29 November 2010

First Contact

If you have been wondering why the number of UFO sightings have been decreasing recently, you don't have to go any further than this explanation.

Alien life does exist out there, but due to one errant member of the team dispatched to our planet we will probably never come face to face (or even cheek to cheek) with it ever again.

This is an extremely well made and scripted short animation by a group of students at the Media Design School in Auckland, New Zealand. It is a CGI-Live action integration short film from the second year of the Advanced 3D Productions programme there and I for one am deeply impressed with this piece of work. It is a whole lot better than any number of professional animations we see, let alone for a short animation created by undergrauates.

Blown away is not the word for it.  The animation is great but what really hits the mark for me is the script which is very funny and very understated.  My favorite line in the whole movie is We don’t travel millions of light years to stick something up other species’ rear ends.

Now that had me laughing.

850 Meters - Trailer

Here it is folks, the teaser for 850 Meters. This ten minute quest for fame and fortune is the long awaited Thuristar animated short film and the title refers to how far the knight might go in order to reach his ultimate goals.

Expect dragons, a damsel in distress and and invincible sword.

You may be thinking to yourself knights, damsels, swords, dragons, been there done that.  Rest assured that the guys at Thuristar will have a few twists and turns up their sleeves that you weren't expecting.  If the trailer is anything to go by, we are in for a treat!

Four Boys Riding Goats

This picture just tickled us.  It was taken in or around 1918 and shows four Australian boys and their (we think) pet goats.  Surprisingly, the boys are saddled up and ready to go.  Perhaps more surprisingly the goats don't seem to mind at all.

We thought we might open this up to a caption sompetition.  It's only because we have thought of a good one (or passing good).  The little one on the left (boy not goat) is saying I bet the Kelly Gang never had this problem.

Taken in the town of Isisford, Queensland. the photographer is unknown but the boys' names were recorded - they are Owen McVey, Walter Grant, James Grant and Carl Vaughan.

The names of the goats, however, are lost to time.

Calcio Fiorentino - a Bruising, Anarchic and Exhilarating Spectacle of Sport.

Calcio Fiorentino certainly didn't ring any bells with me as a sport - I thought it might be some sort of Italian cheese that Harrods had started to stock. 

Yet this is an old sport, going back to the sixteenth century and comes across as an uber violent hybrid of football and rugby.  The rules are simple (there aren't many) and the game mainly consists of 27 men on either side beating the holy crap out of each other.  It might even be described as the original extreme sport. Great stuff!

World in Sport has the low down on this unusual and exciting sport.

Image Credit Flickr User lorZ

28 November 2010

The Tower of Hercules

Just outside of Corunna, in Galicia, Spain you will find a peninsula. There, almost 1900 years ago, the Roman authorities commanded the building of a lighthouse. Even the engineers who built the 180 foot tall structure would not have had the prescience to imagine the same building would be carrying out its original function so many centuries later. Yet it is, making it the oldest lighthouse in the world to do so.

It is known as the Tower of Hercules, which although has the whiff of hyperbole about it, is difficult to argue as an inappropriate name. Although this Torre de Hércules as it is known in Spain was called the Farum Brigantium until the twentieth century you can easily imagine a thirteenth labor being ordered and Hercules, with heavy heart, constructing the giant tower with his bare hands.

In fact there is a local legend around the lighthouse. Hercules had an epic battle with the grandson of Medusa, Geryon. After beheading the giant Geryon, Hercules buried the head at the point of battle. So that people would remember this particular seventy two hour clash, Hercules set about building the lighthouse as a lasting monument to his triumph.

Yet this is simply myth albeit an interesting and exciting one. Although it is debated when exactly the tower was built, it is thought most likely that it was done under the reign of the Emperor Trajan (98-117AD). This has a certain romanticism to it as Trajan was himself from the province of Hispania Baetica which although did not encompass modern day Corunna, is certainly close enough for Trajan to have been personally familiar with the place.

