Hey guys. I wrote an article for Mental Floss’ annual College Weekend about technology and the future. Check it out! Sorry that I haven’t posted anything recently lately. I’ve only just gotten my laptop back from repairs and I’m busy sifting through (ha) my backlog of post-ideas. Still writing for Awesome Robo, but my lack of a computer has put a serious dent in my output these past weeks. I’ll have some new stuff up relatively soon, including some other potential articles for other websites. Stay tuned!
End-of-the-year lists are typically, by their fashion, posted approximately before or at the end of a year. But I’m anything but typical. 2013’s seen its fair share of exceptional animated shorts. Working with ‘Awesome Robo’, I’ve had the privelege to discover and write about a dizzying amount of spectacular artists, kickass music, and breathtakingly beautiful short-films. Here are the choice few that really caught my attention.
1. Keloid, by Big Lazy Robot
Keloid was the one of the first posts I ever wrote for Awesome Robo, and in a weird sort-of seredipitious way it felt like a full-circle moment. I remember (oh so politely) badgering my friends in early 2012 to watch this gritty animated teaser short that I excitedly described as, “imagine Se7en, only with Mechs.” Who would’ve though I’d be writing about the follow-up short nearly a year later for a major art-blog? Craziness. The “full-length” Keloid retains many of the characteristics that made the original so memorable, but escalates the scope of the initial conflict to a much larger and frigthening scale.
The dark, quasi-european metropolis of a not so distant future and Aaron Beck’s characterisically insectile, SWAT team mechs make their full-fledged return. Gone however is the shrill cacophonous soundtrack of Amon Tobin’s Machine Gun, as well as the sinister repartee of the malicious A.I. antagonist. Instead we have a balls-to-the wall action movie; rogue viruses co-opting lumbering military mechs that battle it out against the dwindling robotic forces that still pledge some loyalty(?) to the human race.
Whether Keloid as a project will continue is a question to which I don’t have an answer, but if nothing else, this short and the original trailer are enough to tide us over until BLR blows our minds with something awesome again.
2. Myosis, Directed by GOBELINS pro
Myosis is so damn beautiful it makes my heart hurt. The short follows a man moments after he is torn from the woman he loves to be assimliated into a dark shifting body of oppressive autocracy. But the man refuses to let go of his lover and, despite all odds, attempts to assert his freedom and come back to her. It’s equal parts visually and thematically inspiring; metaphorically and vibrantly colorful. The visual parallel between the amorphous fluidity of the two lovers (think Osmosis Jones) compared to the stark solidity of the black monolith in which the protagonist is indoctrinated is especially novel.
This is easily of the most gorgeous shorts I’ve seen all year, and that’s really saying something. Perhaps Myosis’ greatest strength is that manages to be both sensual and visually sensational without either overpowering the other. A moving testament to perseverance in the face of overwhelming opposition; An act of defiance canonizing two stalwart lovers.
3. Delta, Directed by CRCR
I had some brief but enjoyable experiences in high-school listening to the collaborative eccentricities of french turntablism bands such as Birdy Nam Nam and C2C, but this was one of my first times listening to the latter in many years. And what a re-introduction. Delta follows the story of an alien kingdom besieged by an ominous triangular harbringer of destruction drawing ever closer. The populace attempt to evacuate, a lone crier pronounces the destruction of the city and the exaltation of the Delta, and the warrior king futilely sends his armies in an attempt to defy the inevitable.
C2C’s track is a superb soundtrack; a funkadelic turntable dance track accompanying an impending apocalypse. Delta is a satisfying self-contained narrative, whose color palate and sci-fi strangeness brings to mind the surreal works of the late french illustrator Jean Giraud aka Moebius. If you be looking for one of the year’s best music videos, look no further.
4. Contre Temps, Directed by: Jérémi Boutelet and Associates
Y’know how I said that Myosis was one of the most gorgeous animations of this past year? Well I still stand by that statement, but Contre Temps sure does stand shoulder-to-shoulder beside it. French for “Against Time”, Contre Temps is the story of a chisel-chined, petticoated clock-maker fixated on the excavation & restoration of time-pieces in the ruins of a metropolis long-swallowed by the sea. One day, the clock-maker makes a precious discovery in the midst of his routine search of the city between the recession of the ocean. What follows is a life or death decision in which the clockmaker is forced to choose between preserving the past or living for the future.
