Animation

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.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Animation

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.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Emergent properties

Five ideas to change the way you see the world

1. The idea of emergence
2. There are no secrets to success
3. School is stupid
4. There’s no such thing as a genius
5. There’s no such thing as a teenager

Here are my top five worldview convictions; ideas that I was not raised believing but came to accept through thought, observation, and communication with others.  In a sense, they are like epiphanies; for each idea there was a time I had either no idea about it or believed the opposite.  And all of them are subjects of debate; for each one of them there are plenty of people out there who vehemently disagree with my position.

The books listed are simply the best ones I’ve read on the subject.  Although certain books have certainly helped convince me of some of these things, please do not think that I believe anything blindly; there are plenty of authors I disagree with.  A book’s contents and ideas are always subject to my own observations, analysis, and judgment.

1. The idea of emergence

OK, this first one isn’t necessarily that anti-intuitive, but it’s something a lot of people still seem to have trouble understanding or accepting.

There are still ongoing debates about how exactly to define this idea of emergence, but I’ll define it like this: an emergent property is a large scale property that emerges from a bunch of small, usually simple, interactions on a small scale.

A simple example might be a rush hour traffic jam.  A bunch of people get off work and drive home at the same time.  A traffic jam emerges from a bunch of individual decisions to drive at that specific time.  A traffic jam itself is a collection of cars; one car is not traffic jam, and a traffic jam can be made up of different cars at different times.

A famous example is John Conway’s Game of Life.  Conway made a grid and came up with a few simple “breeding” rules.  A square on the grid is either living or dead, on or off.  Then the player (or, more efficiently, a computer) uses the breeding rules for each square to determine if it would be living or dead in the next iteration (or generation).  Might seem boring, but playing around with it for a while, one can easily see patterns emerge, structures that cycle through patterns, structures that cycle but move around, structures that build other structures, etc.  All from a few simple rules applied to a bunch of grid squares.  The point is that they all interact with each other, and the patterns emerge.

Another example would be life itself, and nature’s use of DNA.  When combined with the machinery of a living cell (life doesn’t just pop up around a DNA strand all by itself), DNA contains instructions on what proteins to create.  From a bunch of small physical chemical interactions, a body grows.  Hands, brains, eyes, teeth, hair, etc.  It’s all encoded in the DNA, and it all emerges with trillions of tiny chemical interactions.  It’s important to understand that a physical body is the outcome of these interactions; though it’s encoded in the DNA, it’s not actually in the DNA.  Similarly, a music file encoded in a computer is just a long string of 0’s and 1’s, but it’s not music until this sequence is interpreted by a computer, played back through speakers, and ultimately heard by ears.  We can’t just look at the string of 0’s and 1’s and know how the music would sound.

One reason emergence can be hard to grasp or agree with, especially in the context of living systems, is that we humans tend to perceive intent, even when there’s no intent.  (There might be a more technical word for this problem, but I don’t know it.)

When we seek a reason for an event (or for the existence of something), we can seek two sorts of answers: intent to be fulfilled (a purpose), or a causal reason (cause and effect).  For example, if we ask “Why does the heart pump blood?” we can give two sorts of answers: an intent to be fulfilled (“The heart pumps blood to provide the rest of the body with supplies that travel through the blood”), or a causal reason (“The heart pumps blood because the brain sends a signal to it and its muscles contract”).  We can understand both these answers, but one is wrong: the heart has no consciousness; it doesn’t care what the rest of the body needs; it doesn’t do anything on purpose.  So why is it so natural for us to give the heart the human ability of having intent?

We can simulate similar systems in which emergent properties arise on a computer using genetic algorithms.  For example, we can program a robot to roll through a maze based on simple rules.  But we can also program the robot to figure out those rules on its own.  When it’s done, the rules might seem intelligent to us, as if the robot thought about his problem and solved it with intent to solve.  But really it’s just all the outcome of the simple rule-making rules of our program. (Unless, of course, we have succeeded in programming consciousness!)

If you think about genetic algorithms, it’s not really an amazing feat.  You just have the program come up with a bunch of random rule sets, test them, and weed out that ones that don’t produce the results you want.

The same thing happens in real life.  If the rules of making a life form (as dictated by the DNA) cause the life form to die before it breeds, its rules won’t be passed on.  Duh.  So in the end all we get are rules that “passed the tests.”

Although we do not yet know the exact science of it, emergence makes it quite plausible that God is not needed to explain the emergence of life on earth, or human life specifically.  This is enough to lead some people to atheism.  But to me it seems if your belief in God is dependent on ignorance regarding the origins of life, your faith is rather thin to begin with.  This really isn’t any sort of proof that God doesn’t exist.

There are quite a few books on this subject, and many more that relate to it, or utilize it in some way.  The two best books I have read on this subject are Emergence: From Chaos To Order by John H. Holland and Complexity: A Guided Tour by Melanie Mitchell.  (Complexity: A Guided Tour is really about the subject of complexity, obviously, but the concept of emergence is an important part of it.)

