Ethereality News & Weblog

October 29, 2009

Meet Muriel and Prowler

Filed under: Arts & Media,Comics,Film/TV/Animation,My Life/Musings,Video Games — Rob Chang @ 6:30 pm

Recently there’s been two new additions to our household.




and Prowler:



A friend’s of Elena’s cousin wanted to give away her cats and dog because she just went through a divorce and is about to do some traveling to see her son abroad. She had a male American Shorthair that Elena had met before and took photos of, and she asked if we wanted to take him. But in the last couple of months, there’s been a new female cat in her house that really bonded with him and she didn’t want to tear them apart, so we took both cats. She had given them really generic and dorky Chinese names that had no meaning and reflected nothing about their personalities or appearance, so we renamed them Prowler (because he’s muscular and alert) and Muriel (after the 19th Century ethereal beauty that was the favorite model of Neoclassist painter J.W. Waterhouse, because she’s such a striking beauty). The previous owner told us that Muriel is Persian, but I suspect she doesn’t know much about cats and have never done any research about how to care for cats and the idiosyncrasies of each breed. Muriel looks nothing like a Persian to me because she doesn’t have the flat face of the Persian breed. If anything, I think she’s probably a Turkish Angora, Ragdoll, or Ragamuffin. She is quite docile and very relaxed when you pick her up, so that fits the Ragdoll and Ragamuffin profile, but I think her odd colored eyes is probably more common in Ragamuffins.

As much as I love being around cats and dogs, there’s just one problem–I’m allergic to them. I get really itchy rashes and my nose stuffs up. If I accidentally rub my eyes after petting them, my eyes would itch and water as well. I have lived with six cats and a dog in the same house before (during my first year as a comic book artist, working on Avenue-X and Robotech: Invid Wars), and after a while I got used to it (although the fleas drove me insane). I later also lived with a cat for a while when I was living at my buddy Michael “Ken” Wang’s house and working on the first issue of Enchanted. I got used to the allergy then too, so I’m thinking with some time, I can get used to Prowler and Muriel as well.

The previous owner was right about not tearing them apart, since they really are quite close. They don’t stick together all the time since they often are in different corners of the house, but they always find time to snuggle together and play together:
Muriel & Prowler

Muriel & Prowler

You can see more photos of the kitties here.

There was another cat in the previous owner’s house, and that cat wasn’t very social at all. I wonder what makes cats bond if they are total strangers and not raised together. Is it that the smell of the other cat is very agreeable? Prowler is fixed so it’s not like he wants to mount Muriel. We still have to get Muriel spaded since she’s roughly ten months old (Prowler is 1.5-yrs old). The previous owner said she’s never notice any behavior that could be identified as Muriel being in heat, but since in some breeds the signs can be quite subtle, I think Muriel probably has been in heat already and the previous owner just couldn’t tell, especially since she’s rarely home with the cats anyway. We’re going to give Muriel a couple of weeks to really get comfortable in her new home before we spade her, since we don’t want her to associate physical discomfort with her new home. She’s very vocal and likes to rub herself on things, but she doesn’t roll around on the floor, stick her butt up, or yowl in that typical cat-in-heat manner, so it’s hard to tell if she’s actually in heat. The heat cycle is suppose to wind down around end of October, so that makes it even harder to determine if she’s in heat. Either way, in a couple of weeks it won’t be an issue anymore.

It’s been almost fifteen years since I last had lived with cats, so this is a nice change. Maybe we’ll add a dog to the mix next? I’ve always wanted a Samoyed, Husky, or Malamute, but as adorable as dogs are, they are so much more hassle to take care of compared to cats. We’ll see.

