Sunday, December 21, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
I was extremely confident coming into critique on Tuesday. I felt like I had a unique design and a unique rationale for the decisions I made. Anyone from studio who reads this, please do not take offense. In no way am I trying to say that other projects were bad, because they weren't. I simply feel that my concept stood out in that its sustainability was not something that you could only talk about or just slapped on for decoration. I did not present a computer that happened to be part of a sustainable system or had regular materials replaced by recyclable ones. Sustainability was the at the soul of my project and was instantly recognizable by the consumer.
I have always been comfortable presenting my work and, due to what I felt was a unique perspective on a computer's sustainability, this project was no different. I feel like I was clear and succinct in my delivery, and was well prepared for the questions to come. When they did come, however, I was not given a fair opportunity to justify my decisions. Granted, because I knew these questions were coming I could have tried to illustrate them more clearly, but I felt confident in my ability to explain them.
Such was not the case. I spent the majority of my critique time going back and forth, courteously, with one person. He misunderstood what I had said; thus, I misunderstood what he had asked. Once it was cleared up and I began to answer his questions, he interrupted me. Not once or twice but three separate times. In the past I have fallen into the trap of becoming defensive during my critiques, and I took extra care to make sure that it did not happen this time. I had justifications ready, and for some reason he was not interested in hearing them.
This went on for most of my allotted time, leaving roughly 30 seconds for the other four critics to speak. I felt cheated not only out of a genuine critique, but also out of my entire presentation. I was not able to expound on my major talking points due to the disrespect of one individual. It is one thing to do poor work and be called out on it. It is quite another to be well prepared and made to look as if I did poor work.
We soon took a break. I went for a walk. The best way to describe my emotional state was "rage pissed." I was punching walls, swearing under my breath and completely devastated. What I didn't realize until later was that "my" critic was not from HP. I missed introduction because my model, which had been completed four days earlier, decided to break three times that morning. I was relieved that our sponsors were not the ones responsible for debasing my presentation, but, again, I felt cheated out of the opinions I really cared about.
Shit happens. This is last round of bitching you will hear from me. I hate to lose, and this project now looms as a large mark in that column.
Tomorrow, now yesterday, was indeed another day, and some of the pain has lifted. As with all deep wounds, however, I'm not sure this will ever heal completely.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Thursday, December 4, 2008
What if I have to design for a product or brand that is only a little evil? Where do I draw the line? I guess it is a question that can only be answered when the moment arrives, but I dread the idea of abandoning my principles for a paycheck.
Doctors swear an oath to heal all people, good or bad, to the best of their ability. I am glad that I, as a designer, have no Hippocratic oath because I can see myself breaking it.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Roger Ebert recently posted an article on his blog expounding upon his disdain for the contemporary movie review. Moreover, he expands this into a critique on American writing and culture. I constantly complain about the ignorance and downright stupidity that is invading the minds of Americans today; I'm just glad someone with actual writing talent has put it down in words.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Upon leaving Perfects my car went over 100,000 miles. Yay.
Finally, I went out with my friends from home. I always hate the idea of trying the relive the "glory days" of high school, but with my school schedule (no vacations due to co-op) I hardly every get to see them. It was nothing special. We went out to a bar, shot the shit and had a good time. I'm the type to go a little crazy without friends around, and these are my oldest and best. Though I'm not the one to say this kind of thing in person, I hope they realize how much they all mean to me.
Happy Thanksgiving. I'm looking forward to not sleeping next week.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
I was excited when I learned that we would be blogging for class. My posts were lacking structure, and this seemed to be just what I needed to form a cohesive set of musings. After a few posts, however, they became homework. This is not to say that it hasn't been fun or useful as I enjoy reading other students' posts and thought the critique-by-blog was a great help. Somewhere along the way it stopped being about what I wanted to say and began to be simply answering a prompt.
I never really cared if people read my blog. It was for me, like a journal. I've gotten away from that, and I hope to get it back. I scare myself when I'm alone with my thoughts, and it's kind of fun.
P.S. Here's my final presentation board for the tea kettle competition
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
"You see, the thing is there's five of us: Marge, Bart, girl Bart, the one who doesn't talk and the fat guy. How I loathe him."
Sunday, November 16, 2008
On another note, one of my friends is taking a class called "Music and Architecture." He has to listen to samples each week, and I often do so with him. As a result I've been listening to classical music more often, including going to the symphony yesterday, and would just like to say two things:
- 90 percent of my knowledge of classical music has come from elementary school music class. The other 10 percent can be attributed to watching Jeopardy. I really did learn a ton, and I feel like I need to give a shout out to our teacher, Dick McNutt (that was seriously the name he went by.)
- Fantasia is spectacular. It's amazing that an animated film featuring nothing but basically cartoon ballet can be so entertaining for kids and adults alike. It has exposed millions to the delights of classical music, something rarely seen in a culture whose intelligence is being retarded by CSI and Paris Hilton. Mass props to Walt.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
"In the interest of creating SMART goals: By the end of the quarter, I will learn and utilize at least one new method for design visualization in Photoshop, Illustrator, Rhino and by hand."
How am I doing with this? The USB project was a big eye opener for me. Quick but effective marker rendering, using Illustrator for more that solid colors, combining quick Rhino and Photoshop to get some lively images. I have never really used those tools this way, and I found it to be incredibly effective. I am still struggling with marker techniques, as evident by my teapots, but it's getting better.
I regret that I was not able to use all of these tools for our current project. At the time I wasn't comfortable enough with them and used my old, ignorant method of sketch to 3D. We are at the point now where we need final geometry in less than a week, and time does not exist for perfecting the designs by these new methods. I will however, back sketch the shit out of this project using what I have learned. I feel confident that, with these techniques, I will be able to make my HP project the highlight of my next portfolio.
