uncontrollable semantics

On a day when your mind works slowly, you have to find little ways to kickstart your train of thought.

At home, I’ll take a bath or go with the cat for a walk. At work, I’m not so lucky, so I’ve had to find other outlets. One of them, I’ve spoken about before (Endless Forest) and another I thought I would share now.

It’s a dreamlike art experience, a smatter of colours and sounds – and it’s interactive… doesn’t get much better than that, does it?

uncontrollable semantics

Try it out – it’s very enjoyable. And while you’re at it, read a bit about the artist:

Jason Nelson

I’ve written about this game before… but it’s about time I touch on it again.

In short, the Endless Forest is a game that isn’t a game – there is no goal here… no slaying of vicious enemies and no gathering of gold. Instead, it is a peaceful, wonderful environment you can spend time in when the real world feels stressful and pressing.

You play a deer… and within this forest, you will encounter other deer – and the only ways you can communicate is through what language the deer have. You moo, you scratch, you sniff and you dance.

With the latest update of the game ( 2.0 ) there are new areas to explore… there are pinecones to munch on and frogs to follow – or become! There are things to gather so that when you encounter another deer in the forest, you can change their appearance. Give their antlers a garland of flowers, perhaps, or make a mask like a leopard for their face. That’s right, in the Endless Forest – you don’t get to pick what you look like. Others do it for you.

I can’t praise this game enough. It does not have the hectic, frantic rhythm of regular games but instead encourages a sense of curiosity and gentleness. It instills you with quiet glee as you and a fellow deer jump around one another in happy surprise to meet by the waterfall, or as you quack and swim around the pond for the first time. It’s a game you play when you’ve had a rough day… and not to take out your anger on some stupid enemies, but to communicate wordlessly or to simply take a stroll through a forest where strange and magical things sometimes happens. Most of all, it’s a game that dares to be truly different.

I can’t help but applaud the creators.

deer1.jpg

The first deer I run into carries a garland of red flowers in its antlers. For a while, we strut around one another. We do a little dance, we run through a field of flowers… and when we stop, there is a strange, lovely sound and the other deer flares in bright gold – followed by the same light around me… when the glow fades, we both have garlands in our antlers. Excited, I roll on the grass to show my gratitude.

deer2.jpg

For a while, I keep company with two others, and we explore the forest together. One is more cheerful and friendly, and before I know it… there is a spark, a burst of gold, and my coat changes from brown to red. The other one has a leopard’s face, and when it calls out, the sound is eerie and ghostlike – different from the sound I make. I follow this one for a time, curious about its strange face.

deer3.jpg

deer4.jpg

It is only when I’ve changed garlands a few more times and rested next to another deer for a while – to change the colour of its coat – that I decide that enough is enough and it’s best I close the program down before I become obsessed.

I miss my deer-self when I shut down. I want to shake my antlers, stomp my feet and moo my merry heart out – typing feels dull and unemotional.

Vanity Searches and Paranoia

Have you ever done a vanity search?

Type your name into Google and hit enter. That’s a vanity search. You’re now looking into not only how many people might have mentioned you on your sites, but also what they might have said, where they said it, and if they actually said it about you and not someone else by the same name. The expression ‘vanity search’ gives away what this is all about… though I admit that when I do it, it is both intriguing and terrifying.

And, of course, quite silly.

After all, someone might have said something quite rude about you, wherever. Someone might actually pretend to be you, somewhere, using your name and faking your personality. There’s all kinds of weird connected to the vanity search, once you get your name out there.

Some time ago, I did a vanity search for the first time in a long while. I remember being absolutely shocked because I had no less than 33,000 hits on my name Linda Bergkvist and almost as many on Enayla. I was deeply unsettled by this realisation and spent a few hours looking through what kind of stuff people had posted about me. In many cases (most) there were just brief mentions here and there but in places there were things like little essays or even fan clubs and this one forum where they were posting photos of me along with the pictures, trying to figure me out. I was so disturbed, in fact, that it wasn’t until this week (maybe six months later) that I did a new vanity search.

I don’t know how it happened, but I now had more than four times as many hits to my name. I won’t try to describe my expression with words, but it looked something like this:

D:

Imagine my surprise. Imagine me poking through some pages of this and wondering why on earth these people are talking about me. It’s just weird. Here I’m sitting, holding a cup of hot chocolate – feet on the desk – cat on my legs, awkward and tired-eyed, looking like I’ve not slept for days… and there are these people out there who seem to think I’m some kind of celebrity – perhaps a tiny celebrity, but even so. It’s so messed up.