Contre Temps is a gorgeous, near-seamless blend between dynamic, cel-shaded 3-D animation and static, portraitesque 2-D backgrounds. Corral-coated jalopies, barnacle staircases, and beautiful fluidity of a harsh, indifferent ocean are some of this animation’s main attractions. The shot framing of the short carries the weight of much of Contre Temps appeal (such as the fantastic one pictured above.)
I had so many wonderful deja-vu moments to animated show like Big O and the Aeon Flux short “Tide” while watching this for the first time, not to mention one particular chase scene that reminded me BioShock. To paraphrase a good friend of mine, Contre Temps may be one of choice few animations shorts I would sincerely like to see turned into a full-length feature. Regardless, I hope to see the team behind this collaborate on more projects in the future.
5. The Scarecrow, Directed by Moonbot Studios
This short garnered an overwhelming amount of accolades when it first premiered this past September. The Scarecrow is impeccably animated, if narratively heavy-handed commercial for the Mexican Food chain Chipotle denouncing factory farming and antibiotically-infused livestock. However, the double-standard disacknowledgement of Chipotle’s own troubled relationship with antibiotic meat and the short’s faux-vegetarian appeal to higher integrity has not been lost on its critics. All that glitters is not gold.
Still, the short remains a phenomenal piece of animation with intricately crafted backgrounds and a likeable, empathetic protagonist. Scarescrow resembles a straw-headed Abe of Oddworld fame, caught in a macabre disney-esque reality bent sideways with looming skyscrapers painted sickly shades of saccharine sweet, all the while bordered by stretches of agricultural desert. A literal food desert.
I haven’t even mention the real centerpiece of the entire ad; a hauntingly dystopic, chillingly beautiful rendtion of Willy Wonka’s “Pure Imagination” by the unimitable Fiona Apple. For her contribution alone, I name this one of my favorite shorts of 2013. One does not have to choose between being a socially-conscious consumer and a appreciator of impressive animation. I highly recommend you watch the short for yourself and reach your own decison.
This is starting to becoming a very poor habit, isn’t it? I’ve been largely absent from writing on this blog for some time now, falling back on my loose tantalizing promises of perpetually soon-to-be posted goodies for the anonymous collective hive-mind of the Internet to pick around with its fork. In all honesty, I’ve missed writing for this blog. School and extracurricular obligations have been eating my brain as of late (last semester of Undergrad, and all that), but I’m on my Thanksgiving Break now! I’ve got a sizeable backlog of posts I hope to brush off and get posted, so expect a deluge of new posts throughout this week , including the wildly belated week 7-10 installments in the totally-not-dead-no-really-I-promise Let’s Read The Tor Stories series!
For now, take this batch of Awesome Robo posts as meager reparation for my otherwise absentee editorship,
- A Trip To The Outer Limits of Fractal Geometry
- Hyper Light Drifter Releases First In-Game Combat Footage
- Ender’s Game User Interface Design by Ash Thorp
- Suns – “Bells”
- The Art of Nivanh Chanthara – Redux
- Emerson Tung’s INKtober Artwork – Redux
- The Art of Ville Ericsson
- The Art of Amin Faramarizian
Whiling away the cobwebs,
Steam Machine: An Alternative to the Next-Gen?
Imagine a next-gen console that came in various consumer-chosen models, each with their respective tiers of hardware specs and price ranges, that ran through an intuitive open-source OS and a massive online distribution system that offered access to nearly every major and independent title in modern gaming? For some, this is the fever-pitched dream of the all-too-hopeful enthusiast trying to keep the ever-encroaching tide of invasive DRM-laden gaming and closed-console dominance at bay. But with the introduction of the Steam Machine, Valve Corporation might just succeed in making that dream a reality. But will it take hold, and for how long?
“We are an Impossibility in an Impossible Universe”
I don’t remember when Ray Bradbury’s stories entered my life. It’s one of those strange occurrences where an author of a book, a object that does not exist naturally but through the effort and persistence of the human need to communicate, becomes a static fixture of your life simply for having existed from so early on in it. Bradbury for me, and undoubtedly countless other readers and writers, remains an enduring testament to the power of stories and how they can reveal not only the character of their conduit (as all authors are in some way the siphon of their environment) but shape our own.