So, I feel confident in what I have learned, but I have not yet repeated the success I had with the USB project. Future prospects look good, but I must develop these new skills through practice.
One of my personal, non-design goals this quarter has been Crossfit. It's a workout plan that was passed along to me by one of my good friends fighting in Afghanistan. Each day, a new workout is posted online, and I am proud to say that after seven weeks I have not missed a single day. These are intense exercises that are normally done "for time," i.e. no breaks between sets. As a result each day's work normally only takes 20-25 minutes, but it kicks your ass. I can already tell how much stronger and more in shape I am, and I look forward to the workouts each day. I would recommend it to anyone, now matter how in or out of shape you may be (scaled versions are posted each day due to the fact that the full workouts are nearly impossible.) Thank you Mason for introducing me to Crossfit.
The same thing goes for Crossfit as design: I'm beginning to see the light, but must force myself to keep at it.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Throughout my entire design process, I am constantly evaluating myself and my work. Is it good enough? Am I working hard enough? Is someone's project better than mine? This has pushed me to strive to design products that stand out from my peers. Do not believe, however, that my work is far and away the best the world has ever seen. It is, in fact, rarely the best in our studio. I simply force myself into a competitive mindset that will not accept failure.
I can see two obvious examples in my light design and our current studio with HP.
For our light, we were given very little in terms of problem statement and direction. It was basically, make a cool looking light that you can pretend relates to a movie character. In terms of doing something that would challenge and enhance my design skill set, I didn't see much point in this. I couldn't accept doing something that, though it may have looked unique, was in no way set apart from the rest of the projects. This drove me to a design that I feel was successful in being both a light and a unique, original product. Check it out in my portfolio (links are to the right.)
During our HP project, we were to define three concepts with "B" level drawings and present them to the HP staff. I was struggling with my concepts at the time, and for the first time, in my opinion, I presented bad work. Being the second student to present, I had a over two hours to dwell on what had just taken place. Frankly, I got pissed. I spent the majority of studio doodling, making lists, anything to help me figure out where to go. The concepts I produced from those two hours were more promising than anything I had created over the past week. I attribute all of this my inferiority complex. I was so upset that I was doing worse than the rest of the studio, and much more importantly worse than what I was capable of, that I could not get my mind away from my work until I improved it.
I grew up with a strange combination of winning losing. I was smart and relatively athletic, but I always felt like I was playing second fiddle to someone. Be it my older brother, who I've admired my entire life, or my own potential, I've developed a personality that doesn't accept failure. While I may not always end up at the top, I'll sure as hell be driven to get there.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Create a tea kettle the brings the serenity of the chado Japanese tea ritual into the modern home. The kettle will function as the boiling mixing and pouring device; it must be elegant, functional, easy to use and create an emotional connection with its users.
My two basic concepts involve boiling the water so that it rises through the leaves and into the upper part of the kettle for pouring (this is a process common to coffees and espressos.) The first concept is a simplified, anthropomorphic form that seems to bow to the users. I have been exploring different types and placements for the handle that accentuate the form and emotional impact of the kettle.
The second concept involves either bowl or cup-like forms that seem to be stacked precariously. The water/tea may rise and fall to different levels as it fills and overflows the bowls
Where I really feel like I need help is with my HP Computer. Here is what I turned in as my final "C" concept:
The frame is a single sheet of aluminum that has been die cut and pressed with bamboo fabric covering the rest of the case area. My design focuses on overtly selling the actual computer as sustainable. Bamboo fabric is instantly recognized as sustainable due to bamboo's incredibly fast rate of growth. Also, Aluminum is highly recyclable, and by using only an "exoskeleton" rather than a full case, there is a material savings of over 60% (not to mention the advantages over molded pieces.)
Other than the styling of the monitor and keyboard, the only feature I am struggling with is the connection between the monitor and the unit. The screen is a 22"transparent touch OLED that slides from an upright to a lowered position to facilitate using the touch feature (reduces arm fatigue.) OLEDs are incredibly light while remaining strong, and see no problem in the monitor being attached on only one side (in the rectangular cutout on the left of the front of the frame) as it is always resting on the desktop. Tony disagrees...strongly.
After talking with Sam last week, I proposed that the bottom of the screen be beefed up visually by widening and thickening the bezel at the bottom to give it more visual weight. Still no good for Tony. I then proceeded to show Tony Sony's new OLED tv which uses a hinge that is incredibly similar to mine:
He still wasn't buying it. I love the idea of giving the consumer something that looks a little fantastic, and I am convinced it will work. Tony's suggestion of adding a leg to the other side takes too much energy away from the main unit, which must be the focus of the computer. I'm thoroughly stumped.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
- It's been amazing to see how UC's campus, one of the more apathetic I've seen, has been energized by the election. Every day since I've been back there have been students on campus campaigning, protesting, registering, etc. For a place whose student body usually does nothing outside of go to school, this has been an exciting thing to see.
- It's amazing how divided people can become. My first day back from co-op I got into a screaming argument with my roommate. Granted we were drunk, but that doesn't negate the fact that I was yelling in the face of one of my best friends. Also, my mother's reply to a conservative email was misconstrued as calling my uncle a bigot. Crazy.
- Upon exiting the polls an older man walked up to me, shook my hand asking me if it was my first time. I told him it was my second, his face lit up and he thanked me.
- My mom's last comment before we voted was how different things were this year. Importance, voter turnout, political enthusiasm...everything this year was on a different level than it has ever been before. I cannot fully realize the gravity of the situation on account of my age, but I am grateful to have been a part of something incredible.