The vanity search has made me a little paranoid. I’d like to refer to it as a Paranoia Search, thankyouverymuch. If I post a ridiculous photo of myself in my pyjamas – will it turn up on some weird site a year from now the way the greedy one where I was eating chocolate did? I mean, I can’t help but laugh at it all… anyone who knows me knows I’m everything but… well, y’know, the kind of person people should be interested in writing about… and at the same time – yeah, I am feeling the paranoia coming on.

On a more amusing note, vanity searches are a very guilty pleasure. I’d hate to be caught doing it – it’s like sitting and staring at your own reflection in a mirror, vain and ridiculous (perhaps trying to figure your wrinkles out), when someone walks in on you.

So… do a vanity search… but be prepared for the worst. Any face is all wrinkles, freckles and ick if you look at it close enough. Hee, hee, hee.

when you can’t tell…

When someone approaches you about a movie, they usually have you sign a contract before telling you the fine details of the project. Actually, in some cases, they’ll have you sign something before they’ll fill you in on even the most basic stuff – like what kind of work you’re expected to do, what kind of movie it is or even who they are. Before you’re hired, before you know what the job pays and before you have any clue. The contract is called an NDA. Non Disclosure Agreement. What this means, in essence, is that this thing that you’d like to shout about from the rooftops – maybe the coolest job you’ve ever had – you won’t be able to talk about. At all. In fact, if you do, they can sue you for pretty much anything you own.

Sucks, doesn’t it?

It makes sense, though. There’s a lot of money involved. Any spilled secrets might result in another movie company stealing the ideas and releasing an almost identical movie… or some newspaper or internet site getting hold of vital information. There’s just too much at stake, I suppose.

Being overly cautious, I wasn’t even sure I was allowed to talk about the movie companies that have hired me, or what movies I’ve worked on. In some cases, you see, this isn’t okay. For instance, I can say that I’ve done work for Disney – but I’m not allowed to tell you for which movie (since it’s not been announced yet) or even what kind of work I’ve done. I’m allowed to say, I know this because I’ve asked, that I’ve done work for New Line Cinema, on a movie called The Golden Compass… but I can’t tell you the particulars of what I did. So the fun anecdotes I have about how I shot reference photos for this project… I can’t share them, no matter how much I want to. Let’s just say they involve a stuffed toy animal, some string and a cat that totally mistook my hard work for fun play.

It’s difficult to do work you can’t talk about. I can’t vent. I can’t ask for advice or critique on the images I’ve painted. Some exceedingly cool stuff that I’ve made, I might never be able to show off – I don’t own the copyrights to any of it. It’s really up to the movie makers. I’m not even sure I’ll get any kind of credit for my hard work though as far as I know, I might well have been the first artist involved in a particular project. I’m still new in the game.

Worst thing?

Chances are some movies I work hard on and am proud of – are never actually released. I’m involved at such early stages that I have to face the possibility of the movies being cancelled.

It sounds as though I’m unhappy. I’m not. Maybe I’ll never be able to talk about what I did, and maybe I’ll never get credit for any of it – but I’d be hard pressed to find any kind of work I’ve enjoyed more. Anything I’ve been more excited about. When Disney first called me, back when, I thought I would have a heart-attack – that’s how thrilled I was. For someone who watches as many movies as I do and is so obsessed with them, the mere prospect of having been part of the process is almost overwhelming. It’s not about the money and certainly not about getting credit for it – it’s the whole thing… knowing that, wow, I designed that, I was part of that, I helped. I have a feeling that when the first movie I’ve worked on is actually showing on the big screen – I’ll be climbing the walls with excitement.

I guess I already am.

watching with jaded eyes

Sometimes I wonder if, in my line of business, everyone has chosen to stay within their own glass bubble – refusing to acknowledge the rest of the world.

Why I’m bringing this up is, I am getting weary of people working within CG immediately assuming that everyone else sees things the way they do – and appreciates things for the same reason and from the same point of view. I understand that within reason, we’ll all understand the hard work (or lack thereof) behind a picture or movie better if we actually KNOW what’s involved… but that doesn’t mean we should judge the finished result solely based on that knowledge.

