Ethereality News & Weblog

July 18, 2008

Watchmen trailer surfaced

Filed under: Comics,Film/TV/Animation,Writing — Rob Chang @ 8:41 am

I never post short quickie entries. I tend to gather up enough things to write about before posting a new entry, but after seeing the Watchmen Trailer that was just released…WOW. Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead is one of my favorite films of all time because it is the perfect popcorn flick–so well made, so entertaining, no glaring technical faults, and even better than the revered original (not to mention Sarah Polley, one of my favorite actresses and known for only doing quality films, is in it). On the other hand, his next film 300 didn’t do much for me. Both the hyper-stylized direction and the subject matter wasn’t my cup of tea, but I don’t think it’s a Zach issue, since the source material often dictates the style of the film. I’m curious to see how he handles the revered Watchmen.

For those of you that don’t care about comic books, or do, but haven’t read Watchmen, you really should read it. It is often used by university English professors as required reading in literature courses–that’s how good it is. Essentially, the very talented Alan Moore took the superhero genre and wrote something that is every bit as serious, profound, and literary as revered classic literature. Just writing about it makes me want to read it again (I read it many years ago).

July 17, 2008

Mobile productivity

I mentioned previously that I wrote something for the Game Career Guide (Fall 2008), and I just got my copies in the mail. What I wrote is in the Top 10 tips section, and if you are an aspiring game artist or new to the industry you might want to check it out.

Elena took this photo while we were waiting for our flight:
mobile rig

You know how in all those musician’s/pro audio magazines you always see ads of people on the go with their *insert portable music-making gear name* and deep in their own musical world while at laundry mats, cafes, and on the sidewalk? Maybe it’s just me, but I have never seen anyone do that, ever, and I thought to myself, why the hell not? I’m one of those people that hates wasting time doing nothing while waiting for something (train, airplane, doctor’s appointment), so I absolutely have to be productive whenever possible (or at least entertained), unless I have so much on my mind that I’m content with just sitting and lost in my thoughts. What you see in the photos is my mobile music-making rig put to the test, consisting of a Toshiba Satellite laptop, Novation ReMOTS SL 25 MIDI controller keyboard, Audio-Technica ATH-50M closed-back headphones, Line 6 Toneport UX2 USB 2.0 audio interface, and an external hard drive. It all fits nicely into a carry-on roller, so for those of you that want to be making music while traveling, this is a great setup. It worked pretty well, except I wasn’t exactly doing anything elaborate on it–just a few softsynths in Sonar 7 PE and no hardcore sample streaming off the external drive.

And just what was I working on? It was a little idea I had while watching over the movers move our stuff out of our apartment in San Mateo. I have a small hand-held recorder (Olympus VN-4100) that I sometimes carry with me for recording music ideas if/when inspiration strikes. I sometimes get ideas for melodies or drum patterns, and I’d just hum or beatbox into the recorder, and then later I’d use it as the base to jump off from in a new track. So this was one of the drum patterns I recorded (I can’t even call it beatboxing–it’s more like I just coughed into the recorder…) while watching over the movers. At the airport I picked that idea to start a new track, and this is what I came up with while waiting for our flight. I’ll develop it into a finished track eventually, when I find the time. I have a lot of these 4-measure ideas that I record before forgetting them completely. Whenever I’m between client projects, those are the ones I’ll try to develop further into finished tracks.

While working on the construction of our new home and my new studio, we’re staying at a temporary apartment, and here’s what the temporary workspace looks like:
temp space
temp space2

As you can see, the drum kit is not here. I could probably fit it in the temporary space, but it’ll get crowded. I can’t wait to finish the new studio since it’ll be like a dream come true–something I’ve wanted all these years–a studio constructed with proper soundproofing, acoustic treatments, and can house my gears comfortably.

