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Random bits from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s biography

fhb

I finished reading a biography about my old famous aunt Frances Hodgson Burnett a while ago, the most recent comprehensive biography that was published in 2004: Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Unexpected Life of the Author of The Secret Garden

I recently came across some quotes I had pulled from it, little tidbits I thought were interesting.


From page 137:

It was about this time that Frances fell into the habit of “adopting” other children while she was absent from her own. In Rome she took up two “tiny pretty little beggar boys” who sang for tourists near her hotel. … Over time she would bring in sick children to educate them, and would help establish a club for boys in London. She saw these disadvantaged children as somehow substituting for her own, and she expected her own children, so far away, to respond with enthusiasm toward those they might well view as their substitutes as rivals. Frances in some way believed that lavishing attention and gifts on other children, then telling her own children about it, would make her sons feel closer to her rather than jealous or replaced.

This just made me laugh. It’s of course easy to admire her charity, but telling her own children about it as if it excused her from lavishing similar attention on them leaves me scratching my head. Maybe her children were not as hungry for attention as others, but I can’t see myself as a child much appreciating hearing about strangers getting gifts from one of my parents. Even when you’re a mature adult, it’s like getting one of those donation non-gift gifts, “a donation has been made in your name to blah blah blah”, to which you must politely and humbly reply, “Gee, that’s great, thanks!” rather than, “Thanks for reminding me that I’m already too fortunate for a gift and that you’re charitable. What a great gift.”


Frances was a famous writer at a time when high powered women were not so common and surely the idea of “feminism” meant something far different than it does these days (especially the Internet’s bizarre brand of “SJW feminism”). She was once asked to contribute a set of her works to woman’s exhibit at the World’s Fair in Chicago in the 1890’s, an exhibit meant to “instruct men as to the work and importance of women”, paying tribute “to the achievements, public and domestic, of women.” From page 166:

As one of the world’s most popular living women writers, Frances was asked to contribute a set of her works, but she did not take this as the honor it was doubtless intended to be but rather as one in a series of requests. Her apparent annoyance seemed to lie more in the fact of a building devoted to womanhood than with anything else. “Will you please send a complete set of my books … ” she wrote to Scribner’s. “It is in response to one of those endless demands that one should send some of oneself to some Womans Department of Something at the Worlds Fair. I have grown so tired of Woman with a W though I suppose it is the rankest heresy to say so. I dont want to be a Woman at all. I have begun to feel that I want to be something like this ‘WOMAN.’ Nevertheless if every body is sending books I must send mine.”

I thought that was an interesting response; I reckon she didn’t like the idea of others seeming to define for her what a ‘Woman’ should or shouldn’t be, or that she was automatically obligated to support the cause by virtue of being a famous woman. Hard to tell for sure though.


A hint of how the book business worked in the days of old, from page 178. Frances wanted a book of hers to be published immediately rather than having to follow the publisher’s schedule, and she was apparently a popular enough author that she had some pull. Scribner’s offered to skip the novel serialization and the income that would have come with it, but offered an advance on royalties. Here’s what I thought was interesting: Frances rejected this deal because accepting an advance on royalties could be risky in those days because the advance might have had to be returned if the book failed to earn it out. Can you imagine having to pay back an advance? That would stink. I was surprised publishers and authors apparently used to make those sorts of deals.


Back to womanhood for a moment, from page 187, Frances was being interviewed and was asked questions about the sexes:

“The man and woman question has no interest for me,” she told the interviewer. “We are not to be divided into mere men and women; we are human beings who are part of each other. Each part should be as noble as the other, and the one who is stronger should teach the other strength. To be a man’s wife and the mother of human beings is a stately thing. Frequently it is not, but it should be. And to be a woman’s husband and the father of human beings should be quite a stately thing. When it is not it is rather disgraceful. . . .”

“Then I gather that your ideal woman must be a mother?” [The interviewer putting words in her mouth?]

“She must be a mother if she has children. . . . She must have the reason and sense of honor and justice which one expects from the ideal man.”

Having written a book that both bowed to and called into question the proper role of women, she ended the interview with a statement that seems to have sprung from her lips without forethought. “It is my opinion,” she told the interviewer, “that the ideal woman, among quite a number of other things, should be a ‘perfect gentleman.'”


