Moving animation

A round-up of films showing that animation is all about movement, really. Let’s start with something literal.

Nude Descending a Staircase No.3 by Marco Brambilla
“The figures of No. 3 constantly reconfigure themselves to cascade down an unseen stairway,” says regular NOWNESS contributor Brambilla. “The body, shapes and colour palette are pure Cubism, now expanded into three dimensions using state-of-the-art computer technology.” Brambilla’s No. 3 is a simulation of a walk cycle, which itself is an abstraction of human movement taken from motion-capture recordings. Variations of the cycles are rendered at different speeds and collaged into a kinetic composition that constantly evolves.

As well as bringing life to the models, this film shows you can animate the cameras filming those models.

Daria Kashcheeva combines stop motion, documentary-style filmmaking and painterly techniques
The trauma that spirals out inexorably from a single instance of failed connection between father and daughter is captured with an affecting candidness by Daria’s use of stop motion animation. For her, the technique affects a closeness with the world of the characters as a tactile reality. “I like the air between the camera and the puppets, which is tangible and which I cannot feel in computer 2D animation.” This proximity to the characters is further enhanced by Daria’s painstaking filming technique. Instead of adopting the fixed perspective of an objective viewer, she simulates the cinematic effect of hand-held footage by animating the motions of her camera as well as the movements of her puppets.

How about animating something that doesn’t move for 50+ years?

A whale can live 50-75 years. Its afterlife is equally long and spectacular
After a whale dies, it begins to sink. As it drifts slowly downward, its body provides sustenance for an incredibly diverse community of organisms. In Whale Fall (After Life of a Whale), the stages of consumption are illustrated by paper puppets of the fish, crustaceans and microscopic bacteria that feed upon the whale for decades after its death.

Or something that hasn’t moved for thousands of years?

Frozen for millennia, an ancient Greek soldier is freed to charge into battle once again
The artifacts that underlie so much of our understanding of the ancient world can often feel like brittle remnants of a dim and dusty past that’s hard to access without context and extensive knowledge. But sometimes just a little kineticism can transform a bit of pottery into a living story. Such is the effect of this animation produced for an exhibition at the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology at the University of Reading in the UK, which breathes life into war scenes from a vase found on the island of Euboea and thought to date to roughly 550 BCE.

And from the sublime to the ridiculous; animating continental drift, as the UK stupidly slides away from Europe.

Max Colson satirises post-Brexit UK in a 3D-modelled animation
Brexit really has brought out the worst in people. The rhetoric spewed by certain right-wing politicians has allowed blatant racism to ooze out of hiding, revealing a cesspit of empire-loving xenophobes that wouldn’t know what makes Britain “Great” if it smacked them in their bland food-loving faces. But with that rather enormous caveat, it’s also been an utterly fascinating time for people-watching. If you’re interested in the idea of ‘Britishness’, like artist Max Colson, the past three years have been a revelation. Via nostalgia for a Britain of the past (in many cases a fictional country that never really existed), there’s a tonne of insight into the values, fears and neuroses motivating us Brits. It’s these idealised views of Britain that Max has mined for his latest short film The Green and Present Land.

The first Fury Road

Someone on Quora joked about the differences between driving in the UK and US: “in the US you drive straight ahead, ridiculously slowly, on lanes three times as wide as your already huge automobile; whereas in the UK you drive microscopic cars with 25 manual gears along roads that are made for half a car’s width, and you will do it with courage, or be shot for cowardice at the next traffic light.”

It raised a smile and got me thinking of Duel, Steven Spielberg’s first feature film, and its leisurely introduction. The chase seems positively sedate by today’s standards, but it’s a thrillingly tense ride nonetheless. Don’t tell anyone, but you can watch the whole film on YouTube.

Duel (1971)

It’s a great film, but I appreciated it all the more after watching this documentary about it, listening to Steven Spielberg explain how he tackled minuscule production schedules, truck casting and makeup, and demanding studios.

Duel – A Conversation with Steven Spielberg – Part 1

first-fury-road-1

Duel – A Conversation with Steven Spielberg – Part 2

first-fury-road-2

Duel – A Conversation with Steven Spielberg – Part 3

first-fury-road-3

And here’s an interesting fan-made comparison of the film’s locations, then and now.