2. There are no secrets to success

If you understand the idea of emergence, this isn’t a big leap of logic: success, at least in terms of fame and money, is an emergent property.  The fame of a person or a person’s work emerges from thousands, or millions, or billions of human interactions that take place each day.

This is anti-intuitive because it’s just too complex to understand.  When something becomes popular, we want to know why, and we feel that we should have the ability to know.  So we analyze the work of art (and the perhaps the traits of the culture that made it popular) and try to pinpoint what factors must’ve made it popular.  We try to reverse engineer its success.

Ultimately, though, the system is just too complex.  There is no way to guarantee success.  There are no key factors.

And yet so many people want to analyze and analyze and analyze.  Why?

OK, this might not actually be very anti-intuitive to a lot of people.  But it implies something else, something that might be more anti-intuitive.  Eventual popularity is not inherent in anything, be it a person or a work of art or whatever.

What I mean by this is that people sometimes look at famous things and take it as an objective measurement of greatness, as if there’s something undetectable but inherent in the work that makes it have such widespread appeal.  However, by feeding into this, they are unknowingly becoming a part of the social system that makes the object famous in the first place.  For example, it’s easy to look at the popularity of Mozart’s music and claim that it’s popular because genius is simply inherent in it, even though we can’t identify what factors make it so genius.

This sort of thought has pervaded through cultures for centuries, and it’s wrong; it’s a complete misunderstanding of what exactly popularity is and how it comes about.  That is, more specifically, it’s a wrong guess about how it comes about.

You’ll notice that many of these ideas simply involve giving different, sometimes anti-intuitive (but more correct!), answers to the question “why?”

The best book about this sort of thing is The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  OK, it’s not exactly just about objective greatness and popularity in art; it deals with the bigger problem of induction in general.  But the two subjects are very related.

3. School is stupid

This really seems to get people riled up for some reason, I suppose because the idea of school being necessary is so embedded in our culture; we grew up with it and simply can’t imagine (perhaps even fear) a world without it.  It’s odd, because when people are young students, they usually fully agree that school is stupid.  But for some reason, as they get older, they change their minds.  Usually they’ll defend the necessity of school when they are no longer required to go themselves, as if that’s suddenly a more objective position from which to judge it?

Notice that I did not claim that education was stupid.  And I don’t doubt that school is about education; it just has an extremely inefficient and overall harmful way of educating.

There are quite a few reasons formal schooling is dumb, and I won’t go over all of them here (there are books on the subject, after all), but I’ll mention the big ones.

The biggest problem with school is the material taught.  School systems simply want to teach too much.  This comes from a misunderstanding of intelligence.  People seem to think (and I’ve blogged about this before if this is sounding familiar) that intelligence is merely about knowing stuff, and the more you know the better.  I suppose it’s a bit like the idea behind hoarding—it’s better to just keep everything you can in case you need to use it someday.  But hoarding makes it difficult to live, difficult to have room for the stuff you want later, etc.  True, memory doesn’t work quite like that, but the point should be obvious: knowledge that you don’t use is useless.  The time and effort spent acquiring it is wasted.

And people already know this, otherwise students would be taught to memorize phone books.  Some knowledge is clearly useless; it’s not like the concept of useless knowledge is simply foreign to educators.  They’re just bad at figuring out which knowledge is useful and which isn’t.  In fact, usually someone figures it out for them, and they’d rather not think about it or question it.  How many times is a teacher asked “When will I ever use this?” and the teacher replies something like “You’ll use it on the test!” or “You’ll use it on your homework!”?  It’s easy to say that a teacher who utters such words should be immediately fired, but the intellectual crime he is committing and that instance probably deserves worse.

Figuring out what knowledge is useful and what isn’t shouldn’t be a difficult feat, nor should it be up to the government or any collective institution to determine.  It’s very simple, you just ask yourself: will I use this knowledge?  If you are interested in the knowledge, then yes, of course, it’s automatically useful because it gives you pleasure.  If you need the knowledge to get something you want (like a job), then yes, it’s useful; you are going to use it to get something.  If it does not fit one of those categories, it is, at the moment, useless.  What if it will be useful later?  Then learn later!  That’s why people write books.  Books store knowledge.  You don’t have to know it until you need it!  Amazing, huh?!

But you might protest: “How will I know whether or not I need a piece of knowledge until I know it?”  Easy: if you find yourself asking yourself a question, then you need more knowledge.  You could be asking yourself a question because you’re just curious (“What’s the population of the USA?”), or you could have a specific goal in mind (“How do I play the piano?” or “Can I make this work I have to do easier somehow?”).

Then you must search for the answer.  It is (or should be) up to you to find it; you can’t (or shouldn’t) just sit back and hope someone will come along and tell you.

Sometimes the answer can be found through a simple search query in Google.  Sometimes you want a deeper understanding that a book can provide.  Sometimes you might need several books.  Sometimes you might be interested in talking to a professional.  Sometimes taking a well-designed school course in the subject is appropriate.