When someone who has worked on a movie watches another movie, they’ll see little details the uninitiated might miss. If they’re a 3D animator, they’re likely to notice any mistakes in the animation – as well as ingenious things that someone else might never notice. When they’re looking at artwork within their own genre, they might stomp on something beautiful because they don’t like the way it is made, or alternatively – applaud something that looks merely mediocre, because it was created in such a complicated, clever manner. Their eyes, it seems, have turned inwards and they’re no longer looking at things the way the rest of the world see them – they’re just seeing their own version.

The same goes for my kind of people – the 2D artists. We’re not so much looking at the finished result as what we consider the interesting bits. A piece of art might be admired and loved not because it is beautiful or because it is genuine, but because of how it was made. Technique over content, I suppose, in a way that makes a lot of the pieces now created – in both 2D and 3D – dull in the eyes of someone who is not initiated.

In my eyes, a painting, a movie or a piece fails to a great degree if someone who doesn’t know the techniques doesn’t find it interesting. Similarly, if you’re in the CG business and you see a movie with special effects – and you spot a few mistakes… this does not make the movie the ‘worst ever made’ (an expression I see increasingly frequently connected with movies I love, simply because there’s some piece of special effects that isn’t up to par) – in fact, as far as the movie itself is concerned, I don’t think the special effects affect the content much at all. They do not make or break a movie. The technique does not forgive an awful plotline and it doesn’t ruin a wonderful story.

I’ll take a random quote here from someone in a discussion about Disney’s The Wild:

“Disney took the soul out of animation, turned it into a money machine, and people hated them for it.”

Now. This is how many CGartists feel. Please tell me – who else feels that Disney has taken the soul out of animation? Me, I thought they pretty much put animation on the map. That they’ve created a LOT of wonderful children’s movies and that while they do release some flawed movies, that’s the case of any movie company. Yes, Disney is huge and slow the way any gigantic corporation is, but has Disney taken the soul out of animation?

No.

I was similarly shocked after having seen King Kong – and read some CGartists reviews that stated that the compositioning in King Kong was the worst they’d ever seen?

Say what? Think what you want about the movie itself, but how can the work on King Kong possibly be worse than, say, Xena the Warrior Princess?

Anyway, I am digressing. What I’d like to see is people watching the actual finished result with fresh eyes, rather than condemning with their bitter business gaze. A painting is beautiful because it’s beautiful, not because someone has used only a mouse when completing it or did it all in MS Paint. The digital effects in a movie might not be as amazing as, say, what WETA did for Lord of the Rings – but that doesn’t mean that the movie itself is horrible. I understand that it’s fun to focus on the technique since digital art is such a technical medium, but enough is enough. I’m going to try to leave my bitter eyes behind the next time I watch a movie. I’ll try to see it for what it is. I’ll attempt to look at paintings, from now on, not as results of techniques but as finished, possibly wonderful things.

I suggest that others in my line of work try the same thing. Maybe we’ll discover new and wonderful things – or at least rediscover a sense of wonder that we’ve lost along the way.

teaching photoshop

When someone asks me to teach them to paint, I really don’t know what to say.

Perhaps I could teach them what I know of Photoshop. I’ve painted in Photoshop for about eight years now. Every year I learn new things, with every new edition, I have to re-learn many things. Much of what I know is intuitive. It’s not so much skills as it is a work flow: the order in which I use the tools and the position of my hand on the keyboard. It is not eight years of learning every single asset that Photoshop has – it is eight years of painting in a particular program, learning what tools I need, and adapting what the program supplies me with to the work I have to do. It’s like riding a bike in that I rarely give any thought to how my feet move on the pedals or how I tilt my body to make the bike turn in one direction or the other. The trick is to learn enough to make sure the tool is an asset – not something standing in your way.

To teach someone the purely technical things I know about Photoshop wouldn’t take very long at all. There’s the toolbar, there are the filters, this is how you use quick masks. To teach someone the way Photoshop and I work together, how I’ve adapted to the program – and how it’s adapted to me… that’s another matter altogether. I’m not even sure it can be done. What I can teach, however, are ways to make it easier. Paths you can take when learning. Things you might make good use of, if you’re planning to make good use of Photoshop as a painting program. Little inside tips: everything from a good spot to hold your left hand while the right one holds the pen to why the pen’s eraser isn’t really such a good idea. Easier ways to perform certain tasks.