Duel / Duell by Steven Spielberg – then and now 2018 (Manfred Furtner)

I wish I knew

My son was playing a new piece of piano music following his lesson yesterday that really caught my attention. I didn’t recognise the title, ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free’, but if you’re a TV viewer in the UK of a certain age, you’ll certainly recognise the tune.

Barry Norman “Film” theme tune

It reminds me little of the South Bank Show theme tune — wonderful music we’d hear each week that I didn’t fully appreciate had a life outside that TV programme.

It was written in 1963 by Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas and served as an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement in America in the 1960s. Here it is performed by the Billy Taylor Trio, after a wonderfully laid back intro.

Billy Taylor Trio – I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free

But if it’s a recording with soul you’re after, here’s the irrepressible Nina Simone. This just builds and builds.

Nina Simone – I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free (Audio)

And here’s an amazing live performance from Montreux 1976.

Nina Simone – I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free (Montreux 1976)

Playing with music

Video game music is a big deal. It’s not all beeps and balalaikas anymore.

God of War wins Best Music and sweeps the board at Bafta Games Awards 2019
The Bafta Games Awards took place at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London last night, hosted by Dara O’Briain. God of War was the big winner of the night, winning five awards including Best Game and the Performer award. The other games nominated for Best Music included Far Cry 5, Celeste and Florence, a puzzle game about two people falling in love – which went on to win the Mobile Game category.

Music for saving the world: Sarah Schachner and the soundtrack of video games
With experience throughout different entertainment mediums under her belt, Schachner has felt natural restrictions of composing music for film and television. Due to their inherent structure, the straightforward progression of storytelling doesn’t present the necessary room to experiment as much as a composer might desire. This is where the possibilities began to open up. In the fluid universe of a video game, there’s more space to grow. New galaxies to explore, aliens to encounter and reasons to spark an audience’s imagination beyond what they see every day. On a personal level, Schachner says, that’s what she has experienced in games.

Anthem Theme – Performed Live at TGA 2018

Meet the record label turning video game soundtracks into super-cool vinyl
It’s not often artists like Weezer and Courtney Love are mentioned in the same breath as Hollow Knight, Darkest Dungeon and Nuclear Throne. For Ghost Ramp, a boutique record label based in Southern California, representing video games soundtracks alongside traditional music is a typical day at the office.

James Hannigan on video game music: is it art?
And what of those games that are open-ended, allowing players to create their own stories or scenarios? Sims, strategy and open world games, for example. Somehow, composers working on those need to create music that emotionally engages but also remains flexible enough to feel as boundless in scope as the game itself. Music like this is rarely composed to picture or synched with visual events and, at times, there is a sense that it lingers in the air, belongs to locations or emanates from the environment. It can feel like part of the very fabric of a game’s reality.

Here, Mark Savage takes a deep dive into how it began 40 years ago and what’s behind the blockbuster game soundtracks of today.

Top scores
It’s a world away from the simplistic bleeps of 1980s arcade machines, but these epic, multi-layered, orchestral scores are fulfilling the same function as the chiptune sounds of 30-plus years ago. They’re there to guide, prompt and steer the player. Repeated themes help you organise and make sense of the game world. And psychologically, things like key and tempo can even affect the way the player perceives time. Done right, the marriage of music and gameplay can induce a level of immersion that’s impossible in other forms of entertainment.

Video game soundtracks are often compared to movie music, but they’re designed very differently.

Taken to its most complex extreme, horizontal resequencing takes a grab-bag of musical components and puts them together like Tetris blocks as you play, creating an entirely unpredictable, dynamic score. Glam-prog-ambient-techno genius Brian Eno took just that approach with The Shuffler – a piece of software that created a constantly mutating score for 2007’s ambitious-yet-flawed evolution adventure Spore.

A more recent application came in Hello Games’ space adventure, No Man’s Sky, which was released in 2016 for the PlayStation 4. An astounding technological feat, the on-screen game algorithmically generates everything that exists in its vast, freeform universe. Plants, planets, alien lifeforms and environments are all randomised, with a theoretical 18 quintillion worlds for the player to visit and, perhaps, conquer.

The music is no less ambitious. Created by Sheffield math-rock band 65daysofstatic, it’s a progressive, experimental suite of songs that changes every time it’s played… with almost infinite variations.

Meanwhile.

