31 July 2010

Descendents - Stunning Animated Short Starring Whoopi Goldberg

It isn’t often that an animation leaves me dumbstruck, but this one did the trick. Descendants is an extraordinary 14 minute animated short about the wish of attaining the unattainable and that out of every great evil some great good must come.

The protagonists are a pair of flowers (the older more experienced voiced by Whoopi Goldberg in full form and the younger by Christy Scott Cashman). They grow on the edge of a clearing next to one another. One wonders from the start whether there is some symbiotic connection between them.

One is aged and world-weary, made bitter by an unexplained backstory - the other one still youthful, vibrant and inquisitive. Providence has joined these two almost as one and it seems this is how it could continue, until one day a company comes to the clearing conveying something unanticipated to their lives.

This short film started as a diploma project by Heiko van der Scherm and Holger Schoenberger at the Institute of Animation (part of the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg). It is a fascinating piece of animation – you can read about its history and how it was made here.

Cécile Aubry, Creator of Belle And Sebastian - RIP

It was with some sadness that I heard today that the creator of some of my most cherished childhood TV memories, Cécile Aubry (left, in younger days), has died in France at the age of 81.  French television did not make many inroads in to the UK of the sixties and seventies, with perhaps the Magic Roundabout being its most famous export.

However, for me there was only ever one French TV show and that was Belle And Sebastien as it resonated with my own life so much. 

In fact, the series caught me from the very opening of its plaintive and beautiful end theme (listen to the video above) written by Aubry and sung by her son and star of the show, Mehdi El Glaoui (who was credited simply by his first name).

It is called L'oiseau and is as tender a piece of music as you can get.  Aubry wrote this theme as well as the Le Peintre des Etoiles for a succeeding series, Le Jeune Fabre which was recorded by Demis Roussos.

Aubry was a star in her own right before Belle and Sebastien.  She started her film career in the Clouzot film Manon, an adaptation of the Abbé Prévost novel Manon Lescaut.  From then on it was to Hollywood where she gained a contract with 20th Century Fox and starred with Orson Welles and Tyrone Power in The Black Rose.  She appeared in other films in France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Back in France in the late 1950s Aubrey turned her hand to writing books for children, afterward adapting them for television.  Belle And Sebastien was her second and it was this serial that made it to the UK and had a profound impact on many (particularly the more sensitive) children of the nation.

It was broadcast in France from 1965 and 70 and was an immediate success.  Two years after its French release it was dubbed in to English (and Sebastien became Sebastian) and shown - again to huge acclaim from both children and parents.  I didn't see it that first time around (I was two years old) but caught it on many of its re-runs in the early 1970s.  It was repeated a huge amount of time - but nobody (including myself) cared as this was, after all before the days of video, let alone DVDs - and this was superb TV.

Why did it make so much of an impact on me?  Well, for a start it was set and filmed in the French Alps and this gave it a terribly exotic feel (wrong word perhaps!).  We were used to studio bound BBC dramas on a very low budget.  It told the story of a young boy and his dog and their many adventures in the Alps with their friends and extended family.  The acting seemed very realistic too, but what was most important for me at least was the theme.  It was that of the importance and the power of love to overcome many obstacles.  It resonated with me profoundly.  It was the start of a life long love affair with all things French for me.

So, thank you Cécile Aubry for aiding and abetting in my conversion from provincial boy to rampant francophile - and adieu.

Image Credit

30 July 2010

The Search for Life in the Universe

Did you ever wonder what the recordings of people sent in to space on NASA's Voyager spacecraft sounded like?  Well, you need wonder no longer.  This short film made for the 2010 World Science Festival has all of the recordings, together with the nation that they represent.  Perhaphs one day across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, will hear this recording and have a good chuckle about the squeakiness of our voices....

(With some thanks to HG Wells)

Kindle Launched in the UK

Eyebrows were raised by bibliophiles arriving on Amazon’s UK site yesterday.  Where had all the books gone?  Instead of the usual front page they were greeted with a possible vision of the future.  Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder had sent the readers of the UK a letter.  Not so much an ultimatum as an invitation. The Kindle had arrived in the UK. Or rather it will in late August.

Sales of digital books in the UK have been low since their inception.  Even last year the total sales of digital books accounted for less than one percent of the entire market, which is tiny if you compare it to the fact that in the UK out of five new books sold in the US, two will be hardbacks of the traditional variety.  The other three are all digital.