It is certainly an astounding amount of time for any structure to be standing. Even the town of Corunna is thought to have been bestowed its name by the presence of the lighthouse, being close to the Latin word columna, meaning column. Majestically overlooking the North Atlantic coast of Spain, it looks set to weather further millennia. Even now, it remains the second tallest lighthouse in the entire country.

Whether it was Trajan or some other emperor who ordered its construction, records indicate that it was in situ by the second century AD. The design is considered to have Phoenician origins, an ancient culture unique in its significant seafaring accomplishments.

An inscription at its base tells us that the architect was one Gaius Sevius Lupus (not Hercules after all) who was from a town called Aeminium (Coimbra in Portugal). The tower was dedicated to the Roman god of war, Mars, who represented military authority as a method to secure peace, and was considered a father of the Roman people.

You may have wondered about the significance of those ascending lines on the exterior of the lighthouse. Originally there would have been a wooden ramp, wrapping around the tower, to enable oxen to carry up large amounts of wood which would have kept the light aflame at night.  These are, however, vestigial.  The original brickwork is underneath the exterior.

Of course, the tower has undergone changes throughout its history. When first constructed it was 112 feet high and its height ended at the third storey. In 1788 a fourth was added by the naval engineer Eustaquio Giannini. It was a necessity. Although the region was known by the Romans as Finisterra – the end of the earth, it was still notorious for shipwrecks in the eighteenth century.

The Tower of Hercules still receives many thousands of visitors each year – and rightly so – this is truly one of the supremely cool buildings of Europe.

(Note: the sculptures you can see in some of the pictures are from the city’s sculpture garden which features work by Francisco Leiro and Pablo Serrano.

Has Gollum Finally Found Happiness?

In something of a shock to communities everywhere, not to mention fellowships, everyone's favorite wizened Stoor Hobbit seems, at last, to have found happiness.  No date has yet been set and it is not known under which name the Hobbit formerly known as Sméagol will marry.  Attempts to foil the paparazzi have seemingly failed and it seems that the wedding will be the usual media circus.

Yes, OK.  Not a real newspaper headline but a parody, spotted yesterday in London's Hackney.

27 November 2010

Doctor Who - My Pile of Good Things

When might a TV show become a life saver? In the case of Jenny when things in life conspired against her and she was experiencing a life which, in her own words was less than fun.

Some friends suggested that she watched Doctor Who - that it might cheer her up.  For Jenny, the show was a revelation.  It reallly helped her through a bad patch in her life.

Perhaps it is best to allow Jenny to explain:

I've often thought why DW did this for me. Most people in my position would turn to family, friends or professional help, and I did all that. But there was one little thing missing: I needed something to actually be happy and excited about, instead of just coping with all the negative going on around me. I sometimes felt a little strange that a science-fiction TV show was what did it for me. However, Eleven's words in "Vincent and the Doctor" about adding to someone's pile of good things - paired with Amy's line in "The Beast Below" about someone so old and so kind not standing by and watching children cry - answered that question. I've never felt more grateful for a TV show in my life.
Her words really resonated with me.  Being lucky enough to have had the Doctor with me for all of my 45 years he has consistently cheered me up, given me wonderful memories and, not to be too over the top, been an excellent role model (well, apart from when he commits genocide and stuff, perhaps).

The video that Jenny has made, in homage to the Doctor that helped to make her feel good again, is full of some of the best bits of the show over the last five years.  It really does, when looking at the wonderful adventures of the Doctor and his companion, take some beating in terms of happy medicine.

Watch the video and read her words at the end.  I have to admit, they provoked a certain moistness around the eyes for me.

A really heartfelt thanks to Jenny for her openness and willingness to share.  I am sure that everyone who reads this - and is a fan of the show - will known exactly how she feels.

Ischigualasto – The Valley of the Moon

The name is old – from the native Quechua tribe and it means the place where you put the moon. Ischigualasto is an extraordinary almost off world experience. Geologists have been visiting the valley in Argentina for more than one hundred years. It doesn’t take long to see what attracts them.

