essays

Mini-Essay Contest Winner #2

And here’s the 6pm FRCC Comp class Mini-Essay winner, Kristin. Good job, all!


Kristin Zachman

Stunt Actors vs. CGI

Computer-Generated Imagery is a tool commonly used in today’s filmmaking, appearing in a variety of movies across genres. The ongoing application of this technology opens the door to a new debate: Is CGI a better product than traditional stunt acting? With the help of CGI, worlds within the Star Wars universe have become increasingly amazing, but there are still some issues with the animation. These new techniques, however, are a major contributor to ever-increasing movie budgets, driving the average production cost to around $100 million. Since the birth of the technology, it hasn’t stopped advancing. Because of constant improvements, movies that rely heavily on CGI seem to age quicker than those that do not. In spite of the steady and impressive progress, real landscapes, sets, models, and stunts usually prove to be more awesome.

When Lucas filmed The Phantom Menace, he used a completely computerized army of drones, as opposed to actors in physical costumes. This decision provided the opportunity to create sweeping shots of the gigantic drone army, but the CG disappointed audiences in theaters almost as much as it does today. Unfortunately for animators, when incorporating these large digitized roles, the “Uncanny Valley” effect comes into play. This is the theory that “when something looks and moves almost, but not exactly, like humans do, it causes viewers to be repulsed” (Maison). In Rogue One, the reaction to the team’s reconstruction of the late Peter Cushing is a perfect example of the uncanny valley. Despite being much more convincing than the drone army from Episode I, or R2D2 setting fire to some droids in Revenge of the Sith, the graphics are still off. In addition to the generally unsettling quality of some CG characters, we may be losing some traditional visual effects. In Return of the Jedi, for example, Jabba the Hutt is a puppet, requiring an entire team to control his every move, and resulting in an interesting representation through the puppet’s movement and application.

Some may argue that looking back at the original Star Wars trilogy, the stunts seem comical and worn, claiming the films don’t hold up over time. Adversely, there seems to be a phenomenon of rapid aging in films that rely heavily on graphics, and it happens in a much shorter span of time. In 2004, Lucas put out a DVD remaster of A New Hope, where the original Jabba the Hutt puppet was replaced with a digital version. Watching the two side by side, the original looks quite dated, but is much more watchable than the digital remaster. The computerized Jabba moves too fluidly, almost weightlessly across the floor, as if there is no resistance or gravity. In the prequels, Lucas used a significant amount of computer-generated imagery, trailblazing the application of fully digital actors. Since they were some of the first, they unfortunately have issues aging. Despite many classic film’s stunts and special effects having trouble maturing, many stay relevant through nostalgia, cult followings, and simply by being great films.

Finally, the implementation of computerized backgrounds, characters, and other effects in the Star Wars franchise has caused the budgets to skyrocket. Considering the average inflation rate is about 3.55% per year in the U.S., the $11 million budget for A New Hope in 1977 would be equal to about $44.4 million dollars today. This budget included stunt doubles for each of the main roles, the production and execution of puppets, models, and costumes, as well as all other special effects. The most recent installation of the franchise, Rogue One, included two CGI characters, Governor Tarkin, and a young Princess Leia in the final shot. To make this possible the studio was still obliged to staff stunt actors for green screen work. These were difinitive factors in driving Rogue One’s budget to a staggering $265 million. Though movies have much larger profits than in the past, it can still be agreed upon that computer-generated images are a key player in the increase of costs to produce and see movies.

At the end of the day, I’d watch almost anything over the third-rate graphics of A Phantom Menace, which despite being some of the pioneering uses of CGI, are disappointing. Even the new applications of CGI lead to an uneasy feeling in the audience. It is also obvious that the technology will only continue to advance, soon rendering the impressive graphics of today obsolete. So instead of spending billions trying to create amazing worlds and stunts, let’s acknowledge the magnificent abilities of stunt actors, and the beautiful and amazing reality of the world around us.

——————

Works Cited

Maison, Jordan. “Why People Can’t Enjoy the VFX in the Star Wars Prequels.” Cinelinx. Cinelinx Media, 14 July, 2014. http://www.cinelinx.com/movie-stuff/item/6025-why-people-can-t-enjoy-the-vfx-in-the-star-wars-prequels.html. 9 June, 2017.

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Mini-Essay Contest Winner #1

As you’ll know if you’ve been following me for a while, lovely lurkers, each time I teach Comp I (which is often), I host a Mini-Essay contest, with the students’ first assignments. The students vote on the top essays in the class and the winner gets posted here. Below is Ian’s winning essay, from the 10:30am class at FRCC. Congrats!


Ian A. McGregor
How Technology Has Become A Detriment To Education

As if there weren’t already numerous environmental factors such as puberty and general rebelliousness affecting the already shortening attention spans of our youth, now it seems that at least 78% of our youth age 12 to 17 own a cell phone (Adams). Not only are these incredibly resourceful handheld google machines contributing to their lack of face to face social interaction, but they are also becoming a detriment to their health and ability to learn. In this essay I plan on discussing the pros and cons of technology as an educational resource.