4 Levels of Mario Music: Noob to Elite

Spoilers

Here’s how it all ends.

Timelapse of the future
A regular time lapse of that voyage would take forever, so Boswell cleverly doubles the pace every 5 seconds, so that just after 4 minutes into the video, a trillion years passes in just a second or two.1 You’d think that after the Earth is devoured by the Sun about 3 minutes in, things would get a bit boring and you could stop watching, but then you’d miss zombie white dwarfs roaming the universe in the degenerate era, the black hole mergers era 1000 trillion trillion trillion trillion years from now, the possible creation of baby “life boat” universes, and the point at which “nothing happens and it keeps not happening forever”.

Art and biology

Exploring ways of representing the human body has been a mainstay of art for millennia. Here are two examples — one hard as iron, the other soft as paper.

The body as machine: first imagined in 1927, now brought to new, animated life
Originally an interactive installation, this short video from the German animator Henning M Lederer breathes new life into Kahn’s illustration, augmenting the original image with mechanical movements and sounds. Lederer’s update offers a visually and conceptually rich melding of technology, biology and design, echoing a time when machinery permeated the collective consciousness in a manner quite similar to computing technology today.

There are many more videos (including some wonderfully animated book covers) on Henning Lederer‘s website, but for a different take on what goes on inside us, check out the work of Eiko Ojala.

Paper illustrations and GIFs explore the body and mind in new work by Eiko Ojala
New Zealand and Estonia-based illustrator Eiko Ojala creates cut paper illustrations that present shadow and depth through creative layering of colorful pieces of paper. Recently, his editorial illustrations have been focused on the mind and body, like a cut paper GIF he created for a story on heart attacks in the New York Times. Others, like two Washington Post illustrations, attempt to uncover the thoughts and feelings sequestered in children’s minds by layering images inside the shape of a boy’s profile.

EikoOjala19_02

Looking for connections

As this video from Kurzgesagt explains, “We are living in the most connected time in human history, and yet an unprecedented number of us feel isolated.”

Loneliness
Everybody feels lonely sometimes. But only few of us are aware how important this feeling was for our ancestors – and that our modern world can turn it into something that really hurts us. Why do we feel this way and what can we do about it?

I mentioned last year the steps being taken by the government and others to tackle loneliness. Help might be at hand, though. Literally.

Loneliness is bad for your health. An app may help.
Little changed for those in either the control group or the one taught attention-only mindfulness. But the subjects whose training included acceptance and equanimity were measurably more sociable. Their daily routines, after using the app for two weeks, typically included several more interactions with people that lasted at least a few minutes, and their questionnaires showed a decline in their feelings of loneliness.

Because loneliness, like mindfulness, is a subjective state, it’s difficult to make definitive conclusions about why and how a focus on acceptance prompted greater sociability. But David Creswell, an associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon who conducted the study with the lead author, Emily Lindsay, believes that “the equanimity piece is key.” The poise it teaches, he says, may help people become less self-judgmental, less self-conscious, more amenable to interacting with others.

Here’s another write-up of the research, from Reuters this time.

Smartphone mindfulness app may help curb loneliness
“Perhaps by practicing monitoring and acceptance daily, even though for a short period of time, we can feel more at peace and free, more centered, and less affected by the possible negative thoughts and feelings generated in our mind,” Zhang said. “So we are closer to who we really are – we are social beings and we inherently need to connect to others.”

A theme which kicks off this stand-up routine from Simon Amstell, from 2010. This is how he starts, once the applause as he walks on stage dies down.

“Hello. Thank you. How are you? Are you all right? Well, this is fun, isn’t it? This is sort of a fun thing to be doing. This is fun, right? I’m quite lonely, let’s start with that.”

Simon Amstell – Do Nothing Live

Don’t worry, though. He ends it on quite a positive, inspirational note. It’s all about letting go.

Explaining the Brexit endgame

Another Brexit vote, another significant defeat. Here are a couple of useful charts outlining what might happen next.

The Brexit state of play: a guide to this week’s crucial votes

explaining-the-brexit-endgame-3

Here’s a version from Quartz, set on a calendar. An interesting note on 18 April…

Every possible remaining Brexit outcome

explaining-the-brexit-endgame-2

It’s enough to drive you mad.