I often find myself looking for a singular answer to a problem. While this method motivates me to do a great job with my final design, it hurts the intermediate steps. If I sketch something out that doesn't have obvious potential I throw it out (often literally.) Once I find "the one" I take that to final concept quite quickly. It would be much more helpful to attempt to develop multiple concepts before giving the bad ones the axe, leaving my mind open to possibilities throughout the whole process. This method of leapfrogging to the start to the finish probably arose from my first co-op, where I was critiqued for spending too much time exploring ideas.
Take my computer project for example: 200 ideations, 30 refinements, 3 further refinements - all thrown out the door for for my final concept, which was completed in three days. Though a part of it is still related to my early ideas, the main focus of my concept has no previous documentation. There aren't any sketches or explorative renderings. I'm fine with this, as I am confident that it's a good concept, but there is no proof of my thought process leading to my final design. It is hard to justify an idea that just came to me, even though that's what happened. It will probably come down to back sketching on an ongoing project. Weird, huh?
My only solution to this problem is to get much faster at the refinement stage so it is a much more useful design tool. If I am able to quickly refine concepts, I won't be worried about not having time the find "the one."
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Thursday, October 30, 2008
I'm a sucker for animation. Naturally, I love looking at things like model sheets and storyboards. Today I ran across Bill Peet, a former storyboard illustrator for Disney. While his style may seem a little old school (i.e. not as flashy as today's concept artists) it does exactly what it needs to. He quickly and simply captures the movements and emotions of characters and scenes through his rough snapshots. What strikes me as most impressive is how close many of his storyboard designs, which come at the first stages of pre-production, are to the final designs seen in the films. It just goes to show how, if you are successful in capturing the basic qualities of a character, which Peet's illustrations do very well, the aesthetics just fall in place.
Storyboards are cool, and they can be really helpful in describing the use of a product. They kind of suck to do, though.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
One of my goals for the quarter was to learn new methods of vizualization in Illustrator, Photoshop and by hand. The recent USB project has really helped with this goal. Marker rendering and Illustrator techniques will help my front end work, but the best technique I've learned with this project has been painting over 3d models in photoshop. Not only did this come out sweet looking, but it helped me finalize materials, colors and forms.
We're beyond the point that I would normally do this for ID studio, but I think I'll go back and do this type of rendering for my computer project. If it helped this much for a flash drive, it's bound to work for a whole computer system.
Here's a link to the project pdf to look at the other work that went into this project.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Her recent post regarding Viktor Schreckengost received two comments...from his wife and stepson! It's pretty amazing how far-reaching this interweb of ours is. This was just a journal entry that ten years ago would probably been read by no more than two people, Alison and our professor. Now anyone anywhere has access to her random thoughts and opinions.
Alex really stepped out for his first inspiring designer. Dali is not know for his products, but produced some of the most interesting objects of his time. Kudos for digging a little deeper.
His posts are just hilarious. Clever titles, pictures, etc. just remind me how to take some time to laugh at life, the universe and eeverything.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
So, since my "inspiring designer" was Feng Zhu, I thought it was only appropriate to compare him with another concept artist - in this case Yoji Shinkawa. I was exposed through Yoji's work through Metal Gear Solid, a game for the orginal Playstation.
As stylized as Zhu's work is, Shinkawa's is that much more. He often leaves work at the sketch phase, only sometimes adding small bits of color and shading that do more to pop the image than actually show form. Drawing with a brush pen, his lines vary dramtically, at times splitting in two. His characters appear to move through the page.
This method is incredibly effective for concept work in the video game market as so much depends on visual style. It is not very effective, however, for communincating finalized designs. Even his model sheets are sparse on detail. I give a lot of credit to Konami's 3D modelers and animators for bringing Yoji's designs to life. He doesn't give them a ton to work with, but I guess it works. While his style is not particularly helpful with my professional work (at least not more than rembering to give my sketches as much life as possible), I have to say I could look at his images all day. They are simply gorgeous.
I've always been drawn to concept art as it often combines two of my passions, art and film.
Feng Zhu has uncanny style. After watching several of Zhu's instructional videos, I was blown away by his methods of visual communication. From quick ink sketches, to sillouhetted explorations of form to final renderings, his work is always full of life and emotion.
Drawings are purposefully ambiguous. Much like a novel, they allowe the audience to fill in the gaps they cannot see. Zhu's work is a perfect example of this. His work flow blends rough sketch into finished rendering, producing a result that uniquely combines the movement of a sketch with the precise detail of a rendering.
While effective for concept art, I hope to bring some of this technique to my own product design. A large aspect of product design is controlling the emotions of the user. If I can progress to the point where my products have as much vitality of one of Zhu's characters or environments, I will be a much more effective designer aesthetically.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
...Wow, I didn't think it was possible to write something that tacky. Anyway, with the speed at which our technology is evolving, our world is bound to change. At the forefront of these changes, I see the emergence of nanotechnology, genetic engineering and sustainable innovation.
Nanotechnology, the control of matter at molecular and atomic levels, has the potential to create materials and processes previously thought to be impossible. My interest in it lies in the controversy surrounding it. On one hand, we have the potential for incredible breakthroughs in fields like medicine, electronics and energy production - breakthroughs that could greatly benefit the human race and our world. On the other hand, there is the potential for disaster. Undetectable nanoweapons, manufactured microbes that can destroy an entire city, and the devastation of our environment are just a few of the reasons that there is an air of apprehension surrounding nanotech. Science has not yet destroyed the earth, though some have tried, and I trust that we will be cautious enough to keep it from happening. Nanotechnology is, at the same time, full of hope and despair.