Sometimes no one really knows the answer, and you must figure out how to find it yourself (that’s why people do experiments) or get used to the disappointment of ignorance.  (We’ll never know how many hairs were on Thomas Jefferson’s head.  Too bad for us.)

The point is that you know beforehand that there’s some sort of knowledge you want to gain, and then you seek it.

You probably realize that public schools have the process almost completely backwards.  They teach (or try to teach) students things before the student has any use for them.  This is completely counterproductive.

There is only one case in which this is justified, and that is in the teaching of young children.  Children are too inexperienced to understand what they want to learn, or why they need to learn certain things.  Some things are hard to learn, and they might naturally resist.  Most parents would agree that children need to learn to use the toilet, to pack up their toys, to not throw things at the wall, to not hit their siblings, to eat their vegetables, to tie their shoes, to dress themselves, to act politely, to read, etc.  Adults naturally need to guide their children in learning these things, even if the children claim they don’t want to learn.

This is not the case with many subjects taught in school.  There is no reason to force-teach calculus, the phases of the moon, the date George Washington died, how to calculate torque, the names of the big rivers in California, etc.

How do adults figure out what should be force-taught and what doesn’t need to be?  Again, the answer is simple: do most adults use the knowledge on an everyday basis?  If not, then force-teaching anybody such knowledge is a waste of time.  (Note that just because most adults know a piece of knowledge does not make it useful.  Most adults could know that the USA has fifty states, but that does not imply that children need to be taught that specifically.  It’s not useful information; it’s just common sense trivia.  As with all common sense trivia, children will naturally pick it up eventually.)

(Sometimes people say: “I have very eclectic interests.  Sometimes I just read random books without searching for any specific answer.”  Well, that’s great; go for it.  But that’s not the same as subjecting yourself to a strict classroom setting, where tuition is paid, schedules are followed and tests and grades are given. In other words, this doesn’t justify anything; it’s irrelevant to the argument I’m making.)

So, from what I can tell, that is the biggest problem of our (the USA’s) current public education system.  I’ve met a lot of people who agree that public schools have problems, but they completely miss this point.  They argue for fewer grades, less work, better teachers, smaller classrooms, etc., but they uphold the belief that so much knowledge should be force-taught in the first place.  As long as so much is force-taught, schools will be flawed and wasteful.  You can’t solve any other problem without first answering: why are we teaching this in the first place?

The other problems do include the grading system.  While it provides numerical assessment, it is wrongly used as a motivator (“If you don’t do this, you’ll get a bad grade!”), punisher (“You got a low grade, so you must do more work!” or “You got a low grade, so no TV for a week!”), and comparing system (“Sean had the highest grade in the class, so he is the best!  No one else is as good as him!”).  All of these hinder the actual act of learning.  There are other ways to assess educational progress.  Note that if the knowledge is useless in the first place and the student knows it, there is no honest way to motivate the student to learn it.  This is an example why solving these smaller problems will not help if the previously mentioned bigger problem is not dealt with first.

Another problem is that schools are thought of as factories (they are “systems” after all).  Students go in ignorant and come out smart.  But in structuring it like a factory, students are treated like prisoners: they are split apart by age (what purpose does that serve?), they are required to sit as long as they are told, they need permission to use the bathroom, they all must work at a similar pace, they are all taught the same material at the same time, etc.

There are problems with teachers: they are underpaid (people who might be good teachers don’t become them), they cannot be fired easily, and they sometimes aren’t very good.

Creativity is not cultivated as well as it could be; it is sometimes considered a detriment.  Music programs are sometimes cut before math programs, for example.  Why is math considered inherently more important?

There are probably books on this, but I actually haven’t read any.  As I’ve said before, people, including authors, usually discuss the smaller problems, but don’t see or agree with the bigger one.

4. There is no such thing as a genius

There is such thing as one person having more skill than another.  However, the notion of “genius” comes from a human misunderstanding of where that skill comes from.  Sometimes a skill seems to come so easily to another person that we simply can’t attribute it to practice; therefore, we suppose, it must be innate, it must come from DNA, it must be a gift from God.

Sometimes intellectual fame is also considered an inevitable product of genius.  Mozart, Beethoven, Einstein, Newton, Edison, etc. are considered famous because their minds were special and the rest of the world just naturally recognized it.

But, as discussed in idea #2, their (and their works’) fame (“success”) is actually the product of our complex social interaction system.  That is, it’s an emergent property.  Mozart was not special.  Newton was not special.  Edison was not special.  Yes, they’re special in the sense that they’re famous, but they never had greater intellectual potential than anyone else.  Their status of fame is the result of both their hard work and luck. (By “luck” I don’t mean pure random chance; I simply mean it is an emergent property, a product of a system that is otherwise far too complex for us to understand.)

