us. All our friendship and shared experiences mean nothing to them anymore. The “social contract” we all share (which keeps us from killing our neighbors when their garbage blows into our yard, for example) is similarly shown as something that doesn’t survive a contest with raw instinct. The zombies may see us as “fellow creatures,” but the idea that this should “mean” something to them is simply not apparent.

Bub is what makes this especially disturbing, as his example shows that these creatures aren’t simply hostile, mindless animals, but human beings who remember their lives, and possibly our place in them; they just don’t care. Their animating urge, the reason they “get up and kill” remains their most forceful motivation. Even self-preservation, a basic instinct in all creatures, can’t compete with the zombies’ urge to eat us.

What this kind of says, I think, is that everything that makes human beings “People” has no objective value at all. It makes us feel good, and it makes us feel we belong to a greater whole, but we actually don’t. None of our civilization or self-awareness will stop our friends and neighbors from wanting to eat us when they become zombies. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done to, or for them; we cut them off on the interstate, we give them a widescreen television, we marry them, or cheat them out of money–same difference.

Should it make a difference? Yes, it should. We should treat people with the expectation that they will treat us in the same way. I’m not saying civilization is a sham and should be abandoned. But it’s a lot more fragile than it appears. Thousands of years of progressing up from cavemen can go just like that. It’s going to take work to keep civilization operating; we’re going to have to do more than agree that it’s a good thing and hope it continues on its own.

Bub’s domestication has given him the ability to control the zombie feeding urge; he’s been transformed from a “wolf” who would attack us if it were in his best interest, to a “dog” who wants nothing more than to belong to our tribe. So, buried within the zombies is some small spark of the “urge to belong” but it’s buried way, way deep. (Probably too deep to be much help to us non-zombies.)

It’s not really clear in Day how much of Bub’s civil behavior is due to his training, or to his remote memories finally becoming stronger than his instincts. Day takes place some years after the events of Night and Dawn, so it is possible that given sufficient time, the zombies will remember enough of their previous lives to form a society of some kind. But won’t this society end up being just as fragile as the one it replaced? If not, what do the zombies have that we don’t? Perhaps overcoming such a powerful instinct allows them to build something with much stronger bonds. But if civilization is just a set of shared assumptions, I can’t imagine zombie society surviving an attack of, um, uber-zombies. And that sounds like we’re back to square one, doesn’t it?

Well…at any rate, let’s hope we don’t have to find out the hard way. It’s not always cool being right, you know.

Creature Features

I’d love it if some video company would release a DVD of a swell British movie called Island of Terror. A nice digital version would certainly save wear and tear on my cassette copy. Peter Cushing is in it, and it was directed by Hammer mainstay Terrence Fisher, but despite what you may read here and there, it was not a Hammer film. It was made sometime in the mid-to-late sixties and, aside from one glaring aspect, the film holds up very well today.

Unfortunately, the one glaring aspect is the monsters, or rather, the way the monsters interact with the environment. When they move across the ground, they don’t look realistic at all. They look like large-ish round plastic things being dragged by wires.

The real shame of this is that the design of the creatures is outstanding. They’re generally described as “turtle-like” but I think they most reseamble round starfish with short, stubby arms. There’s an opening near the “front” of the creature through which a single tentacle emerges (this tentacle also moves pretty unconvincingly, but it’s on screen a lot less).

The truly intriguing thing about these creatures (called Silicates in the film, since they’re silicon-based life-forms) is that they have absolutely no features that a human being could relate to; there is no common ground between them and us. (Except for the fact that they eat us, hardly a basis for an enduring relationship.)

Think about that for a moment. Most every animal we encounter, from dogs to birds to fish to insects to snakes, has a face. There are two eyes (usually) and a mouth, right there in front; when we draw the attention of the creature, it turns the eyes toward us, and the mouth is right there beneath. We are never in doubt that the creature is looking at us; if we want to avoid being detected by the creature, we know when we’ve succeeded and when we’ve failed (we know this in relation to the other senses, too, such as hearing; less so with smell).

Even creatures lacking obvious eyes can have this “face-relatedness” direction. The creature in Ridley Scott’s Alien was basically humanoid; it had a “face” with a mouth in front and thus, a definite orientation. Up til the end, Scott wisely filmed the alien so that only parts were visible at one time; because of this, the viewer was never able to get a clear picture of what the creature looked like, and thus, possible ways of dealing with it. It seemed to be a collection of teeth, tubes and whirling, jointed limbs.