Cell phones are an obvious distraction in the classroom in many facets such as actual texting during lectures, anticipation of an “important text from that cute girl in 3rd period,” and simply
exploring social media. There are a few less commonly known, more sinister factors that contribute to the growing decay of students attention spans. One study showed loss of total sleep could be as much as 46 minutes nightly due to use of cell phones after sleep onset (Adams). 46 minutes may sound insignificant, but this adds up to 16,790 minutes of sleep lost annually, or in other words 279 hours, or 11.66 whole days of sleep lost. According to the CDC, “the average adolescent requires 8.5–9.25 hours of sleep per night…” (Adams). Interestingly enough, the average complete sleep cycle for adolescents and adults is about 90-120 minutes (Scammell). If 46 minutes are lost nightly due to cell phones, this cause them to wake up mid sleep cycle, as opposed to naturally waking up when their last sleep cycle has completed. This has been shown to cause the individual to feel groggy, and out of focus throughout the day, especially when it is a recurring occurrence. This can have a significant impact on the attention span of any human, but especially in children. Sleep is extremely important for many reasons, such as the storage of information in long term memory, ability to focus in class, and their hormonal development. Children who sleep less tend to be more irritable, less attentive, and less likely to contribute in the classroom.

Another study showed that the sound of a cell phone chiming could trigger a response similar to that of a mother awakening to the sound of her child crying in the middle of the night, describing it as “hyper-vigilant”(Adams). I personally experienced this while I was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, where I was expected to answer my cell phone at a moment’s notice, while being expected to be ready to deploy at a moments notice, literally. If I did not answer the call during specific drills I could have been subject to losing my job, and pay and I can assure you, this affected my sleep quality significantly. This affected my ability to concentrate on simple tasks such as driving, socializing, and most importantly my memory. On multiple occasions I can recall driving home after being awake for twenty four to forty eight hours, and barely making it home safely simply because I could not focus on driving.

Though cell phones, or technology in general could have the potential to detract from modern education, it appears they may also have their place in aiding educators, but only when strict rules are enforced, and discipline is intrinsic. The ability to have unlimited access to information via a device that fits in your pocket should need no explanation as to its significance. While arguing with a professor in class a student could access supporting evidence in seconds. Some may argue that this can detract from education because the student becomes reliant on the technology as opposed to their memory, however I can see it as a valuable resource.

Technology in the form of virtual reality could some day cut costs in many fields of study, but especially medical fields. Imagine being able to access a fully digital, 3 dimensional cadaver as medical student who aspires to be a surgeon. This could prove to be an invaluable study tool, and I can certainly foresee its eventual use. By simply taking notes via a laptop or cell phone in class, students can also reduce the amount of paper wasted significantly, which would obviously have a positive impact on our environment as well as their bank accounts.

Cell phones are quickly becoming a detriment to students’ health, education, and overall social skills. With sound discipline not only in the classroom, but in the home as well, one of my generation’s greatest liabilities could become a tool to further our ability to educate, and reduce our impact on the environment. There are many benefits to using technology as an educational resource, but are they worth the costs?

——-

Works Cited
Adams, Sue; Daly, Jennifer; Williford, Desireé.

“Adolescent Sleep and Cellular Phone Use: Recent
Trends and Implications for Research.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. Sage
Publishing, October 3rd 2013, 4
th,6th and 7th par.,
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4089837/. Accessed 18 June 2017.

Scammell. Thomas. “Natural Patterns of Sleep”. Healthy Sleep at Harvard Medicine. Division of
Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, December 18th, 2007, 9th par.,
healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/science/what/sleep-patterns-rem-nrem. Accessed 18 June
2017.

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Beast as Cyborg Notes

I have been meaning to write this article for you all, lovely lurkers, for a long time, and I haven’t gotten the wherewithal to get beyond a detailed outline. So it hit me today: why fight it? I hereby post the detailed outline of my article about villains and beasts in recent story as cyborg–in other words, why is it that the cyborg is scary today, whereas the scary monster back in the day was a beast?

This idea was inspired by musings about Marina Warner’s excellent academic work, From the Beast to the Blonde, further filled in by looking at old class lectures and materials from my DU course: Villains, Monsters and Foes, and today finally posted as I just watched Blade Runner again (a cut I hadn’t seen), and so the idea of the android “skin job” is still rather on the brain. 

I am hereby inviting you all, lovely lurkers, to add meat to this skeleton in the comments of this post. Any of these mere mentions/notes/premises that spur a thought or a tangent, please do share. Maybe together we can finally get the article written. Oh, and all page #s you see haphazardly cited here are from Warner’s book.


SCARY MONSTERS ARE ROBOTS NOW. THEY USED TO BE BEASTLY. WHY?

Outline by Jenn Zuko

  • Borg (hive mind)
  • Replicant (can’t tell who’s who)
  • I, Robot (existentialism / danger of AI) Also Terminator for both
    • [does Frankenstein’s monster fit here?]

All of the above are potentially uncontrollable.