Brexit has become a mental health issue
Hamira Riaz, a clinical psychologist based in the UK, says it’s not surprising that the uncertainty over Brexit is weighing on mental health. If “you suddenly find that decisions that are made on a national level are impacting your material security, that is definitely going to be a significant negative life event,” she explains. “And we know that people facing significant negative life events can tip over into mental health issues—such as depression and anxiety.”

[…]

The UK’s National Health Service could find itself less able to address mental health issues in the near future. An NHS briefing (pdf) last year said Brexit’s impact on mental health services would be “far reaching,” in part because of the risks it poses to the supply of workers. About 165,000 NHS employees are EU nationals, and while those that are already in the UK can apply to stay, domestic recruitment alone won’t be able to meet future staffing needs.

And how about this for a summary of the key issues here?

🇬🇧🔥 Brexit, Briefly: REVISITED! 🔥🇪🇺

So, farewell then, 80s icons

Some sad news from earlier this month.

Magenta Devine, presenter of Network 7 and Rough Guide, dies aged 61
In addition to her TV work she was appointed as a UN Goodwill Ambassador in 1998, heading a campaign for women’s equality and reproductive rights. In the 1990s she was treated for a heroin addiction and declared bankruptcy in 2003. In a 1996 interview with the Guardian, Devine was asked how she would like to be remembered, replying: “Brilliant, witty, clever, beautiful, generous, sexy, wise. Well, that’s what I’d like …”

Magenta Devine: an 80s TV icon of effortless style and substance
Certainly, the moral effect her shades had on her was impressive. Unlike later yoof TV presenters such as Amanda De Cadenet she was never exposed as poorly briefed, gormless or self-absorbed. I was interviewed by her myself while working for Melody Maker (for an item about George Michael) and was impressed by her methodical calmness and discreet, unflappable intelligence. This could have been Joan Bakewell. Whether reporting from the frontline of an acid house event, or presenting an informative item on Dublin in her Rough Guide series or calmly putting a typically blustery, snarky John Lydon in his place, she was the appropriate frontperson for a style of TV which, initially at least, sprang from a good countercultural place, genuinely wishing to inform rather than patronise young people.

Later, of course, Yoof TV mutated into the dismal The Word, a braying freakshow for the Friday night back-from-the-pub crowd. But Devine had largely disappeared from our screens by then. She was very much of the 80s, stylish, attractive but never an object of the sort of boorish, sexist attention of the laddish 90s. She was forgotten; now that she has gone, however, she should be remembered as a representative of a lost era of TV idealism, when style and substance went hand in glove.

I’d forgotten all about Network 7 and just how much I loved it.

Magenta Devine, TV presenter, dies aged 61
According to Guha, Devine was representative of the “yoof” TV genre, “a new kind of television that had attitude, irreverence and a commitment to telling it like it is”. “I knew she was ill, but her death is a body blow,” he went on. “I have lost a soul mate and a partner in adventure.”

so-farewell-then-80s-icons-1

And news of another iconic sunglasses wearer from the 80s.

Mark Hollis, lead singer of Talk Talk, dies at age 64, reports say
Hollis’ influence has often been referenced by musicians, including Elbow’s Guy Garvey. “Mark Hollis started from punk and by his own admission he had no musical ability,” he told Mojo. “To go from only having the urge, to writing some of the most timeless, intricate and original music ever is as impressive as the moon landings for me.”

Talk Talk – Life’s What You Make It

What a song, so deceptively simple. Here, writer and musician Tom Maxwell gets to grips with Mark’s later work.

Remembering Mark Hollis of Talk Talk
Songwriter and Talk Talk frontman Mark Hollis died in late February. He was 64. I would love to say that I knew the man’s work beyond the 1984 synth-laden hit “It’s My Life,” but like many people, that was not the case. Knowing how much extraordinary music is available to audiophiles, as yet unheard, can be a concern as much as a comfort. It’s wonderful when a new star appears in your musical horizon, but how many are yet to be seen? Anyway, it’s doubly sad when an artist’s death is what leads you to marvelous art.

Morbid streaks

Two fascinating documentaries on how we respond to mortality.

