Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Sometimes, The Wheel is on Fire

Monday, February 28, 2011

Before The Wheel

At this time 11 years ago, I was a ghost. An apparition. Friends would swear they'd seen me, perhaps at the dining hall or by the mail room, but always out of the corner of their eye, and they could never prove it. Late at night, they might swap stories about such sightings, about their brief glimpse of a spectre resembling someone they once knew.

It was my final semester of college, and I spent half my waking hours in the art building working on pieces for the art majors' senior show. The other half I was holed up in a computer lab, completing my other senior project: a 3 min 15 sec computer animation. With no time to spare for food or socializing, I lost 20 pounds and 30 friends.1

Three minutes may not seem like much to you, but you've never been an animator.2 For comparison, it took 8 people to complete Pixar's short Luxo Jr., which is 2 min 18 sec long and only contains 6 items on-screen (2 lamps, 2 balls, an electrical outlet, and the floor). Admittedly, Luxo was made 14 years earlier and is far superior, but I was doing everything myself, with 100+ 3D models, 80+ textures, 30+ lights, 4 cameras, and a total of 5,850 frames of animation.3

Back in 2000, it took 2-3 minutes to render a single frame. If I was lucky and no one else was using the computers, I could run 4 of them overnight and get about 800 frames rendered. The next morning I'd pick out all the mistakes (e.g. motion, lighting, timing, executive producer credit), then make adjustments and run the machines again that night.

Rinse, spit, repeat.

There are still plenty of mistakes in this. Close to fifty, at last count.4 For years, I told myself I'd go back and fix everything, but life and laziness always intervened. I finally stopped deluding myself a couple months ago — for one thing, I no longer have access to the software — and got a local video place to copy the animation from Beta tape7 to DVD.

The picture quality isn't great, but for the first time in 11 years, I have a digital copy. Thus, I've finally released it into the wild (a.k.a. the Tube of You). And since the Academy just awarded the Oscar for best animated short last night, I thought it fitting to share mine with you now.

Behold! The Hunt, the greatest computer animation ever made (by me):

Also, if you're interested, here's a list of all the Easter eggs I included in the animation.

1 Neither of these is true.
2 Or have you? If so, disregard that blanket statement. Instead, read this blanket statement: "I like blankets."
3 Okay, that's not entirely true. I didn't do everything. My friend Jared Castiglione was gracious enough to record two sound effects for me.
4 Don't try to count. Really.5
5 By the way, when I tried to get a job in computer animation after college, everyone loved the video. Creative directors, Human Resources, graphic designers, even CEOs. Everyone, in fact, except the animators. All they saw were the mistakes.6
6 Yet it was good enough to be shown at Temple University's NextFrame Film Festival. The site provides no proof of this, of course, since the 2000-2001 year is the only one without an archive page. Like I said, 11 years ago I was a ghost.
7 Yep, you read that right. Beta.

Friday, February 25, 2011

19 Things You Probably Didn't Need to Know

I was wild and free, roaming the blogosphere with nary a care in the world, but then I paused too long in one spot and got tagged by J.B. Chicoine. And just like with all those other tagged animals out there, followers can now learn more about me by observing my behavior, such as how I react to these 19 different stimuli:

