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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

ETEK trip, day 2

I'm a day behind here, and I may flesh out this post later with more details, but for now:

First up, Spectral Motion, a practical effects shop headed by Mike Elizalde. Hiding behind a nondescript building facade, next to the California Brown Bag company (which literally seems to be a business that has something to do with brown paper bags), there's a whole bestiary of impossible creatures. Spectral Motion has done design, costume creation and animatronics for a number of films, including several directed by Guillermo del Toro -- Blade II and the Hellboy movies among them. Mike described del Toro as someone who's "never forgotten a nightmare," and his films feature some of the most inventive creatures ever put on film.

Mike showed a video demonstration of an eye for the above Hellboy creature, which, through puppeteering, was able to rotate, retract, dilate its pupil, and blink a nictitating membrane. The explanation of its functions became a little mini-lecture on oracular anatomy. The same creature has a dreadlock tangle of tentacles unfurling from its cranium, each of which was controlled by servo motors that could be puppeted or programmed. The servo system was devised by an animatronics specialist who also builds robots for the military. Spectral Motion's work exists at that fascinating point where scientific knowledge and artistic knowledge become interchangeable.

After that visit, we made a quick visit to Big Machine Design, a small motion graphics house that has created a number of intro for TV shows, as well as having recently worked on cut scenes for video games. We were shown a new intro for the Regis and Kelly Ripa show, for which they flew out to New York and filmed Regis and Kelly with Red One cameras, a digital video camera they've fallen in love with.

Then, to USC, where we saw part of a presentation and a workshop on Fair Use, sponsored by the Institute for Media Literacy. One presentation was by Eric Faden, the creator of "A Fair(y) Use Tale," a very clever ten minute video that explains the basics of copyright, exclusively using copyrighted footage from Disney cartoons. The dialogue of the cartoon characters is chopped up, sometimes word by word, to form sentences that lay out the case that copyright law, as it currently stands, is unneccessarily draconian. It's available on youtube, though Faden isn't the one who posted it there. It's received over 2 million views, and you can add you eyeballs to the number by clicking below:

Faden was helped by students in putting the piece together, They scanned their way through Disney cartoons, also utilizing online scripts of the films and searching for their target words. Faden described the process as a truly surrealist viewing experience, any concern for character and plot falling away, all attention focused on the desire to just hear a certain word. Apparently, "copy" is a word that only occurs twice in the Disney cartoon cannon, and the word "artist" never appears at all. All the footage was captured through analog copying processes, as part of a hedge against possible legal action from the Disney corporation. Though Faden would have a solid case that "A Fair(y) Use Tale" is a genuinely transformative work, and would be protected as Fair Use as a form of commentary, he was advised that Disney might ignore copyright infringement claims entirely, and just go after the film on the basis of infractions against digitally cracking the DVD encyption. Using analog processes circumvented that potential tack.

Finally, we went to a presentation on the sound design and the score for The Dark Knight at the Egyptian Theater, which was really fascinating. More details to come soon...

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