While still on the topic of music, I had this wonderful dream before waking up this morning. In the dream, I was in China and walking past what seemed like typical small storefronts downstairs from some random high-rise apartment, and I noticed that one of the storefronts had a small crowd, and it was a live show. I walked closer and realized it was Frazier Chorus, and immediately called my brother Dennis to come down stairs since Dream Kitchen is one of our favorite songs. For those of you who know Frazier Chorus, you’d understand why this dream is so strange and wonderful. They’re essentially a jazz-influenced pop group from the UK that utilized synthesizers, woodwind instruments, drum machines, string section, and the soothing voice of Tim Freeman (brother of Martin Freeman, from the UK version of The Office). They only released three albums and haven’t been active since the late 90’s (which is a shame). I had always been influenced by jazz in my music, and when I first heard Frazier Chorus I felt like they were kindred spirits, as they obviously also loved jazz and sprinkled it everywhere in their pop music. I’ve kept an eye out for their possible resurfacing all these years, and maybe this dream is a sign of things to come?

One last music-related thought. I always wondered about bands and recording artists that have disappeared. Whether they were one-hit wonders or they just faded away from the spotlight, wouldn’t you think that if they truly loved music passionately, they’d still be releasing stuff on their own websites? I mean with the advent of the internet, anyone can make a website and try to sell mp3’s or CD’s, with or without a record label deal, or simply just share them for free. If someone really loved music that much and didn’t care about money or fame, then it’s perfectly fine to be without a major record label deal and just share the music for the love of it, right? Maybe once having been famous, it’s hard for them to be just another face in the crowd, sharing the same distribution method as the rest of the nobodies without a record deal? It used to be that home recording technology couldn’t get you commercial quality recordings, but that’s completely changed by now, and anyone who cared enough could produce professional sounding music straight from their bedrooms, let alone professional musicians who have both the talent and the production knowledge. So are these disappeared musical talents still making music? If so, why aren’t they sharing it with us? If they are holding out for another record deal, is it really wise to do that? Shouldn’t the fact they’ve gone with out a deal for so many years be a sign that it’s probably not going to happen, and they should just leave that idea behind and get with the times? Or maybe some of them just stopped caring about music. I’ve seen it happen before, where someone just fell out of love with music (a music theory teacher back in college was like that. John Squire from the Stone Roses is like that too–he left music behind to be a painter, which is funny since I did the opposite).

I know one example of a band that had success and was dropped from their label, but is still making music and posting new tracks on My Space. Check out Lisahall. This is what I’m talking about. You don’t simply fall out of love with music just because a record label dropped you. To stop making music and sharing it with the rest of the world, something else must have happened. Just what are those things that’s stopping them from making music and sharing them? Depression? Lack of interest? Legal entanglements with the previous label? Lack of interest in learning how to do home recording at a professional level? (A lot of musicians can only write songs or perform their instruments, while all the recording/mixing/mastering was done by other professionals in commercial studios.) People ask me all the time why I had quit my job as studio art director to do music, and I guess my situation is as good of an example as any for those that wonder why someone would drop out of an art career (as opposed to a music career). Sometimes you just evolve and and you shift your focus to something else. I never said I’d stop painting though–just that I need to get caught up on my music for now.

Rainbow Six: Vegas is a game I’ve tried to find time to play for a while now, but never got past the first hour due to being too busy. I’m still busy now, but at least I’m not working a day job anymore, so I can afford an hour here and there of game time. I’m having fun with this game, and after getting past the first half, it’s starting to get a little repetitive, since you’re just sort of fighting your way through one level after another, without any real changes in how you should approach things. This is where Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare did a lot better, since you got to perform very different tasks in that game. The first insertion into Vegas was such an adrenalin rush though. There’s just something very surreal about combat in the streets and buildings instead of out in the wilderness–like a strange dream. One minute it’s a shopping mall full of people laughing and enjoying themselves, the next minute it’s a war zone. Gun fights in the arcade-like casinos in the game are pretty interesting too, but they eventually become repetitive since it’s just one after another of “enter room, clear room, move to the next room.” I hope the second half of the game isn’t as repetitive.

