Wednesday, February 24, 2010

granularity in animation

Animation simulates "real" action with action produced artificially from generated images or manipulated models. These images or models are "animated" by our mind (and eye!)'s tendency toward persistence of vision.

But what level of "real" action is being simulated by an animated film? Our perceptual experience of a scene takes place at many levels. At a very fine-grained level, we perceive colors, shapes, subtle movements and details. At a more coarse-grained level, we chunk our experience into concepts: a sly smile, a knowing look, a murder, a pimp mobile, etc.

Some people prize the successful animation of the fine-grained structure of the world very highly. In fact, we generally demand a successful reproduction of fine-grained experience if the animation is to be integrated with "actual" footage which already (by definition) exemplifies it (e.g. the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park (1993), Gollum in The Two Towers (2002), or the flora in Avatar (2009).

Some of us, however, prefer a more coarse-grained style of animation, found in, for example, South Park. The details of motion and texture are completely obscured in most South Park scenes (the animation is designed to imitate the properties of construction paper cut-outs, after all). This style of animation gains its communicative power from the representation and sequence of more coarse-grained tropes like the suggestive eyebrow, the power zoom, or the anchorman's hair. These tropes have emerged as part of the language of visual communication, honed and differentiated by decades of film and TV. From this palette, South Park is able to construct a subtle and complex sequence of animated signals.

Consider, for example, the moment in season 5, episode 13, when Cartman convinces Congress to legalize stem cell research through a heart felt speech and a spontaneous rendition of Asia's "Heat of the Moment." Cartman goes through the motions of a heart felt speech, with all the trimmings (heart-string-pulling background music, personal references, tears, etc.), then he breaks out into the "Heat of the Moment," his lone faltering voice echoing above the Congressmen. When the Congressmen join in, we are treated to a striking juxtaposition of a stereotypical display of feel-good mass expression (cheaply implemented in countless public forums: the spontaneous public dancing in Michael Jackson videos, the singing at the end of Scrooged, every musical ever made) and the irony and omen of manipulation brought to the act by Cartman's character. (Add to this the fact that Cartman's rendition is more sensitive and nuanced than the original . . . )

Another example can be found in Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, Todd Haynes' notorious bulimia bio pic. Most of the film recreates episodes from Karen's life with made up Barbie dolls on specially created sets. Although the details of characters' faces and movements lack expressive detail, the vocabulary of camera movement and cutting which viewers are familiar with from film and TV allows for the telling of a complex and subtle story.

Interestingly, in both South Park and Superstar, the visual language of cinema is employed with great ironic effect. The "message" movie or TV special is lampooned at the same time as an actual message is conveyed.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

fela, rick, mos

Fela Kuti had a distinctive style and focussed political message. The entire musical event revolved around him, whether he was singing, dancing in skin tight clothing, playing a solo on sax, synth, or drums . . .

Later in that same concert (Glastonbury (1984)), Fela called down his army of backup singers / wives to dance center stage. But this had been part of his show for a long time:
Fela Kuti and Africa 70 in Calabar (1971)

Apparently, the revealing clothing was an essential ingredient throughout:

These same mannerisms and affectations can be seen percolating throughout the funk world. Rick James, for example, faintly shadows the mannerisms (without the politics) of Fela in this 1982 performance:

Some do attempt to preserve the spirit as well as the showmanship. A serious attempt here is Mos Def (2009):

Sunday, February 14, 2010

valentine's day

celebrate black wednesday by the entertainment system
(hi-res upload)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Monday, February 8, 2010

pigs to swine

It's natural to think that "pig" and "pork" are related words. Certainly, the conjunction of related meanings and alliteration makes it easy to suspect a strong etymological relationship. So far no direct evidence of such exists; if one does, it's not half unlikely that it was an indirect consequence of the Norman invasion.

The etymology of "pork" is well known, derived from Latin porcus via proto-IndoEuropean porko:
porko: young pig. pork; porcine. porpoise: pigfish. It porcellana; relating to a sow; hence the cowrie: Venus shell, from its resemblance to a sow's vulva; from the hard shell, applied by Marco Polo to Chinese ware, via Fr, came porcelain. Du, aardvark: earth pig, a burrowing animal; muzzled hogs have long been used in Spain to root up truffles. Gc, farrow.
Joseph T. Shipley (1984) The Origins of English Words

Was porcus brought via porcine by the French swine? Was Old English

picgbrĂ©ad [] n (-es/-) glans, mast, pig’s food

a corruption of these? And if so, was picq even the true forebearer of "pig"?
A symbolic form in a language describes (not perhaps very satisfactorily) that class of word that stands somewhere between onomatopoeic words like cuckoo and sizzle on the one hand and ordinary non-echoic words like beauty and bedstead on the other. As one authority puts it, such forms 'have a connotation of somehow illustrating the meaning more immediately than do ordinary speech-forms'. . . .

