30 October 2011

More of a Crime than a Road Name?

This road name does, indeed, exist – in the town of St Ives in the English county of Cornwall. Despite its rather lewd sounding name we are assured that this refers to a place where boats were once moored. Court Cocking is now a pedestrian cobbled street leading from the main street to the harbor front of this picturesque town.

Atlas' Revenge

Atlas is a playful little fish – quite happy in his tank (unlike another animated fish that we could name, but we won’t!).  However, that happiness comes to an end when a frightening and ominous force is unleashed on his tank.  It’s up to Atlas to put things right!

I’m not quite sure why the animation is set in Italy but to be perfectly honest it makes a great opening sequence so perhaps that’s why!  This lovely animated short is the collective final project of the University of Central Florida’s Department of Digital Media's Visual Language Track, class of '09. Atlas' Revenge took first place in the Industry Animation Category of the SIGGRAPH SpaceTime Competition and Exhibition.

The Lifecycle of a Mushroom

This very cool animation is by Thomas Beg, a digital artist currently studying CG Arts and Animation at UCA Rochester.  If you ever wondered how mushrooms reproduce then look no further! Sure, Wikipedia will have all the necessary animation but will it have animation?

This animation forms part of Spectacular Science, a collaborative project between the University for the Creative Arts and the University of Kent which aims to provide a wide audience with access to scientific knowledge and support the education of students in science subjects.

You may have spotted a nod in the direction of 1920's animation such as the Silly Symphonies series and other early Walt Disney shorts and you would be correct in thinking that Mr Beg was inspired by the animation of yesteryear in order to explain the science of today, in this case the lifecycle of a mushroom.

Mangyongdae – The Last Funfair in North Korea

Have you ever wondered what there is for entertainment in a totalitarian Stalinist dictatorship with a dead but nevertheless eternal president? It sounds like something Eric Idle might ask in a Monty Python sketch and is an idle thought for us, perhaps. Yet for the people of North Korea the list of answers is hardly as endless as their deceased president’s rule.  Mangyongdae funfair would certainly feature high on the list. Yet from our perspective it is little more than a rusting death trap.

Situated about ten miles from the capital city of Pyongyang, Mangyongdae funfair is at first sight almost a parody of what should be a busy and thriving centre of amusement. Yet visitors from outside the stricken country, where up to 1 in 13 of the population has succumbed to famine over the last ten years have noted how empty the funfair seems to always be. Yet all the fun of the fair can be a deadly business in North Korea.

The rides at the park are so ramshackle that repairs are done on an as and when, ad hoc basis. To avoid the deaths of important North Koreans or overseas visitors (whose foreign currency is rather more important) local farmers are often recruited to test the rides for safety.  This must be the only place in the world where a knock on the door and the words you’re going to the funfair are met with dread.

Workers are often seen traipsing up and down the rides with basic tools, riveting a bolt back in to place here, bashing in a loose screw there. It doesn’t exactly inspire the visitor with confidence. Yet, you might think to yourself, it looks ramshackle, but surely they wouldn't let people on if it was unsafe? Take a closer look.

Other countries have health and safety laws which are bemoaned for their stringency and attention to detail.  Yet a glimpse of the alternative might just convince most people that the unconventional approach of the North Koreans to even the most basic of safety standards would not be a suitable substitute. Harnesses regularly unlock on the rollercoaster leaving terrified passengers bearing down on them and counting the seconds until it is over (one way or another).  This really is a white knuckle ride, without exaggeration.

Or, if you would rather your knuckles the usual color, say hurrah and wave your hands in the air (like you don't care). Easy when there is little to keep you inside and possibly, just possibly, a kind of heaven for mischievous boys with a burgeoning Peter Pan syndrome or a death wish!

For some reason, ordinary North Koreans tend to avoid the park.

Yet when foreign journalists are, perplexingly, taken to see the fair - as if it is something of which to be proud – they are often left waiting for long periods on their bus before they can alight. It takes that long for the North Korean authorities to ship in a few busloads of their own people to make the park look half busy.

Nevertheless, if you can't get the people, you can get the army. Thousands of North Korea's military personnel risk the lives and limbs of their families each year to experience the closest thing they have to Disneyland. Sometimes the queues even get long for the rides which are still working. Yet the moment a foreign visitor, willing to pay thirty times more for a ride comes along, the North Koreans are pushed to the back of the queue, uniform or no.

If you don’t want to have a near death experience on the few rides that actually work there are a few alternatives. One of them is to pay your money and take your chances at the shooting gallery where you can have a go at shooting an imperialist aggressor.

It always seems unnecessarily harsh to chide children from comfortable backgrounds about the sheer luck of their accident of birth. You have probably been confronted with an elderly aunt insisting that you think about the poor children in XYZ when you refused to eat that last piece of cabbage on your plate. Yet for any parent it would be difficult not to point out to their iPhone smudging, tablet grasping, Wii laden children how different life is for their counterparts in North Korea.

So, if you have kids, next time they misbehave tell them that next year, instead of Disneyland it's going to be Mangyongdae. Or, if you can't quite get your tongue around the name, just say that funfair in North Korea. Show them these pictures, they will know what you mean.

Since the publication of this article we have learned that a new funfair has opened in Pyongyang which, while still very basic compared to our own, is a great improvement on Mangyongdae. Thanks to several of the people below for this information.