Skipping 100 pages into Frances’s future, here’s another part I found funny. In 1914, Little Lord Fauntleroy was turned into a British film for the first time. From page 279:

[The film] made its New York screen debut at the Lyric Theater. In true Frances fashion, she made a “fairy story” of it, taking the hundred seats the producer had offered her for the first performance, a benefit for the Newsboys’ Fund, and instead of distributing them among her friends made a children’s party of it. With Frances as hostess, the dozens of boys arrived half an hour before the curtain went up and waited in great excitement.

This reminded me of J. M. Barrie doing something similar in the film Finding Neverland, inaccurate as it may be, in which the playwright invites children to fill seats throughout the theater for the premier of Peter Pan, both as a gift to them, and to provide a spirited laugh track for his fairy tale to ease what the typical adults may otherwise try to take too seriously. “What is it called, James? A play!

Anyway, Frances’s little plan does not go so well…

Although she had been told that there would be a few “novelties” in the production, neither she nor the children were quite prepared for the fact that the director decided to kill off each of the heirs to Dorincourt, one at a time, in florid details of hunting accidents and delirium tremens. By the third miserable death, one of Frances’s small guests cried out, “I don’t like this play! If I knew this play was going to be this kind play I wouldn’t have come to this play. I want to go home.” With that he bolted up the aisle in tears, and most of the other children followed suit. Frances could only herd the wailing children out of the theater in dismay.

Sad, but hilarious.


Finally, it seems Frances did not much like editors or criticism. Nowadays, writers quickly learn that taking criticism is part of the craft, and one must learn to use it to fine-tune one’s work and one’s skill. Frances, it appears, did not quite operate that way. She believed her work came from a higher power, so it was not for others to criticize or edit. From page 294, emphasis mine:

Elizabeth [a friend] was a sounding board, one whose job was to admire but not to criticize. Frances once recounted in amazement the time she’d read a story to a young man who dared to offer criticism, something Elizabeth would never dream of doing. In fact, the only other time someone had dared such a thing, it ended with his losing his job. Apparently Frances sent the manuscript of one of her novels to the publisher at a time when her editor was unfortunately in Europe. His new young assistant wrote out a list of improvements and passed them on to the equally new assistant editor, who made the mistake of mailing it to Frances. “The result,” Elizabeth wrote, “was an explosion that shook the building which held the magazine and its employees. Mrs. Burnett gave a magnificent illustration of the tempest that can be aroused in gentle souls.” She withdrew the manuscript, to the astonishment of the editor who’d known nothing of what happened, and refused all their calls and letters and cables. By the time it was resolved, months later, Frances had their written agreement that they would continue to publish her work without any alterations whatsoever, as they had all along. When Elizabeth later asked why Frances was so averse to criticism when she averred that stories came from outside of herself, the answer was that “I am the custodian of a gift. It is for me to protect its dignity from the driveling of imbeciles!”


That’s it! Overall, it was a fascinating book, I very much enjoyed it!

Bookstore plunder

I had a bit of time over the weekend to browse a used bookstore. Not as much time as I would’ve liked (I can browse a used bookstore for many hours if allowed), but I did find some interesting stuff.

rhapsody

Didn’t have time to browse the film soundtracks, but I did snatch up some symphonic metal from the Italian band Rhapsody of Fire. Their album The Frozen Tears of Angels features narration from the late great Christopher Lee; his deep cinematic British voice compliments the fantastical metal very well. It’s a concept album that’s part of a larger saga of albums, none of which I have… yet.

lesmiserables

Also music related is the blu-ray of the 25th anniversary concert of Les Miserables. I think it came on PBS or something once, but I missed it. But now I can watch it over and over!

hugo

Picked up a movie companion to one of my favorite films. Looking through it, it looked awfully familiar, but I double-checked my bookshelves and I don’t have it. I could swear I’ve browsed a copy of it somewhere else before though. Maybe there’s another copy somewhere else in the house? I have no idea…

elantris

I haven’t read Brandon Sanderson in a while, but I picked up Elantris for someday.

straub

I’ve been reading Peter Straub’s Shadowland recently and have been enjoying it very much, so I picked up pretty much all the Peter Straub I could find, which amounted to nine books. They’ll take me forever to read, but they all look interesting… I’ll probably dive into one after I finish Shadowland

mozart

Picked up some books on Mozart and classical music because I’m such a classy guy.

pdqbach

Finally, I happened upon a biography of one of the great classical composers who most music scholars, in their snooty snobbery, ignore completely.

