30 January 2017

The Magic Queens

Is magic art or science? I’d say it’s a bit of both, especially when you’re talking about card trick magic. I came across this fascinating video a couple of days ago. The magician is so good that I can’t spot how he’s doing it, not even on video. You might also want to watch his channel, Lessons in Magic. Learning these kinds of card shuffling tricks and skills is sure to be a show stopper at any ordinary gathering. Of course, they might also serve you well in learning to play at cards in general and specific games such as Texas Hold’em and its variants.

There is science in almost anything that appears magical or effortless. Techniques have to be learned, sometimes slowly and painstakingly. As someone who has tried a few magic tricks I can tell you that dropping coins and fumbling cards is far easier to do than smoothly flipping and twisting them. And simply knowing the moves isn’t enough, either. Sleight of hand takes time, time, and more time. As well as a healthy dose of patience.

Art is a direct result of practicing enough to master the techniques. For real magic you add in a personal flair and keep things moving. Notice how theatrical the trick is?

SNAP! His fingers pop, and the queen vanishes. His science is perfect, the card vanishes from one pile, and appears in the other. His voice provides an almost soothing backdrop until…SNAP! His fingers pop again and the magic happens, right under your eyes. You will also see this trick being performed by shaking the queens’ out of the blue stacks, although in my opinion the snap is a bit more dramatic.
The color changing queens is really a fascinating trick, if you think about it. After all, most magic depends upon misdirection and illusion to cover the real trick. But the queens are changed four times, giving the audience time to learn the trick. In order to successfully perform this trick the magician must keep a smooth, even pace. He must never fumble, hesitate, or miscount. The magician never loses his cool, and never drops a card. In fact, if you pay close attention, you will see that he is in complete control of each card at all times. Slippery cards can either stick together or fall apart, and it takes careful practice to make sure they all stay exactly where you want, adding to the illusion.

As the magician unfolds the story of each color changing queen he speaks easily, and moves his hands fluidly. And as each queen vanishes he manages to sound surprised, and pleased, as though equally amazed by the magic. If you watch this magician’s version of Gemini Twins you will see that he uses storytelling a lot, and his entertaining narrative helps to distract from the smooth and constant movement of the cards.

How do the queens actually change color? Well, it involves six red cards, not four. It also involves the four blue queens. It involves controlling exactly which cards are in each deck. Most importantly, it requires enough skill to produce the illusion of shuffling one card when you are handling two, of using four cards when you are actually handling six or seven. If you really want to know how to do it, you can watch a step-by-step tutorial.

However it’s done, magic is loved wherever it goes. More elaborate versions of the color changing queens and others have made it onto television, including spots on shows like America’s Got Talent.

29 January 2017

The Dead Cities of Syria: Ancient Abandoned Cities Now Repopulated by Refugees

The Syrian civil war continues its tragic evolution with the death toll surpassing 400,000 by the end of 2016. It is the latest of many upheavals the country has been through since its formation as a state.  As the conflict continues, much of what remains of Syria’s long and unique history has also, inevitably, come under threat.  Perhaps the best known, the crusader castle of Krak des Chevaliers has been shelled while the giant waterwheels of Hama are in daily peril. While the preservation of human life is forefront in the minds of any person concerned about the ongoing bloodshed, these ancient sites represent history in situ which is of immense importance not only to Syrians but to the world.

Jabal Al Zawiya, Syria
In the northwest of the country are lesser known reminders of past turmoil and upheaval. Over 700 abandoned settlements bear the collective name The Dead Cities of Syria.  The name might perhaps be considered ironic, bearing in mind what is happening in the country’s modern cities at the moment.  Yet these dead cities have become home to thousands of refugees, who have fled from the civil war and now live in the caves beneath the ruins.  Some have even dug up the ancient stone graves and are using them as makeshift homes.  These pictures show the Dead Cities before the war as well as a number of their new residents. There is little or no access to places like this while war rages so the true nature of the devastation will not be known for some time.