Quickie TV reviews:

Although I’m no longer in the States, the internet allows me to still watch some of the TV shows available. It’s sort of a ritual for me to watch an episode of something while having a meal. Lord knows I’m too busy to watch them otherwise.

Dexter season 1 – I was turned on to this TV series by a cab driver who told me about it, and I didn’t have high expectations when I started watching it (just finished the first season), as I’m normally not too thrilled by cop/crime dramas on TV (been done to death and in so many different ways already). I have to say, I really enjoyed this one. The premise is very different from the typical cop show since the main character is a serial killer working in the police department–you sure don’t see that everyday. What I like the most about the show is the strange family relationship Dexter has with various characters past and present. He is a severely damaged person, but he’s not so far gone as to go completely psycho. Watching him walking that fine line is the most intriguing part of the show. I didn’t see it at first, but after watching the season one finale I realized why I related so much to this show. I actually grew up in similar manner as Dexter. My step-father also taught me to be a good person, and if I didn’t have him as a positive role model in my life I might have turned out a lot worse.


Just like Dexter, I also have an older brother who has an intense darkness in him that I do not possess (or learned to walk away from), and the season one finale of Dexter was particularly emotional for me because I know exactly how Dexter felt when he had to put his brother down for good. No, I never had to off my brother or anything, I just meant I know the conflicting emotions he felt. A big part of him wanted to have a full-blooded sibling that’s just like him and really understands him and will be there for him as he is, but the noble part of him that was shaped by Harry’s (his foster-father) teachings knew he had to put this monster down for good. My older brother is also the only full-blooded brother I have, and he also assumes that he knows me and my dark side well. My step-father’s positive influence on me is something he does not acknowledge or respect, and he belittles noble intentions or idealism just like Brian (Dexter’s brother) did. This is why my brother does not truly understand me, just like Dexter’s brother does not truly understand him. It’s amazing how a fictional piece of work can mirror our own lives.

Battlestar Galactica Season 4– The season finale finally picked up the pace and I’m now looking forward to the next season. For a while there the show bored me as the plot outside of the last 5 cylons just didn’t grab me at all (Baltar’s cult, Roslin’s cancer, Lee’s career change, Starbuck’s earth quest…etc. I was bored by all of them). I have lost interest in most of the main characters as recent writing on the show just felt contrived, with the strings pulled by the writers of the show being too obvious. The religious angle, the personal struggles of the characters, the failed relationships, the romantic tensions, and the never-ending tide of self-righteousness from all the characters–all just felt like distractions instead of what the show should be focussing on. I guess they just didn’t propel the major story arc forward, and to me whenever a show stalls the main story arc, I get bored. The only interesting developments for me in season 4 were the cylon civil war and the last remaining 5 cylons. I say let’s just move the fucking plot along please, because all those things I’m bored by are now like retreads of earlier seasons, and they do not hold the same weight or interest after so much previous exposure to the inner world of these characters. What the show needs now is some good ol’ thrilling mystery, action, and adventure. The characters are so well-shaped by now that they need no further development, so let’s not dwell on their inner boo hoo hoo’s anymore, please. I’ll elaborate on this again below in the quickie review of Lost.

With all the previous seasons building up to finding earth, lets see how things will develop with earth finally found, and the mystery behind why it’s now in ruins. I think that will be so much more interesting than all the melodrama we’ve been drowning in.