Used bookstore plunder

We don’t have really any good used bookstores very close to us. They tend to have very small selections or high prices. But on Tuesday I was able to make it to a larger used bookstore about an hour away. Their selection wasn’t amazing, but wasn’t horrible either, and their prices were pretty nice. I unfortunately didn’t have as much time to peruse as I would’ve liked, but I spent quite enough money anyway, so the time limit was probably a good thing. I could browse books for many countless hours; it’s a great source of intellectual stimulation and inspiration. As to how long it will actually take me to get around to reading the books, I’m sure I’ll have them all read by *cough* *cough* [inaudible] *cough*.

So because I don’t have much else to blog about (besides [insert the latest controversial issue here], but enough’s been said about that already), I will tell you what books I got, complete with beautiful photographs filtered through Instagram’s X-Pro II because I’m so cool.

Dreams

Became interested in the works of Jung through Joseph Campbell, though he’s usually so abstract that he’s tough to read. I can’t help but think that trying to interpret dreams very much risks searching for meaning where there actually is none, at least not as much as one may think. But I’m interested in the subject regardless, and certainly open to having my mind changed if I can manage to understand what Jung writes. And even if I don’t agree, I’ll be interested in his thoughts.

Campbell

Speaking of Joseph Campbell, found a couple of his books there as well. Goddesses in particular looked interesting, because I had never heard of it before (granted, I think it was published posthumously and is actually a collection of his essays on the subject rather than something he actually put together himself), and because one of the stories I’m currently plotting involves a “goddess” archetype, so I’ll be interested in what insights Mr. Myth himself can share on the subject.

sagas

I’ve eyed this at the bookstore a few times, so nice to get a big discount on it at a used bookstore, eh? And it’s in almost new condition too. Just curious about the subject, though I know very little about it.

Power

I really have little clue what exactly this book is about. Browsing through it, parts looked interesting enough, and it was cheap. Guess we’ll see!

Goodkind

On to fiction, picked up the fourth book in Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, though I’ve yet to read the 2nd and 3rd. I read the first book, Wizard’s First Rule some years ago and enjoyed it. Goodkind’s writing is very bland, but that’s at least better than being clunky and cluttered, and the story itself definitely held my attention throughout. I’ve heard the series gets repetitive later on, though.

Jordan

I have yet to read any of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, though I hope to at some point, especially now that it’s actually complete, so I picked up the second, third, and fourth books in that series. (Already have the first.)

Vinge

Similarly, I have yet to read anything by Vernor Vinge, but I’ve good things about him from readers I trust and his books definitely look interesting.

Stephenson

I’ve read Neal Stephenson’s Anathem and Reamde, both of which I gave five stars, so I’m interested in anything by Stephenson. (Already have his Baroque Cycle and Cryptomicon, though I haven’t read them yet; they’re definitely doorstoppers.) I hope to start reading his latest book, Seveneves, as soon as I finish the last eighty pages of Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance, which I’ve been reading for the last two months.

IMG_20150528_045606

From the mind of Ray Bradbury, I’ve only read Something Wicked This Way Comes and Zen in the Art of Writing, both of which are fantastic. So I’ll definitely be interested to read some more of his work. I also like the look of these classy 70’s paperback editions. Can’t find ’em like this anymore. In a new bookstore, that is.

Peter Pan

Always interested in some classic children’s fantasy, as old-fashioned as the old stuff tends to be, and this isn’t one you see too often.

Sweeney Todd

And just because it was cheap. One of my favorite movies.

CDs

Finally, also got some CDs, mostly soundtracks. Good stuff.

And there you have it. Go out and peruse your closest used bookstore today, and support authors not getting any money… oh no, wait…

Talent and stuff

My weird and often late work hours prevent me from falling into any sort of groove lately; my sleep schedule is all over the place and I can’t seem to get into any sort of routine. Not that I really need one, but I’d probably be more productive with one. I’m still working on writing things and programming musical things, but progress is slow on everything. The days seem to be flying by; every day feels like only a few hours. Suddenly an entire week is gone, and then the entire month. My mind is clearly shrinking.