28 January 2017

A Tribute to John Hurt: The Alchemist’s Letter

The late John Hurt plays an alchemist, who writes a letter to his estranged son to be delivered after his death in this visually stunning animation. It may seem a little odd to feature, as our tribute to John Hurt, something in which he does not physically appear.  Yet we felt that this visually rich, darkly inventive fairy tale directed by former Student Academy Award finalist Carlos Andre Stevens, is quite appropriate, given its content. Good-bye Sir John, you will be missed.

Julian Lennon - Saltwater 25 Years

Well, knock me down with a feather and call me Gladys.  Is it really 25 years since Julian Lennon released (probably his best known track) Saltwater?  The answer is no, since now we’re in 2017 it’s effectively 26 years which doesn't make me feel any the younger, for sure. That aside, Trunk Animation have come up with this beautiful video to accompany Lennon’s remix of the song and have just released it on Vimeo.  It was directed by Layla Atkinson and Jock Mooney with illustration by the latter.  Mooney's illustrations nod decidedly (and blissfully) in the general direction of Heinz Edelmann, art director on a film made by Julian’s dad who was also quite famous. The animation was done by Trunk’s Leslie Dart, Rok Predin, Simona Ciraolo and Layla Atkinson.

A Lovesong

Do you like a little modernist poetry with your morning coffee? Then take a look at A Lovesong, directed by Laura Scrivano and starring Daniel Henshall. Taking TS Eliot’s poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock as its starting point, this short features a solitary man wandering the streets of New York, a mass of indecision.  It is the first film in The Passion series and bodes very well for what will come in the future.

25 January 2017

Oxfam: It's Time to Even It Up

Eight people, half the world. It’s strange how just five words can stagger the imagination but there are eight billionaires alive today who, combined, own as much wealth as half of the population of the world. Perhaps it’s time that it was evened up – certainly the good people at Oxfam who have just released this video seem to think so. Take a look and see if you agree too.

22 January 2017

Huanglong – Land of the Yellow Dragon

The Minshan Mountain Range is situated in the north of China’s Sichuan Province.  An area of outstanding natural beauty it is home to a four kilometer stretch of travertine landforms and pools.  Even in its home country the place is relatively little-known. Yet Huanglong, literally Yellow Dragon, is a place of wonders.

Over the millennia the springs around this small crease in the mountains have deposited limestone which has built up to create a series of pools – over 3,000 of them - which extend to almost four kilometers in length.  The chain of pools are said to resemble a huge golden dragon, which gives the place its name.

Meet a 90 Year Old Ice Skater

At 90 years old, Yvonne Dowlen was still ice skating at least five days a week. She rose to fame as an Ice Capades star and never officially retired.

This short film is a celebration of longevity and resilience.

Yvonne certainly comes across as a wise, witty and wonderful woman. Edges was created by Balcony Nine Media.

Upside Down Feeling

Arthur may be young but he has an over-developed imagination which, together with his obsession with death and disease, leads him to ask questions beyond his years.  While his sister responds with the self-assured glibness her teenage years demand, Arthur may well find the more profound answers he is looking for from one who lived and suffered long ago.  Written and directed by Eddie White, Upside Down Feeling has won a number of awards, including Best Drama at the 2016 South Australian Screen Awards.

15 January 2017

Jaçana – The Big Foot of the Bird World

This is the Jaçana. A fairly unprepossessing wading bird, but take a look at those feet and claws! This really is the big foot of the bird world! Above is the African Jaçana, one of eight species which inhabits the world's tropical zone from Asia to the Americas. Our sibling site, the Ark in Space has the story of this unusual bird as well as some incredible photographs. Go take a look!

Image Credit Flickr User Lip Kee

The Light

As visual metaphors go, this is rather lovely.  A lonely street light finds purpose when its light encourages growth through the winter.  Created by Yuta Sukegawa, the story is very simple – yet as is often the case, profundity can be found in an uncomplicated tale.  When you ‘translate’ this in to the human universe it shows us the extremes that are visited in ordered to protect those which we have nurtured and love.  One of the nicest animations I have seen for a long time!

Han Solo: A Smuggler’s Tale

What do you call a Star Wars movie set before A New Hope?  That question has recently been answered (Episode 3 ½) but here’s another.  Who would you get to play a young Han Solo?

