Saturday, November 24, 2012

Advent of Computer Animation

S1m0ne  . . . Al Pacino & Rachel Roberts

Before the advent of computer animation, all animation all the frames in an animation film had to be drawn by hand. When considering that each second of animation contains 24 frames (on film), it’s easy to imagine the tremendous amount of work that has to go into creating even the shortest of animated films, even cartoons.

The fact is animation did not just happen in a day. Many people contributed to make animation what it is today, and to make computer animation possible. Many steps had to take place, first to make moving images possible, and then developing techniques for creating animations. Here’s just a few of the major landmarks which made animation a household term:

In 1824 Peter Roget presented a paper “The persistence of vision with regard to moving objects” to the British Royal Society.  By 1831 Dr. Joseph Antoine Plateau and Dr. Simon Rittrer constructed a machine they called a “Phenakitstoscope” which produced the illusion of movement by allowing a viewer to gaze at a rotating disk containing small windows, behind which was another disk containing a series of images; when the disks were rotated at the proper speed, the “Harmonization” of the little window images resulted, therefore creating an animated effect.

Beginning in 1887 Thomas Edison applied his genius to animations future when he started research work into motion pictures in general.  By 1889 Tom Edison announced his “Kinetoscope” which projected a 50ft length of film in approximately 13 seconds. This device though only allowed one person to view the film through a little peephole.

That same year (1889), George Eastman began the manufacture of photographic film strips using a nitro-cellulose base which was a film base that could be used for movies as well as x-rays.

By 1923 Walt Disney was part of the mix when he extended earlier techniques of combining live action with cartoon characters in the film “Alice’s Wonderland”. Then in 1928 Disney created the first cartoon with synchronized sound; he called the film “Mickey Mouse”.

In 1945 Harry Everett Smith produced animation his own way, by drawing directly onto the film. Finally, in 1964 Ken Knowlton, working at Bell Laboratories, started developing computer techniques for producing animated movies.

Taking into account the enormous amount of work that goes into the making of an animation sequence, the bulk of the earlier drawings or paintings were typically done by several individuals and involved drawing or painting every scene or image directly upon each film frame; this process was generally called “Keyframing” so, a new and improved technique was developed, it was called “Cel Animation”.  

With Cel (short for celluloid) Animation, each character is created by drawing on an individual piece of transparent paper. The background is also drawn on a separate piece of “milky” paper. When it comes to shooting the animation, the each individual character is overlaid on top of the background in each frame. This procedure  saves time in that the artists are not required to draw in entire frames, but rather only the parts that need to change such as individual characters; even separate parts of a character’s body are placed on separate pieces of transparency paper; therefore making the process less labor intensive. This technique remained the dominant form of animation in cinema until the advent of computer animation.

These days when someone creates animation via a computer, they customarily do not specify the exact position of any given object on every single frame.  Instead, “Keyframes” are created.  Keyframes are, let’s say, frames that portray characters / images which may change their size, direction, shape or other properties. The computer then “magically” figures out all the in between frames and which saves allot of time for the animator. This process is called “Tweening”.

Many of us undoubtedly recall the 2002 comedy film “S1m0ne” with Al Pacheco as a strong-minded producer and Rachel Roberts as Simone; when Pacheco’s film career is threatened after his star walks out, he decides to digitally create an actress to substitute for the star using a rather sophisticated animation program. Naturally, she becomes an overnight sensation that everyone (including the major film critics) thinks is a real person, in this way Simone is born.

If you’ve not seen this particular flick, you can imagine the hilarious complications that arise when the very best of the Hollywood’s “Talk Show Élites” are unable to schedule a live interview with the new star.

When Viktor Taransky (Al Pacheco) decides the easiest way out of the rather complicated situation is to simply “kill her off”, his problems become even more completed because he cannot bear to admit his fraud to himself or the rest of the world.

OK, so we’re not there yet, but it’s certainly not difficult to recognize the potential demise of many of the overpaid Hollywood “Starlets” and “Tough Guys” that are so common in films being released today.

If you’d like to see YouTube’s Trailer rendition of S1mOne, CLICK HERE!  



Monday, November 12, 2012

Treasure of the Copper Scrolls

West Bank of Israel, February-1947, when a few Bedouin (generally applied to Arab nomadic desert groups) shepherd lads wandering the hills of Qumran, located near the Dead Sea of Israel, in search of a missing sheep, discovered; OK, so you recall the October 2011 Critique / Post published right here on the subject.