Human evolution no longer exists. Take me for example. I have asthma. If nature had its way I would have suffocated as an infant and died. I did not, and my debilitating mutation will be passed on to future generations. Genetic engineering could potentially fix this problem. Altering, and hopefully improving, what makes us human has the potential to artificially revive our evolution. As with nanotech, there are potential dangers. If perfected someone could create an army of super-soldiers (all of which would be named Ivan Drago,) but this is an area of science where I believe the benefits far outweigh the risks.
In the last few years, I have seen a drastic change in the world's awareness of environmental issues. Going green is hip, and many are becoming truly committed to living, and helping others to live, sustainable lifestyles. Sustainability is less technology and more mindset. The world is coming around the realize that we have a responsibility keep the earth a beautiful, hospitable place. With this new way of thinking will come innovation at the highest level. We are already seeing the big guns of pollution, the automotive industry, try to save face with hybrid and electric cars. Seeing a company like GM take environmental initiative, even if it's just to help their image, gives me hope for our world's future.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Skiing is my life, and I spend countless hours watching and rewatching skiing movies. There is always something new to see, a nuance that I missed the times before. For those who haven't experienced the world of newschool, I always point them to the trailer for Shanghai Six, a ski movie from three years ago.
At its core, a trailer should get people excited about the movie. It should make them want to see more. The trailer for Shanghai Six does just that. Its tempo, through both editing and music choice, provides excitement, while the visuals showcase the best the movie will have to offer. More than that, though, it accurately captures the vibe of the freeskiing community. We see it all - beautiful environments, riders ripping the mountain to shreds and kids just fooling around with their friends. The skiing lifestyle is an interesting mix of awe, adrenaline and comradery, and this trailer captures that feeling perfectly. It is the one trailer that I watch over and over, each time renewing my love for the sport.
Strangely, the actual movie is very different. It's pace is much slower, and the mood is considerably toned down. I can't understand how Level One could have gotten the trailer so right, but the movie so wrong. Oh well, I guess I'll always have the trailer.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Line up an Accord and a Malibu. The differences are blatant. In short, everything on a Honda just fits. The doors close with a more reassuring feeling, everything on the dash is where it should be and the car is just plain gorgeous. Anyone that has owned a Honda in the past will agree 100 percent, as will many who haven't. This has become Honda's image - the idea of pay a little more, get a lot more. What's strange, though, is that, while Honda has created superior cars, they have not created superior advertising. Their commercials and print ads are pretty run of the mill and by no means unique or eye catching.
Honda's brand image has been built entirely by the quality of their products. It's odd that a company that has been able to so consistently exceed their consumers' expectations of performance doesn't try harder to do the same with their advertising. Maybe they are content where they are, or maybe they just don't realize it. Whatever the reason, it is a unique case that I feel needs a little more thought on my part...
...In the mean time take a look at these; try to tell me they don't do cars right.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
An interesting article from astheria.com dealing with the overall experience when viewing a portfolio, in this case online. The author points our overarching issues he found after viewing 200 portfolios. Things like overly complex navigation and indistinguishable thumbnails discouraged the author from delving deeply into some, while a lack of contact information defeated the purpose of others. The article highlights two main points when designing a portfolio that will get you recognized:
-Keep the entire user experience in mind. Take into account how the viewer will want to look at your work. Chances are slim that they want or have the time to dive in to the full sensory experience, so omit the fancy flash navigation and background music. Most viewers, especially employers, want to flip through quickly and go back if something caight their eye. Their should be a hierarchy of communication that naturally allows viewers to do this.
-Remember why you are displaying your work. In most cases, a portfolio is used to land a job. If evaluating your talent, specific to the job you are applying for, and contacting you after the fact is an employer's main focus then it should be yours as well. Resumes and contact information are critical and must be easy to find, read and use.
This really isn't different from the approach we take with porduct design. Understand your audience and the experience they will have with your design.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Because of that one damn conversation, I can't help but do the same. I see or do something and immediately start to break down the process of how it was put together, looking for where it went right or wrong. Arbitrarily judging the world around me seems a little conceited, and it is. When I justify my opinions with what I consider fact (as we do with our designs), it's not easy to express them as opinions. People often mistake my conviction for hidebound arrogance. This experience has led to some interesting thoughts, discoveries and arguments that I am glad to have had, but at times I would rather just experience.
I have noticed this problem making inroads in my design as well. During ideation, concepts need to be thrown down on paper without much forethought. They will be analyzed later. My problems come when I try to solve the problem on the first shot. The funny thing is, most of my personal problems work this was, too. I find myself thinking rather than doing. It's funny how one person's design thinking became my method for living, which became my method for design, which I now see has been my method for living all along.
There I go again, thinking way too much. Being alone with my thoughts is dangerous.
On the lighter side of things, here's a quick intro since my original is hidden somewhere the annals of this blog:
Above all else, I consider myself a skier. It's my hobby and my passion; I don't know what I would do without it. As far as design goes, I've had a great experience so far at UC with our studio projects and co-ops at Fisher-Price and Dick's Sporting Goods. This year I am trying to get a better grasp on the type of designer that I am and want to be. I believe I want to do sports design, as I love how intimately style and function are merged, and, in the past, I have found it difficult to design things I'm not passionate about. I feel like my largest defficiencies in design lie in the grey areas between conception and realization, and I need to use this year to find a process that best suits me and the way I think.
In the interest of creating SMART goals: By the end of the quarter, I will learn and utilize at least one new method for design visualization in Photoshop, Illustrator, Rhino and by hand.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Let me start off by saying that I love Family Guy. I watch it fairly regularly after work, and I am yet to see an episode that I didn't find funny. That being said, The Simpsons is the superior show. I think about shit like this pretty often (sad) and have come to the conclusion that the biggest reason, though there are many, for The Simpsons' superiority is its varying levels of allusion.
