Year's best

My 2010 favorites

I hate to compare things I love.  But for the sake of a more interesting blog post, I’m going to anyway.  In real life, I don’t really like playing favorites, because different books and movies and stuff all have their own spirit, and are ultimately incomparable.  But let’s disregard that for a few moments.

For books, the nominees are books I finished reading for the first time this year, regardless of their release date.  Movies, TV shows, and film scores must be from 2010.  (Books I only read a few chapters from (which actually make up a majority of my reading) are not qualified.)

And here we go… and Happy New Year!

Year’s best live-action film…

inception (Obviously.)

Year’s best animated film…

dragon1

Year’s best TV show…

fringe

Year’s best film score…

dragon2

Year’s best non-fiction book…

genius

Year’s best fiction book…

anathem

Best whatever else…

Best documentary…

wsb

Best school…

am

By S P Hannifin, ago
Movies

Some Christmas gifts…

As they say: “Christmas is when you get stuff! You need more stuff!”

Well, Christmas is over… it came and went as fast as a day goes by.

I got some great stuff – here’s a picture! Here are my favorite gifts…

Dollhouse: Season Two [Blu-ray]. I only saw two episodes from the second season, and then the show got cancelled and I decided to just wait until it came out on DVD… or blu-ray in this case. So I’m really looking forward to watching this.

Drawn to Life: The Walt Stanchfield Lectures Volume 1 and Volume 2. These books are about drawing for animation. But even if you’re like me and stink at drawing, these books are still very interesting, and many of the principles still apply to 3D animation. I checked the first volume out from the library and read the first 30 pages a few months ago and knew that I definitely wanted to own them. I can’t wait to read more.

To Infinity and Beyond!: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios. The story of how Pixar began. Unfortunately it ends at Cars, I think, so it feels like there should be a sequel in another decade or so. (I suppose it’s always better to wait for a couple decades when people are more willing to talk about past projects more openly.)

Speaking of animation history, Waking Sleeping Beauty is a must for all animation lovers. It’s not really about animation itself, but the business and the people behind it; more specifically about the Disney animation studios from about 1984 to about 1994. It is very interesting… one of the highlights are animator Randy Cartwright’s home movie studio tours, in which he strolls the halls and nonchalantly introduces future-big-names, like a young Tim Burton, Glen Keane, Joe Ranft, John Lasseter, Eric Larson, and some guy who asks if he’s allowed to be recording with that camera. It’s an awesome gem. I wish it was longer! Oh, there’s also part of a lecture by Howard Ashman on why he thought musicals went so well with animation, which was very interesting. I wish I could’ve heard the whole thing!

The How To Train Your Dragon score. It’s just awesome.

Inception: The Shooting Script. Because it is also awesome. Has some great handwritten notes by Nolan, an interview with him, and some concept art. A true Inception fan should get it.

Great stuff! Woohoo!

By S P Hannifin, ago
Animation

Secret motivation from Inception

Animation study progress

It is now week 6 of Animation Mentor! After this week, I’ll be halfway through the first semester! I am definitely learning a ton, but … WHEW! … I am finding this to be quite hard stuff! Definitely takes time and patience. But it’s also fun. It’s not like high school or college work which was mostly useless. Here are my assignments from weeks 4 and 5:

Inception

I saw the new film Inception on Sunday night, and I thought it was fantastic, one of the best movies ever made. Don’t worry, I won’t give any spoilers. I’d love to say some things about it, but I’ll wait until it comes out on blu-ray, then I’ll post a more spoiler-ish review. Of course, it helps if you like sci-fi pertaining to dreams. In some ways, it was kind of Philip K. Dick-ish, in its “is-this-reality?” kind of way, but with much more action, and a more direct plot. So if you like sci-fi, or any of Christopher Nolan’s other movies, you better go see this movie. It’s just brilliant.

Inception in relation to motivation

The word “inception” means … what, you don’t know? … it means “origin: an event that is a beginning” … in the movie, “inception” refers to the act of giving someone else an effective idea in their dreams.

Chapter 5 of The Talent Code (which I’m still reading) is called “Primal Cues” and it’s about what motivates someone to put in the long hard hours of deep practice to master a skill. Deep practice takes a lot of mental focus and effort, and is quite tiring. So must of us don’t do it if we don’t have to, which we usually don’t.1 So to do it, you more or less have to really want to do it. As Coyle says in the book, you have to be willing to suffer through it now, keeping in mind the rewards later.

