The Most Interesting Thing About the New Dragon Ball Movie is the CGI

Dragon Ball story lines are silly and mundane–oh no, it’s the most powerful person in the universe… until there is someone more powerful–but I enjoy them because I enjoy that world and those characters, and it’s fun. As such, the most interesting thing about the recent movie, Resurrection F, isn’t the blue hair or the return of Freeza. It’s how they utilized computer graphics in fairly subtle but substantial ways.

I guess there are spoilers here–whatever man, it’s Dragon Ball, people yell and punch and just when someone isn’t powerful enough, then they are. Let’s take a look at a few shots:

Dragon.Ball.Z.Resurrection.F.2015.JAP.ENG.1080p.BluRay.x264.AC3-JYK.mkv_snapshot_00.34.09_[2015.10.25_17.41.17]It’s obvious that a shot like that, in which Freeza’s minions arrive on earth, uses digital techniques if only to replicate hand-drawn elements, but the truth is a little more complicated. Take a look at the characters surrounding the intergalactic police dude, Jaco:

Dragon.Ball.Z.Resurrection.F.2015.JAP.ENG.1080p.BluRay.x264.AC3-JYK.mkv_snapshot_00.40.09_[2015.10.25_17.32.00]Jaco, is in fact the only hand-drawn character in that shot. All of the other enemies surrounding him are actually cel-shaded 3D models. [Edit: Maybe Jaco is CG too! I can’t tell.] A lot of wide shots of the battle make use of these models to fill out the scene, but even fairly close shots make use of them too. Quite effectively! Most people will have no idea that they aren’t hand-drawn (and I suppose most people wouldn’t care either, but what matters is that the use of CGI doesn’t change the fundamental look of the show).

Surprisingly, there are a few close up shots in the headlining battle between Goku and Freeza that use 3D models too. I noticed the camera moving dramatically around the action and thought to myself–heck, it’s incredibly difficult to draw that kind of camera movement into animation without the use of CGI aids. Sure enough, there are a handful of hero shots that are entirely CG:

Dragon.Ball.Z.Resurrection.F.2015.JAP.ENG.1080p.BluRay.x264.AC3-JYK.mkv_snapshot_01.06.02_[2015.10.25_17.57.01]You might notice that Goku looks a little awkward–his hands and arms could use more refinement in the tracing and his hair looks a little weird, but in motion, you probably wouldn’t notice. However, there are a few flagrant glitches if you watch it frame by frame (and who doesn’t watch movies one frame at a time?):

Dragon.Ball.Z.Resurrection.F.2015.JAP.ENG.1080p.BluRay.x264.AC3-JYK.mkv_snapshot_01.06.01_[2015.10.25_17.22.16]Look at Goku’s leg and ankle. Oops. But I’m really just nitpicking because that particular shot is only two or three seconds long. I wonder if they borrowed any digital assets from the Dragon Ball Xenoverse video game, which uses similar cel-shaded graphics to a slightly different but impressive effect.

Altogether the animators used a variety of methods to enhance the scope of movie without flagrant changes to a familiar aesthetic. When you’re dealing with an old, beloved property like Dragon Ball it’s easy as heck to mess it up, and it’s pretty nifty that they added their own flourishes to make it feel like a modern movie than a television show.

Cursed 3D Printed Chachapoyan Fertility Idol Brings Me Great Strength

1About three years ago I digitally sculpted the fertility idol from the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Why not! Throw me the idol! Doctah Jones! It was just a fairly simple, familiar, and interesting object for me to create.

There are a number of ways to approach 3D modeling, but starting a model from scratch is usually more akin to drawing architectural plans than getting your fists into a lump of clay. It’s also much easier with traditional 3D modeling software to create hard objects with simple geometric forms (a cube, a cylinder, etc.) than it is to create a believable organic form. But there are some applications that take a completely different approach to 3D modeling. With Sculptris, designing an object is quite literally like manipulating clay. You start with a base shape like a sphere in the simulated 3D space and add and subtract from it, just as you would with a real life malleable medium. (Sculptris is the free, simplified version of Pixologic’s ZBrush, which is their professional-grade offering. No need for ZBrush when I’m a Play-Doh level sculptor.)

CaptureIt goes without saying that I have no actual, real world experience with sculpting. But I do have a pair of eyes that can see what’s right and what’s not, so I just slowly manipulated my imaginary clay to roughly approximate the various reference images I had gather of the Chachapoyan idol. I don’t remember how long that took–quite a few hours of clumsy digital sculpting over multiple days.

indyidol2And then I let it sit on a hard drive for three years.