You, yes you, whoever you are, can play the piano and compose symphonies as well as Mozart.  But you have to put in the time, and a lot of it.  But it’s not beyond your mental abilities (though perhaps it’s beyond your time resources).  You can understand the theory of relativity, you can study quantum mechanics, you can paint a beautiful sunrise.  But you’ve got to put in a lot work and practice.  Sometimes it does seem like a skill comes to some people faster than others, but no one is ever just born with it.

Again, hard work won’t guarantee fame.  Since Mozart’s famous touring-as-a-prodigy childhood, there have been plenty of other parents of young pianists seeking the same kind of fame.  But fame was not just the product of Mozart’s skill; it was an emergent property. Mozart got lucky, not just in his time, but throughout history (at least to this day; nobody knows what people hundreds of years from now will think).

Making a breakthrough scientific discovery is a bit trickier.  Again, it comes down to luck.  We might like to think it comes down to natural genius, but once you come up with your discovery, it’s not as if you’ll be the only one who’ll ever be able to understand it (if that were the case, your discovery would be useless anyway).  It might take hard work to arrive at your theory, but there’s nothing you can do innately to guarantee that you make the discovery first.

There are a few books on this subject, such as The Genius in All of Us: New Insights into Genetics, Talent, and IQ by David Shenk and The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.

5. There is no such thing as a teenager

Similar to the notion of a genius, a teenager is a purely cultural idea that emerged from a purely cultural way of raising children.  Biologically, after puberty, humans are ready to go out on their own and breed.  For some reason, culturally, we don’t accept this.  We might even think of it as disgusting and wrong for a thirteen or fourteen year old to get pregnant.  But that’s what the body is designed to do.  (Or perhaps I should say that that’s how the nature of the body emerged.) The reason it seems disgusting and wrong is cultural; we were raised in a culture that thinks of it as wrong and disgusting, so we accept the belief ourselves.

What is the basis for it?

Well, you could argue that teenagers are unruly and irresponsible.  But is it really biology that makes them that way?  I think yes and no; that is, biology indirectly makes them that way, and would make adults that way too if they were put in similar environments.  Biologically and psychologically teenagers are ready to take the reins of adulthood.  But they are not given those reins.  Parents, teachers, and lawmakers deny teenagers the reins for several more years, sometimes up to a decade longer than they should.  They exert control, sometimes giving them only more adult responsibilities without adult privileges.

The consequences of this should be apparent and predictable, and they’re exactly what we observe: teenagers resist.

Duh.

But then society makes the mistake of guessing that a teen’s troubles are due directly to biology and psychology; they conclude the teenager is in fact not ready to be treated like an adult, and the vicious cycle continues.

Does that mean parents of teenagers are bad?  Well, I wouldn’t say they’re evil.  After all, the belief is cultural; it’s natural and understandable that most parents would accept the common societal views of teenagerhood.  But they’re still wrong, and usually end up doing more harm than good.

Unfortunately this wrongness is even embedded in national law, so even if a parent wanted to treat their teenagers more like adults, there would be still be lawful limits on just how many privileges the teenagers could be given.

The best book I’ve read dealing with this subject is The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen by Robert Epstein.  However, there are still scientific papers and articles on the differences between the teenage brain and the adult brain that try to explain teenage rebellion, so this is still quite a controversial subject.

Conclusion

I hope that was interesting to some people out there!  I continue to see these ideas all over the place.  Emergence is everywhere and helps shape our world in complex (sometimes mysterious) ways.  The problem of induction leads people to false knowledge and a misunderstanding of the nature of fame and success.  Schools continue to waste so much time and effort, and the people trying to make it better often miss its main problem.  The cultural notion of genius encourages people to underestimate their own true abilities.  And what people think about teenagers leads to vicious endless cycles of strained relationships.

I was considering adding more ideas, such as compatibilism (the notion that free will and determinism are compatible) and Ayn Rand’s ideas on selfishness (I do recommend The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged to everyone), but they didn’t quite make the cut.  Maybe next time.

I’m tempted to think some people get too satisfied with their convictions; they naturally resist any sort of idea that might change how they see the world. I suppose they’re afraid that if they change their outlook, it implies they’re stupid. But the opposite is true. No one is born with perfect knowledge. In fact, you’re really not born with very much knowledge at all. Most of your current knowledge came from somewhere. Your convictions should be changing as you grow older. I’m not saying they have to completely reverse every few years (that would be awful and probably would imply your stupidity), I’m simply saying one should be open and honest with himself in his judgments. Changing your mind about something is not a sign of stupidity.

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
Non-fiction books

Save the Cat – and I am a genius

So there’s this book called Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies. (It’s a sequel to Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, but my library didn’t have that book, so I can’t read right now.) The book is about story structure in screenplay writing, kinda like Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, but focused more on movies.

The book also details about 10 different genres of movies, such as Monster in the House movies, which are about characters facing some deadly evil, like Jaws, Jurassic Park, and Alien, or Golden Fleece movies, where a group of characters go on some kind of journey, like Star Wars or Finding Nemo.