Lost Season 4– Lost is kicking ass and taking names. The season finale was awesome. This is how you do it (take notes, BSG). For about a season or so (back in season two, I think), Lost was also in the danger of dwelling too much on the character flashbacks and inner struggles, but the Lost writers were smart enough to know that if you overdo it, it stops being interesting and would start dragging the show’s feet. As a writer, you have to recognize when you’ve given enough information about the characters and when it’s time to just kick into overdrive and thrill your audience. Lost in this past season did just that. The plot moved along with very effective pacing, and they wasted no time on unnecessary further reveals of the characters’ inner worlds since they already established all that in previous seasons. The writers know we are already emotionally invested in these characters so they can now just push the plot along at a thrilling pace–none of that additional contrived and pointless inner struggle crap that BSG is so fond of. Not that I’m not a fan of inner struggles (look at what I just wrote about Dexter), but there is a point when you have to draw the line, or else risk slowing down the show too much. Anyway, Lost continues to have me at the edge of my seat as the show found the perfect balance between action, mystery, and character relationships.

I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s noticed the caliber of creativity in TV land these days are nothing short of impressive. I’m not sure when this trend started, but I’m guessing it started around the time when premium cable channels started producing their own shows like The Sopranos. Without the restriction of regular TV, the cable shows were allowed to be as edgy and creative as they wanted to be, and the regular TV channels had to win the viewers back by producing top-quality shows that rivaled the creativity of the cable shows–thus we got goodies like Lost, Heroes, and so on. It used to be that the small screen always played second fiddle to the big silver screen. I think those days are over.

July 4, 2008

Primal grunts

Filed under: Film/TV/Animation,My Life/Musings,News,Video Games — Rob Chang @ 5:30 am

I had written ten professional tips for the Game Career Guide, which will be published by the folks behind Game Developer Magazine. It should be out soon.

I don’t know if this is just a thing common in Fuzhou, or if it’s like this everywhere else in China, but 80% of the time when I pick up the phone and the person calling has called the wrong number, they always just hang up. No apology. Not a word. Nothing. It usually goes like this:

Me: Hello?

Stranger: Hello?

Me: Yes? Hello?

Stranger: Huh?! (This is something they do–a very loud “huh?!” as if they either can’t hear you or believe what you just said.) *grunts* (Yes, they actually make this grunting noise that I can only describe as how caveman probably communicated with each other back in the day. It is not a civilized and contemplative “hmmmm” or “errrr” or “ummm” kind of sound, but an animal-like grunt.)

Me: Yes? Who are you looking for? (In the States we’d say “Can I help you?”, but that sounds strange in Chinese as it sounds like you are a salesperson, so you’d say “Who are you looking for?” instead.)

Stranger: *A few seconds of silence, then hangs up* (Sometimes another grunt, then hangs up.)

Me: WTF?

And every once a while a minor variation in the last step before the hang up:

Stranger: *Silence* *Says something to someone next to him/her, then hangs up*

Sometimes they are still not sure if they have the wrong number:

Stranger: So-and-so (person’s name)? (It’s never a polite and full sentence such as “Hi, is so-and-so there?”– they always simply say the person’s name only, as if I might suddenly transform into that person and go, “Hahha, had you fooled!”)

Only once in a blue moon do I get a proper, civilized response:

Stranger: Hi, could I please ask if so-and-so is there?

Me: I think you have the wrong number.

Stranger: Oh, I apologize. Excuse me. *hangs up*

The strange things is, I’ve observed that the polite ones are usually the ones that speaks proper mandarin Chinese without any local dialect accent, and the rudest ones are almost always the ones with very heavy local dialect accent. (There is stigma attached to people who can’t speak proper mandarin Chinese, as they are often seen as less civilized. I guess it’s similar to if someone in the States spoke with a heavy hick accent, you immediately think of trailer parks, pickup trucks, and shotguns. Ok, I’m just being mean now. I’ll stop.)

Oh wait! Just as I’m typing this, I got two more wrong number calls from the same woman. Instant classic. This is what transpired:

(Before picking up the phone, I said out loud, “Ok, this is your chance to redeem your people.” By your people I mostly mean the locals in Fuzhou. I’m pretty sure it isn’t this bad in cities like Beijing, Shanghai…etc.)

