Always up for discussion!

Please keep discussions civil.  Drivebys/angry politicos/hateChat and other unhelpful comments will receive a tap with the banhammer.

 

Alternate Lenses in Limitless

As a visuals geek, I have been delighted with the symbolic language that they have been employing in Limitless. So naturally when I heard they were going to give us an episode from Rebecca’s point of view, I was hugely interested to see if they would take the look in a different direction given a different characters point of view.  We’ve already had different characters on NZT (Piper, Casey, Morro) but the story has still stayed true to Brian being the primary character and hence, it’s to be expected that we continue with his bright worldview and artsy-craftsy problem solving techniques.  In the case of this weeks episode, we are inside Rebecca’s head, which should (I expected) give us a dramatically different outlook on the world.

The look and feel was much subtler than I expected.  With Brian as the POV character, the difference is brighter, the character almost glows during those first few seconds of camera-shift.  We get a similar shift in Rebecca’s case, but it is nowhere near as dramatic (befitting her character’s personality).  I’m not yet sure if that is some kind of foreshadowing but I suspect the next episode will answer this for us.

Becca01

Rebecca before NZT

Becca02

Rebecca after NZT

See the color shift?  Everything develops a warmer, orangish tint (it’s particularly noticeable around the whites of the eyes).  This color change sticks (in both Brian’s cases and in Rebecca’s solitary case) thru the entire episode.

Becca03

The biggest difference between the two characters (which suits them quite nicely, by the way) is that, while Brian’s thought processes and illustrations are on the wildly creative side of things (puppets, houses made of sticks, crayon drawings), Rebecca has fixated on the linear h*ll that is…  The Etch-O-Sketch.

(Please note, I loved my Etch-o-Sketch as a kid, but I had one of those parents who interrupted me every half hour or so because PARENTING, so my experiences with it always came up wanting).

Becca04

Rebecca’s NZT Etch-a-sketch.  Lady gotz skillz

And the thing about the EaS (because I’m tired of writing “Etch-a-Sketch” over and over) is that to work with one, to really get a proper result like the one you see here, takes forethought, it takes planning.  You can’t erase, not one single line.  This is a linear progression and one that requires a complete and total do-over if you muck it up (or some extra creativity to recover).

One of the reasons all of this is so much fun is that, when Rebecca is not on NZT and Brian *is*, she’s very nearly a match for him.  Brian gets all the obscure stuff, what color a high C-note smells like and other bits that are beyond the norm, but when it comes to the actual case-solving, Rebecca is on a par, sometimes even one step ahead.  So seeing that character outclass Brain when they *both* are on NTZ is something to behold, and the people behind the look and feel of the show are supporting that by carrying over the same visual language normally used in Brian as the main POV character.

 

Hugo and Campbell Award Eligibility

Here is my shameless plug.  

VOTE FOR ME. VOTE FOR ME. VOTE FOR ME.

http://midamericon2.org/the-hugo-awards/hugo-nominations/

 

This year I am eligible for two awards as a writer.  The first, and possibly the most important at this time is the Campbell Award for new writers (Link HERE).  I say most important because you only get one shot at this one.  You can be eligible for two consecutive years and that’s it.  Game over.  My short story “Sea Change” was published in September of 2015 over at Galaxy’s Edge, edited by Mike Resnik.  This makes me eligible for the 2016 and 2017 awards. I’ve posted an online copy here (SeaChange) so you can read the story.

The second, and equally important (but the kind of award I will hopefully have many shots at over time) is the Hugo Award (Link HERE) in the short story category.  There is a lot of competition, and pretty much everything on the list is a great read.  Go nominate me.

 

The story has gotten a couple of delightful reviews (so you can see what others are saying about it):

http://highclearing.com/index.php/archives/2015/09/06/18854

http://www.liscareyslibrary.com/2015/09/sea-change-by-kimberly-unger.html

 

This is a weird thing for me.  I have been working in games for decades now, but almost always as a part of some larger team. I handle the art. I handle the design, I handle the biz-dev, but these are never solo-acts.  So when awards pop up for games, those are a very different experience.  Those are teams versus teams and the campaigning, the submitting, the judging, all those things are handled by someone else.  The PR people for the publisher, the community managers, if it’s a small, indie studio then usually the CEO gets involved, but most of the time those of us doing the hands-on work are oblivious to that process, having an award show up on our desk or in our email is a nice surprise.  If it’s one of the BIG ones, then a trip to GDC or one of the larger conventions is often in order.

Writing is rather different.  Right now, at the start of my career, it’s just me.  I don’t have a bestseller on the shelves, I don’t have an enthusiastic Twitter following, I have no PR Team, it’s just me waving my arms in the dark and shouting “HEY I WROTE THIS THING” and hoping people will hear me.

They say that great work rises to the top, but in my decades of experience with videogames, I know this isn’t always the case.  There are thousands of brilliant games out there that nobody ever notices, just like there are thousands of brilliant stories out there that nobody has ever read.

My career as a writer has to start here.  Shouting into the noise and trying to catch the ear of enough people where my work can start to rise.  I’m going to have to shout again and again, whether I am comfortable doing so or not.  So here we go:  VOTE FOR MY WORK!

 

Mr Fusion in Your Kid’s Lifetime

http://phys.org/news/2016-02-plasma-physicist-discusses-wendelstein-x.html

This is pretty d*mn big.  What this is, in essence, is a prototype FUSION reactor.  It’s really, really big.  It’s really really heavy.  It was a b*tch to build. But it WORKS.  And, here is possibly the most important thing of all.