Anyway, I’m happy to say that my screenplay The Melody Box follows the structure of the Out of the Bottle genre so well, that I will call myself a plagiarist genius. No, really, just following my instincts, the story follows the Out of the Bottle structure very nicely. Character gets magic, magic changes life, magic causes complications, the character eventually rejects the magic, etc. I was really delighted with myself.

Another real eye-opener for me (though unrelated to my screenplay) was that in Monster in the House movies, the evil that the characters are fighting has to be somehow associated with the actions of the characters. The characters (or at least one character) has to sin, has to invite the trouble of the monster(s) in; it all has to be someone’s fault. For example, in Jaws, people underestimate the power of the shark and keep the beaches open, even though they should know better. In Jurassic Park, John Hammond clones dangerous dinosaurs, even though he should know better. In Titanic, they should’ve known to put enough lifeboats on the ship, they should’ve known not to turn the ship too much upon seeing the iceberg, and they should’ve known not to say something as blasphemous as “even God couldn’t sink this ship!” The sin might even be something like not paying enough attention. I think the reason these “sins” work so well is because audiences will imagine themselves in the situations they see, and if they can’t say to themselves that they would’ve found a way out of danger (even if it means sawing a foot off), then watching the movie isn’t quite as fun.

(P.S. I think a novel plot can be much more “loose” as different readers will experience such stories at a different pace, sometimes over many months. However, the more the plot of a novel follows the “Save the Cat” structure, the easier a movie adaptation will be. And it could be a nice way for someone who’s plotting a novel to get ideas. Overall, I think most good writers will follow similar structures naturally, just as good composers follow the “rules” of music theory naturally… because it just feels right to do so.)

By S P Hannifin, ago
Non-fiction books

Paradoxes

I was reading a book called Dream, Death, and the Self by J. J. Valberg. (Lately I’ve been enjoying reading rather random selections from random books that look interesting, always wishing I had time to read more.) At the beginning, the book is talking about philosophy, and mentions a list of paradoxes. I knew what some of the paradoxes were, but didn’t recognize all of them, so I done gone went and looked ’em up! So here they all are, for your mind to consider and my mind to remember:

Zeno’s paradox

This could really could refer to a set of similar motion paradoxes, but here’s one:

This ancient paradox reveals how we don’t understand the nature of motion, space, and time. If you walk a mile, you must first walk half a mile. If you walk half a mile, you must first walk a quarter mile. But first a 8th, a 16th, a 32nd, a 64th, on and on… you must pass an infinite number of halfway points! How is it possible to move at all?

(Along the same lines, we might just ask: is it really possible to divide something (time or distance) infinitely? What is an infinitely small distance or moment of time like? Could we give an infinitely small entity a numerical value to let us now where it goes in a sequence? Wouldn’t that be impossible since each infinitely small entity would be sandwiched between an infinite amount of other infinitely small entities on either side? Is it possible to take two thirds of those infinitely small entities, when two thirds and one thirds would both be made up of an infinite amount of entities and thus be equal? And then we could get into the nature of infinity… what is infinity minus infinity? Is infinity times infinity more than it already was? Why does saying “infinity” instantly win any argument? (Yes, it does, infinity.))

The Ravens paradox

You accept that “All Ravens are black.”

You accept that this means “All things that are not black are not ravens.” (And vice versa. These statements imply each other.)

But what if you apply specific examples?

You accept that “My pet Nevermore is a raven, and is black.”

Well, good, this seems to support our first premise that “All ravens are black.”

Finally you accept that “This green thing is an apple.”

Ah, good, and this seems to support our second premise that “All things that are not black are not ravens.” Which then implies our original premise that “All ravens are black.”

Woah, does it really? The sight of a green apple is evidence that all ravens are black? What if our premises said that all ravens were white? It seems the site of a green apple should support that all ravens are any color we want! Ahhhh! Paradox!

This paradox reveals the problem of induction. Does inductive reasoning really lead to knowledge? If all you ever see are white swans, you might conclude that “all swans are white.” But that’s a false assumption; you really can’t assume anything about the swans you have not yet observed. This also applies to many complex (or chaotic) systems, such as how well a movie does, how the stock market works, when terrorist attacks will happen, etc. (That is, you can not find things that hold true for every terrorist attack and then conclude “aha, a terrorist attack happens when such and such happen.” Even though this is what historians love to do in retrospect. Or you can not say “aha, this movie or book did so well because of these few factors… blah blah blah” even though that’s what news anchors and magazine articles like to do all the time.) Check out the book The Black Swan. It is all about this problem of induction. And most people live their whole lives unaware that they’re using this faulty logic daily. It’s natural, after all.

Surprise examination

Or the Unexpected hanging paradox

Can you really expect the unexpected? If someone tells you that you will have a surprise exam at an unexpected time, or you will be executed at an unexpected time, or the end of the world will occur at the least expected time, won’t that lead you to constantly expect it? And if you constantly expect it, does that mean it will never happen? Or does expecting it lead you to not expect it?