Talent book

I bought a book last week (or was it the week before?) called The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills by Daniel Coyle, which is basically a book of tips (52 to be exact) about how to… improve your skills, I guess one could say. It’s a quick and easy read and full of great little nuggets of wisdom about how to practice skills productively. I have yet to try putting them to the test (especially as I was feeling pretty sick all through last week), but one tip stood out to me…

From page 112:

Tip 51: Keep Your Big Goals Secret

… Telling others about your big goals makes them less likely to happen, because it creates an unconscious payoff — tricking our brains into thinking we’ve already accomplished the goal. Keeping our big goals to ourselves is one of the smartest goals we can set.

Definitely one I’ll have to try. This very blog is riddled with my blathering about goals I never seem to reach. So I’m going to try just shutting up about them and see if that helps at all. (It’s not my only problem, I know, but it’s still worth trying.)

Other interesting tips from the book include:

  • Tip 15: Break every move down into chunks
  • Tip 18: Choose five minutes a day over an hour a week
  • Tip 30: Take a nap
  • Tip 46: Don’t waste time trying to break bad habits — instead, build new ones
  • Tip 47: To learn it more deeply, teach it

The book makes a point about making a daily habit of things. The only daily habits I’ve gotten very good at are eating, sleeping, and taking showers. So that’s something I’ll have to work on. (Making new habits, that is, not eating and stuff.) The book also points out (as with the aforementioned tip 18) that just five minutes a day of focusing on some particular thing can make a big difference; it doesn’t have to be some hour and a half of dedication that will just wind up discouraging you from putting in any time at all. (“Oh, I don’t have enough time to focus very deeply today!”) So that’s definitely something I need to try.

Anyway, it’s a good book, and one that I’ll be rereading now and then. I especially appreciate how pithy it is. These self-helpy type books so often have only a few little points to actually make, but spread them out over a couple hundred pages bloated with boring personal stories and examples. And at the end the reader thinks, “Gee, that was good!” and then forgets what few main points there were, if there were even any at all. This book, on the other hand, is only main points, with pithy little paragraphs for a bit of elaboration. None of that annoying self-help bloating-to-make-it-book-length-to-sell-it stuff.

Bonus material

Here’s a TED talk by the author…

And here’s a funny comic from a talented person:

3-painting

My tweet is in print!

novelcover

As tough as it is to write a novel and getting it published, how many published authors can lay honest claim to having a tweet published?

Working On My Novel is a short experimental book that collects a little over a hundred tweets of writers on Twitter who tweeted the phrase “working on my novel.”  One of my tweets was selected, so I received a contributor copy and am obviously I bit biased in the book’s favor.  Still, it’s interesting to see the various contexts in which people work on their novels, from the writers who are able to watch random TV shows while they write, to those excusing themselves from writing because they’re too busy or tired, to those who claim in one way or another that they will surely find success, though one can’t tell whether their tweets are written with honest hope or sarcastic despair.  But by the end of book, I actually found myself inspired to get working on my novel again.  (Not the same novel that my tweet in the book refers to, of course; I finished that one.)

You belong to Universe

mastery

I’m reading Mastery, the latest book from author Robert Greene (author of the classic book The 48 Laws of Power).  On page 42, Greene writes about Buckminster Fuller.  A depressed Fuller was on his way to commit suicide when he heard a voice from within himself that said:

“From now on you need never await temporal attestation to your thought.  You think the truth.  You do no have the right to eliminate yourself.  You do not belong to you.  You belong to Universe.  Your significance will remain forever obscure to you, but you may assume that you are fulfilling your role if you apply yourself to converting your experiences to the highest advantage of others.”

I am not sure what the first line means.  What is “temporal attestation”?  From the context, I guess it means that you do not have to wait around to see whether or not your thought is true; whatever you think right now is true, based on your experiences.  It may not be true in the sense that it may not correlate with reality, but it is still valid in and of itself.  If you gain new experiences, as you inevitably will, you are obligated to form new thoughts based on them, not to refuse them in the name of pride or fear.  That’s my Karl Popper-ish guess, at least; it may be something both deeper and simpler than that.

“You do not have the right to eliminate yourself.  You do not belong to you.  You belong to Universe.”  This certainly struck me.  There are people who have had powerful conversions after suicide attempts who also mention learning that their life is not their own to eliminate.  And certainly much of today’s political and spiritual misery probably arises from the idea that each man belongs only to himself, and not to “Universe” (or God as we might say).

