Diversions

Avatar movie posterI finally saw Avatar this past weekend. To be honest, I wanted to skip the fuss altogether, but E was intent on making Saturday night a proper date, so he treated me to sushi and movie.

I won’t talk about the plot, since that’s been covered extensively online, but I will talk about the graphics, because that’s what I do, or… what I planned on doing before I fell into this whole tech writing business.

Let me just say I was STUNNED. Graphics technology has been improving by leaps and bounds.

It is easier to make surfaces with fixed reflectivity, such as plastic, metal, or water, look realistic to the human eye when rendered by a computer. This is because you can calculate how the light bounces off of the surface and how much is absorbed by the material, etc.

What is difficult is to simulate are organics like skin, plants, dirt… this movie was chock full of organics, blended beautifully with live action filming. Was it seamless? No, you could still tell that the movie was mostly CG, but the difference is getting a lot less obtrusive.

I was particularly impressed by the scene where Neytiri (the CG Navi) holds the human Jake Sully in her arms. There was no difference in the lighting conditions (sometimes a give away) or in in the manner that Jake seemed to be propped up in her lap (touching between CG and real characters is usually limited, especially on TV, due to how difficult it is to get right) I’m interested in how that was actually filmed.

Then there were the gorgeous environments. There was so much detail in each scene it was almost hard to know where to look. The profusion of plants and animals was mind boggling. I can only imagine the massive amounts of computing power and time required to render each frame of the movie. I would watch this movie again simply to pay more attention to the details.

Lastly, there’s the 3D element. My mom complained that you didn’t need to watch the movie in 3D. I would disagree. Until this point in time 3D has been treated as a novelty, or a bag of tricks to be dipped into for extra amusement. You know what I’m talking about. There’s usually a telltale scene where something comes shooting out from the screen: a yoyo, or a falling brick, meant to get thrills from the audience and announce to the world that the film is indeed 3D.

With Avatar, the 3D offered the richness of depth. It was like looking into a room that you could walk into.

I believe that this is the future of movies folks, 3D as a matter of fact instead of a novelty. When the costs of the technology come down, I think 3D will be the standard, just like color film replaced black and white. Just watch.

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Book Thoughts

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. He’s a senior in high school, and a certifiable genius, but he’s still secretly obsessed with a series of fantasy novels he read as a kid, about the adventures of five children in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, anything in his real life just seems gray and colorless.

Everything changes when Quentin finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the practice of modern sorcery. He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. But something is still missing. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he thought it would.

Then, after graduation, he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. via LevGrossman.com

Did you ever dream you’d stumble across a door to another world? What if you found that door? What if the world on the other side wasn’t what you expected?

I read mixed reactions to this book online. The consensus it seemed, was that this was something different, and some people enjoyed it while others were not so enthusiastic. Hence, I borrowed the book from the library without any expectations. I was pleasantly surprised. Seldom do I open a book and have a hard time putting it down straight from the get go. This one had me hooked in the first few pages.

My first impression: Harry Potter + Gossip Girl + a side trip to Narnia.

These magician’s in training are smarter than everyone else, spoiled, and entitled, isolated from the world, and desperately sad. Their empty lives are twisted up in alcohol, drugs, parties. Let me not forget an orgy or two, and sex with consequences.

If you were brilliant, had unlimited money, and power, what would you want? Could you do anything meaningful with your life if you’ve already got everything you dreamed of?

The narrative skips over months and years in pages and I was thankful for it. There was more than enough to get an idea of how difficult the curriculum at Brakebills was and how much studying was involved. However, the drawback to the fast forwarding is that you only get brief glimpses of how the characters are developing. I did not engage with any of the characters beyond the level of curious amusement, nor did I care about the relationships between them.

Still, in all, I enjoyed the story, and especially the contemporary spin on the magician’s school trope. The world was realistic and plausible. The Brakebills kids were appropriately spoiled, wicked, and disillusioned. As amusing as I found the wickedness, I just wish I could have liked them better.

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Journal

Never write before bed.

I’d finished the first draft of a short story and decided to call it a night. The piece still needed a lot of work but I was tired and it was already getting late.

I opened my eyes at precicely 2 am. My brain was shuffling paragraphs, smoothing out sentences, and formulating alternate endings. I was editing in my sleep! If I wasn’t so tired I’d have gotten out of bed and worked on the damned story.  I opted to toss and turn in bed. I tried meditating, but I’ve never been very good at it. The story kept me staring at the ceiling for another hour. You can bet I spent the next day in a caffinated haze.

I learned my lesson.

I think I’ll stick to reading before bed. Dreaming about typing into a Microsoft word document is no fun. It’s more of a nightmare really.

PS Please excuse if the blog looks a little strange the next few days. I’m still playing around with the formatting.

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