To Tibetan Buddhists, sky burials are sacred. To tourists, they’re a morbid curiosity
Filmed in 2011, the US director Russell O Bush’s short documentary Vultures of Tibet offers a small window on to cultural tensions on the Tibetan Plateau. Set in the historically Buddhist town of Taktsang Lhamo, home to two monasteries, the film is centred on the practice of sky burials, in which the bodies of the Tibetan dead are fed to wild griffon vultures. For the town’s Tibetan Buddhist population, it is a sacred means of helping the dead’s spirit transition to the next life – a final earthly offering to creatures believed to have the wisdom of deities. However, for much of the rest of the world, the tradition is a morbid curiosity, and increasingly attracts unwelcome tourists, whose pictures end up in all corners of the internet.

morbid-streak-5

“If a group of Tibetans were to surround a Chinese funeral and watch, laugh, and take pictures, it wouldn’t be tolerated.”

morbid-streak-6

From the mountains of Tibet, to the miniatures of the US.

Dieorama
Abigail Goldman spends her work days as an investigator for a public defender’s office in Washington state, helping people who are seriously in trouble—which can mean hours of staring at grisly pictures of crime scenes, visiting morgues, even observing autopsies. By night, she dreams up gruesome events, which she then turns into tiny, precise dioramas. Rife with scenes of imminent death and brutal dismemberment, the fruits of Goldman’s painstaking labor would be adorable … if they weren’t so disturbing.

morbid-streak-2

morbid-streak-4

Having fun, Dave?

As Brexit continues to mess things up…

The fragmentation of the big parties
One reason Brexit has proved tricky is that the party divide does not map onto views about Europe. This week 11 moderate mps, eight Labour and three Conservative, decided that they had had enough—and more may join them. Given that Parliament seats 650 mps, their resignation to create a new Independent Group might seem a minor tremor. But it matters: as a verdict on Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn; as another complication in resolving Brexit; and as a warning of an earthquake that could yet reshape Britain’s two-party system.

… let’s not forget who got us into this hole.

David Cameron checks in from Nice

So what do you think, is Brexit making things better?

Is Britain great again?

Images of Hong Kong

I felt that last post about China was a little negative, but perhaps this one about the amazing imagery of Hong Kong might redress the balance.

Fan Ho’s street photography of 50s & 60s Hong Kong
Dubbed the “Cartier-Bresson of the East”, Fan Ho patiently waited for ‘the decisive moment’; very often a collision of the unexpected, framed against a very clever composed background of geometrical construction, patterns and texture. He often created drama and atmosphere with backlit effects or through the combination of smoke and light. His favorite locations were the streets, alleys and markets around dusk or life on the sea.

images-of-hong-kong-4

images-of-hong-kong-2

images-of-hong-kong-1

Housing there looks a little different now, especially in Kowloon. Here’s Toby Harriman’s take on that (via Laughing Squid).

The Block Tower // Hong Kong Aerial
For years I have seen pictures of these public housing/apartment tower blocks being built and knew that they were something I wanted to see and document for myself. Rather than just creating stills from these, I went with the goal of taking abstract videos and displaying them more like art, showing off their true scale.

The Block Tower, by Toby Harriman

Interestingly, he says that “Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with an overall density of an estimated 6,300 people per square kilometer”, but there are no people to be found anywhere in the images he captures, just the occasional glimpses of laundry drying on balconies. I think the photos feel a little unreal as a result, simply too immense to get your head round.

visualising-hong-kong

Crazy colour schemes, though.

visualising-hong-kong-1

Whilst the drone footage is impressive, I think I prefer Michael Wolf’s more atmospheric interpretation, Architecture of Density, from a while back. Looks like glitch art.

visualising-hong-kong-2

Michael Wolf photographs the architecture of density
The structural urban fabric of the city of Hong Kong is one of the most astonishingly condensed, populated and vertical in the world, propelling its edifices soaring into the sky to contend with the lack of lateral space. German photographer Michael Wolf — and current resident of the Chinese metropolis — has captured a series of images that acutely acknowledge the landscape’s overwhelming concentration of soaring buildings and skyscrapers. ‘Architecture of Density’ is a collection of large scale works, which focuses on repetition of pattern and form to cause an infinitely complex visual reaction and rediscovers the city scenes by highlighting its forest-like expanse of high rises.

It’s not just the grand scale that interests him, though.