Ray Bradbury was an author with the rare talent of coaxing a particular emotion out of even the most stoic of adult hearts estranged from the whimsicality inherent in youth. He was able, through his stories and his poetry, to bend back the folds of time however temporarily and transport his readers to that mythic phantom country between the borders of childhood and adolescence.
Reading a Bradbury story we miraculously, as if by some magical force, are compelled to shed our disapproving tastes and sour dispositions as though shucking a calloused husk we have come to call adulthood. We suspend our disbelief willing and delve into worlds of both horror and honesty, of virtue and imagination. Bradbury had never, as Einstein would have put it, “lost a holy curiosity” but instead imbued that sense of precocious wonder of the unsaddled heart in each of his books.
Ray Bradbury, maybe even more so than C.S. Lewis and R.L. Stine and J.K. Rowling (Seriously, what’s up with these double-initial pen-names), first taught me how to imagine as a kid. I remember reading excerpts from Fahrenheit 451 and being awed by the vision of a kerosene-soaked fireman named Guy Montag, silhouetted against the the blazing light of a door frame torched in the radiant heat of a thousand burning books, saying nothing else but simply,
“Why would someone ever burn a book?” I asked my teacher when she read it to my class. “Because…because ideas can scare people, Toussaint.” And looking back I love her for giving me that answer almost as much as I love Bradbury for giving me with that question.
To name Bradbury’s body of work is to name a series of enduring classics, stories as immovable and ephemeral as the gesture of pointing to the stars at night to chart the shape of constellations.
The Martian Chronicles. Fahrenheit 451. Dandelion Wine. The Illustrated Man. Death is a Lonely Business. Golden Apples of the Sun. Something Wicked This Way Comes.
Each name conjures up a memory of reading from my childhood, or of watching these stories performed in my later years, as Bradbury was a writer prolific not only for his writing but for the wide enduring love of his adapters and collaborators. But there is one book of his that I regrettably have never read in it’s entirety. However Through my off-hand occasions of catching the tail-end of an animated adaptation by chance, this story has stuck with me not only because it speaks volumes about the origin of Bradbury’s creative well but also, simply, about the stubborn enduring persistence of love and friendship.
The Halloween Tree is the story of eight children who seek to save their mutual friend Pipkin on the eve of Halloween Night. I remember the jack-o-lantern ornaments baubled on the ends of string tied to the jutting forked branches of the Halloween Tree. I remember a child stepping perilously over the edge of a broken cathedral step only for a block of cement to rush up to meet his feet as if by magic, I remember the looming specter of Mr. Moundshroud and the barter of a year of life each for the life of a friend. I didn’t know why this story resonated with me so much, having only seen a smattering of disconnected scenes formed into an impression of understanding, but now in my young adulthood, late but never too late, I think I do.
The Halloween Tree is Ray Bradbury’s love letter to childhood, to his favorite holiday, to the simple enduring virtues of our youth and how they resonated long into our adult lives. Halloween is a time where we shed one mask and choose one of our own. For a night, we celebrate the impermanence of identities, emulate the shape of our darkest fears with some measure of reassurance of the binding of their substance. How with enough face-paint and a keen re-purposing of used clothing we can utterly transform ourselves, if only for a night.
I’m going to quote from one of my favorite shows The Venture Brothers, where at the end of a one-hour special the character of Dr. Orpheus imparts the true meaning of Halloween on a company of his supernatural compatriots,
This is a night of true magic. Halloween is the night we discover who we are. Are we people who make zombie armies. Are we those who condemn others? Or are we beautiful children in resplendent costumes collecting candy? Are our choices in costumes provocative? Do we dress up as our ideal self? Or are we not ready to decide what to be? Do you see it now? We use this one enchanted night to perform the greatest feat of magic there is. We become ourselves. Halloween is the true magic. It is the night we discover who we really are!
I love you Ray Bradbury. We love you, and miss you dearly.