Allusions in Family Guy are nearly all overt and the main part of the joke. Never seen Star Wars? I can bet you won't get a joke every few episodes. Why is it funny that the mobster says "on this, the day of my daughter's wedding" 8,000 times? No clue unless you've seen The Godfather. Not only will you not get it, no part of the joke will be humorous as their is seldom more to it. Too often the show relies on its viewers to fill in the gaps, running the risk of alienating those not well-versed in the pop culture of the last thirty years. It's solution is to inundate the viewer with so many quickly-paced jokes that they forget the one last one if they didn't get it. The strategy has been extremely successful, Family Guy's soaring ratings are solid evidence, but this type of humor only works on one level. You get or you don't, and you move on.
The Simpson's, on the other hand, uses varying levels of allusion. Entire episodes have themes based on novels and films while background objects and signs give chuckles to the attentive viewer. References are used as both the main punchline of a joke and just another element. Don't get why it's funny that at Maggie's daycare, "The Ayn Rand School for Tots," the babies are taught to rely on themselves? It's okay. In fact, I didn't get it until a few years ago. The antics that ensue are still funny. The allusion is only a piece of the humor. This methods allows The Simpsons to be enjoyed by a much wider audience than Family Guy. Ignorant viewers (ignorant as in unimformed) still enjoy the slapstick, while older, more educated fans have fun with the jokes' deeper comedy. This also makes the show infinitely rewatchable, as there are always more levels to enjoy.
Most of Family Guy's allusions are quickly paced and mainstream enough to be successful, but when they aren't the fail completely. The Simpsons takes a deeper approach, making its humor accessible on all levels. Family Guy may have a few more laughs per minute, but they are not nerely as durable and intelligent as those of The Simpsons.
The Coen Brothers are two of the most memorable filmmakers of out time, blurring the lines between comedy, tradgedy, intelligence and stupdity. Their latest effort, Fargo, is a dark, satyrical look at people with a misplaced sense of superiority. Muderous, and darkly hilarious, mayhem insues when their stories intertwine. The audience chuckles when they should wince, and...wait, did I say Fargo? Oh, sorry. I meant Burn After Reading. The films are so much alike that I came out of the theater believing I had seen a remade, slightly less impressive version of the 1996 comedic thriller.
After more thought, however, I realized that the films' dissimilarities are the real theme. Perhaps the Coens intentionally wove the two films so closely together in order to display how their own views have changed in the last decade. While the overall tone may be the same, Burn After Reading carries a much different, and perhaps more poignant, message.
The film follows Osborne Cox, played perfectly by John Malcovich, a recently demoted CIA agent whose false sense of superiority makes him quit rather than swallow the insult of demotion, all time oblivious to the fact that his wife, Tilda Swinton, is cheating on him with a womanizing George Clooney. In his retirement Cox decides to write his memoirs, which he is infinitely careful to pronounce "mem-wahs." They accidentally fall into the hands of Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand, two bumbling gym managers. When their semi-honest attempt to return Cox's memoirs are misinterperted as blackmail, chaos insues, and everything is further complicated by Clooney's romantic involvement with McDormand.
We have come to expect a certain dark brand of comedy from the Coens, and Burn After Reading doesn't disappoint. The characters' complete lack of understanding of what is going on, and their inability to deal with it sensibly, is played out with dry hilarity. Just as we have come to expect laughs, we also expect chills. With the possible exception of Pitt, due to his complete ignorance and stupidity, we feel no remorse as the characters' lives end in bloody, tragic fashion. Each is deeply faulted, a collection of bad people doing worse things.
How all of this is treated, however, is where the film differs from the Fargo model. Everything is colder, less human. Bodies, and this time minds, are tossed about in the film's climax, where the film reveals its intentions. The audience is left somewhat dumbfounded, and, initially, I believed that this was just sloppy filmmaking. The moral, if it can be called that, of Fargo is evident - people, both good and bad, are capable of terrible things, but they are still people. In the final minutes of Fargo we see William H. Macy taken by the police, screaming and crying. While we by no means feel sorry for his character, at least we are shown that he is still human, still subject to emotion. Burn After Reading ends, abrubtly, on a note of complete indifference. And that's its point.
I may be reading too much into this film (no pun intended), but it seems as if the Coen Brother's have taken their formula from Fargo and updated it for a new decade. Maybe they've been left numb by the events of last few years. This case could certainly be made with No Country for Old Men, and I believe it also applies here. If Fargo is post-modern art, then Burn After Reading is post-post-modern. It's not as entertaining, but just as telling.
4 of 5 stars
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
In my first co-op at Fisher-Price, I worked on the Imaginext line of toys. They've finally come out and are in stores now. These motorcycles are almost completely my work (the front end changed after I left), and I did a lot of smaller things on the whole line. Check them out at the Imaginext website. Afterwards, visit either of my portfolios to see the work that went into them.
Monday, September 8, 2008
In the case of a paradigm shift, it is useful to find a successful model to use as a basis. Skiing has overwhelmingly turned to snowboarding as its model. Over 25 years after its invention snowboarding is still viewed as a counter-culture alternative to the posh world of skiing. Though they exists in the same market as skiers, snowboarders are perceived as people out ot have a good time, nothing more. This is the image the skiing community wants to display, and it has consequently emulated snowboarding. The men and women behind joint skiing and snowboarding contests, the encouragement of off-piste skiing and new clothing styles have worked to blend the line between skiers and boarders in an attempt to latch on to the boarder image.