I’ve been researching mixed media narratives lately, and while my idea for my next long-term project is similar to what’s referred to as “visual novels,” “kinetic novels,” “digital graphic novels,” or just plain ol’ animatics, none of the examples I’ve seen seem to really match what I intend to produce. It wouldn’t involve gameplay elements like branching dialogue trees and storylines, so it’s not a visual novel. It’s not exactly a kinetic novel since the standard format is to have a set of standard character poses placed in front of backgrounds, which still feels too much like some kind of game graphics. It’s not really an animatic since there won’t be as much detailed depiction of movement within each shot. It will have music, ambient sound effects, subtitled dialogues and narration, and the visuals will have limited changes within each shot, unless absolutely necessary (such as a physical action and reaction that cannot be conveyed otherwise). I’m still trying to decide if I want to allow the viewer to be able to control the progression with a “next” and “previous” button, or I’ll just edit everything together like a video and the viewer only has to sit back. My only real concern is that some people read very fast and some read very slow, so it’ll be hard for me to gauge the speed at which to move the sequences. But I guess that’s how it was back in the silent film days–where they would leave the dialogue text on screen for whatever amount of time they predict it’ll take the slowest reader to read (within reason, of course, using the average literate person who is fluent in the language as the standard, and then probably extend the time by about 25%).

So the question remains–what would I call such a project? If I’m to do any kind of publicity for it, I must know how to categorize the project. I’m contemplating terms like “multimedia novel” and “mixed-media novel” at the moment, and I suppose “digital graphic novel” could work in a pinch, but what I envision is not very comic book-like at all–there will be no word balloons and no visual sound effects.

If any of you have some ideas, definitely let me know.

Elena and I often have these little philosophical discussions about happiness, and while we agree that material wealth is not the answer, we also believe that it depends on how you utilize the material wealthy you have. The wealthy people who are unhappy would likely be unhappy regardless of their financial status, and the people who believe wealthy will bring them happiness probably won’t be happy when they’re rich, unless they already have found meaning in their lives before they attained wealth. We know plenty of wealthy people in China who are bored out of their minds and fill their empty lives with trivial and meaningless things that only serve one purpose–to demonstrate to others how wealthy they are. We also know plenty of bored poor people who envy the wealthof others but never tried to find meaning in their own lives.

I think the ability to find meaning in one’s life corresponds to one’s ability to enjoy one’s wealth. The bored rich people would see life with very different eyes if they found something that’s meaningful to them that they can dedicate time and energy to. Take the same wealth from those bored folks and give them to people with passions in life, and we’ll immediately see how wealth can be used to increase one’s happiness when you use it the right way. A starving writer with that wealthy could use it to travel around the world and gather material for his novels. An animal lover can use that wealth to build animal shelters and hospitals. A musician/composer with that wealth can build his dream recording studio. A scientist can use that wealth to fund his research. An aspiring writer/director can use that wealth to fund his own film productions. An environmental activist can use that wealthy to create environmental awareness campaigns. But without any passions in life, wealth becomes just a string of numbers and a list of assets.

I finished Gears of War 2 recently. It was much better than the first game, with far better writing (although it sometimes felt tacked on, like that whole thing about Dom’s wife), level designs, and just general pacing and feel. The level inside the giant worm felt hacked together though, since the interior looked way too structured and nothing like the inside of a creature. It should have been way more fleshy and squishy, with organs tightly packed against one another and the entire environment constantly contracting and expanding. I did enjoy myself, but it’s not the kind of game I’d ever play a second time.

Quickie movie reviews:

Hide and Seek – A waste of talented actors on a bad screenplay that should never have made it past the gate keepers at the studio that financed the film.

The International – It was a fairly good action/thriller, but there was one scene of the main characters in the back of a car that was lit so badly that I was actually dumbfounded, because I would never have expected to see such bad lighting on a big Hollywood film. In the scene, the two main characters were lit with perfectly soft, constant lighting, and they were riding in a car driving through busy streets at night. How could any DP or director forget that a car driving through busy streets at night could never, ever, have constant, soft lighting illuminating the interior of the car? There must be a reason why such a ridiculous blunder happened, but I can’t fathom what the circumstances could’ve been to have caused it to happen.

I Love You, Man – A pretty good “bromance” movie, although it sometimes veered into the crass and cringe-worthy realm.