While a man’s significance in this life may forever be obscure to him, I don’t think it will remain that way forever.  I believe part of the comfort and joy of Heaven, that feeling of being “at home”, comes from being able to see oneself fully, and to see the connection between oneself and the rest of existence.  However, I cannot confirm this.  (Yet.)

The “advantage” of others seems a subjective thing.  I can easily imagine someone wanting from me something I cannot or will not give, claiming it would be to his advantage, whether it be my money, my approval of something I cannot approve, my time, my agreement, or my indifference to his words and actions.  That is, you do not get to decide for others or for the Universe (God) what would be to your advantage; it is not merely the fulfillment of your latest natural desire, such as money or the adoration of others.  To know what would be to the “advantage” of others is the wisdom we ask the Universe for, in the name of and for the sake of the Universe.

Anyway, the main principle I take away from this is that I am not living my life for the sake of itself.  While working on my novel or any of my projects, it’s easy to get sidetracked daydreaming of fame and fortune, wanting a piece of the power that the “big names” in the entertainment industry have.  And, on the business side of things, that’s how the world encourages one to think.  Money and power are the validators, and the foundations for getting anything done.  But that’s not where the fulfillment in a project comes from.

It also makes me that much more interested in the life and works of good old Bucky.

In search of the best idea ever

Last month, or the month before (it’s all a bit of blur), I started programming what I thought could be a general purpose AI engine.  And it works!  It can find any pattern that is computational, and thus solve any computationally defined problem.  But it’s unfortunately completely inefficient for most interesting tasks.  If it wanted to learn to play chess, it would try to solve the entire game.  While mathematically possible, it would take far too long to compute and take up way too much memory to be of any use, what with combinatorial explosions and all.  And I don’t even know how to define a creative task, such as drawing or storytelling, in any computationally useful way.  So I really didn’t achieve much.

But the seeds of obsession were planted.  How does the human mind do it?  What am I missing?  There must be an answer, because humans do it.  This is the “AGI problem” – AGI standing for “artificial general intelligence” – the elusive AI system that can do anything, not just model a solution to some specific traditionally-cognitive task (which is what most of the “AI field” focuses on).

While I knew nobody had the answer (at least not that they’re revealing, otherwise we’d be living in a very different world), a trip to the bookstore seemed like a good place to start.  And there I found David Deutsch’s recent book: The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World.

tboi

It’s a fascinating book, one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read really, even though it doesn’t give me any of the answers I’m looking for (Deutsch obviously makes no claim to have solved the AGI problem).  At the heart of it, Deutsch argues that it’s our human ability to create explanations that gives us the ability to think about all the things we do and make the sort of progress we do.  Of course, we’re still left with the question: how do we create explanations?  How can we program computers to do the same?

To quote Deutsch from this also fascinating article:

AGI cannot possibly be defined purely behaviourally. In the classic ‘brain in a vat’ thought experiment, the brain, when temporarily disconnected from its input and output channels, is thinking, feeling, creating explanations — it has all the cognitive attributes of an AGI. So the relevant attributes of an AGI program do not consist only of the relationships between its inputs and outputs.

The upshot is that, unlike any functionality that has ever been programmed to date, this one can be achieved neither by a specification nor a test of the outputs. What is needed is nothing less than a breakthrough in philosophy, a new epistemological theory that explains how brains create explanatory knowledge and hence defines, in principle, without ever running them as programs, which algorithms possess that functionality and which do not.

Without understanding that the functionality of an AGI is qualitatively different from that of any other kind of computer program, one is working in an entirely different field. If one works towards programs whose ‘thinking’ is constitutionally incapable of violating predetermined constraints, one is trying to engineer away the defining attribute of an intelligent being, of a person: namely creativity.

Clearing this logjam will not, by itself, provide the answer. Yet the answer, conceived in those terms, cannot be all that difficult. For yet another consequence of understanding that the target ability is qualitatively different is that, since humans have it and apes do not, the information for how to achieve it must be encoded in the relatively tiny number of differences between the DNA of humans and that of chimpanzees. So in one respect I can agree with the AGI-is-imminent camp: it is plausible that just a single idea stands between us and the breakthrough. But it will have to be one of the best ideas ever.

So I’m in search of one of the best ideas ever.