Hey guys. Sorry I’ve been away for so long. I was supposed to post Week 7 of the Tor Let’s Read Yesterday afternoon, but you know the song and dance by now. It’ll be up later tonight, baring unforeseen acts of calamity, but in the meantime I wanted to stay true to my word and offer the first of will likely be many recap article posts in the future. If you’re looking for a trove of posts about cool -ish to fill the space of a half-hour, here they be.
- Banksy’s Unnerving Ode to Animal Cruelty
- The Art of Ivan Alifan
- Atoms for Peace Music Video – “Before Your Very Eyes”
- The Amazing Art of Izzy Medrano
- The Art of Alex Konstad
- The Art of Wouter Gort
- Worth Checking Out: Night In The Woods
- Broken Bells Short Film: “Part One: Angel and The Fool”
Catch you on the other side of the coin,
Hi internet people! How have you been?
If you haven’t noticed (Which, in hindsight I don’t know how you could have possibly of noticed but still), I’ve been welcomed into the folds of the fine gentlemanly-folks at Awesome Robo! Awesome Robo is an Arts & Entertainment news blog primarily focused on showcasing the work of phenomenal digital and mixed-media artists across the Internet, super awesome animated shorts and music videos, as well as the occasional bad-ass, aesthetically unique video-game titles!
Naturally, for the past two weeks I’ve been writing for these guys, I’ve been over the moon with excitement and possessed with an even more insatiable hunger to share all the cool shit that I think is, well Awesome. But a nagging persistent thought-virus has somehow bypassed the eleven firewalls of euphoria surrounding my personal responsibility cortex, and that thought has become a question,
“What does this mean for ‘Sifting Through Patterns’?”
Naturally, I’ve had this blog-space for over two years now. At first, only sporadically posting the occasional long-form media essay, the overly effusive nerd-gushing of deft computer-mediated-communication, the long-standing but ultimately abandoned Let’s Read series of soul-crushing angst (We’re not talking about the Tor Let’s read here, we’re talking about Oryx and Crake).
So what’s the future of this blog, and where do I want to see it in the future?
The answer is that yes, I am still going to be writing long-form editorial essays nerd-gushing about all the films, books, games and other cool shit that I want. Short-form features however will be re-purposed henceforth to the Awesome Robo initiative, to feed the fuel tanks of our gigantic cavalier Jaegar-bot so that we can stand and fight against the threat of the deadly boredom-inducing Kaiju.
From time to time, I’ll post a bi-weekly update collecting all my Awesome Robo posts to parse through like so much attractive fruit at the farmers market that is the Internet. I’m still doing the Tor Let’s Read, I’m working on a new Modest Proposal following the successful reception towards my Gargoyle one (It’s gonna take awhile though), AND I have a bunch more upcoming long-form essays and feature series I want to boot up as soon as I get the monkey that is my Undergraduate college career off my damn back. And yes, there’s the elusive long-term goal of original short-form fiction writing standing aloof at the cusp of the horizon…Almost there.
As a sign of goodwill for having read-through even a tiny chunk of this post, here are the few articles I’ve posted for Awesome Robo since I’ve started;
- Rogue A.I. Sparks A Brutal Street War In “Keloid”
- “Stasis” Stirs From A Long Slumber, Launches Kickstarter With 2014 Release Date
- The Art of Jon Fox, “Soul of a Giant”
- The Stanley Parable demolishes player choice, releases Oct. 17
- Frictional Game’s SOMA Gameplay Trailer, 2015 release on PC & PS4
So yeah, That’s my Ally Mc-Spiel on that! Looking forward to posting more awesome content in the immediate future, no matter where I hang my hat.
Take it easy,
For over a decade now, the eighties has basically become the strip-mine of popular culture, with Hollywood shilling out massive production budgets and promotional campaigns to appeal to a generation who has just now come of age into the peak of their spending power. These IP’s include, but certainty aren’t limited to,
- Transformable action figures (Transformers *duh*)
- Graphic Novel Superheroes (The Avengers, Watchmen, Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, X-Men, etc.)
- Saturday morning cartoons (The Smurfs)
- Acclaimed children books (The Lorax, Horton Hears a Who, Where The Wild Things are, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, etc.)