Stephen King makes the excellent point that what we imagine is always much more frightening than what we actually see. Which is why I, personally, found the form of the creature when ultimately revealed (a man in a suit) a little, teensy bit disappointing. Granted, it was a terrific suit, but still, when one knows the form of a thing, one begins to understand it, and it becomes less of a (psychological) menace. When the Alien was revealed to be humanoid, some of the mystery (and thus, some of the terror) was allieviated; here was something like a man, that might be vulnerable in the same ways as a man. Even if not right away, this is something we can deal with.

While the alien clearly had a face, one of the cast or crew of the film (I can’t remember who) noted that the alien had no eyes, yet it seemed to navigate visually (it’s interesting to speculate that it might have been blind, and hunted by some other sense, but so far as I can tell, it had no other way of knowing where Ripley was hiding in the lifeboat). This was one reason why the monster was so frightening; you couldn’t really tell where it was “looking” and thus, if it had seen you. While the creature had no eyes, it did have a “face forward” direction, and if you were wondering if the creature spotted you, there’s an easy answer: you’d know because you’d need fresh underwear.

By contrast, the Silicates have no features like ours. There are no eyes we can see, no face, no hands, and the opening from where the tentacle emerges seems nothing like a mouth–it’s just an opening in the shell. For this reason, even to the end of Island of Terror, the Silicates remain very disturbing, despite the fact that (in the film) they were unconvincing. We see a great deal of them–we even see them reproduce, through fission. We hear their keening, electronic pulsing when they are around, and the piping shrieks they emit when excitedly feeding. In terms of what they are like in the world, there’s not a lot of mystery, film-wise. There’s a lot of mystery in the fact that we can’t RELATE to these things at all. Even if the creatures were intelligent (one gets the impression that the very concept of intelligence is foreign to them), there’s no common ground anywhere for us to meet on. They see us as food and that’s the end of it. The fact that one of us was Shakespeare, and another Einstein, and another Elvis is totally irrelevant. It would be like one of us wondering if carrots wrote symphonies.

In the film, the creatures are also well-nigh indestructable. Most everything on the island, from axes to dynamite, is brought to bear against them, and it’s all ineffective; while mankind does, ultimately, triumph, it’s at the last minute and not at all certain until then.

The Silicates are also interesting in their method of hunting prey: they don’t have one. They simply start at one end of the island and slowly move toward the other, devouring anything edible unlucky enough to be caught. You could easily outrun them; they’re very sluggish. The problem is, you’d eventually run out of anywhere to run to. It’s as if these creatures are showing us that our intelligence and ingenuity (our very humanity, if you like) are completely meaningless; Nature (albeit an artificial “nature”) could simply render our finer qualities moot in an instant, should she so choose.

Despite their flaws, they remain among the most fascinating creatures in film.

Two excellent reviews of this film can be found here and here. Dr. Freex discusses some interesting socio-political aspects of the film, while Lyz’s review exhibits her usual scientific accumen (but is far too short).

It’s been mentioned here and there that Island of Terror is a film ripe for re-making, as the advances in creature special effects could create something really remarkable. I’m not convinced. Most CGI beasts nowadays are pretty unimaginative (mostly lizard-like or dog-like) and this film really boasts something special with its Silicates, flawed though they are.

Secondly, you know if they remake this, they’ll ruin it. Can’t you see the changes they’ll make? Instead of scientists trying to cure cancer, they’ll be trying to create the Ultimate Super Soldier. The team trying to defeat the creatures would have someone who was a traitor, trying to save the creatures for the Weapons Program*. (He would also have a spectacular death scene, as the creatures would swarm on him; “No! No! We had a deal!” he’d scream. “We had a deal!“)

No, til they come out with a DVD, I’ll stick with my VHS copy, thanks. Will they come out with a DVD? Well, the tape is still in print…obviously someone else out there likes this film. Let’s hope.