Parasomnia – One of the rare cases where the director’s lack of talent was the most obvious weakness. Usually, a film fails in the most obvious ways because of the writing or acting, and the direction would at least be good enough to not bring negative attention to itself, but in Parasomnia, the director really fumbled in some scenes, failing to get the most effective body language and facial expressions out of the actors (and I’m blaming the director because what could’ve been done to improve things weren’t things that would be difficult for any actor–even bad ones). The director also got on my nerves with the way he tried to put two girls who were obviously not musicians into the film and have them playing a cello and a violin–with extensive shots showing them playing along to classical music. Anyone who plays an instrument can tell it was so obviously fake because they girls couldn’t even finger the notes on time or correctly, or even bowed their instruments to the timing of the music. And of course, there’s a whole fucking orchestra playing in the background when there’s only supposed to be a cello and a violin. That kind of crap is one of my big pet peeves–that lack of attention to authenticity and detail, just bullshitting audience and thinking it’s good enough. It’s little things like that that separates a good director from wannabe hacks.

Vacancy – We were about twenty minutes into the movie when Elena wanted to stop. She said she’s had it with these slasher films and refuses to watch any more of them from now on. The funny thing is, she’s a huge fan of horror films, and whenever we come home with a stack of DVD’s to watch, she always wants to watch the horror films first. Her reason is that the slasher genre have become too unbearably tense to sit through–with excessive violence, gore, and cruel torturing of victims that makes her physically very uncomfortable. Her love for horror films actually lies in the paranormal genre, dealing with ghosts, poltergeists, demons, possessions, haunting, black magic…etc. I personally don’t mind slasher films at all, especially ones where the victims are actually intelligent instead of moronic walking bags of blood ready to be stabbed, slashed, chopped, crushed…etc. And I’m happy to say that Vacancy is one of the better slasher films because the characters are not mind-boggling stupid (like the idiots in The Strangers).

During most of the film, Kate Beckinsale’s character was pretty much the stereotypical female who gets hysterical and loses her head as soon as the shit hits the fan, but she finally snaps out of it late in the film–and than God she did, because I really hate seeing weak and sniveling female characters in films. I know women who lose their cool easily do exist in real life (and some men are pretty fragile too), but because I’m married to a woman who stays cool under pressure and would never allow herself to become hysterical during times when common sense is the most precious, I cannot stand it when slasher films depict female victims who do nothing but scream their heads off while the killer is butchering her friends, boyfriend, husband…etc.

Anyway, Vacancy has some interesting ideas and is one of the better slasher films I’ve seen lately.

The Soloist – I was so glad that the film didn’t veer into a corny sentimental mess that many movies of this type are (August Rush comes to mind. I hate that movie with a passion because it is an insult to anyone who is a musician or composer). It’s actually quite restrained and although the ending was anti-climatic, I was glad it was because the potential crass ending it could’ve had under a different writer or director would be far worse.

Fast & Furious – Personally, I have very little interest in car modification and racing, but I liked all the movies in this franchise for their entertainment value and the often cutting-edge hybrid scores. As far as mainstream action films go, the F&F series is one of the better ones.

The Haunting In Connecticut – Average horror film. Not particularly scary or entertaining.

October 14, 2009

The creative ideal

New Kitty Cat Diary entries:

It’s hard to believe that the Kitty Cat Diary has been going for eight years now. Elena and I always joked that once she hits forty, we’d probably put an end to the Kitty Cat Diary. She’s going to turn thirty-nine in just a few months, so I guess we only have about a year left before the Kitty Cat Diary will come to an end. Time sure flies!

Recently, I’ve been thinking hard about the next long-term project I’ll be dedicating a lot of time to, and while going through all the different IP’s I’ve created over the years and trying to narrow down to just one project to concentrate on, I started thinking about the ideal story I’d want to tell. Creative people all have different things they value most in artistic works–for some, it’s originality, or technique, or motivation–it’s different from person to person. I have lists of attributes I value the most too–be it for visual art, music, fiction, film, or design. When it comes to narrative stories, I have discovered over the years that these are the attributes I tend to respond to and care about the most:

-A conflict that is worthy of attention, where both sides have compelling motivations and reasons we can relate to and identify with. If only one side has compelling reasons while the other side is completely unrelatable, then we must be able to completely empathize with the one side that has compelling reasons for its actions/reactions.