- Even action-adventure comedy series’ and perfectly good movies that didn’t need a remake (The A-Team, Red Dawn)
- And of course the tremulous ghost of things to come (Future Robocop, War Games, and Videodrome remakes, not to mention the absolutely unthinkable,*shudder* an AKIRA adaptation. In NEW YORK.) and I swear if I hear one more back to the future rumor, one more time…
‘The Vanishing of Ethan Carter’ is a first-person, supernatural horror game from “The Astronauts“, an independent game developer that, like so many its other peers, was formed by ex-employees of a major video-game developer (in this case Epic Studios-owned “People Can Fly, creators of Painkiller and Bulletstorm). The game first showed up as a blip on my radar when Kirk Hamilton wrote a Kotaku post focusing on the developer’s impressive online promotional comic this past July.
Impressive digitally-painted panels, disillusioned noir-infused dialogue, and a beautiful low-key piano track looping in the background do much to stir one’s initial curiosity, but do little in the way of holding one’s attention. So it got shuffled to the back of my memory. Until now.
The Astronauts have released the first formal batch of screenshots for the game since their announcement and they do look gorgeous. In “The Vanishing”, players assume the role of “retired” paranormal private detective Paul Prospero (AKA the man taking it easy in the promotional comic).
Prospero has been enlisted to investigate the disappearance of Ethan Carter, a young boy who had contacted previously about strange markings and paranormal activity in his hometown. While on the case, he must contend with foes both human and anything but to get to the heart of the truth behind Carter’s disappearance. The game is said to be built around a “Weird Fiction” angle, a sub-genre of speculative fiction centered around the absurd and disturbing erosion of an otherwise tepid reality by malicious “alien” forces.
I suppose the main draw of my attention stems from the way the game’s presentation, from its story to its location and even to its graphics, seem to emulate the vibe and aesthetic of Remedy Entertainment’s Alan Wake, one of my favorite games of this past generation. A jaded every-man thrown into a rural setting slowly being twisted and corroded by malevolent supernatural forces that apparently only he can sense or stop? Looks like a dead ringer to me.
But seriously though, I sure there’s more than enough variety between the two titles to differentiate them despite initial appearances. I’m hungry for an experience like Alan Wake, a psychological-horror experience laden with niche pop-cultural and classic horror literature references. Linked below is tantalizing and subtly unsettling promo video for the game. I don’t like the looks of that teddy bear.
According to The Astronauts’ Website, “The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is inspired by the weird fiction stories and other tales of macabre of the early 20th century”, and is a game “to be played at night, alone, and with headphones, coming to PC in 2013.”
With the release of a new generation of consoles and high-profile first party titles, I wonder how a niche horror title from a small team will fair in the last quarter of 2013. Still, I’m optimistic and look forward to seeing what The Astronauts can offer us in the months ahead.
[This post will contain spoilers for the ‘Avatar’ series up until the first episode of Season 2. This goes without saying, but even so. You have been forewarned.]
One of my favorite shows of 2012 was ‘Legend of Korra’, the successor to the Nickelodeon smash-hit series Avatar: The Last Airbender which aired from Spring 2005 to Fall 2008. The series follows the adventures of the eponymous Korra, a seventeen-year old “water bender” and the reincarnation of the previous series’ protagonist Aang.
The Avatar is a human being endowed with the ability to manipulate the forces of nature (Air, Water, Earth, Fire) and acts as a mediating force of balance between not only the separate nations of mankind, but also as the human emissary to the Spirit world. Last season, Korra came into here own by mastering all four of the elements (a trial that each Avatar must complete) and defeated Amon, the reclusive masked orchestrator of technologically advanced secessionist movement hell-bent on usurping the Bender-dominated government of Republic City (Avatar’s equivalent to New York/Shanghai) and installing a regime of fascism under the guise of “equality”.
One of the reasons why ‘Korra’ appealed to me so much, more even than its predecessor series, is because it was able to astutely depict the stark philosophical dichotomy between two opposing yet complimentary forms of Fascism (Oligarchy of Natural Talents vs. Faux-Egalitarianism) all under the guise of a teen-drama animated series.
That’s damn impressive, and serves as another palpable example in the argument that animation, no matter what the intended audience, is capable of inciting significant and insightful debate and reflection in many audiences regardless of age group (if they would only give it a chance!)