What if there’s even a time limit? Someone says “you will have a surprise exam sometime this week, but on an unexpected day.” OK, if you haven’t had the exam by Friday, you know it has to be Friday, and thus Friday would be expected, so it can’t be Friday. And then can’t you just use the same logic to rule out all the days?

Sorites paradox

How wide can a chair get before it becomes a sofa? How many hairs does a man have to lose before being considered bald? How many grains of sand make a heap? (If you’re pro-choice, how many days of existence in the womb make a human?) The old Sorites paradox deals with the problem that some of our ideas have no defined boundaries; they’re vague. And then we wonder: how do we come to understand such vague ideas so well?

Preface paradox

This paradox basically says: aren’t there situations in which an individual would rationally hold two contradictory beliefs? For instance, in a book’s preface, an author might apologize for mistakes contained in the book, believing that there is likely at least one mistake just due to chance. At the same time, he might’ve fact-checked his book very carefully, and so know that there are no errors. So he believes that there both are and aren’t errors at the same time.

I don’t fully understand this paradox, as I don’t accept the second premise; an author could carefully fact-check his book and still believe it’s likely that he missed something.

Perhaps this paradox can be better illustrated with religious hypocrisy; a believer rationally believes it is right to donate to the poor for instance, but upon leaving his worshiping session he donates nothing. (Or he votes to raise taxes; the wonderful virtue of donating other people’s money!) But even in this case, someone would argue that he is being irrational in at least one belief.

Lottery paradox

This is the paradox you think of when you buy a lottery ticket. The chance of any one certain ticket winning is extremely small. Yet the chance of one ticket somewhere winning is extremely high. So you can safely conclude that your lottery ticket won’t win. Yet someone somewhere must have the winning ticket, and therefore must be wrong.

Russell’s paradox

From good old Bertrand Russell. Basically, we have two kinds of sets: normal and abnormal. Abnormal sets include themselves, normal sets do not. For example, the set of all squares would be a normal set; a set of all squares is not a square. However, a set of all non-squares would be abnormal; a set of non-squares is itself also not a square.

The paradox comes when we ask: is the set of all normal sets normal or abnormal? If the set includes itself, it’s abnormal. But if it doesn’t include itself, it’s normal, and should then include itself. Ahhh!! Paradox!

This is related to the more popular barber paradox: A barber only shaves all gentlemen who do not shave themselves. Does the barber shave himself? If he doesn’t, he should; if he does, he shouldn’t.

The Why paradox

I made this one up, though someone probably philosophized about it before me, and it probably has a more formal name (if you know, I’d love book recommendations on this paradox… Godel maybe?). Basically, if you can always ask “why?” to any statement and then any proceeding answer, where does logic end? If we can’t give reasons for everything, then does that mean we just have to assume certain things? Does that mean all logic is based on illogicalness?

——————–

The main point of all these paradoxes is that they don’t really manifest themselves in the real world; we don’t directly observe anything tangible that makes no sense; we’re not observing magic. As Dream, Death, and the Self says, the generation, analysis, and solution of such a paradox are all purely philosophical. They don’t really create any problems in our everyday life, only problems in how we perceive and understand the world, only inner-conscious problems. (As opposed to, say, an optical illusion, or a limited understanding of some tangible science like physics. Gravity is a paradox, for instance, and not a purely philosophical one. As is the uncertainty principle.)

——————–

In the film Inception, I’m not quite sure how an optical illusion involving a staircase is a paradox… ?? Makes a nice one-liner thought, I suppose.

By S P Hannifin, ago
My life

Aaaggghhhhbblblb

Blaghablglalsdjaoiaonoirgh

I kept starting to write a new post to make time at work go by quicker, but my previous attempts kept turning into whine-fests about how busy I am this weekend and how much my job gets in the way of studying animation. But I’d rather not be the subject of other people’s schadenfreude. (Though perhaps that can’t be helped… those arrogant jerks!) Still, focusing on your own sufferings just makes you suffer more.

In short: I worked a bunch of extra hours this week and so I am now behind on my animation work, and my weekend stinks as a result.

In other news, I got Stephen Sondheim’s new (and first?) book Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes earlier this week. I only flipped through it and read bits and pieces, but it looks like there’s plenty of great stuff in there. So watch out, I’ll soon start writing lyrics for my music… just need to find a singer. Anyway, I can’t wait until I have some time to really dig into this book and read it cover to cover.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Animation

No time for anything… and books

BLAGHGHGALKGJLDKJSLDFJ

It’s been a super busy week. I got some more freelance work, which is good for a little extra $$$, but on top of my animation work, leaves no time for anything else really. I’m almost done the freelance work though, just a few hours more worth of work I think. And this Friday, on the 10th, will be great… going to see Lord of the Rings at WolfTrap! Can’t wait! MAN, did the last couple months FLY by… staying very busy does that I guess.