There is little vegetation in the place – the climate is hostile with high winds and little water. Yet in the Triassic period more than 230 million years ago it was rather different – and the fossils of the dinosaurs which abound in the valley show that it once must have been a green and fertile place.

The impressive scenery and unspoiled beauty are unique and totally different from other natural areas in Argentina. The mushroom, The submarine, The parrot and Alladin's lamp, are names that have been given to the weird and irregular grey-green rock formations found here. They were created by the constant action of wind erosion which, like some mad artist, sculpted the bizarre shapes over a period of millions of years.

The valley is just over six hundred square miles in size and borders the Pampean Hills in the west. Some of the oldest known dinosaur remains have been found here – the Triassic period is almost completely represented in a sequence of rock deposits. As such the area has been vital in the study of the transition between dinosaurs and the first mammals.

It is easy to see why these bone-dry badlands were called the Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon). Around the formations the landscape is other worldly, one where you might imagine yourself on a distant, forsaken planet.

Yet it was not always like this. Although it would still seem foreign to our eyes, petrified tree trunks and the fossils of giant horsetails and ferns have been discovered which show how different the place must have been in the past.

Yet it was not until the 1950s that the place was really rediscovered as a site of such a wealth of information of the fossil record. Although it is not as famous as Chinle Formation in Arizona, North America, the quality and number of its fossil finds outrank the US site. It is effectively the most important place in the world for paleontologists.

Erosion over the millennia unearths the fossils as well as other geological formations such as a host of almost spherical concretions. The wind, inexorable and patient, has pounded the local bedrock for an age. Revealed, the boulders that mudstone – in its original wet form, helped to form look as if giants have been playing marbles.

Ischigualsto is a basin region and although now its rugged and somewhat bizarre terrain give it the name it now has, in the past the place was volcanically active with many rivers and a heavy rainfall.

It may be a surprise to discover that dinosaurs are not the most numerous or the largest of animals to be discovered here. Much more common are the fossils of Rhyncosaurs and cynodonts. This has led to speculation that when dinosaurs first appeared on the planet they were not a desperately successful creature to begin with.

The site, which is a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site has over forty kilometers of unpaved roads. Despite the richness of the fossil record, these days you are lucky if a small lizard crosses your path.

The Old Spice Guy - Giving Men an Excuse to Dress Down

Over at Webphemera, the shaming continues...

Ever since the phenomenally successful Old Spice Guy campaign was initiated, men all over the world have been using it as an excuse to take their clothes and bare pretty much everything to the world.

This of course has been with varied degrees of success.  One thing they all have in common, however - they all cling to the bottle of Old Spice for dear life.  No doubt this is because otherwise they would probably be arrested.

Pop over to Webphemera to take a glimpse at a group of men with just a towel to hide their, ahem, shame.

Image Credit Flickr User Kevin Qui

23 November 2010

90 - to Celebrate Ray Harryhausen's 90th Birthday

Ray Harryhausen, the American film producer and special effects creator most famous for his brand of stop-motion model animation (like we need to tell you) was 90 earlier this year.

Carsten Sommer has to be one of his biggest fans, seriously.  To celebrate the occasion he sat down and created - from scratch - this amazing homage.  You must really watch it through to the end to get it, however, but it is well worth the wait.  In terms of ana ct of reverence, respect and honor, this takes some beating.

Nothing in this short animation had been used before, not the models, miniatures, puppets, mechanis or images.  Perhaps not one of the most economical birthday greetings ever, but one of the best for sure.  The stop motion is essential in any homage to Harryhausen so, for starters, the approach of the alien ship on its journey to earth is shot at 75 frames a second.

The aliens themseleves were created by using pippetry with some cable controlled finctions.  This helped to achieve their rather comical movements.  All in all the prohect took Sommers two years to produce from start to finish.

Time well spent we say.