Snowboarding's rise, however, cannot be effectively used to move the image of skiing to the place it wishes to be. Snowboarding began as an alternative to skiing, which was, at the time, beginning to become synonymous with wealthy lifestyles. It's popularity rose up from the lower classes rather than down from the upper. This method of garnering popular support is much simpler. America, since its beginnings, has represented the everyman. Though the privileged and the celebrity may not live like the factory worker, it has always been important that they are not seen as snobbishly superior. To achieve this, these classes have latched on to the activities and customs of the lower classes. This especially evident in the popularity of modern punk and country music. It is cool for a celebrity earning millions to throw on a cowboy hat and talk their love of the south or die their hair black and rage against the machine. These are cultures that have risen to popularity from the lower class.
Skiing is attempting the opposite. It is the culture, not the counter-culture, and it wishes to move down the ladder. It has been suggested that the rising price of day of skiing is to blame and that simply lowering lift ticket and lodging prices will improve skiing's image. But resorts cannot be blamed for raising prices. They are run by businessmen out to make a profit. If people will pay more, why not charge more? Lowering prices is only part of the solution, as the entire culture surrounding skiing has evolved to encourage its new image. Manufactured "ski towns" are lined with Louis Vatton stores and $100-a-plate restaurants, and intermediate-level ski systems can cost over $1000. This is not what makes skiing great, but it is what has become associated with the sport.
So, what is the solution? How can the skiing community convince the world that they are not brigades of trust fund babies? In my search for an example of how this can be done I have found nothing. Is skiing, then, doomed to be misunderstood? Maybe. Maybe not. Newschool skiing has made inroads with the country's youth, and the future looks brighter than it did ten years ago. If I can ever find, or for that matter create, a model for skiing to follow I will gladly share it. In the meantime, I will love skiing as it should be loved...and do everything I can to let people know what they're missing.
Friday, September 5, 2008
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Monday, August 25, 2008
Monday, August 18, 2008
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Pineapple Express - Judd Apatow has already made a career's worth of comedy hits with Anchorman, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Talladega Nights, Knocked Up and Superbad. I was, consequently, expecting quite a bit from his latest venture. It is funny, but Pineapple Express doesn't quite know what type of comedy it wants to be. At times it's grounded and realistic, and at others it's overtly wacky and over the top. It'll make you laugh but leave you puzzled in the end. The humor could have successfully gone in either direction; it's a shame, however, that it chose no direction.
3 of 5 stars
Tropic Thunder - The movie opens with a fake commercial and three fake trailers that leave the audience rolling. Ben Stiller's first production, Zoolander, has become a cult hit with my generation. With Tropic Thunder it seems like he's attempting to bring his brand of humor to the mainstream. I don't know if it will be a big hit, but it's pretty damn funny. Tropic Thunder suffers from some a fragmented story and doesn't utilize its cast to its full potential, Jack Black's role is largely unfunny and unnecessary, but who cares? Funny is funny, and in a movie like this, unlike Pineapple Express, you let some things slip.
3.5 of 5 stars
Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Though this was the worst of the three movies I saw this weekend, it has probably provoked the most thought on my part. As I understand it, most critics didn't realize that this was supposed to be a TV series. A 19% on Rotten Tomatoes has made this perfectly clear. Here's the lowdown: The Clone Wars was made with a TV budget and timeline, and was intended to be shown in half-hour installments on Cartoon Network. George Lucas and company then decided to recut the first few episodes into feature-length film and show the remaining episodes as planned.
This was a movie/series definitely made for kids. The humor is extremely unintelligent, and there's even less story than the prequel films. The animation is also bad by modern film standards. That being said, kids will love it. It's action packed, and there's nothing that's over their heads. It's pretty good for a TV series, but bad for a movie. I have a feeling that critics would have been much more receptive had The Clone Wars debuted completely on TV as planned.
On a different note, the designer and artist in me loved the look of this movie. Terrible animation aside, the character designs, taken from Genndy Tartakovsky's 2D animated series, are beautifully stylized. Sharp lines and exaggerated silhouettes give the characters and environments a unique, artistic touch. Also, and this detail will probably be lost in the translation to the small screen, The characters' textures are done in such a way that they look like they have been painted on and scratched into clay maquettes. This is a drastic turn from the hyper-realism we are used to seeing in the Pixar films, and one that I welcome.
2.5 of 5 stars
Best line of the weekend (with loads of irony attached) - James Franco - Pineapple Express - about to be forced into an underground jail cell:
"What's down there? Rancor?"
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Here's a taste of my latest project, illuminated running apparel:
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Sunday, July 27, 2008
The live one in the middle eating its way out.
I know, it's a horrible joke, and there are plenty of others (appropriately called, Dead Baby Jokes.) You hear them, laugh and then hate yourself for doing so. This is the best way I can describe Heath Ledger's performance of The Joker in The Dark Knight. He is as scary and menacing as Hannibal Lecter, but you can't help but hate yourself for chuckling at him every now and then.
Ledger's performance is one of the the great examples of an actor becoming completely lost in a character. From the first moment he is on screen, the audience forgets everything they were thinking about Ledger and his unfortunate death. Only The Joker is on screen, and he is as original and frightening of a character as has ever been seen.
His origins are not explored in the film, something Nolan explains by saying that he wanted to depict the character as an "absolute." This works perfectly in the film, as the Joker is a pure agent of chaos that jumps in and out of the story. Yet, much to the credit of Ledger, he is completely believable. The way he walks, licks his lips and tells stories (stressing the plural) about how he got his "smiling" scars is completely within the realm of human possibility, which makes him that much more frightening. Without any explanation for his existence, the audience is scared to death that, in a world as grounded in reality as Nolan's Gotham City, this man could exist. As for his humorous aspect, he's as funny as Steve Buschemi being fed into a wood chipper. Each time I've seen the film, the entire audience can't help but laugh as an entire hospital is razed to the ground. We hate that we're choosing to laugh, and The Joker will play the same joke on our heroes.