The Kindle has a few things going for it in the UK.  The most recent introduction to this marketplace was the iPad.  However, for most it proved to be too expensive, too big and way too heavy to be seriously considered as a reason to throw away a love affair with paper-based literature that goes back over a thousand years.  The Brits were not for turning.

However, the Kindle is cheaper.  Way cheaper.  Also it is lighter – it doesn’t even weigh as much as your average paperback.  Plus there are no distractions.  With the iPad there was the internet and those pesky applications to deal with – with Kindle it is just black text on a white background.  The simple aesthetics of the beast may well appeal to British readers.  With no distractions it will enable readers to do just – and simply – that.

Is there anything else that Kindle has to attract the till now firmly traditional readers the the United Kingdom?  Anything to raise a smile upon the face of the ardent bibliophile? With access to a million titles free, gratis – for nothing, plus another four hundred thousand available to download (very easily) from the store the Kindle certainly offers the biggest bookshop in the world (probably). Plus its anti-glare screen makes it look like you are reading off a clean piece of card - its as close look to paper as you are likely to get on a screen.

There are downsides, of course, not least for the publishing houses which are being pressed for cheaper ‘product’ and are not in a situation to develop and introduce their own readers.  On the other hand, if it increases the demand for literature can it be that bad.  Of course, knowing the British they will have a (potentially luddite) trick up their collective sleeve.

Additional Image Credits
Image Credt Flickr User GoxunuReviews - Girl Reading

29 July 2010

10 Japanese Customs You Must Know Before a Trip to Japan

If you are planning to visit Japan then there are one or two things you may want to know before you go about the customs over there.  After all, you do not want to offend anyone inadvertantly and if you get something wrong then people do not tend to be quick to forget - even if they do forgive.  So, over at matadorstudy there are a few handy tips for you - from how to address someone correctly to speaking English and safety issues.  Well worth a visit to the site, whether you are planning a trip or you are simply interested!
10 Japanese Customs You Must Know Before a Trip to Japan

The Decade in Pictures

Over at Pixcetera, there is a gallery of photographs that can only be described as awesome.  The series of pictures shows many of the main events of this decade and (you have to be warned) a number of them are graphic in nature and may upset you. However, the series of pictures captures the decade incredibly well, in all its joy and horror.

The Decade in Pictures - Pixcetera Blog

27 July 2010

Harrier and Jaguar at Tate Britain

Harrier and Jaguar is the new installation by artist Fiona Banner and is on display at Tate Britain.  Banner has grasped the discomfiting significance of these weapons of war.  The incongruity of the setting in which these recently decommissioned fighter planes find themselves helps to build the tension between our perceptions of these machines and our objective experience of them.

The Sea Harrier is suspended from the roof and brings to mind the butcher’s shops of yesteryear when game birds would be publicly hung so their meat could mature.  It brings to mind these trussed birds, well and truly deceased and hung ignominiously upside down.

The Jaguar is polished and presented lying on its cockpit, like an outstretched, recumbent animal. It position suggest a submissive, tamed animal.  It is highly polished allowing the audience to see its own reaction in the reflective surface.

Are they captive beasts or fallen trophies?  There is irony here – both of these fighter planes have seen military action and who can tell how many lives they and their pilots have taken?  The ambiguity is self evident – one can only deplore the destruction they have wreaked but, simultaneously, we are drawn by their beauty and elegance.

Some have argued that the Harrier and Jaguar are not art, but essentially the mixed emotions that they evoke are at the very heart of what art is.  Tate Britain has been planning this installation with Banner for two years.  No doubt they knew that her subject matter would cause some controversy.

Yet Harrier and Jaguar is not intended as a political statement.  Banner is simply drawing our attention to our responses to iconic images that we are faced with every day. We are asked to judge our own response to the art as much as the art itself.

Harrier and Jaguar makes for a very compelling but very disturbing and potentially even horrifying installation. Let us know what you think.

Harrier and Jaguar will remain at Tate Modern until January 2011.

25 July 2010


This very cool animated short is the work of Eyal Degabli, who completed this for his final graduation project.  As such it is an outstanding piece of work and bodes very well for Mr Degabli's future in the industry. 

It is a story with a simple moral - it discusses a man's constant dissatisfaction with his life and endless craving for what he doesn't have, or someone else has. You just know it isn't going to end in happiness, don't you!

24 July 2010

Guédelon Castle – New Medieval Chateau Rises in France

Something amazing is happening near the quiet French town of Treigny in the historic region of Burgundy.  Something that has not been attempted for hundreds of years is slowly appearing – a full scale medieval chateau is being painstakingly built entirely by hand. This is a thirteenth century chateau rising in the twenty first century.