The Lady Lovelace Deception System

This short thriller, written and directed by Alexandre Moors is twelve minutes of cool, dark science fiction.

It has been around the festival circuit and has been featured at ResFest and the Hollywood Film Festival. It has a very noir look to it – and a certain steampunk retro-sophistication which do more to evoke a back story than the film itself.

As it is only twelve minute long the plot is far from convoluted, yet I found the short time went by very quickly, such was my engagement with the subject matter.

Peculiarly, I found myself to be the greatest distraction while watching the movie.  I kept wondering whether the program had been so named as a kind of homage to Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace.

As she is widely regarded as the world's first computer programmer I thought it was appropriate but then wondered whether or not she would approve of such an homage.  And so it went on.

Don't let me put you off, however.  The Lady Lovelace Deception System is one of those short films that you find yourself thinking about a while after you have watched it. It lodges somewhere in your brain and keeps coming back in flashback. Which is good.

It should be noted here that The Lady Lovelace Deception System is adult themed and although there is nothing really in it to startle your grandmother, one or two scenes are a little saucy - so you may want to save it till you are at home if you are reading this at work.  And if you are reading this at work, well done.  Ride this recession out in your obviously boring but unsupervised job.

In the future virtual reality is a means to an end – for many men at least. Frank lives a life of what you might call quiet desperation, his life made a little less lonely by the Lady Lovelace Deception System.

In this other world he and others like him can enjoy the virtual performance of Lady Lovelace. Soon he is joined by other men to witness the evening’s performance and all are in awe of the image of beauty they see before them.

All except one.

Arria – Day Time Diva becomes Late Night Lovely

Cumbernauld’s newest and possibly most famous resident, Arria, has had a problem.  She has only been visible during the day - and that just wouldn't do.  Now, thanks to lighting placed inside the lady herself, she will be gloriously visible in the night time too.

The 10 meter high sculpture by renowned international artist Andy Scott was put in place this August to enhance the image of the Scottish New Town.  Yet, although available to perform her task twenty four hours a day she was hampered by one thing: the night.  And this lady demands a constant audience.  However, all that changes today.

Now, a lighting rig has been placed inside the sculpture, set to a cycle which repeats every 48 minutes.   As the show progresses, Arria can be seen in a variety of different colours.  The light seeping through her metallic structure reflects against her various segments matching her daytime resplendance with a nightime ethereality .  The textures of the design are now highlighted in the evening in a way which cannot be done in daylight hours.

This special task was undertaken by the Lightfolio company.  Based in Midlothian, the firm has previously lit up a number of Scott’s sculptures and were the obvious choice because of both their relationship with the sculptor and their own Scottish locality.

For Arria, who even has a Facebook page (see above). this means even more attention from the international press, not to mention the local community which has quickly taken the sculpture to its heart. The anticipation has been building on the page, which you can get to by clicking the picture of it above.

We think she can cope – this sixties style diva, arms outstretched and beckoning an audience looks like she can handle the attention.  Having been over a year in the making, Arria, who stands taller than a double decker bus with another double decker on top of it is part of the Cumbernauld Positive Image Project.  It is the brainchild of Campsies Centre Cumbernauld Ltd (CCCL) – which facilitates the redevelopment of the municipality.

You must admit, in her new nocturnal attire, Arria is something quite gorgeous and it sets her off against the windswept Scottish countryside beautifully.  With her distinctly retro look and diva attitude she both beckons, welcomes and (in true iconic sixties style) receives adoration from her audience while equally clasping it to her.  As such she is a great metaphor for Cumbernauld’s attitude to visitors who come to the New Town for pleasure and business alike.

Certainly the town’s reputation as an innovative area in which businesses can settle and thrive is only enhanced by the late night loveliness of Arria.

All pictures reprofuced by kind permission.
To say that we are fans of Arria here at Kuriositas would be putting it mildly (seen left in the daylight).  Over the last year we have posted four other articles about this wonderful sculpture.  If you want to get a fuller picture of her story, please visit them.