What I can’t dream of teaching someone is what lies behind it all. Not the skills I’ve learned during eight years of constant Photoshop use, but those I’ve picked from a lifetime of sketching, drawing, painting, working in clay and papier mache and all manners of different stuff. These are skills that it would take a teacher well beyond my level to pass down to others. I don’t have the words to describe what I do. If my work in Photoshop is intuitive, it’s still nothing to how I ‘feel’ for the shapes and forms that I paint. Painting is inspiration driven, it is emotional and it is personal. It is a constant dilemma for me, trying to find ways to help with the practical skills – anatomy, photoshop and colour use, for example, without delving into the personal ones that reach a bit deeper and are far more difficult to grasp. To tell the truth, I don’t want to teach someone to paint the way I do. I would be doing a disservice not only to myself but to the person I would be teaching. I can’t even see how it could be done, without that person living my life, spending the same amount of hours painting, having the exact same dreams, interests and views. The things that are still just technical skills – are still technical skills that I picked up while painting almost every day for most of my life. How can you dream of cramming that into a single, simple lesson? And who would want to turn their personal paintings into clones of mine, anyway?

So if I have three hours to spend, handing over some of what I’ve learned to those who want to listen… what will I teach? Not how to paint: that is a lifetime process, not a three-hour-class. I’ll teach ways to make it easier. To avoid the bumps in the road that I’ve encountered. Show things that will, hopefully, make the learning progress faster and tips and tricks on how to figure things out. I’ll try to give you the absolutely-nots along with the musts.

Above all, I’ll hope to make it understood that you can’t get discouraged if it’s hard. It is. It takes a lot of practice, a lot of time, but it’s all worth it. Learning is part of what makes it so wonderful. There is no secret trick you’ll learn – and bam, the next day you’re an expert. For all of us, it’s a matter of honing your skills and you can’t do this if you give up as soon as the going gets rough. Photoshop or Painter are tools of the trade: learn how to use them and you soon forget they’re there. That is the big trick, here – to find a way to work in your program of choice without really reflecting much on the program. That way you can focus, instead, on the work that you do rather than the how of how you do it.

the sims – and custom content

Recently, I picked up playing Sims 2 again.

It amazes me how, though the game in itself is fun, it is the custom content and the mod community that truly makes it worthwhile. The designers that worked on the game produced mismatched sets of furniture, dull skin tones and blank eyes – the mod community has given us new furniture, new skins and adorable, gleaming, glittering, wonderful eyes. The community is huge, I can’t even count the number of sites. My bookmark list is filled to the brim and overflowing with links to sites that I regularly check for updated content.

Every week, I, and my fellow addicts, search the web for the best, newest, neatest additions – everything from a new kind of lamp with a different type of light, to a pair of high heeled shoes where the game creators originally gave us only flats. I can’t even say for sure what my obsession with it is. I’m not even using half the stuff. It’s like shopping, except it doesn’t cost me any money, and I can’t actually wear, or use any of the stuff in real life. You get the shopping high with very few of the perks and none of the bad stuff – ‘cept the obsession.

Did I say it doesn’t cost anything?

That’s not entirely true, anymore. Re-joining the Sims community, I was shocked to find that some creators force you to ‘donate’ to their sites, in order to download their files. A new bedroom set might cost, say, $3 – though for copyright reasons, they claim it’s donation to keep their sites running… not actual pay. People are actually making money, making pretend clothes, furniture and hairstyles for pretend people. So now I need to pay for a new, pretty shirt for my Sim as well as that pair of shoes I want to buy downtown? What the hell?

So I said to myself, no way, I’m not doing that.

A week later, I found an awesome bedroom on a site somewhere, and I donated money to get it. I’m still ashamed. I can’t believe I actually paid for this pretend bedroom. Done is done, though, and knowing the shop-o-holic in me, I might well do it again.

What is it with these new games that involve you to such a level? MMORPGs where people buy weapons on ebay and then fight over their items – in real life! Sims 2, where you can go shopping online – for things that don’t really exist. Games, where you pay first for the actual game… then for the expansions… and then, like an idiot, you actually go ahead and pay other players for the niftiest, coolest stuff to use in your game.