As the story goes one of the boys threw a stone into a cave, hoping to drive the lost animal outside. Instead, he heard the sound of pottery shattering which convinced him to go inside the cave.  Once there the lad stumbled upon what some scholars call, the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century: the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Soon thereafter or in the years to followed, archaeologists found eleven caves and more than 900 documents at Qumran; of those found, two scrolls were different from all the rest.  In the stead of leather or parchment, they was made of copper, and may turn out to be the ultimate treasure map in all of history.

The Copper Scrolls detail a hidden cache / hoard of gold and silver buried in more than 60 locations throughout the Israeli countryside. Currently (2012) the monetary value is placed at close to $3 Billion, but the historical value as is often said is priceless.

Keep in mind that the young shepherds, who originally found the scrolls, only took one document from the collection to Bethlehem, with hopes of selling it. At first, they had little success, but then an interested party offered to buy it for seven (7) Pounds (about 30 Dollars today). When the scrolls hit the antiquities market, academics quickly became aware of the discovery, and set out to learn where the artifacts had originated. Considering that archaeology digs are such a painstakingly slow process, it was more than 5 years later, on March 14, 1952 that the Copper Scrolls (there were 2) were discovered in “Cave-3” during intense excavation efforts by a collective of universities and academic institutions; they proved to be the only ones of their kind.

As you would expect, the copper was heavily corroded and could not be unrolled; which posed a challenge for those wanting to know what was written on this curious find that was unique amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls. The leaders of the archaeological team were convinced that sending the 2 scrolls to England to the College of Technology at Manchester was the best way to “finding out”.   Once there, they were carefully sliced into 23 individual strips. From that vantage point, it was discovered that the scrolls totaled 30 cm (almost 1 foot) wide and 2.5 meters (just over 8 feet) long. From that point the scrolls were transcribed; immediately there after, a quick English translation was made available. There displayed upon the scrolls was a list of 64 different locations, written in twelve columns.

Each entry / location on the list is thought to be a specific treasure site were a large quantity of gold and silver and other precious objects, like jewelry, perfumes and oils, have been hidden away.

Basically, this means that the nature of the Copper Scrolls are not religious in nature, unlike the other artifacts hidden in the “Dead Sea” caves, but  they appear to be a treasure map of a sort.   This little fact has made the scrolls even more puzzling.  You see, the Dead Sea Scroll collection was / is already a heavily debated discovery and this find makes the topic even more controversial.

In large part the controversy if fueled by the fact that the writing style is unusual or different from the all the other scrolls, thus prompting several researchers to believe these particular artifacts were deposited in Cave-3, at an earlier date than was all of the others.   Add to that: They were two of 15 scrolls found in “Cave-3” of the 11 total caves, and were found near the back of the cave, a good bit apart from the other 13.

The treasure of the scrolls is generally assumed to be in large part the legendary treasure of the Jewish Temple, presumably the Second Temple (destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD), even though the Jewish historian Josephus (37 AD to 100 AD) reportedly stated that the main treasure of the Temple was still in the building when it fell to the Romans.

So why is this hidden treasure yet to be found? Die-hard treasure hunters often serve up any number of reasons, including but not limited to the argument that the Romans might easily have acquired some or all of the treasure listed on the Copper Scrolls by interrogating and torturing captives, which was normal practice according to the same Josephus referenced in the above paragraph; in fact he said the Romans had an active policy regarding the retrieval of hidden treasure.

A second, but perhaps less plausible argument is that the Knights Templar during the First Crusade, dug up all the treasure and used it to fund their order, however such claims are not taken seriously by most scholars.

In truth, it’s allot more plausible to think that the Romans discovered the treasure. You would expect, when the temple of Herod was destroyed by the Romans, they would surely go looking for any treasure and riches the temple may have had in its possession.

In any event, if you’re wondering somewhere within the recesses of you mind why this treasure hunt or venture hasn't been approached by the archaeologist / adventurer, Indiana Jones; the answer is likely, as with many of us, he’s probably just too old.  


Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Mighty Fitz

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald, nicknamed the “Mighty Fitz” by many, was an American Great Lakes freighter that became legendary after sinking in a Lake Superior storm on November 10, 1975; all was lost, including the entire crew of 29.  When launched on June 8, 1958, she became the largest ship on North America’s Great Lakes, and sadly she remains the largest boat to have sunk in those “ice water mansions”.