One symbolic group that has not attracted so much attention is typified by the word pig. 'Rightly is they called pigs,' said some fictional character, presumably a townsman, after a look at life in the sty. So it could be a term of contempt or even loathing, whether applied by an old-fashioned farmer to a domesticated animal or by a slightly less old-fashioned demonstrator to a policeman. That demonstrator might care to know, by the way, that that use of pig was first recorded in the year 1812, only a dozen years after the first policeman or such figure appeared in London. Meaning the animal, pig began to drive out the older word swine in the early nineteenth century, meaning a person probably about 1860.

Pig, it will readily be agreed, is a monosyllable (therefore emphatic) beginning with the sound pi-. There are only a limited number of these possible in English, but three of them do, or can, carry contempt: pimp, the archaic exclamation pish, and good old piss, a term of strong execration when uttered on its own. . . .
Kingsley Amis (posthumous) The King's English

Of course, "swine" also has derogatory connotations, we can see their application in the Latin precursor sus in the Vulgata:

circulus aureus in naribus suis mulier pulchra et fatua

which Shipley renders as "Like a gold ring in a swine's snout is a beautiful woman without discretion."

If Amis is right, "pig" appears to have been applied to the police relatively quickly after their appearance, and before solidification of its application to swine. If derived from picgbréad [where is the attestation of picq alone?], then why does its use as a modifier predate its use as a noun? Could contempt for the French oppressors have motivated the derogatory connotations and near immediate application to law enforcement? Or perhaps the nature of the policeman's job is such that comparison with swine is inevitable . . .

the pig stand (houston), r.i.p.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

logic for waiters

You are in a restaurant with your parents, and you have ordered three dishes: Fish, Meat, and Vegetarian. Now a new waiter comes back from the kitchen with three dishes. What will happen?

. . . Indeed, two questions plus one inference are all that is needed
J. F. A. K. van Benthem, "Logic and Reasoning: Do the Facts Matter," 2008.

Of course, the answer is indeed "two questions plus one inference," but the example is misleading. Stating the problem with only three diners underspecifies the type of reasoning employed. The waiter could use a simple elimination of alternatives, for example. But two questions plus one inference is also the solution to the n-person case.

The reason, of course, is that waiters can rely on regularities in the structure of the situation. In particular, the vast majority of eating arrangements are topologically equivalent to a circle. If the waiter who takes the orders writes them in sequence, the waiter delivering the food can arrange the plates in order on his tray. Then, one question to orient himself on the circle, and a second to establish the direction in which the order was taken, is enough for the waiter to complete distribution of dishes. I have seen this practice employed frequently for tables of four to five people, but in principle it could be applied to any size table (so long as the waiter can fit the dishes (or drinks!) in sequence on his tray).

Strictly speaking, a further convention could establish an even more efficient distribution system. If the two waiters agree previously on a directionality (say, clockwise), a single question will be sufficient to establish the order. Most likely this further convention is not employed due to the restriction it places on the order-taking waiter. He must be free to submit to customers' whim, and removing a degree of freedom from his order-taking practice would greatly reduce that ability.

In fact, this method for delivering dishes is noticed more often in the breach, when the delivering waiter attempts to deliver a dish without asking and discovers it is wrong. Frequently, the cause is a violation of convention in the order on the ticket caused initially by the unwillingness of the customers themselves to follow the order of order-taking preferred by the initial waiter.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Howard Chaykin circa 1974: "Ironwolf" serialized in Weird Worlds.

Lord Ironwolf is a noble turned terrorist who'd rather destroy his homeworld's rarest treasure than allow it to be used by the empress's hegemony (and does).

In this early work, Chakyin's trademark use of onomatopoeic visuals and cinematic breadth is already on display. Of particular note are the slow motion sequences: close analyses of violent action.

three: the holy trinity: face cards: triangles: separation of powers: pyramids: UFOs: more than two less than four: french hens: persistence of vision