-It must have emotional elements that draw us in. A completely intellectual story without emotional satisfaction tends to feel like cold and calculating experiments instead of stories we can care about.

-There has to be something profoundly moving about the story–be it a moral lesson, emotional catharsis, arduous triumph, selfless sacrifice, tragic loss, compassion, forgiveness, and so on.

-It has to have characters we are drawn to for any number of reasons–be it courage, intelligence, sense of humor, deep melancholy, devious wit, audacious ambition, ethereal beauty, and so on. If all the characters have no redeeming qualities (the UK version of The Office comes to mind), then I get bored of watching a bunch of people I’d never want to have the displeasure of meeting. I prefer stories that have characters with at least some admirable traits, as opposed to stories about characters I wouldn’t care if they lived or died. The only exception to this is comedies.

-It must have an appropriate, effective, and consistent tone that matches the premise and the heart of the story. Unexplained and sudden deviations without compelling and convincing creative reasons will always result in the ruin of an otherwise good piece of work. The Halo video game franchise is a good example of what I dislike. The little dward aliens that run around yelling in cartoony voices (in a harrowing war for the survival of the human race) is one of the most inexplicably horrific creative blunders I’ve ever seen in my life. No excuses could justify it. I’ve heard all the reasons about gameplay issues and how they had to make it obvious the little aliens will scatter if you kill one of the big aliens, or that they wanted to inject some humor into the game, and none of the excuses were compelling or convincing. The Bungie guys could’ve done a number of different things to convey what they needed to convey–hell, I can think of a handful of effective solution off the top of my head for that particular gameplay issue or using humor that actually is appropriate and fitting for the premise. But instead, they ruined the mood of the Halo premise with that one blight of a bad creative call.

-It must feel natural, regardless if the general tone is stylized, or how fantastic the premise is. I have a personal dislike for pretentious pomp, overacting, and overly contrived stylization that is formulated at the cost of an authentic and honest visceral experience. Even highly stylized films like Pulp Fiction feel very natural and honest because the execution has the appropriate tone for the premise.

-The storyteller has to be sincere. Storytelling borne of cynicism and apathy almost always feel smug and heartless.

-No rampant and forced sentimentality. Emotions must be fully justified, and must serve a meaningful purpose in the story, or contribute to the plot progression in a way that makes perfect sense. The old narrative wisdom of “Show, don’t tell,” is the key here.

-I’m a sucker for premises with fantastical elements like the supernatural, science fiction, fantasy, surrealism…etc. Though I love any great story–even ones that have zero fantastical elements, my guilty pleasure has always been sci-fi, fantasy, horror…etc.

I think based on those attributes, it’s pretty easy to see what my priorities are as a storyteller, and what to expect from the long-term project I’m going to be concentrating on in the near future. Thinking about each of those attributes also helped me define what I should strive for and mistakes I should avoid. I feel that at my age (turning 37 soon), I have lived enough to know exactly what I want and don’t want as both a person and a storyteller, but I’m still young enough to be adventurous and an idealist. I feel like I’m starting to run out of time, and if I don’t get something out there in the next few years, it would probably mean I’ve failed.

Electronic musicians are always striving for newer and better ways to control/perform their sounds, and the eigenharp is the latest invention in that quest:

I wish it was more like the Haken Continuum where the pitch control is totally continuous, instead of single pitched keys. One of the hardest things to do electronically is convincing legato and portamento, and I have to wonder why the guys behind the eigenharp didn’t address that. As it is, I’m not sure just how much better it performs compared to a nice keyboard with breath controller, pedals, pitch/mod wheels, and ribbon controller. It’s probably easier to play, but that alone does not justify the hefty price tag. You can find out more about the eigenharp from these links (video demonstrations):