A couple interesting books coming

Here are a couple non-fiction books I’m looking forward to this fall:

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

antifragile

Taleb, author of Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan (if you don’t have them, I order you to go buy them and read them now), finally has his new book ready.  Antifragile looks like it will continue Taleb’s variations on the theme of living among complex systems, this time perhaps attempting to answer the question: how can we use randomness (unpredictable chaotic systems) to make our lives better?  To make our lives stronger?  To make our systems non-fragile, that is, “antifragile”?  Looks like a very interesting book; I look forward to seeing what Taleb has to say on the subject.

Mastery
by Robert Greene

mastery

Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power (if you don’t have it, I order you to go buy it and read it now), at long last returns to the bookstore bookshelves with a new book.  Amazon’s description reads:

What did Charles Darwin, middling schoolboy and underachieving second son, do to become one of the earliest and greatest naturalists the world has known? What were the similar choices made by Mozart and by Caesar Rodriguez, the U.S. Air Force’s last ace fighter pilot? In Mastery, Robert Greene’s fifth book, he mines the biographies of great historical figures for clues about gaining control over our own lives and destinies. Picking up where The 48 Laws of Power left off, Greene culls years of research and original interviews to blend historical anecdote and psychological insight, distilling the universal ingredients of the world’s masters.

There’s a [stupid] line in the film Good Will Hunting in which Will says something like: “Beethoven looked at a piano and could just play.”  Mastery of a craft can often seem like some inborn natural talent.  In fact, that’s where the word “talent” comes from.  But, as books like The Genius in All of Us (another book I highly recommend) and The Talent Code show, no one is just born with innate expertise; it all must be learned and practiced.  (Sometimes the experts themselves have trouble explaining how they do things, which perpetuates the myth that it’s just innate.  Even as I type here on a keyboard, I could not explain “how” I type; I just do, and my motions have become automatic with practice.  That doesn’t mean I was born with any innate abilities that lend themself to quick typing.)

Anyway, I’m hoping Mastery will not just be a variation on The Genius in All of Us.  But even if it is, I’d love to read it.  Definitely looking forward to this one.

Back to that cartoon I’ve been planning…

Creating Animated Cartoons with Character: A Guide to Developing and Producing Your Own Series for TV, the Web, and Short Film by Joe Murray.

I’m not sure how I stumbled upon this book, but I came across it on my web-surfing journeys last week, went to see if they had it at the local bookstore, and they did, so I bought it. It’s not very long, just 200-something pages. (That it was written by the creator of Rocko’s Modern Life certainly helped catch my attention; that was one of my favorite shows growing up. It taught me the word nauseous.) It’s not so much about the day-to-day ins and outs of actual cartoon production (it touches on everything, but doesn’t go into enormous amounts of detail); rather, it’s about designing a cartoon, putting together a pitch bible, pitching and selling it to a network, or producing it yourself.

If you’ve read this blog for at least a year or so (in which case you deserve some sort of reward), you’ll know I’ve been working on a cartoon idea for a couple years, with the intent of eventually producing it myself in Flash or Toon Boom or something. But if a network bought it and it was developed professionally, it would be, you know, better. So throughout last week, I was going through my old notes and cartoon ideas, cutting a bunch of ideas out, changing things around, and started developing a pitch bible, guided by the book and any online resources I can scrounge up. Even if this doesn’t result in any network deals (the chance of which is pretty miniscule anyway), this seems to be a great exercise that will definitely be helpful if/when I crudely animate a short episode of it myself. It’s also forcing me to finalize character designs. I’ve got most of the text of the bible done (as a rough draft, at least), but there’s a good amount of artwork to do. So that’s probably what I’ll be working on when I can spare the time; still gotta focus on my Animation Mentor studies.

Anyway, for anyone else out there dreaming of developing a cartoon, Joe Murray’s book is great! I definitely recommend it.

Got a Wacom tablet… and other random things I’d like to say at this point in time thank you very much and how long can I make this title anyway? I guess this is too long already so I’ll just stop

Animation studies

Whew, busy month! It’s week 3 of class 4 of Animation Mentor. Last week I got through blocking out another practice shot, which I’m continuing to add breakdowns to and I hope to start splining soon; next week will consist of polishing. I’ll upload a video eventually… maybe.