One reason to why I always loved the Sims games was the open, wonderful community around them. I’m hoping that this new element of greed (that’s what this essentially is, isn’t it?) won’t eat away at that warmth.

The Endless Forest

endlessforest.jpg

There are things we’ve become used to, even to expect and demand, from almost every computer game we come across. We expect some kind of violence. We expect a goal, something to reach for. We expect, not strangely, that there is to be some competitive element – especially if it is a multi-player game. Even those of the simplest kind have you competing in one way or the other – against the computer, against other players, or even against yourself and your old high score.

Who would’ve thought that, instead, a multi-player game could be a soothing environment where you can encounter other players under peaceful circumstances – greet them, perhaps play a little, and then move on?

In Endless Forest, there are no goals, no weapons, no way of conventionally communicating with other players. You can’t type, “omg, lol!” the way you might in any other online game. You play a deer, in an eternal forest, and your interactions are much what a deer’s interactions might be. You can jump, sniff the other deer, scratch your back against a tree or strike a pose as you listen for sounds from deep in the woods. There are no hunters and no prey. If you like, you can leave the game open for hours and all that happens is that your deer lies down and goes to sleep.

Instead of ‘names’, we get to have symbols that symbolize our characters and that others may recognise us by. Sometimes, you’ll prance around a sleeping deer and moo, toss your head, and hope the other will wake up. When they do, maybe you’ll do a few jumps of joy, and the two of you will bounce off into the trees, circling one another, hanging out, before parting ways. When you walk into one another, there is a soft, golden, magical glow.

It’s a very relaxing experience. It’s not a game in any conventional sense, and right now, it’s pretty basic… but it’s wonderful, I think. Innovative and beautiful. I had the game up and running for six hours yesterday while watching telly. Now and then, I’d hear a moo, and run up to the computer – and there I’d see other deer, sometimes in bigger groups, sometimes alone, prancing around, examining my sleeping form or just running by through the woods. When I’d get up on my feet, some would run back and greet me, sniff at me before moving on again.

Does it sound simple and stupid? It would be, if you’re looking for a regular game. If you just want to try something different, it’s perfectly lovely. I can’t wait to see where they’ll take this. What other things will be implemented.

Here is my deer resting on the ground with a few others, peaceful in the woods. The glyph with two small boxes on top of a swirl belongs to me.

endlessforest2.jpg

Go here to read more about the Endless Forest, and download it as well. Hope to see you among the quiet trees:
http://www.tale-of-tales.com/TheEndlessForest/index.html

movies.

I love watching movies.

It is strange how the internet has changed my way of viewing movies. Before I started to really embrace the information that’s out there, I might have read a review about a movie before I saw it… maybe one of the actors would have been on Leno, or I’d seen a trailer on the telly, but that would be it.

Now, before the movie even opens, I can watch the trailer the moment it’s out, I can read rumours and details in forums, I can look the actors up on imdb, check out what the writer of the script has been up to previously and if I’m lucky, there will be some footage from the set, maybe, as in the case of Batman Begins, someone will have sneakily filmed the batmobile roaring down the street of Chicago before any photos of the thing has been released.

Some movies, I hear about when they’re still just a rumour. The first little whisper of Tim Burton making a new stop motion picture made me perk my ears and drool a little, frantically looking for more information. The whispers were all over the place. Once the rumours were confirmed, I was frantic – it was true! Wow! I followed it from day one, the choice in actors, the rumours of the CG graphics, the arguments about the music – I heard it all.

A movie, to me, isn’t just sitting down and watching something. It’s the whole build-up from the first word I hear of it, to the days after having viewed it, that I spend talking about it – with people in real life, and people online. It’s expanded from an experience that lasts for two hours, to days, weeks, months – even years, in some cases.

As far as Corpse Bride goes, I’ve not been this frantic about a release since the LOTR movies, where I followed every casting choice whenever it was available, and oogled whatever little piece of information I could find.

Cruelly, though, not all movies are world wide releases the way LOTR was. It’s not fair, how the information is now available to all of us, all the way across the world – we can read and write and partake in all of it – but depending on where you live, you might end up having to wait six months longer to see it. Pah.

I can’t wait for the real world to catch up and let us view all movies as world wide premiers.

Some movies I’m looking forward to are,
the fountain, libertine and V for Vendetta

So if you hear anything of either, feel free to give me a holler.