Where does such motivation come from? It’s hard to know. When asked, masters or those partaking regularly in deep practice don’t really know themselves; they say things like “I’ve always been interested in this” … which of course just encourages the notion that potential interests lie somewhere in DNA.2

This chapter doesn’t necessarily make the issue less complicated. If anything, it makes the issue seem even more complicated, by showing how interests, which seems so innate and unchangeable, can indeed be affected by outside sources. On pages 110-111, Coyle writes:

They [Dr. Geoff Cohen and his colleague Gregory Walton] took a group of Yale freshmen and gave them an innocuous mix of magazine articles to read. Included was a one-page first-person account of a student named Nathan Jackson. Jackson’s story was brief: he had arrived at college not knowing what career to pursue, had developed a liking for math, and now had a happy career in a math department of a university. The story included a small biographical profile about Jackson: hometown, education, birth date. The article, like the others, was utterly forgettable–except for one microscopic detail: for half the students, Nathan Jackson’s birth date was altered to exactly match the students’ own. After they read the article, Cohen and Walton tested the students’ attitudes towards math and measured their persistence; i.e., how long they were willing to work on an insoluble math problem.

When the results came in, Cohen and Walton found that the birthday-matched group had significantly more positive attitudes about math, and persisted a whopping 65 percent longer on the insoluble problem. What’s more, those students did not feel any conscious change. The coincidence of the birthday, in Walton’s phrase, “got underneath them.”

When I first read this I thought… aha, they’re using inception!! Non-dream inception, yes, but it does seem like sub-conscious inception.

Coyle goes on to argue that a factor that strongly affects motivation is a “feeling of belonging” … feeling you’re part of a group that partakes in a particular study or activity. The shared birthday, it seems, would make a student imagine being in Nathan Jackson’s shoes and relate to him. Which is why it’s also important that Jackson came into college not knowing what to do. If Jackson said he had been into math all along, and had won prestigious math competitions in his youth, my guess is the effect would be not nearly as strong. Also, it has to be subtle. If the students knew what the experiment was about, they’d probably be too self-conscious for the experiment to work the way it did.

When I was in college I tried doing some research into the psychological “feeling of belonging” … I tried to find if there was any science behind it, how it could be used and affected, etc., but I couldn’t find anything at all. Too tough to study perhaps?

Another experiment Coyle mentions involved asking students one simple question before they started learning to play an instrument: “How long do you expect to keep playing this instrument? Through this year, through primary school, through high school, or for the rest of your life?” They took the answers, then compared them with how quickly the students learned and how often they practiced. You can probably guess the results: Students who practiced more got better faster, obviously. And students who felt they had made a life-long commitment also got better faster. As Coyle writes on page 104:

With the same amount of practice, the long-term-commitment group outperformed the short-term-commitment group by 400 percent. The long-term-commitment group, with a mere twenty minutes of weekly practice, progressed faster than the short-termers who practiced for an hour and a half. When long-term commitment combined with high levels of practice, skills skyrocketed.

I suppose when you start to think of whatever you’re studying as part of your identity, part of what makes you you, you’re studying is that much more effective. It means you’re really dedicated. If it’s just something you’re studying because your parents or teachers are making you, effectiveness goes down.

Anyway, The Talent Code continues to be quite an interesting book! And that’s all for today.

——————–

1 Schools don’t make kids do deep practice either, unless it’s a specialized school. Schools instead force shallow practice. Actually, for the most part, I wouldn’t even call it practice, because students don’t use skills as they would in the real world. Instead they are taught things that can be put on paper and easily graded. If schools were to encourage deep practice, they’d have to have a lot more focus in their curriculum, and take a more hands-on approach, not just use a bunch of written tests. It’s amazing how many people (most people, it seems) support the education system out of tradition considering how ineffective it is, and how much they hated it when they were going through it themselves. “It’s better than nothing,” they say. OK, but it’s also worse than many better things. I’m obviously not proposing that schools should be replaced by nothing.

2 Stephen Sondheim, master composer and lyricist of musicals, once himself said in an interview that he believed his desire to compose (or his talent for composing or something) came from his genes. Upon first reading the interview, I thought “nah, I don’t believe that…” But then I came to think there might be some truth to it; after all, I have no idea why I started composing music. I just had to do it. (Not that I’m a master quite yet, of course.) Now I’m going back to not quite believing it again…

By S P Hannifin, ago