Drawing

In other news revolving around the self, I bought a Wacom Intuos4 Medium Pen Tablet! I can’t draw very well at all, but this device should at least make it much more fun and convenient to practice, if I can ever find the time. (I am still quite interested in learning the craft.) But it’s also great for animating in Maya; it’s just easier to move around the screen than a mouse. There’s so much more precision you can get in your cursor movements, and it’s much more comfortable for the arm, hand, and wrist when you’re animating for hours on end (though my back posture is still awful since I have no way to get a monitor at eye level or higher). I really should’ve bought one earlier.

I also bought Stan Lee’s How to Draw Comics, which I’ve been scanning through. It seems to give a great beginner’s overview of the comic-drawing process, but I wish it went into more depth; it sort of just touches the surface of a bunch of topics. It’s still nice as an intro, but I’m going to want more eventually… If anyone out there knows of any good drawing books, let me know! Especially if they’re oriented to the more cartoony side. Or good drawing videos on YouTube… I found a few, though I haven’t spent any time with any of them.

My eventual amibition (perhaps years or decades down the road, if I actually put in the practice hours), aside from trying some simple 2D animations, would be to write and draw a graphic novel. Maybe even turn the novel I’m writing now into a graphic novel; it’s very visual, especially since it takes place in non-Earth worlds. It could be so much fun to come up with a look and feel for different worlds, yes?

I don’t have any fancy drawing software like Photoshop yet, but since I’ll just be practicing, I can probably just make do with some simple free programs.

Google plus

Thanks to Luke for Google plus invite! A while back, somewhere, I blogged about how Facebook needed to allow you to “follow” strangers and celebrities as you can on Twitter, instead of having to mutually friend everyone. Google plus allows just that, along with privately organizing friends into “circles.” For example, you could group some friends into “old annoying high school classmates.” Then you can easily hide their boring annoying updates and shared links, hide your own updates from them if you want, and they’ll have no idea that they’re in such a group. I wouldn’t be surprised if Facebook soon steals this concept.

So I like the overall concept of Google plus; it’s just the kind of social network I want. But they still need plenty of more features (something like Facebook’s “fan” feature, “tag” feature, verified celebrity accounts, integration with more stuff so it’s easier to share links, etc.) and more users, and if it doesn’t get them soon enough, people will lose interest and it’ll quickly become archaic. I’ll be interested to see where it goes.

Hugo trailer

The trailer for Hugo (based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret) came out recently. Aside from some awful cheesy dialog here and there and some awful cheesy feel-good pop music accompaniment which does not at all go with the magical mysterious spirit of the book, the trailer looked interesting. Visually, it was quite good; I think they really captured the look and feel of the world, and the casting seems good. I hope Howard Shore’s score suits the film better than the trailer music. Shore is responsible for the brilliant Lord of the Rings scores, but most of his other scores have been more standard; I hope his work for Hugo is more melodic and fantastical. I look forward to hearing what he’s come up with. And I do hope to see this film in 3D.

Cars 2

I saw Cars 2 the other day. Despite hearing many bad reviews, I thought it was good! It just doesn’t try to make you cry like many other Pixar films do, which is fine with me, because those sentimental moments tend to seem forced and cheesy to me anyway. (Finding Nemo and Ratatouille are the ones that really work for me; the beginning of Finding Nemo just gives me shivers, as does Ego’s flashback.) But the story was fun and the humor, though sometimes corny, had me laughing out loud like a big dork. (“That’s right Mater, you are the bomb!”) Overall, the movie reminded me of being a kid playing with toy cars. You don’t imagine them going through some Doc Hollywood story about a small town in troubled times; you imagine them racing and shooting and crashing and falling off cliffs and flying, and that’s what Cars 2 delivers; it’s what the first Cars should’ve been. Pixar is still standing strong in my books.

(Although that Toy Story short that preceded the film was as awful as watching the Disney Channel.)

The Lion King 3D

Preceding Cars 2 was a trailer for The Lion King 3D rerelease. I have mixed feelings about it. Some scenes looked really awesome in 3D, when they were really able to separate the different layers. Other scenes just look funky, especially facial close-ups. It looks like they just “bubbled” the characters, stretching them out in one direction for one eye, and the opposite direction for the other eye. The overall effect is: “Uh… hmmm… huh? Eh…” My overall judgment: Disney, you either have to put more effort and money into 3D-izing something like this, or forget it. But I’m a hypocrite, because I’ll probably still go see it.