Also known as the “Fitz”, or “Big Fitz”, the ship suffered a series of mishaps during her initial launch into the lake: it took three tries to break the champagne bottle used to christen her, and she collided with a nearby pier when she entered the water.

Fitz was carrying a full cargo of ore pellets when she embarked on her final voyage from Superior, Wisconsin (near Duluth, Minnesota), on the afternoon of November 9, 1975.  Her planned route was charted for a steel mill near Detroit, Michigan.  The next day she was caught in the midst of a massive winter storm on Lake Superior, with near hurricane-force winds and waves peaking at 35 feet (11 m) or more.  Just after 7:10 p.m. the Mighty Fitz suddenly sank 530 feet (160 m) beneath the Canadian waters, approximately 17 miles (15 nautical miles; 27 kilometers) from the entrance to Whitefish Bay. The Fitz had reported being in difficulty earlier that day but no distress signals were sent before she sank.

Theories and studies abound offering explanations or causes for the sinking. It’s been theorized that the Edmund Fitzgerald could have fallen victim to the high waves of the storm, suffered structural failure, been swamped with water entering through her cargo hatches or deck, experienced topside damage, or shoaled in a shallow part of the Lake.

A May 4, 1978 report by the U.S. Coast Guard blamed the crew for the disaster of 1975, concluding they failed to fasten the hatches properly.

On the other hand it’s important to be aware that the maritime community has always struggled with the notion that the Fitzgerald’s seasoned crew would be that careless even-though they were well aware of the fierce weather conditions noted for Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes; that fact being doubly so in November.

In any event, the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald remains one of the best-known disasters in the history of Great Lakes shipping. Singer / Song Writer Gordon Lightfoot made it the subject of his 1976 hit ballad The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgeraldafter reading a Newsweek Magazine article about the tragedy.

Lightfoot wrote the ballad as a tribute to the ship, the sea, and the men who lost their lives that night. When recently asked what he thought his most significant contribution to music was, he said it was this song, which he often refers to as “The Wreck”. Regardless of its unlikely subject matter, the song climbed to #2 on the Billboard pop charts and Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald remains one the most moving contemporary ballads ever written and is the highlight of nearly every Lightfoot concert.

The 2010 episode “Edmund Fitzgerald” of the television series Dive Detectives, which is easily the most popular historically based events TV show in Canada, featured the results of a wave-generating tank’s simulation of the effect of a theoretical “rogue wave” and how it would have affected the Mighty Fitz when imputing the known weather conditions of that tragic 1975 November evening; a scale model of the Mighty Fitz was used in the simulation.  

The results indicated that such a rogue wave would most definitely be ‘formed’ with a height of as much as 56 feet (17 meters); further it nearly submerged the bow or stern of the ship with water, at least temporarily.   The long and short of the simulation appears to be that if the Dive Detectives story is right, the ship was in fact sunk by a rogue wave which is best described as a massive wall of water that can reach up to 10 stories’s high; however until recently such events were dismissed as a sailors’ myth and once thought to only occur in turbulent oceans.

Further, the simulation suggested the ship was particularly susceptible to the impact of large waves due to the 26,000 tons of iron ore it was carrying; the ship was known to be in less than pristine condition, in fact it was due to go into dry-dock for repairs.

Admittedly Lightfoot used his “poetic License” when writing the legendary song but in 2010 when Lightfoot was approached by Dive Detectives requesting permission to use the song as the episode’s soundtrack; he became convinced by the evidence presented that he should remove the implication that human error played a part in the 1975 Lake Superior shipwreck.        

One spokesperson reported that “He’s not re-recording the song, but he has already changed a line for live performances,” further the spokesperson said “He was pretty impressed by what he saw in the film, new evidence that unsecured hatch covers didn't cause the ship to sink.”

The traditional verse goes: “When supper time came the old cook came on deck /Saying ‘Fellows it’s too rough to feed ya’ / at 7 p.m. a main hatchway caved in /He said, ‘Fellas it’s been good to know ya.”

Lightfoot changed to the lyrics to: “When supper time came the old cook came on deck /Saying ‘Fellows it’s too rough to feed ya’ / at 7 p.m. it grew dark, it was then/He said, ‘Fellas it's been good to know ya’.”

In an attempt to provide you with the ability to listen to and view both versions for free (made possible by You-Tube) click on these 2 links:s:

Sources:                                                                                                                                                          file:///C:/Users/Eyetech-3/Pictures/bell.htm