Michael Wolf captures abstract, accidental sculptures in Hong Kong alleyways
For over 20 years Michael Wolf has been photographing Hong Kong. During that time he has captured the towering pastel facades of its high rise architecture in a vein similar to Thomas Struth or Andreas Gursky, but perhaps more interestingly he has delved into the hidden maze of the city’s back alleys. What he found and has faithfully documented, are the innumerable abstract urban still lifes seen throughout. All the city’s flotsam and jetsam, from clusters of gloves and clothes hangers, to networks of pipes and a full colour spectrum of plastic bags, are photographed in strange, but entirely happenstance arrangements.

images-of-hong-kong-5

And check this out for an unusual point of view.

Chan Dick’s aerial photos of a Hong Kong fire station taken from a toilet window
“One day I was busy in my workshop when I heard a noise coming from the bathroom. Curious, I opened the window and looked down and saw firefighters playing volleyball,” explains Chan. “For the next month, I dedicated myself to observation and bit by bit discovered the routine of this small unusual space.”

images-of-hong-kong-6

Making (a lot of) music

Kind of like a two-person one-man band?

Twenty instruments reconstructed to play through the keys of a vintage piano
We’ve all tinkered around on a keyboard that, when a button is pushed or settings tweaked, gives us a chance to play the sound of a flute or drum. When the Ukrainian band Brunettes Shoot Blondes purchased a vintage, albeit broken, grand piano they decided to recreate this concept in analog form. The group secured twenty instruments to the inside of the piano and its sides so they could effectively play each as they pressed certain keys.

Brunettes Shoot Blondes – Houston

I liked how they operated the cello and violins, and the flourish on the chimes was a nice touch. An earlier video of theirs is equally ingenious.

Brunettes Shoot Blondes – Knock Knock

Five minutes?

Via Laughing Squid, a video from the BBC on the correct-according-to-science way of making a cup of tea. Yes, getting rid of the styrofoam cup makes sense, as does filtering the water first, but waiting five minutes? Really?

How to prepare a proper cuppa using a tea bag
“It is a long time but it’s gonna be too hot to drink anyway, so you’ve got to leave it. There’s more (of) the flavor coming out and also the more caffeine comes out, the stronger the tea will be. There’s also more (of) the antioxidants coming out. Tea is a great source of antioxidants and these are natural substances that our body uses to help fight disease. So it is important that you leave it to brew.”

How you’ve been making tea wrong your entire life – BBC

Let me just check with the proper authorities…

How to make a proper brew
Wait patiently. Tea needs time to unlock all its flavour, so give it 4-5 minutes to do its thing. This is a perfect time to munch a sneaky biscuit or daydream about holidays.

Hmm. OK then, you win. Now get that kettle on.

Thoughtfully animated

I really like the delicacy of these live-action animations (that’s not the right term) from Catherine Prowse. The frailty of the models and the directness of the movements acting on them work well to illustrate the vulnerability of our inner lives, trying to get through each day.

Asleep on the Train: a puppeteered music video explores the wishful daydreams embedded in a daily commute
The stop motion short film follows a businessman as his daily commute gets wildly off-track, leaving the audience to guess if his adventure was real or only acted out in a wishful dream. A rich blue and orange color scheme is used in the design of both the train and the surrounding landscape, which stylistically connects the protagonist’s commute to the scenery he explores during his nostalgic escape.

Rod puppets in intricate felt sets profess The Need to Be Alone for Alain de Botton
Not long out of Kingston’s Illustration and Animation course, Tom Fisher and Catherine Prowse have directed a charming and impressively detailed short film for The School of Life, made entirely from hand-stitched felt. Featuring a cast of rod puppets shot in a live action format, The Need to Be Alone stars a red-spectacled, introverted protagonist called Alan – a tribute to its writer and narrator Alain de Botton. Throughout the film, Alan navigates a series of potentially awkward social scenarios as Alain professes the importance of having time alone to process these interactions.

Two contrasting technologies

Here are two technologies or tools that couldn’t be more different.

One started out around 1560 or 1795, has no moving parts, needs no manual and is still being sold in their billions…

A sharp look at the surprisingly complex process of pencil manufacturing by photographer Christopher Payne
The photographer, renowned for his cinematic images that show the architectural grace of manufacturing spaces, shares that he has held a lifelong fascination with design, assembly, and industrial processes. “The pencil is so simple and ubiquitous that we take it for granted,” Payne tells Colossal. “But making one is a surprisingly complex process, and when I saw all the steps involved, many of which are done by hand, I knew it would make for a compelling visual narrative.”

two-contrasting-technologies-1

…although for how much longer.