*This was a nicely underplayed subtext of Alien. When the crew speculates about why the creature was brought on board, Ripley remarks, “All I can think of is they must have wanted the alien for the weapons program.” That’s it–just speculation, no evidence, no confirmation later. It’s like the “Venus probe theory” from Night of the Living Dead. It’s a pity this bit was dunderheaded up in the sequel. But as I frequently say, one can’t have everything.

Irritating Noise

How about some irritating noise?

Underground Ocean

It’s about 2.5 megs to download. So you should probably not download it. I have said this before but it bears repeating: just because someone has put something on the internet, does not mean you have to download it.

NOTE: Link no longer active.

Got Nothing

Over at Fark, when someone has nothing to say in a topic forum, and wants everyone to know that, he says something unrelated and then ends by saying “/got nothin’.” It’s like the urge to post something, anything, is greater than the urge to think of something relevant to the topic at hand. Is that what we’re evolving into? A race that exhales language?

It’d be easy to complain about this, and normally I would, as I tend to complain about nearly everyone, but one can see the advantages of talking or writing, and then telling everyone about what you just said or wrote. It’s like grading your own exam. Wow, I got an A again, what did you get? That doctorate is totally mine.

Since I “got nothing” (I like to leave my g’s on) I thought I’d put some random stuff in here. It’s my blog and I’ll post if I want to, post if I want to, post if I want to; you would post to if you signed up and got a screen name and everything.

Below, we find some good advice I wrote in one of my other websites:

“I’ve discovered a sure-fire cure for dorkiness. The bass guitar. Think about it: Don Knotts as Barney Fife: dorky. Put a bass guitar in his hands, though, and he’s the edgy bassist from some New York band. Bob Denver as Gilligan: dorky. With a bass guitar, though, he’s a guy in a power-pop band. Who else? Eddie Deezen? He becomes someone in a synth-pop band, probably the guy who also writes the lyrics. Elmer Fudd? He could be in a scary downtown industrial band, a dance outfit, or a respected jazz player. So, all you geeks, dorks and nerds, that’s all you need! Just carry around a bass guitar all the time. Everywhere you go, people will say, “Wow, I thought he was a dork, but after seeing him with the bass, he’s completely cool.”
A regular guitar would not work, by the way. That is because you have to invest a regular guitar with your own personality, and you need a decent one to accomplish more than the hop from “Dork” to “Dork with guitar.” No, no, only the bass guitar possesses the necessary coolness in and of itself.
If I could have patented this, I would have, but I didn’t invent the bass guitar. That’s the only reason you’re getting this for free. You’re welcome.”

You can try it with anyone, including non-dorks like Dr. Freex. If you look at his picture, he wears a hat, which is okay, there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s perfectly all right, it could happen to anyone. But if you give him a bass guitar, he’d be standing on stage, watching with bemused eyes as Roger Daltry yelled his head off and Pete Townsend did that “windmill” thing for which he was famous for a while there. And you’d think, Wow, the bass player for The Who writes movie reviews? Wow, that is great. Pretty much everything’s right with the world I guess. Even better is that picture that the B-Masters Cabal uses, if you imagine he’s holding a bass guitar, well, he’s completely Motorheading down the rock and roll interstate.

Note: I chose Dr. Freex NOT because he’s a dork–he isn’t–but because he’s already pretty cool, and the jump from cool to uber-cool is much more easily illustrated in such contexts. In fact, with a bass guitar, he almost becomes too cool. Look at those dials on the Krell coolometer; I’ve never seen them that high. Perhaps we should take it away from him before mankind makes the same mistake as the Krell, and we explode with coolness.

Also, he’s the first person I thought of, who I knew what he looked like, and if one’s theory doesn’t work on the first random person one imagines, one’s theory is like, total crap. The New England Journal of Medicine will completely laugh at you, and they will discuss you in belittling terms around the latte machine. Don’t find out the hard way, like I did. Fifteen dollars for a pizza!

/Got nothing.

The Return, Through Fire, Across a Frozen Sea

Well, I’m back! Thanks to all who sent letters, notes of encouragment, and folded paper money. I treasure them all, especially the folded paper money.

I may post something a bit later today, but first, I have to, you know, think of something. I have to think of something to say, that only I could say, in that ineffable way I have with words that doesn’t seem to be improving at all, and perhaps should be looked at by a doctor if it gets any worse. And even my tennis has suffered.

So: thinking of a thing to say. That could take a while.