As I have said earlier, The Joker is the catalyst for the emotional changes within the film's main characters. It isn't unusual for heroes to see themselves in their villains. Nolan, in fact, employed this technique wonderfully in his previous film, The Prestige. It is, however, unusual for an entire cast to be so affected in so many ways by one person. Just as his basic plans seem to be foiled, he forces them to make impossible moral choices, mocking, all the while laughing at, their personal struggle. Sick as it may be, he finds it funny that people can so easily be manipulated.
Earlier, I suggested that Ledger's Joker was much like Hannibal Lecter. He is not the film's main focus, but he is easily what will last in the mind of the audience. His evil is horrifying, but completely believable (which makes him that much more horrifying.) The Joker, though "absolute," is a complex character explores the nature of good and evil in a completely original manner.
All this being said, his case for an Oscar is a complicated one. While the academy is normally prone to liberal guilt, see: the bullshit that is a Best Picture award for Crash, they seem hesitant to be so for the deceased. At this point in the year Ledger's Joker is the best supporting role I've seen. Whether or not this is true when the final votes are cast, I hope the academy will evaluate his performance in the same manner that they do the rest.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Batman - Christian Bale: Bale's portrayal of The Batman in Batman Begins was spot on. He was brooding, intelligent and introspective. He made it believable that a real man could find reason to begin a personal crusade against crime, striking fear into the hearts of his enemies by dressing as a giant bat. In The Dark Knight, Bale builds on his performance.
Through his admiration of Aaron Eckhart's character, Harvey Dent, and his relationship with love interest Rachael Dawes, played my Maggie Gyllenhaal, we see how deeply he yearns to become a normal man and give up his role as the caped crusader. We also see, however, how the Batman begins to dominate his psyche. Right or wrong, he truly believes that Gotham city needs his "alter" ego regardless of the consequences he must face. The idea that he is the Batman more than he is Bruce Wayne has been explored thoroughly throughout the comic book world. Bale, once again, makes us believe that a real man could become such a person.
Alfred Pennyworth - Sir Michael Caine: Always a class act, Caine reprises his role as Bruce Wayne's butler and confidant. Though only working with very few lines, Caine stands out in the film as the voice of reason - the voice that Bruce Wayne and the Batman turn to at their lowest.
Lucius Fox - Morgan Freeman: Just like Caine, Freeman is a fantastic actor in a lighter role. Fox serves mainly as a plot device by developing the Batman's crime fighting technology. He does, however, become a pivotal part of tone of the film's major themes, though this does not occur until the final act.
Even with limited screen time, Caine and Freeman provide us with yet another example of their stellar talents.
Rachael Dawes - Maggie Gyllenhaal: Katie Holmes' Dawes from Batman Begins was little more than the damsel in distress as playing the part of a hard-nosed DA didn't suit her. Gyllenhaal provides a more convincing portrayal of a woman that has managed to ascend to the upper ranks of her field. Though her main purpose in the film is simple, she is a catalyst for the emotional changes within the Batman and Harvey Dent, she plays it well. She is given just as much as Holmes was and does a far better job with it.
Aaron Eckhart - Harvey Dent: With all the buzz surrounding Heath Ledger's performance, which will get its own post, Eckhart's fantastic portrayal of both a hero and a villain should not be overlooked. As the film takes great lengths to point out, Harvey Dent is the white knight to the Batman's dark knight. Dent suffers through the onslaught of media criticism, attempts on his life and personal loss, and it is his reaction to these events that becomes the main theme of the film: how good men can rise and fall when confronted by true evil.
We have seen Eckhart play the silver tongue before, which does with as much moxie as anyone; this time he plays other side as well. He is a tragic figure, and his portrayal of a fall from grace should not be overlooked.
Lt./Commissioner Jim Gordon - Gary Oldman: Along with Alfred and and Lucius Fox Gordon is another supporting player brought to life by a fantastic thespian. With a larger role than in the first film, Gordon collaborates with the Batman to rid Gotham of crime and corruption. His voice is not always that of the law, as Dent's is. It is the voice of what is right. Gordon is a decent man in an indecent world. Oldman provides us with the film's swan song, and his tragic soliloquy approached that of cinematic greatness.
While by no means an ensemble cast, the incredibly talented actors of The Dark Knight are interwoven by a story that allows each to support the others. They have created a stunning emotional drama.
Monday, July 21, 2008
The Dark Knight did not meet my expectations...it blew them away. As enthralling as it is intelligent, Christopher Nolan's latest offering is nothing short of a masterpiece. It is an epic crime thriller that transcends genres and leaves its audience breathless.
This is not an action movie, nor is it a comic book movie. With characters as deeply tied to plot as those of The Departed and a villain as interesting, and horrifying, as Hannibal Lecter, The Dark Knight is a film that crosses the traditional lines of film genre. It is simultaneously a thriller, a crime drama and an intimate character study. It is not unusual to see films succeed at being great at one genre, but seldom do the elements of film making combine to create something that attempts, much less succeeds, at combing more than one. The Dark Knight does just that and does it better than any film I've seen in years.
Nolan's gripping tale focuses on characters that do not merely do battle as good versus evil (though their battles are depicted with stunning visuals.) Rather, each develops in their own manner as a reaction to the events around them, with the catalyst being Heath Ledger's stunning performance as the Joker. While one part of my series of reviews will discuss his role more thoroughly, let it suffice to say that Ledger's performance, stemming from an amazing script, creates a character that asks the audience to question their definitions of true evil and fear. Oscar worthy? Certainly.