But I’m digressing from the intention of this article. I’m not here to convince you to watch Legend of Korra (though a polite nudge of suggestion doesn’t hurt), but rather to offer my own predictions, hopes, and expectations for the second season, which just last Friday aired its one hour season premiere and will continue to air throughout the rest of 2013. The hour-long premiere offered the promise of multiple new faces, the return of older and more significant players, and the incitement of a Civil War waged within a larger natural disaster that Korra must face. So without further prologue, let’s get started…
1. Koh the Face Stealer will be a major player in the struggle between the Human and Spirit world.
The title of this year’s season is “Spirits’. Every season of Avatar including the first season of Korra has been named after one of the four elements of the planet. With the conclusion of last year’s season, The Avatar must move forward to become a major player in not only the human world but also the spirit world. But there are other threats that vie to eliminate or manipulate the Avatar to further their own aims. One of the most deadly spiritual adversaries the Avatar has encountered is Koh the Face Stealer, a gigantic anthropomorphic centipede with the androgynous face of a human. Koh can adopt the face and form of whoever he consumes, and will murder and consume any person who exhibits fear or emotion within his domain.
With the albeit totally confirmed reappearance of the giant Owl Wan Shi Tong and his ethereal library of forbidden knowledge, I think it’s safe to assume that Koh will be a major force in the conflict between the Human and Spirit world. Why? Because he’s one of the most powerful, malevolent, and enigmatic characters in the world of Avatar, and a perfect spirit world counterpart to Korra’s uncle Unalaq in filling the void left by Amon’s departure (We’ll get to him in a sec…). He already has a known history of encounters with two previous incarnations of the Avatar, neither of which were ended on particularly pleasant terms. He’s killed the wife of one of the past incarnations of the Avatar, Korra’s water-bender predecessor Kuruk. I think it’s only a matter of time before we see this guy pop up again, and when we do it will most likely be no good.
2. We have not seen the last of Amon and Tarrlock.
Speaking of Amon, I don’t think he’s gone yet. Or his brother Tarrlock for that matter either. Although both of these important tragic figures died in the last episode of the previous season, in perhaps one of the darkest and unsettling moments in the entire series, I don’t believe that they’re gone for good. Why you might ask? Simple. Amon and Tarrlock live on in the spirit world, and perhaps in one way or another will come to help Korra achieve balance between the two worlds. Amon was one of the fiercest, morally-opaque and compelling villains that the show has ever produced. The initial question of his identity and his subsequent popularity among the show’s fan-base catapulted ‘Korra’ to a level of popularity not even seen by ‘Avatar’. Seeing a repentant “post-megalomaniacal” Amon living out in the spirit world is too tantalizing an opportunity to pass on. And Tarrlock…well, one can’t exist without the other, can they?
3. Varrick will either prove to be a duplicitous snake-in-the-grass, or a surprisingly noble ally to the cause of peace.
Look at this guy’s face. His weaselly, self-serving demeanor. His utter disregard for anything other than himself. If ever I saw the face of an unapologetic snake-oil salesman, it’s Varrick. But ‘Korra’ has done nothing if not defy expectations of character morality. Asami, the tragic but stalwart advocate of peace and coexistence is a championed example of this. I could be reading Varrick all wrong, I’ll openly admit to that. The determining factor of a static or dynamic character is in evidenced in how they do or do not change throughout the course of a story. I’ve only seen about one episode of this guy; an over-enthusiastic buffoon with way too glowing an opinion of himself. I’ll suspend my skepticism until I’m proven right.
4. Anyone’s Guess.
Anything other than that is an open-ended guess on my part. One of the major emphasis of this season will be relationships, especially those familial. Korra will have to act as a unifying force between the culturally warring factions of her people, evolve through her conflicted respect and resentment for her Air-bending mentor Tenzin, her relationship to the spirit world and her Avatar predessecors (especially that of Aang and Wang, the first Avatar), her budding yet troubled relationship with Mako, and her relationship with herself. Getting older, wiser, assuming responsibilities. Growing up.
I’m really looking forward to the new places this season is going to bring fans of the show, both literally and thematically. And even if you’re not a ‘Korra’ fan or have never seen an episode of the original series, I highly suggest you give it a shot. Take it from a late-comer, it’s not as hard as you think to catch up on the important stuff 😉