I recently finished playing Gears of War. While playing this game, I kept feeling like it’s a game designed by the kind poser whose idea of manliness is ridiculous macho posturing. Every single line of dialog was so drenched in testosterone that it’s just comical. I don’t know why they even bothered to pretend there’s a story, because there isn’t–it’s just a paper-thin premise used as an excuse to go shooting from point A to B to C to D and so on. I was also pissed off by the save system, where you have to endure the asshole game designer’s God-complex and do it his way–which means NO SAVES. The checkpoint system when used right can be a decent substitute for a flexible save system, but when it’s designed to test your patience and assume you like playing the same level over and over and over, it justifies the arrest of the asshole game designer, with no trial, and sent straight to the torture chamber. I can even tolerate it if the checkpoint system only restarted me at the location I died in, but noooo, that would make too much sense and be too humane. The asshole game designer makes you not only restart the location you died in, but all the previous locations from the beginning of the checkpoint. So let’s say if you already cleared a whole large room full of continuously spawning enemies and then go to the backyard and almost cleared that whole backyard, but unfortunately gets killed by the last remaining enemy, you’d have to–that’s right–restart at the fucking large room and clear that room all over again and then clear the fucking backyard. I know a gamer-hating asshole designer when I see one, and Cliffy B is definitely one gamer-hating mofo. With that said though, I really don’t mind it when he’s not testing my patience with gamer-hating save systems. I’ve been a big fan of the Unreal series since the very first one and have never skipped any of the Unreal games. Unreal 2 even had a good story and ending, so it’s not like they can’t make a game with a good story. Overall, Gears of War was an OK experience if you don’t mind some repetitiveness. Visually, the game’s nice, but not my cup of tea in terms of style.

The score for Gears of War by Kevin Riepl was disappointing. I’m a big fan of his hybrid styled scores for the Unreal series, but when he tries to do all orchestral stuff, it just isn’t very good (he reminds me of Brian Tyler in that regard).

I never would’ve bothered with the sequel had I not read that it’s much better–especially in terms of story and more varied environments. So I’m now playing Gears of War 2, and it really is much better than the first one. The story is now actually interesting, and you want to find out what happens next. The characters are also now more compelling, and you invest more in them emotionally. I guess Cliffy’s not so bad afterall.

Quick movie/TV reviews:
Rome – Elena and I enjoyed this TV series very much, although it got cut short in the second (and final) season due to budget problems. We would’ve loved to see the series play out according to the original plan the creators had. The high level of production quality is obvious, and it’s easy to see why the show had to end due to the unbearable cost of production. The writing, directing, acting, music…etc were all top-notch. If you like political intrigue, violence, sex, and lots of backstabbing, you probably would love this show. For us it got a little excessive at times because it depressed us seeing all the characters always being betrayed, distraught, in pain, depressed, or having lost all hope.

Quarantine – Elena and I were on the edge of our seats while watching this film and we really enjoyed it. It’s one of the most intense horror films I’ve seen in a while, taking the Blair Witch formula of fake documentary and really kicking it into high gear. I didn’t know anything about the film beforehand, and it was only afterward did I find out Quarantine was a shot-by-shot remake of a recent Spanish film called [REC]. I wonder if I should bother watching [REC] if the two films are so similar. I do find it tragic that really good foreign films have to be remade by Americans just because the general audience hates reading subtitles. This really isn’t a problem for countries that never had a thriving film industry, since they are so used to importing movies from countries with healthy film industries, and they are so used to subtitles that they don’t even think about it. Some people prefer dubbing, but the abysmal track record of dubbing has long given it a bad name. It would be much better to try to improve the quality of dubs or try to get American audiences to accept subtitles than remaking foreign films, but it’s never going to happen. Americans are so spoiled by having the largest film industry in the world that they would simply find something else to watch where they don’t have to exert themselves.

Frost/Nixon – I enjoyed this film, and it’s one of the better Ron Howard films I’ve seen–probably his best film since Apollo 13.