It is not a film set for a new Hollywood blockbuster.  For a start, which movie director would wait eleven years for their set to be built?  Guédelon was started back in 1999 and it is envisaged that it will not be complete until the mid 2020s.Work, as it happened in the Middle Ages, is very slow compared to modern methods.

It isn’t just for tourists either – the area is rich in the real thing, after all. Guédelon castle is an archaeological exercise – albeit one on a particularly grand scale.  When it is complete the castle will have a moat, six impressive towers and battlements ready to repel any invaders foolhardy enough to lay a siege.

Everything is built using methods from the medieval world.  Everyone who works on the site wears medieval clothing too.  That isn’t just for effect however; the way we dress informs the manner in which we do things.  Keeping it real is everything.

When it comes to lifting heavy pieces of stone then a treadwheel crane is used.  This is basically a large wooden wheel which turns around a central shaft.  Two workers can stand next to each other on the treadwheel and walk forwards, so enabling large objects to be lifted – vertically at least (not sideways).  There are one or two minor adjustments to take in to account the health and safety requirements of our century.

Apart from that it is built and used in exactly the same way it would have been eight hundred years ago.

The clay used on the roof tiles is mined only yards away from the castle.  This mirrors how, where possible, it would have been done hundreds of years ago, decreasing the need for materials to be moved large distances.

The furnace of the potter, on site, uses medieval techniques.

The forge, too, uses only the techniques of the 1200s to create the iron objects needed in the construction work.  The bellows (seen above on the left of the Smithy) are something to behold.

The rib vaulted techniques that you can see in the roof of the chapel tower have not been used in Europe for over six hundred years.  Expensive work, Guédelon was initially funded by the European Union, regional councils and some help from the private sector.  That covered the first year, but for the last ten Guédelon has funded itself by charging an entrance fee.

Little known outside of France the castle still boasts a huge amount of visitors, over 300,000 in 2009 (making it worthwhile visiting early in the morning before the those clad in twenty first century clothing somewhat dim the experience).  Visitors can wear what they will.  Workers on the site on the other hand cannot wear modern items such as watches although they can get away with spectacles if they are needed.

The principal room still has some way to go before it fully recreates the splendor of medieval life. However, when the chateau is complete the builders will have a decision to make.  In the 1200s castle walls were plastered over and painted.  You might imagine a Camelot white to be the color of choice but many castle walls in the Middle Ages were magnificently gaudy.  Should the builders allow this old misconception to remain or should they do a rainbow job on the chateau?

That remains to be seen and the decision, to be honest, does not have to be made for at least another decade.  While there is a wealth of historic chateau in France, some of them in the process of falling down: this is the only one you can see actually going up.

Si vous parlez Français, voici encore plus d'informations sur ce projet étonnant.

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21 July 2010

Silver Spring Shark Shocker

Image Credit Flickr User Sarawithoutanh001
Strange things are afoot at the Discovery Channel HQ in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Passersby will have noticed that a great big shark has suddenly appeared out of nowhere (perhaps teleported?) and made his new home in the building. Or maybe he's stuck.  Who can say?  One thing is for sure, the office cleaning company that provides maid service is going to have a real job on its hands here.  Let’s hope that their motto is no job too large!

Contrary to being a failed teleportation experiment (though I have always wondered what would happen if you landed in the middle of an object like, say, oh a great big tower block in Maryland) this is one of those publicity stunt thingies.  As they go it’s a great big successful publicity stunt thingy.

You may have already put two and two together and realised, what with the Discovery Channel building and the Shark that the station is about to show a season of films about elephants.  Seriously, though, the shark (who goes under the name Chompie: well he would, wouldn’t he?) is there for a much more obvious reason.

The first week in August is Shark Week, hence Chompie’s supersized presence on/in/around the building. So you know what to expect on a certain channel in the near future, don't ya?  One wonders how the office cleaning company would feel about having to clean those teeth. Coincidentally, Chompie weighs in at an enormous 84,000 pounds.  Take heart, then, if you are a little overweight – this guy seriously needs to go on a diet.  We find that unlikely, however (cue a certain film theme composed by a Mr John Williams).

Kuriositas would like to thank the Flickr Users below who very generously gave permission for us to reproduce their marvellous photos here.  Please visit their Flickr streams (links below) and take a look at the rest of their work.

Alykat  aka Alyson Hurt
Wombatarama - and this is his blog Animals Behaving Badly