Library visit

Last night I went back to the university library. (I had to, my books were due, and you can only renew so many times online, unlike a public library.) So I turned in my last set of books and got out some more. These aren’t books that I plan to read cover to cover (I’d love to, but I definitely don’t have the time); they’re just books to flip through, read a chapter here and there.

So, those are the books to kind of scan through for the next few weeks…

Life

I’m not up to anything else lately, just my part time job, Animation Mentor, and some freelance work. They’re keeping me busy enough! My projects on the backburner include that novel and that cartoon show. I’ve got two weeks of Animation Mentor Semester 1 left, then I’ll have a week break (just from Animation Mentor, not from my part-time work!) and I’m not sure what I’ll do then. I’d like to get some TV watching and computer game playing in though… heh.

And whenever I graduate from Animation Mentor, I definitely want to take a little vacation to California, go to the graduation ceremony, and just see the California sights…

By S P Hannifin, ago
Non-fiction books

Rule making

The Designers progress

I have just about finished the planning for my novel. Not the plot planning, just the “rules of magic and stuff” planning. Which, uh… I might’ve gone a bit overboard. I mean, it’s not extremely complex, but there’s still quite a bit of info the reader will have to understand for the story to make much sense. On the one hand, all the rules give me quite a lot of possible scenarios to play around with, and it will be fun to create dangers and complex situations for the characters. On the other hand, it will be quite a lot to explain to the readers. One must be careful of infodumps or long expositional conversations.

I think the characters could have a book they refer to with all the rules in it, and then I can make that book an appendix or something. That way readers can read through all the rules if and when they want, and when characters refer to the rules, readers will know exactly where to look if they want clarification. Yeah, I think that’s the idea I like best. And, again, it’s not like there are really that many rules, but I like the book within a book idea. Do you think publishers would necessarily like it though? Might be a tough sell. Then again, I’ve seen it, or at least things like it, before, so maybe it’ll be fine. It’s not like I’m inventing a new language.

What do you think?

Is an appendix book a good idea?

  • Yes (50%, 1 Votes)
  • No (50%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 2

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(poll ends on August 21, 2010 @ 23:59 PM EST)

Three Uses of the Knife

In other matters, I recently finished reading David Mamet’s Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama. Um… I definitely agreed with some of it, some I didn’t quite agree with, but through most of it I had no idea what he was talking about. His writing is kind of weird and clunky. My parody of his writing:

We take for granted the anomalies of consistent redundancy. Ever estranged from the drama of everyday life, we look for blessings mixed with enemies among the anachronistic alternatives. But it’s useless, and we cheat ourselves into fulfilling the gluttony of the temptations we seek.

A couple annoying things about his writing:

1) One of the most annoying things is that he doesn’t speak as an author to an audience. Instead, he always uses this all-encompassing first-person plural “we,” as if what he says is true for everybody whether we like it or not. But then when he says something (such as “we abhor introductions to the truths we don’t believe”*) you can’t really tell if that’s what he truly believes or if he’s being sarcastic, if he’s really including himself in the statement or if he thinks that readers and himself are above whatever he’s talking about. We don’t understand why he writes like that… we find it annoying and we want it to change!

*Not an actual quote.

2) Big words. I know, I should pretend to like big words to make myself look smart. I know, they weren’t big words to you because you is smarter than me! But I think it makes the writing clunky. If you’re going to use the confusing first-person plural, at least stop using three or four syllable words when a two syllable word will suffice. Sometimes using a bigger less well-known word is good because it’s more precise. Sometimes you’re just being annoying.

3) No organization. There are a few headers here and there, but overall it’s more of a long essay than a book. Which I guess I just find annoying because I’m not used to reading nonfiction books like that.

4) Politics. If he actually makes any political points, his clunky rhetoric hides it, but now and then it seems like he might be trying to say something political, but then he just sort of tiptoes around it instead of just saying something clearly.

Overall… I guess I’d have to reread the book to take anything away from it. There are some other Mamet books that look interesting, but this one didn’t really do much for me. It was quite short at least. It might be a great book, I just don’t know why Mamet writes as if he doesn’t care if people will understand him or not. He might blame me for this circumstance, but I blame him.

I’m sure I could understand the book better if I went through and made a bit more of an effort, though I’m not sure I’ll do that anytime soon… also, reading some of the 5-star reviews on Amazon, the reviewers tend to write more like he does (as opposed to how I write), so this is quite a subjective matter. I’m not sure the target audience for Mamet’s book is just any wannabe writer though. Not that it’s for more serious (i.e. snob) writers, just for writers with different rhetorical tastes.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Animation

Animating and reading and music and stuff…

Animation studies continue

It’s now week 7 (of 72) of Animation Mentor! The first semester (of 12 weeks) is half way over!

Last week’s assignment involved animating a pendulum. Unfortunately, towards the end of the week (mostly Saturday and Sunday) I caught some sort of virus, so I lost a nice chunk of animation time, and my assignment turned out pretty “blagh.” I mean, it wasn’t completely terrible, but it needs lots of polishing, so I’ll post that up on YouTube after I do a revision. Feeling better now, so I hope this week will be better.