The Knowing – I have kept hoping that one day Alex Proyas would make another great film like Dark City, and I’m still waiting. The films he’s made since Dark City were…well, let’s just say the term “one-hit-wonder” could be applied to filmmakers as well, not just songwriters. The Knowing has an interesting premise, but it just wasn’t as compelling as it could have been, especially with such a promising premise. The spaceship design for the aliens was really good though–one of the best designs I’ve seen in a long time.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – I knew I wanted to see this film at the very least for the best digital effects Hollywood has yet produced, and while I hoped the story would be worth the time spent watching the effects, I was surprised by what a let down the film was. There was no essential theme, no emotional catharsis, no triumphs, no moral lessons, no complex dilemmas–just arbitrary smattering of events strung together had no deeper meaning or contributed to any tangible proof that they had compelling and lasting effects on any of the characters. The entire film was essentially a lot of hot air about nothing. All of the conflicts were contrived and meaningless, and gave no emotional or intellectual satisfaction whatsoever upon the film’s conclusion.

Out of the Blue – This film is an example where I felt the direction was too bland and didn’t do the premise justice. For a film about an insane man massacring over a dozen of his neighbors and eventually gets taken down by the special forces, it wasn’t nearly as harrowing as it should’ve been. I think overall the execution felt dated and lacks the edge that contemporary films of the same genre has.

The Proposition – I’ve heard good things about this film, and it didn’t quite live up to my expectations, especially after having seen a stream of excellent recent westerns. While I liked the character of Captain Stanley, I didn’t care for the rest of the characters or the story itself. Charlie’s moral dilemma never felt immediate to me, and I feel if the film had been concentrated on Caption Stanley’s moral dilemma, and perhaps centered the story around him trying to protect Mikey at the cost of his job, or even his own life, the story would’ve been far more poignant and meaningful.

This is England – It’s rare to see feature films that feel this genuine and sincere. It feels almost a little like if Larry Clark had directed American History X, but with England as the backdrop and with an English cast. Young Thomas Turgoose was very good as the main character, and I hope we’ll see him grow into a formidable actor.

Transporter 2 – Mindless entertainment. There’s no other reason to watch popcorn movies like this. I try to keep a balance diet of different types of films so I can be more well-rounded, and sometimes mindless fun isn’t so bad when you’re in the mood for it.

Infernal Affairs III – Totally unnecessary, and feels like they’re simply trying to milk the franchise while riding on the coattail of the previous films.

Dead Snow – Even as a mindless popcorn movie it fails. Really pointless and banal writing, no character development, no semblance of a plot, and feels like what happens when a bunch of horror film geeks lacking any talent whatsoever for writing and directing gets together with some equipment and decides to make a movie.

Factory Girl – The film itself is OK, but the subject matter is one that makes me roll my eyes. I’ve always had this strong dislike for people who I see as parasites–socialites, the sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll self-destructive narcissism, and fashionable fake-artist whose only real talent is media manipulation, without any redeeming qualities as human beings. That whole segment of the society is just a waste of oxygen. I didn’t know that Hayden Christensen was in the film,and when he showed up on screen playing Bob Dylan, my immediate reaction was, “Are you fucking kidding me? Someone actually thought this was a good idea?” The fact that Christensen actually thought he had the acting chops to pull it off shows how much he overestimated his own talent as an actor.

44 Minutes – It was pretty good for a made-for-TV movie. Not much really happens though–it’s just two heavily armed bank robbers shooting it out with the cops–that’s it–that’s the whole movie.

Quick and the Dead – I couldn’t make it past the first ten minutes. Very low-budget film with terrible writing and direction.

Bad Boys II – Well, it’s Michael Bay, so you know what you’re in for–cheesy dialogs, bombastic action, and about as shallow as dish water. I torture myself with films I know I wouldn’t like, or even would hate, simply because I want to experience both good an bad films so I never lose perspective on what the entire film industry is really like. I think people who only watch films they know they would enjoy end up having a very skewed impression of what the world of feature films is really like, and being so ignorant of other types of films can be detrimental to one’s development as a creative person. So for the sake of having a well-balance diet of good an bad films, I suffer.

Underworld: The Rise of the Lycans – It was an OK movie–about the same as the previous two. Although I love the premise and the mythology, the films themselves aren’t exactly great cinema.

District 9 – After all the hype and glowing reviews, I was disappointed. The basic premise recalls South Africa’s past turmoils, but beyond that, I really didn’t see anything special that transcended other typical sci-fi action films. Many are calling it the best sci-fi films of the last decade, and I sure would like some of whatever it is they are smoking.

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