Children struggle to hold pencils due to too much tech, doctors say
His mother, Laura, blames herself: “In retrospect, I see that I gave Patrick technology to play with, to the virtual exclusion of the more traditional toys. When he got to school, they contacted me with their concerns: he was gripping his pencil like cavemen held sticks. He just couldn’t hold it in any other way and so couldn’t learn to write because he couldn’t move the pencil with any accuracy.”

The other, a highly complicated technological marvel that spread across the globe, revolutionising society, only to completely disappear within 30 years

VHS tapes
People have been able to consume their choice of music at home for more than a century, but it wasn’t until the mid-1970s that video was truly freed from the constraints of the multiplex and the network broadcast schedule—and not until the 1980s that it really became accessible. That heyday didn’t last long. Just three decades separated the first VHS-format VCR from the last Hollywood hit distributed on video tape. But in that time, a lot of memories were created, and a new template for consuming media was forged.

two-contrasting-technologies-3

… though fans remain.

From ignored ubiquity to design classic: the art of the blank VHS tape
When the company he worked at acquired a commercial printer with a scan bed on top, Jones began to scan tapes. Looking around on Google, he saw hardly any high-resolution images of these little pieces of everyday ephemera. There were plenty of horror and VHS box art scans, “but no love for the lowly home recording tape box that had been part of so many homes and families.” From this realization, the Vault Of VHS was born, a blog dedicated to the design of retail VHS packaging for both home and pre-recorded tapes.

two-contrasting-technologies-2

“The font, art, and tape dirt grey just feel like the gummy carpet of a grimy porn theater.”

YouTube’s conspiracy problem rears its ugly head again

The recent wildfire in California has been devastating for the towns and communities involved. This video gives us a glimpse of what some people have had to face. It’s worth pointing out that this wasn’t filmed at night.

Family drive through flames escaping California wildfire

A video on YouTube, shared via the Guardian News channel. But it’s YouTube that’s again in the news, over the blatantly false videos it hosts and the mechanisms for publicising them.

YouTube lets California fire conspiracy theories run wild
The Camp Fire in California has killed at least 79 people, left 699 people unaccounted for, and created more than a thousand migrants in Butte County, California. In these circumstances, reliable information can literally be a matter of life [and] death. But on YouTube, conspiracy theories are thriving.

I don’t want to go into the theories themselves, the specifics aren’t important.

But the point isn’t that these conspiracy theorists are wrong. They obviously are. The point is that vloggers have realized that they can amass hundreds of thousands of views by advancing false narrative, and YouTube has not adequately stopped these conspiracy theories from blossoming on its platform, despite the fact that many people use it for news. A Pew Research survey found that 38% of adults consider YouTube as a source of news, and 53% consider the site important for helping them understand what’s happening in the world.

Combine those statistics with these, from the Guardian, and you can see the problem.

Study shows 60% of Britons believe in conspiracy theories
“Conspiracy theories are, and as far as we can tell always have been, a pretty important part of life in many societies, and most of the time that has gone beneath the radar of the established media,” said Naughton. “Insofar as people thought of conspiracy theories at all, we thought of them as crazy things that crazy people believed, [and that] didn’t seem to have much impact on democracy.”

That dismissive attitude changed after the Brexit vote and the election of Trump in 2016, he said.

And that’s why these accounts of conspiracy theory vloggers manipulating YouTube to get millions of views for their blatantly false videos are so important.

The issue of conspiracy theorists in a society far predates platforms like YouTube. However, platforms such as YouTube provide new fuel and routes through which these conspiracy theories can spread. In other words, conspiracy theories are the disease, but YouTube is a whole new breed of carrier.

How on (the round) earth can we fix this?

Bon voyage

My son flies to Japan next week, on a school science trip, via Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. Here are a couple of links to send him on his way.

Schiphol Clock
Time is important at an airport, with thousands of people running back and forth trying to get their plane on time. This is why most airports are full of clocks everywhere, helping to guide harried travelers. Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands is no exception, but it offers a twist: a giant clock that appears as if a man is busy painting it real time, minute by minute.