Reading…

I finished reading The Talent Code the other day. Overall, ’twas a pretty good read, though I still think that in some of the chapters the author kind of goes off on these less interesting tangents. There was this whole chapter about how good some “KIPP program” schools were, though to me they seemed kind of brain-washy. One of the main points of the program, besides instilling militaristic discipline, was to not only get the students to go to college, but get them to want to go to college. Apparently the founders of the KIPP program believe that going to college is pretty much the most important thing in the world. It’s kind of … disturbing. Maybe there’s a grain of truth to it, in terms of there being a correlation between income levels and college attendance, but I don’t think brain-washing children to believe that college is the most important goal in life is necessarily helpful, even if the students in this KIPP program preform very well on tests.

Which kind of leads me to another problem… so often it seems that how “good” a school is is determined by comparing it to other schools. People say things like “this school scored in the 90th percentile!” That sounds pretty good, but it actually really doesn’t say that much. What exactly is the “score” of the 90th percentile? Shouldn’t the actual score matter? With this sort of comparison-rating system, a school (or a student) doesn’t even have to improve for their score to improve… everyone else just has to do worse.

Along the same lines (though this is a complete tangent from the subject of the book), I hate when teachers, both high school and college, grade to a curve. As if a bell curve should naturally arise in the grades, and if it’s not there, you just shape the test scores to it. It makes no sense; you can get a better grade simply because everyone else did lousy on the test? But really this is part of the bigger “grading problem” in general that schools have; they simply use grades in a completely wrong way, as a form to easily compare students and to act as an easy gatekeeper for decision making. Unfortunately how well someone knows facts or a skill is not so easily numbered. (And this is really related to the “school problem” in general; how so many people think it’s a good use of time and money to teach and learn things students are not interested in or are not going to use. I’ll spare myself from going off on that tangent today…)

One last thing I’m starting to understand, from this book and others with similar themes, is that our personalities, as defined by our decisions and interests, are, or at least can be, as malleable as our intellect. They are a product of our environment. Maybe not completely, of course, but the true (often subconscious) sources of interests and personalities are quite complex; they do not simply emerge from DNA. In other words, if you observe that someone is bossy when they are a baby, that’s not necessarily just because they have “bossy” genes. Although, maybe they do… my point is that it’s complex. And people can change, at least to a greater degree than they may realize. Not easily, perhaps. It might take a complete overturning of your environment, and the change might be from “stable” to “completely depressed and crazy”, but it’s possible. I do wish it were easy to understand how interests come about and how they could be changed, but they seem to get so set-in-stone that we think of them as being as unchangeable as stone…

The other book I finished reading was Federations, a collection of sci-fi short stories. It was kind of a mixed bag… I thought some stories were very good, especially Prisons by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason and Symbiont by Robert Silverberg. Some were OK. Some were uhhhh-what-the-heck? (I have more traditional tastes. When authors try to get all experimental and stylized, I don’t always get it. One of my big pet peeves is unisex/nonsex pronouns, like “hirs” and “shim”… blagh! You’re not clever! Stop it!)

Will books die soon?

In other news, I read this article in which some guy says that physical books will be dead in 5 years. *gasp* Firstly, the article states that we must consider what has happened to music and films, which makes no sense to me. Those are digital art mediums in the first place. You watch a movie with a digital TV, and you listen to music on speakers (or headphones). Those have required electricity to perceive the art for a long time. Not so with books. So I don’t think the comparison is entirely valid. Also, movies are still quite non-digital, in that they still are sold on physical discs. This not only helps prevent copying (to a degree), but it also allows customers to trade, rent, borrow, return, and resell their movies. In a purely digital world, we can’t do that. Money would only ever flow one way. Great for movie distributors (if they can prevent illegal copying enough), somewhat lame for everyone else (unless you can get free movies by watching ads at certain intervals… but still no returning or trading).

He also says that the sales of Kindle books has outnumbered the sales of hardbacks. OK… that in and of itself is not really evidence of anything, as far as I can tell. We’d also have to see a decline in hardback sales, and look at paperback sales. And publishers would have to at some point conclude that publishing a hardback would not be worth it. And then conclude that paperbacks aren’t worth it either. These business decisions would, I think, be way too drastic for publishers to figure out in just 5 years. Unless, of course, Kindle and other ebooks take off so well and make publishers so rich that they have nothing to worry about by going all digital. So I guess I’d really have to look at the publishers’ records to know…

Eventually, books may very well die, or at least become mostly dead… but in just 5 years? I highly doubt it.

Some beautiful music!

Lastly, as a reward for reading all that blather (or for scrolling down), here’s some beautiful music for you!

Want more? Of course you do!

These pieces were brought to you by the Portsmouth Sinfonia which I came across last week (or yesterday or something)… what beautiful sounds!

By S P Hannifin, ago