29 October 2011

Starwars V Startrek

Light writing is an up-and-coming form of stop motion animation in which still images captured using the technique known as light painting or light drawing are sequenced and so generate an optical illusion of movement for the observer. Pablo Picasso used this technique almost a century ago but it has hit our contemporary consciousness just recently, kicking off with an advertising campaign by an American telecommunications company four years ago.

This particular piece of light writing was created by German artist Lichtfaktor.  I think it should be renamed however: with the use of the telephone boxes in the video, surely the piece should be called Starwars V Startrek V Doctorwho!


You may not understand this completely, or at all – I know I didn’t – but you can’t help but be astonished by this bravura piece of animation.

You will see all sorts of anime references in PencilHead as well as nods to other popular culture icons, such as Pink Floyd’s walking hammers. It all builds up in to something quite mind blowing!

Right Here, Right Now by Fatboy Slim provides the music track if you have been beating your head to remember what it is!

28 October 2011

The End of the Tether

Banksy Gives Occupy London Demonstrators a Giant Monopoly Board

You might say that protesting as a full time occupation might be exciting. Yet there is a limit to how much protesting you can actually do in a day – and time out must at some point be called. There isn’t anything quite like a board game to while away the hours between protests, so the demonstrators outside of St Paul’s Cathedral in London have been gifted a giant Monopoly board.

It is thought that the enormous board has been created by the infamous street artist, Banksy. It certainly bears many of the hallmarks of his works. The enormous depiction of the renowned board has Mr Money Bags, begging with his top hat. There are also the usual top hat and sports car to represent the bankers.

Instead of street names the board includes the names of places in cities where other protests are taking place. However, this is where my one question comes up – the street names are rather amateurishly done. Either the protestors have changed the names to please themselves or Banksy has let his quality of work slip a little!

The pièce de résistance for me, however, is the red plastic house which has the tag ‘tox’ upon it – a reference to the toxic mortgage lending which helped to trigger the crisis in which we find ourselves. Not that it has stopped the director’s of Britain’s largest companies pocketing an average 49% pay rise over the last year. No wonder they have been labeled ‘elite greedy pigs’ by the unions.Or, this may actually be in reference to a tagger by the name of Tox who was convicted of criminal damage in London earlier this year and may currently be in prison. Banksy has previously tagged the artist's name elsewhere:

English Humour

Three Fifteen

This is wonderful and represents part of the final year degree project at Toonskool Advanced Animation Academy (the leader in Animation Education in India) for five very talented students, Aditya Tawde, Harsh Sharma, Kushal Bhor, Dipesh Motivaras and Perzan pandol. You will very quickly realize why the wonderfully named Toonskool has such a good reputation – this is very fine work for undergraduates – one can only guess at the work they will produce in the future.

A robot awakes to find himself on a mission – and I think I will leave the description for fear of spoilers! You may well guess the reveal (as I did) fairly early on but that did nothing to diminish my enjoyment of this enigmatic animated short. Plus there is another twist in the tale right at the end which I didn’t guess (but perhaps should have). I could say that if the young M. Night Shyamalan had turned his hand to animation, this could easily have been the result!

2011: A Space Adventure

What surprises me most about 2011: A Space Adventure is that it was made in just over a month which is quite staggering considering the scale of this project and its ambition. Creator Simon Mesnard insists that it is not a sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey but ‘some kind of tribute’. As tributes go, then, this is one of the better ones!

The story is as straightforwardly complex as in the original book/movie. An astronaut has been sent in to space to repair an old satellite. As he finishes something catches his eye, something that he is willing to risk his life to touch.I hope that you will agree that, sequel or not, this certainly stays true to the vision of Arthur C Clarke.

27 October 2011

Not An Instruction Manual

Now, For The Last Time, Japan

Most people who travel through a foreign country keep mementoes, photos or videos of their time engaging with another culture, another people.  Friends and relatives are shown these memories (and are often bored silly by them in all honesty). Then the pictures go in to an album, the videos are consigned to the old hard drive and, slowly but surely they are accessed less and less.

Others, like Sander Wisman, take their various media files and mould them in to something entirely new – something which Grandma might want to sit through again and again for sure, or that they can share with the entire world.  This short film gathers up all his memories of his trip to Japan and makes it in to a personal paean to the country. Topped with a great soundtrack from Future World Music (their track Dreamscapes and Wishes forms the musical accompaniment), flawless editing and great timelapse sequences, this is one of the best ‘adverts’ for visiting Japan I have ever seen!

America in the 1970s – The Documerica Legacy

Documerica was a project which ran from 1971 – 1977.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked a group of hired freelance photographers to capture America in terms of both the environmental problems it was facing then and everyday life.  Now, thanks to the US National Archives you can see many more of these pictures – this is simply a selection of the ones which we really, really liked.

Although it is only forty years since the project began many of these pictures seem much older, as if from an earlier time. Yet the various strands of seventies culture come together in a vivid snapshot of what life in all its diversity was like in the USA in the 1970s.

The US National Archives has digitized thousands of these photographs.  You can see hundreds of them on their Flickr page which also gives details about how you can see the rest. Or, if you want more details about any picture here, simply click on it for a broader description.