The painter is actually a 12-hour-long recording, that gives a convincing illusion that a human is standing inside the translucent clock, busy at work as the hands go around. This creative timepiece is the latest work of Maarten Baas, a well-known Dutch artist and designer that has a series of similar live clock recordings.

Schipol Clock

A 12 hour long recording! There’s more on this remarkable clock on Maarten Baas’s website. It’ll be interesting to see if it’s still there.

And then, when my boy gets to Japan:

Four weird unexpected things to love about Japan
Washlets are one of the unexpected delights of going to Japan. The Japanese washlet is a technological marvel in that it cleans and dries your flanks, underside and phalanges after you’ve taken a shit, without you having to step foot in a shower.

What happens after your experience with the washlet is a feeling of unparalleled freshness, cleanliness and wellness unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced before. In the West we have toilets that flush but that’s about it. It’s a toilet made for a Jurassic reptile not a highly evolved human being.

homer-washlet

Should have posted this yesterday

A little late, but better late than never.

The spirit photographs of William Hope
Known as “spirit photographs”, they were taken by a controversial medium called William Hope. Born in 1863 in Crewe, Hope started his working life as a carpenter, but in 1905 became interested in spirit photography after capturing the supposed image of a ghost while photographing a friend. He went on to found and lead a group of six spirit photographers known as the Crewe Circle. Following World War I, support for the group, and demand for its services, grew as the grieving relatives of those lost to the war sought a means of contacting their loved ones.

yesterday-2

He was later exposed as a fraudster, but could count Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as one of his supporters, so there you go.

What can a linguist learn from a gravestone?
The key running theme of gravestone inscriptions is that they are for the living, and even for a more specific task: they reaffirm and reiterate membership in a group, and the beliefs that are part of the culture of that group. This does not necessarily mean that they are particularly informative about the life of the specific deceased, but they are full of useful, sometimes subtle cues about the community the deceased belonged to, and what they valued.

And what movies they liked?

The Mummy: the story of the world’s most expensive movie poster
Auction house Sotheby’s is currently accepting bids for one of three remaining original posters of 1932’s The Mummy. It is expected to sell for somewhere between $1-1.5m, making it the world’s most expensive movie poster. It’s a scary amount of money.

yesterday-3

I’m sure audiences at the time would have been terrified by that film, but could we say the same about this one, from Méliès? I don’t think so.

The Infernal Cauldron (1903)
Short film by Georges Méliès, released through his Star Film Company, featuring demons, flames, spectres, and a brilliant array of the film-maker’s usual arsenal of tricks. As Wikipdia sums up: “In a Renaissance chamber decorated with devilish faces and a warped coat of arms, a gleeful Satan throws three human victims into a cauldron, which spews out flames. The victims rise from the cauldron as nebulous ghosts, and then turn into fireballs. The fireballs multiply and pursue Satan around the chamber. Finally Satan himself leaps into the infernal cauldron, which gives off a final burst of flame.” Enjoy!

yesterday-4

And I can’t imagine this scaring anyone either. Sounds good, though.

Silly Symphony – the skeleton dance 1929 disney short

So let’s end with an exploration of that devil’s interval, and how it moved from the Classical and Romantic eras into the mainstream.

Spooky music
During the 19th century, composers like Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner cracked the code of creepiness. The sonic dread they pioneered involved two key ingredients that horror movies and metal bands still use today: a forbidden sequence of notes known as “Satan in music,” and a spooky little ditty that Gregorian monks sang about the apocalypse.

yesterday-5

Strange moves

A couple of music videos that have caught my eye recently.

Little Big – Skibidi

No idea. Psy meets Begbie?

Loyle Carner – Ottolenghi

Here’s some more on the making of that.

Oscar Hudson reveals (some) of the secrets behind his video for Loyle Carner
Set on a train, which looks like a classic (unreliable) Southern or South Eastern network model from the seat pattern, Ottolenghi switches from VHS footage filmed by Ben (Loyle Carner) on a real train before switching to a set built in a studio. The beginnings of the video developed from a “super simple” idea of Ben’s: he would fall asleep on a real train journey, and then “start to dream a train journey,” Oscar explains. “I wanted to do something that ‘woozed’ back and forth between dream and reality where details from real life get amplified and warped in the dream.”