I thought about ordering a 3D print from Shapeways, but printing a 1-to-1 scale replica was prohibitively expensive. I’d be better off buying an actual lump of clay if I wanted a life-sized version (or I could just get one Amazon, but the idol itself wasn’t the point.) Even half scale was much more money that I would spend on a mere trinket of curiosity.

But it just happened to cross my mind recently. Small objects are quite to cheap to print of Shapeways, and they have more material and color options than ever (including actual gold). So I settled on a little 2 in. figure, in yellow plastic, for $25.

TEMP1Not bad! Quite good! I had ordered “polished” plastic, and it ain’t polished, but I’m guessing that’s because the details were too fine to be polished, and the Shapeways staff were smart enough to know polishing it would reduce my idol to a meaningless peanut. Instead, it has the rough sandy surface that comes as a default to that sort of printing. Plus the yellow–which I think is just on the surface.

temp2So there you have it, a genuine 3D-printed Chachapoyan fertility idol. It belongs in a museum, but I’m keeping this one on my desk.

Cross post from Kinja.

Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams

Akira Kurosawa’s 1990 film Dreams (Yume) is a collection of short segments, each depicting an individual dream. The first time I watched it, I fell asleep.

It’s a remarkable depiction of what the experience of dreaming is like: slow-burning anxiety-driven plots that lack logic and occasionally escalate into nightmares, punctuated by moments of beauty and tranquility. That’s what dreams are like for me, anyway, and apparently Akira Kurosawa too.

(I like to think that’s what lulled me to sleep–its depiction of dreams was so accurate my brain didn’t know what to do, so it joined in the fun.)

So much of the film is quietly horrific. A child having wronged the mystical foxes of the forest is given a knife and told to commit suicide–unless he journeys into the forest to apologize. Mountaineers caught in a storm are coerced by a demon to lie in the snow. Exploding nuclear plants cause Mount Fuji to glow like hot iron. And more.

I’ve had these dreams, with different backdrops, with characters from my own life. Remarkably similar dreams, which is a testament to Kurosawa’s ability to articulate deeply abstract and distant ideas that lurk so far down in our unconscious psyches.

One night in San Francisco there were fierce, cold winds, and I was living in an old building with original wooden window frames that let the cold air go wherever it damn well pleased. I slept in a sweater under a pile of blankets.

But in a surreal moment of sleep paralysis, I awoke to something holding me down, accompanied by roaring, deafening winds. It was, it seemed, an evil presence in the form of the cold itself, pressing down on my chest–just as Kurosawa showed happening to the mountain climbers. I wonder if he experienced something similar and changed the setting to something logical for the story: a cold night in bed depicted as a blizzard on a mountainside.

I have not dreamt of Fuji and nuclear disaster specifically, and yet, I have dreamt of the same experience: crowds fleeing the chaos of destruction. Oddly, in my experience, these aren’t nightmares, they’re just things that happen (lol). I frequently dream of all kinds of aircraft exploding and falling from the sky, and I say aircraft because they are sometimes planes and sometimes abstract goliath flying machines that you would see in a Marvel movie. I don’t even fear flying! Nonetheless Kurosawa’s nuclear disaster reminded me of my planes. But it is not all doom–

There are also those moments in your dreams that feel full of serenity and tranquility, when you are in a perfect place with perfect people. Perhaps the sun is pouring down, perhaps you are with someone you loved, maybe there’s a breeze and you watch the wild flowers sway back and forth. Kurosawa’s closing segment, a visit to a rustic village full of water wheels, feels like that.

It was years ago that I watched it and fell asleep, but just the other day I awoke and was immediately reminded of the film by something I had dreamt. I can’t remember what it was. And yet–the thing is–I’ll have the same dream again and will revisit this film again, if only as an oddly reassuring reminder of our mutually shared dreams and nightmares.

Cross post from Kinja.

Fitzcardboardaldo

A loving tribute to Fitzcarraldo in cardboard. But wait! There’s more.

A an additional tribute to Les Blank’s documentary, Burden of Dreams, which is essential to the Fitzcarraldo story:

via Laughing Squid.

Of course, I am also planning a Fitzcarraldo tribute in the form of a ship in a bottle, midway up the hill. I’m fairly happy with my ship that I designed in Autodesk 123D Design, but I haven’t considered the disassembly/reassembly aspect of getting in the bottle once printed.

I’m considering making a tiny version in a Bulleit bourbon bottle, which has quite a nice shape (and taste, if you’re into that). Bulleit Fitzcarraldo would just be the miniscule Micro Machine version though, with the ship being maybe 2in long and less than 1in tall.