This is it.  This, right here is the starting point of fusion reactors.  Not in 5 years, or even 10, but this successful build means the brakes are off.  It’s been proven, we know how to make it go.  Now we just have to optimize the living h*ll out of it.

And, as humans, we are *really* good at that.

 

A Space Opera, a Mystery and an Intrigue Walk Into a Bar

Promotional Image from The Expanse on SyFy

Promotional Image from The Expanse on SyFy

 

It was more subtle than I expected, for some reason.  In the Expanse we are following, essentially, three different types of stories with three different visual directions.

The first is Noir Detective tale about a cop, hard-boiled right down to the hat.  Gritty, morally questionable, bloodied knuckles and twitchy informants, you could separate this tale out and have a tidy, stand along show all it’s own.  Yes, it’s set on a space-station, but you could take this story and plug it into the back-alley’s of any major port city in the world, it would be just as tight as well-handled.

The second is is pure Space Opera.  Borderline dysfunctional crew on an away-mission watches in horror as their ship is blown to smithereens.  As they work together, first towards safety and survival, next towards identifying the target of their revenge, they start to form a cohesive, if wary team.

Third is an absolutely gorgeous Palace Intrigue tale.  Lush environments, vaulted ceilings, wardrobes and fabrics to die for.  No fists, no guns, only words, sharp, lethal, beguiling and clever.  Careers and lives are ended without our characters lifting so much as a finger.

Each story follows its own thread, with the environments and directing styles built to match.  The interior of the Ceres is befitting a noir tale, dark, dimly lit with sharp shadows and more than your usual share of detritus in the corners and alleyways.  In contrast, the crew of the Canterbury goes from the interiors of the Cant to the Scopuli to the Rosinante, always well kept and orderly.  Even the old workhorse of the Canterbury was tidy, even in its moments of disrepair.  The intrigues on Earth take place in similarly appropriate surroundings.

All three stories are following the same mystery from different angles, giving us, the viewer, a complete picture.  A roundabout, if you will, where we can see the same event from every angle and every lens.

The interesting stuff is going to happen (for those of us with a yen for the visual design and thought processes) as these stories collide.  We had our first taste of it here at the end of Season One, where we see our Noir Detective meet up with the Plucky Space Crew.  It’s almost a shock to see those different presumptions, those different visual canons come together.  The same room with the Plucky Space Crew getting shot at takes on an ENTIRELY different light once our Detective shows up, our Detective looks out of place, a Noir character dropped into a blaster-fight in a brightly lit space. Once they ascend the stairs, we have a shift again, we move all the characters over into the Noir where our Detective looks entirely in his own element as they find the room where the person they have been searching for is holed up.

The visual language is just going to get more complex, and I am hugely interested to see if they continue this trend of casting the environments into a different light depending on which character is the lead in any given bit of the story.  I’m hoping they don’t end up with a homogenized look at the end of the day, but seeing it here, in the first season, suggests that the visual designers and directors are telling us this story on many levels, not just with the words and actions of the actors.

 

Background Noise in: The Force Awakens

Screenshot of Rey and Finn running from a tie-fighter

 

Normally I like a bit of punnage in the title, but I couldn’t think of a good one this time, my apologies.

So I’ve been to see the force awakens. I don’t think the below’s going to be terribly spoilery unless you’re an art nerd like myself.  Just in case though, stop here if you haven’t seen it yet.

 

 

* * *

 

Okay, you’ve been warned.  Shall we press on?

One of my pet peeve’s in cinematic design is the recent trend towards the overuse of the visual noise used to kick environmental realism up a notch. We have a long pushed towards making scenes and backdrops lush and complex in order to make them feel like they are actual places. Like they are lived in.  The original Star Wars, Episode IV, was one of the first to make their universe feel really lived in. Spaceships were worn and dirty, robots had rust marks, random bits of sprue and geometric shapes could be seen littering the backdrops and worlds. Occasionally a random creature would wander through the establishing shot. It began a new way of looking at environments as characters (okay, not wholly new, Jim Henson and Co. laid some of the groundwork, you got me there.)

But the addition of wear and tear did not mean they had allowed their backgrounds to become busy. There is balance within the shot.  Background information is conveyed in layers of gray on gray on blacks, rather then each individual object being distinct and easy to recognize. Objects are vague, without an actual purpose to attach them to.  It conveys the impression of depth without giving us enough detail to linger and be confused.

The Star Wars prequels made the mistake of becoming self involved. The environments were glorious, hugely, delightfully detailed.  They are what you get when you allow your environment designers to pour all of their love into a project. But the environment designers are not supposed to be the guiding eye of any given scene.  They build their piece or pieces with an eye towards making that single part the best it can be.  They will build you something so beautiful it can make you weep, but once you throw characters into that environment everything changes. From a cinematic perspective it was easy to lose track of the action in those films, sometimes you had to hunt for the characters in scene. It gave you a more “real” world, but at the cost of the story.

The Force Awakens has taken lessons from both the classic Star Wars and the CGI heavy prequel. They still have enormous set pieces, epic scale architecture that reminds us just how small these characters are against the backdrop of the world, but the detail is dimmed by elements like atmospheric perspective, by thoughtful use of color and contrast (and often lack of contrast). There is just enough to tell you that the detail is there, but not so much that you spend all of your time trying to pick your characters out against it.

In TFA this extends to a depth that I have not seen very often in modern cinema. There are scenes in the film where stormtrooper battles take place in front of dark environments, the bright white of their suits making it easy to follow the action.  We see black empire ships silhouetted against the light sandy dunes of an alien world. The visual design is very thoughtful and goes along way towards enhancing the viewing experience.