My vote, after watching this short but very well made fan film is Jamie Costa.

Not only does he look a little like Harrison Ford he has obviously spent a long time studying the nuances of the character: from the facial expressions to the delivery of lines, Costa is spot on.  Han Solo:

A Smuggler’s Tale was written and directed by Keith Allen.

The Red Menace: Anti-Communist Propaganda of the Cold War

Every age has its bogeyman.  If you grew up in 1950s and 60s America you would have been bombarded with anti-communist propaganda. In hindsight it is perhaps easy to raise a wry eyebrow.  Yet at the time the threat was taken very seriously indeed. Here, hysteria intact, are a few of the stranger messages delivered to the American people.

Is your washroom breeding Bolsheviks?
“Employees lose their respect for a company that fails to provide decent facilities for their comfort” goes the by-line for this advertisement.  Yes, quite possibly, but does that really mean that they are going to turn into rampaging Bolsheviks because the paper towels at work are rough on their hands?  This apparently was a real danger back in the fifties and sixties.  Fortunately the introduction of soft tissues on a massive scale helped to avoid the commie takeover of the western world. 

8 January 2017

The Gelada: Unique Primate on the Roof of Africa

High up in the Ethiopian mountains lives the Gelada. It lives nowhere else and, isolated in these remote Ethiopian Highlands, the primate has developed a way of life all of its own. To begin with there is that patch of red skin; one might guess something with which to attract the opposite sex, but why there? Moreover the gelada exhibits behavior that has led scientists to believe that deceit, crime and punishment are not simply human traits after all.

The Ark in Space has a photo-filled feature on this amazing primate in the wild.

Image Credit Flickr User copepodo

The Unseen Afghanistan

Afghanistan has never been filmed like this before so the unique landscapes of its valleys are here now for us to see – and they are quite an eye-opener.  Whatever your preconceptions of this country, this will probably do something to change them.  Short earlier this year by Afghani director and filmmaker Khyber Khan, this was created as a ‘passion project’ by him to show his homeland in a new way, one which has never been seen before.

How Did Anthropology Begin?

The history and roots of anthropology can be difficult to trace but if you want to know how the methodology evolved then this video is for you.  It traces the study of various aspects of humans within past and present societies to its modern roots when the question what does it mean to be human was first asked in a particular way.

This entertaining and educative animation was created by Visual Effects and Motion Graphics compositor Glyn Jenkins for the School of Anthropology of the University of Wales.

7 January 2017

Luke I’m Your Father

If you happen to be two things today then this will amuse you.  First, you would probably have to be something of a Star Wars fan and secondly you should really be in a slightly silly mood as well.  This song was created by writer, filmmaker and video editor Rohan Francis for his students in an after school program he used to work for.  Well, that’s his excuse, at least but I think you will agree that this doesn’t really need one!

10 Female Assassins and their Intended Victims

History shows us that the vast majority of assassins are male. Every now and again, though, the fairer sex let the side down (or not, depending on your perspective).

However, there is a lamentably short list of female assassins in the annals of history and – more often than not – they fail to kill their intended target. Perhaps that is nothing to be ashamed of, after all.

Here, though, are 10 of history’s female assassins and their intended victims.

Shi Jianqiao
1935, Tianjin, China. Sometimes the only way to kill someone is when they have their defenses down. So it was when Shi Jianqiao slipped in to a Buddhist temple and fired three shots in to Sun Chuanfang’s head while he was praying. She then threw the gun down and explained her act to terrified and astonished onlookers.

She had even taken the time to print up and copy a document explaining her actions. Chuanfang was not mourned. He had been involved in the repression of strikes in Shanghai, opium trafficking and was a well-known collaborator with the Japanese. Jianqiao was opposed to all of these actions.

Moreover, he had had her father executed by decapitation and had ordered his head put on a pike outside a railway station for all to see. So, quite rightly she was angry – very angry. She was put on trial with three different courts handing out contradictory verdicts. With public opinion resoundingly on her side she was eventually released and was given a full pardon. She died in 1979.
Amung Feedjit
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