  1. If you have pets, do you see them as animals, or are they members of the family?
    They're animals, so of course I see them as animals. Why would I ever see my son Schrödinger (a hep cat), cousin Calypso (quite the sly lynx), or sister Sonya (that old dog) as anything other than animals?
  2. If you can have a dream come true, what would it be?
    Well, there was that one dream with Natalie Portman, Kirsten Dunst, and Scarlett Johansson. That was one kick-ass game of Laser Tag.
  3. What is the one thing most hated by you?
    At this moment, I have a seething hatred for Question 3. It's awkward, overly wordy, and said some truly awful things about my mother.
  4. What would you do with a billion dollars?
    If I had a billion dollars, that's a thousand times more than a million dollars. So, I'd just buy you everything the Barenaked Ladies suggested, but in multiples of a thousand. You know: 1,000 K-cars, 1,000 green dresses (but not real green dresses; that's cruel), 1,000 monkeys (haven't you always wanted 1,000 monkeys?), that sort of thing.
  5. What helps to pull you out of a bad mood?
    One of those giant vending machine claws. But man, does it take a lot of quarters.
  6. Which is more blessed, loving someone or being loved by someone?
    Let's see... my wife loves me, and every time I sneeze she blesses me. But when she sneezes, all she gets is a Gesundheit. So there's your answer: being loved (though being allergic to everything certainly helps).
  7. What is your bedtime routine?
    Dental hygiene is important, so first I brush my molars, bicuspids, and incisors 30x each, and my cuspids 10x each. (They know what they did.) Armed with a flamethrower, I then check my closet and under the bed for monsters/lobbyists. Finally, I put on my footie pajamas (Voltron, or if those are in the wash, The McLehrer News Hour) and read for exactly 13 minutes before knocking myself out with a hit of general anesthesia from that canister I stole from the local ER last year.
  8. If you are currently in a relationship, how did you meet your partner?
    Inside a Blue Turtle. True story.
  9. If you could watch a creative person in the act of the creative process, who would it be?
    Leonardo da Vinci. Not only would I love to watch him work, but it would also mean I've created a working time machine. Huzzah!
  10. What kinds of books do you read?
    I only read paranormal self-help.
  11. How would you see yourself in ten years time?
    Probably the same way as I do now: with a mirror. Or with that time machine I built in Question 9.
  12. What's your fear?
    I fear I'm afraid of phobophobia.
  13. Would you give up all the junk food for the rest of your life for the opportunity to visit space?
    What's the point of visiting space if you can't have an Easy Cheese spray duel with your fellow astronauts?
  14. Would you rather be single and rich, or married and poor?
    You're asking if I'd give up my money just for the tax benefits that come from filing jointly? That's rich!
  15. What's the first thing you do when you wake up?
    Try to chew through the leather straps.
  16. If you could change one thing about your spouse/partner, what would it be?
    I wouldn't change a thing; she's perfect just the way she is. (Okay, now that she's been appeased and has moved onto the next question... I think it'd be really cool if she had telekinesis.)
  17. If you could pick a new name for yourself, what would it be?
    Bieber McLovin Wilson.
  18. Would you forgive and forget no matter how horrible a thing that special someone has done?
    They say to forgive is divine, and that an elephant never forgets. I am neither god nor pachyderm, so I shall do neither. I will, however, help her get rid of the bodies again.
  19. If you could only eat one thing for the next six months, what would it be?
    Only one thing? Well, anything big enough to sustain me for six months wouldn't fit in the fridge; it'd either go bad or get eaten by ants. And almost anything smaller would leave me starving for the last couple months. So, it's not the most appetizing option, but I guess I'll be feasting on Prometheus's liver.

Have you learned anything, dear readers? I hope so, since I sure haven't.

I'm also supposed to tag four of you to keep this thing going, but in case you forgot, this blog is where memes go to die. If you're itching to answer these questions, consider yourself tagged. Otherwise, roam free, dear readers. Roam free.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Mini-Splintered Thing

Since we still have a little time left in this Hallmark Holiday, let's talk about love. It's often misinterpreted. Love is not about flowers and greeting cards and chocolate, not at its core. It's about feelings, and devotion.1

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, if you believe Matt Groening,2 said this about love:
"Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come."
If nothing else, this proves that love means something different to everyone. Whereas some believe love makes the world go round,3 others are quick to ask: What's love but a second Han demotion?4

Love is precious, love is kind. Love stinks. Love is a battlefield. Love is blind.

There are those who believe love means absolutely nothing,5 and some for whom it is everything. Others use love to their advantage, getting the smitten to act as a kind of indentured servant, to do their cooking and cleaning and sewing.6

But most people get it just about right. Love is many things, but mostly it's about caring for someone so deeply you would do almost anything for them.7

Remember: If you love someone, set them free. If they come back to you, you were probably in love with a boomerang.