The rest of the cast performs just as well, each adding key points to the plot while developing into deep, well-rounded characters.
Grounded in reality, the story is tense but paced. About an hour into the film, I realized I was clenching my fists, completely captivated by the film's tension. While the basic idea of some of the characters may be outlandish, Nolan has dropped them into a believable world. This draws the audience into caring about these people and the events that unfold around them. And how do they unfold. Not until the film's final moments does the plot, just as the Joker's plan to ruin Gotham, turn itself on end to reveal its true purpose. Though this may be a good-and-evil tale it is not the main purpose of the film. This is tragic a story of a world's varied reactions to heroism, evil and deceit. Nolan has previously used techniques such as telling his stories out of sequence to hide a film's true motive. Here, however, he has found a way to hide his message beneath an intelligent system of mystery and intrigue that does not require such gimmicks to remain suspenseful and unexpected.
Will The Dark Knight revolutionize its genre? As much as I wish it could, I doubt it will. It takes too much talent, talent that most of Hollywood doesn't have, to make a movie of this caliber. Fantastic characters, a gripping plot and visuals that will be envied for years have been combined to create something truly special. The Dark Knight is a piece of art that will not be forgotten.
Coming tomorrow: Character review
Friday, July 18, 2008
In the meantime, go see it (again, hopefully.)
IT WAS WORTH IT.
I'll have a review up tonight. Until then, let it suffice to say that I've never anticipated a film more, and I was astonished. This is the best film I've seen in a while, and everyone should see it as soon as they can.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Friday, July 11, 2008
Here is an quote from TIME Magazine, just to prove how extraordinary some things can be:
"It traces a descent into moral anarchy, and each of its major characters will hit bottom. Some will never recover, broken by the touch of evil or by finding it, like a fatal infection, in themselves."
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
- The Godfather (I and II)
- Star Wars (IV, V, VI)
- The Princess Bride
- The Motorcycle Diaries
- Batman Begins
- Young Frankenstein
- Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (a very strong 3.5)
- The Great Escape
- Donnie Darko
- Austin Powers in Goldmember
- Transformers (2007)
- Star Wars (I and II)
- The Ring
- Training Day
- The Fast and the Furious
- The Notebook
Monday, July 7, 2008
Though it goes without saying, this film is beautiful. Pixar never fails on this front, and this is their greatest visual achievement to date. I was almost moved to tears watching two robots dancing through...well...space. The neons of a future world are stunning, and, though there was a double take at first, live action is interwoven beautifully. If nothing else, see this movie just to see it.
But there is much more. Wall-E is thoroughly enjoyable. It is simply amazing how much life, energy and emotion come from a character with less than half a dozen different lines. Wall-E's character is just as developed and full of life as any seen in an animated film. The movie's strongest attribute is its ability to create empathy for the little trash compactor that could. As we watch him dance to a recording of Hello Dolly in the film's opening act, we immediately connect with every lonely moment we've ever had - every time we've yearned for companionship.
When Wall-E finally does find a companion in the form of Eve, his first visitor in hundreds of years, he wants nothing more than to hold her hand, and everyone watching immediately empathizes with him.
The supporting cast plays second fiddle to Wall-E, which is just fine. Unlike the sometimes fractured story of Finding Nemo, Andrew Stanton's previous effort with Pixar, the plot focuses almost solely on our hero (a portion of the film is devoted to its human characters, but I will discuss that later.) More than any other animated film I've seen, a character is developed with the wit and grace that is normally reserved for more dramatic story lines. At a time when so many movies are mash-ups of rehashed plots and montages (though Wall-E's plot is a little thin), it is refreshing to see a film, much less a family film, that takes the time to really look at the emotions of its characters.
As for the humans, they represent the aspect that makes Wall-E more than unique. I will not ruin the story for those who have not yet seen the movie, but the humans, the Earth they have left and the "world" they now inhabit are used as an obvious yet strong tool for social commentary. The message may be straightforward, but this is a children's cartoon. I have racked my brain, which is much too full with useless movie knowledge, and I cannot think of an animated film that is meant to be viewed by children with this level of social conscience. Never mind the message, this is a step forward in the art of film.
My one complaint with the film is the sometimes awkward camera work. At times, it feels more like a documentary as camera placements, movements and focuses are intentionally sloppy. A good example is a shot, which can be viewed in the trailers, of a herd of grocery carts slamming Wall-E against a glass door. There is a delayed rack focus, which looks as if someone was filming with a hand held camera. But, wait a minute, I'm discussing the camera work of an animated film - yet another example of how Wall-E reaches far beyond the norm.
The robot Wall-E wishes to feel the gentle touch of a friend. Wall-E, as a film, goes beyond reaching for the hand of its audience. It goes for a full bear hug in a move that, at this risk of making some uncomfortable, must be commended.
Final Grade: A / 4.5 of 5 stars
As this is my first film review on this blog, my next post will include my grades for other films and movies so that readers may gain an accurate idea of my grading scale.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Well, I'm now on co-op in Pittsburgh with Dick's Sporting Goods with a lot more time on my hands. My goal is to update at least once a week. Some will be quick thoughts that I wish to jot down; others will attempt to be well-planned works. As I have said before topics will cover a pretty wide range, but here is a quick list of what to expect:
The Dark Knight
A Clockwork Orange (this depends on how quickly I can finish Catch-22)
A recap of my work from the last quarter:
Design Communications (Drawing) projects
A revamped portfolio
Walking around UC
I'm excited to start writing again. I guess we'll see how it goes.