Me: Hello?

Woman: *Says something unintelligible–probably local dialect*

Me: Yes? Who are you looking for?

Woman: *Says something else unintelligible*

Me: I can’t understand you. Do you speak mandarin?

Woman: *More unintelligible stuff*

Me: I think you have the wrong number.

Woman: Huh?! *grunts* Wrong number?! *hangs up*

Me: WTF?

30 seconds later the phone rings again:

Me: Hello?

Woman: *Says something unintelligible*

Me: Who are you looking for?

Woman: *Says a string of something unintelligible*

Me: Look, I think you have the wrong number.

Woman: Huh?! *Says another string of something unintelligible*

Me: Do you speak mandarin? I said you have the wrong number.

Woman: Huh?! (in local dialect accent) How can I have the wrong number?! I call this number everyday!

Me: I’m telling you, you have the wrong number. If I don’t know the person you’re looking for, and you don’t know who I am, then obviously you have the wrong number.

Woman: Huh?! *hangs up*

Me: ….FAIL. You did not redeem your people.

Maybe I expect too much. Afterall, this is a place where you can sometimes see people openly pick their noses in public, roll it around between their fingers, and then flick it off–all in mid-conversation.

Our cargo arrived over two weeks ago, and had been held up in customs hell. Finally, after two weeks of back and forth we were allowed to go get our stuff, but some of it are still being held for inspection (anything that is politically sensitive or pornographic). My photography and painting books were almost confiscated because some contained nudity, and it’s absolutely absurd because I can walk into any bookstore right here locally and find the exact same things. And get this–you are not allowed to bring more than ten books or a dozen or so DVD’s/CD’s/video tapes, even if you are moving your entire house here. This is totally unreasonable because just about every modern family I know has at least one bookshelf, and it certainly contains far more than just ten books or a dozen movies and CD’s. On the other hand, it may not be all that unreasonable afterall, since the average family here barely have any books in their homes. When they find out how many books, DVD’s, and CD’s I have, they always ask, “Why do you have so many of those useless things? Why don’t you just throw them away?”

Sometimes it’s almost impossible to talk to people here because their lifestyle and values are just so different from mine. If I try to explain, I just end up looking like a total freak to them. Story of my life I guess.

I updated the 3D mock-up of my studio currently under construction:
sketchup studio

sketchup studio

sketchup studio

sketchup studio

All the models were downloaded from Sketchup’s vast libary of user-made assets, so I only had to do minor modifications. If things go smoothly, the studio should looks almost identical to the 3D mock-Up.

Quickie movie reviews:

Doomsday – I liked Descent a lot, so I thought I’d check out what Neil Marshal did next (although Dog Soldiers made me want to ask for that hour and half of my life back). Overall it was an over-the-top wacky film, and I had hoped for something a bit more realistic and serious. Some of the scenes made the digital cam look too obvious and made the movie look cheap–almost like some low-budget TV show (TV shows these days have excellent photography work, even if they aren’t shot on film). I don’t understand why if TV shows like Battlestar Galactica or Lost can make their shots look so beautiful, but a feature film like Doomsday couldn’t.

Charlotte’s Web – This was pretty much “Babe Lite” and I was disappointed by it. I know it’s based on a classic book, but it just wasn’t nearly as charming, heart-warming, entertaining, or as well-made as either of the Babe films. I mostly watched it because I love Dakota Fanning, and I was disappointed in how little of her acting there was in the film. But it looks like there will be some very interesting films coming up where she gets to flex her acting muscles

Vintage Point – I have to say, I like Jack more as a bad guy (for those of you that watch Lost). The premise was nothing compelling, and the the value of the film mostly rested on the gimmicky timeline jumping and viewpoint shifting, which had no meaning whatsoever beyond being a gimmick. If the same premise had been done in a gritty and realistic manner and told in a linear fashion, it probably would’ve been a better film.

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