1 And chocolate.
2 I wouldn't.
3 These people clearly aren't physicists.
4 What, you thought he'd keep his rank as Captain? He shot first.
5 Tennis players.
6 You! Come pleat me!
7 Even floss.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Putting One Footnote in Front of the Other

Once upon a time,1 there was2 a blogger3 who had been neglecting his readers.4 In a misguided attempt5 to appease them, he decided to jam-pack6 an entire month's supply of footnotes7 into a single post8 in order to stave off possible wheelfiritis.9 There were no known survivors.10

1 Wow, did I really open with such a cliché? I might as well be starting a movie preview with "In a world where...", beginning a joke with "A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar..." or walking into a bar and saying "So, do you come here often?" This lack of originality doesn't bode well for the rest of the post.
2 Well, at least it's not "in a land far, far away," but "there was" connotes telling rather than showing, and as a writer it's usually better to do the latter. I mean, which do you prefer: "Joe was tall" or "Joe smacked his forehead on the door frame as he followed me in. 'Fuck!' he said. 'That's the third time this week.'" The second one, right? Of course. People adore violence and profanity.
3 I'm not naming names; I ain't no rat. According to the horoscope, I'm a lion. According to the Chinese horoscope, I'm a horse. According to the Chinese fluoroscope, I'm a pig, and should lower my cholesterol.
4 All of whom are svelte, alarmingly intelligent people, with the exception of Francois T. Parfait of Austin, TX, who is, in fact, a monkey.
5 The only kind of attempt I ever attempt.
6 Twice as effective as jamming or packing. Three times as effective as pam-jacking.
7 I get them wholesale. The quality sometimes suffers, but I Kant campaign aboot the Pryce.
8 Single post with offbeat sense of humor seeks same. Enjoys reading, surfing, and traveling to other countries in the blink of an eye. Allergic to cookies and LOLCats.
9 Previously known as acute footnote withdrawal. Additional symptoms include: pink eye, yellow fever, blue blood, purple heart, brown coat, white knuckles, red balloons, and green clover.
10 Although the dead are now risin' up, back on the street.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Forecast: Six More Weeks of Writing

Groundhog Day used to be about a rodent predicting the weather. According to folklore, if a groundhog pops out of its hole on this day and sees The Shadow, it will become scared and remain in its burrow for six weeks, allowing winter to continue.1 If The Shadow is nowhere to be seen, however, the groundhogs will all emerge from their holes and start spraying their aerosol cans everywhere, initiating global warming and heralding spring weather six weeks early.2

But all that changed with the 1993 movie of the same name. Now, thanks to Bill Murray and Harold Ramis, Groundhog Day is synonymous with "do over." If you haven't seen the movie, first of all, go watch this movie. Seriously. Second of all, it's about a meteorologist who keeps reliving the same day over and over until he finally gets it right. Most people would love to have this ability: to be able to go back and fix their mistakes. To redo a decision, or a conversation, or their living room. But, alas, it's just not possible.

Unless you're a writer.

Sadly, we writers still can't right past wrongs in our own lives (or our living rooms), but we can perfect our characters' action and dialogue. Maybe even our entire manuscript.

In Groundhog Day, meteorologist Phil Connors changes his actions every day. He may just tweak one little remark, to see what difference that makes, or he might go somewhere he's never been before and interact with someone new.

We should be doing the exact same thing in our novels and stories.

If a passage or chapter isn't working, make a change. Try the first thing that comes into your head, no matter how peculiar or random it may seem. One simple altered line could bring your story in a whole new and unexpected direction. A more dramatic change could mend the plot hole you've been struggling with, or introduce the perfect subplot. If it doesn't work, toss it out and try another one. Even if it does nothing else for you, this exercise might show you facets of a character's personality you've yet to explore.

I've tried this multiple times at the beginning of my novel. Mostly, I've attempted minor edits: wording changes, rearranged phrases, the occasional new line, that sort of thing.3 Sometimes it's an improvement, sometimes not. Then yesterday, after reading through the top entries in Nathan Bransford's 4th Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Contest, inspiration struck. Minor wasn't going to cut it anymore.

I scrapped everything on the first page (except the opening line), and came at it from a different angle. Now I start with two people in the room, rather than introducing the second later, and I've given the main character something new to think about. I'll have to rewrite the rest of the chapter to match, but it now has the voice I've been seeking all along. After months and months, I think I finally got it right. And you can, too.

Fellow writers, are you stuck? Let Groundhog Day be your guide.

I got you, babe.

1 Although The Shadow only knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, groundhogs aren't taking any chances. They are evil, evil creatures.
2 And this is what happened this morning. I suspect The Shadow was stuck behind a snow plow and couldn't get to the event in time.
3 Interestingly enough, much as Phil Connors always wakes up to the same Sonny & Cher song, my opening sentence has never changed: "At 4:17pm on a Tuesday, Sean Greyson lost his fingers."