  • Why so scary?
    • Humanoid but Not Human (uncanny valley)
    • Unstoppable (Tripods)
    • Replaces reality (how to battle?)
  • From the Beast to the Blonde –Marina Warner
    • Latin “monstrare” = to show (p.299)
      • [notes from DU Villains course: *to unveil the monster is to vanquish it*] How to unveil when it’s impossible to tell? (Voigt-Kampf test infallible?)

Replicants aren’t shown: they hide in plain sight (like Dr. Who’s plastic Autons). More difficult to unveil than a beast, as it’s hard to tell who’s the monster, who the human

    • Being Devoured = sexuality
      • “Bestiality, cannibalism, & eroticism are bound up together” (p.302)
    • Ferociousness of being a beast not so scary in this day of us overpowering and overtaking anything truly wild.
      • “Tapping the power of the animal no longer seems charged with danger, let alone evil, but rather a necessary part of healing. Art of different media widely accepts the fall of man, from master and namer of animals to a mere hopeful candidate for inclusion as one of their number.” (p.307)

      • Nostalgia for the wild: nostalgia = regret (also Noble Savage)

        RoyBatty

        …like tears in the rain…

  • The cyborg is leaving the wild at best, eradicating it at worst. Many cyborg monsters live in a world where there is no wild left. That’s terrifying.
    • The Devil:
      • Medieval image: devil has horns, goat legs, fur, tail, etc. Angels are “bloodless, fleshless” in “gleaming armor”
      • Now it’s the other way around
  • Eroticism old school:
    • Used to be: beast as male virility (beauty & the beast; satyrs; centaurs, etc.)
  • Eroticism new school (w the cyborg):
    • Why is the Borg Queen sexy? (or is she? She’s also slimy)
    • Replicants: beautiful female replicant or clone (Leeloo?)(Pris: made for sex but also deadly)
    • “Mudd’s Women” (is Data sexy? [Old Yellow Eyes])
      • Does this have to do with the female as attractive only bc of her body?
  • Scene in American Gods: man gets devoured by goddess (swallowed up literally by her sex); is the allure of the female android connected to the terror of being devoured? [Warner: in old stories, being devoured = sex]

(is eroticism a tangent, or immediately related to what it is to be human?) (another related-to-eroticism tangent in here about the living dead: why are vampires sexy? inhuman that used to be human but now dead; Walking Dead characters having trouble seeing that the zombies aren’t the person anymore. But this is another paper, methinks. Something related to the inhuman as scary here, though…)

  • CONCLUSION: Loss of humanity = terror
    • Animals = subhuman
    • Robots = non-human (or inhuman)

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I’m Such a Bad Blogger You Guys

…seriously though, it’s because of my busy life! Wanna hear what I’ve been up to, instead of blogging here?

Well I have been contributing to another blog, under a pen name, with my significant other. Some really great personal memoir type essays, and it’s writing I’m proud of. Not going to share it here publicly, but if you know me well personally, ask me and I’ll give you the link to that.

The FRCC comp 1 students have just handed in their research papers, and the Comp 2 students have just finished their rough drafts of theirs. Topics for these include: Farming, steroid abuse, censorship in music, arts in the schools, the innovation of the electric guitar, police discretion, free speech on college campuses, trans rights and health, immigration, damage of video games and social media on youth, and the cruelty of zoos. Lots of important things, my students are writing about.

My Regis Capstone student is sending me big chunks of her high-Fantasy novel, set in a world where the sun is destructive and there’s all kinds of well written political intrigue and a telepathic power that certain people possess, and really cool ninja-like warriors, and. It’s a good piece, and I can’t wait till it’s published and I can share it with you. I also have seven Capstone students in DU’s seminar course who are entering proposals and getting their big projects nearly to the midterm point. Some really interesting projects there, too.

But. You can see why I haven’t had much time to write here, lovely lurkers.

In performance news, I have performed burlesque for Bronze Fox just this Wednesday, and will be appearing onstage for Boulder Burlesque’s upcoming Spring Fling Kink party. I’m having a heckuva lot of fun doing this particular movement hobby, and if you’re interested in keeping up with that stuff, follow Valkyrie Rose on Facebook.

I’ll write to you again on the other side of grading. When will that be? Who knows…

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The group curtain call at Wednesday’s Nearly 4/20 Bronze Fox Burlesque show. A stellar group.

Brecht and Storytelling, Part 3

Here’s the final installment, lovely lurkers. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments on any of the three installments.   ~jenn


Brecht and Storytelling

Written by Jenn Zuko for Senior Seminar, BFA Acting program @UCB, 1995.

Part 3

But suppose we help Brecht and discover why his alienation fails while the techniques of a librarian bring large, loud audiences to hear stories every week. We have discussed in detail what drama is: two or more performers on the stage, within their matrix, acting. The audience sees who and where the performers are, but has to interpret the goings-on for themselves. That is, they supply the “why.” In storytelling, the “why” is given; the narrator explains exactly the goings-on, and tells us up front whether each character is a villain or not, or if what the hero  does is praiseworthy. The audience here has to imagine the what the characters, costumes, and scenario look like, since there is only one voice and body to supply them all. That is, they supply the “who” and “where.” In drama, we don’t know which character is telling the truth. In storytelling, we can always believe the narrator. So drama, therefore, shows plot purely by characters’ relationships, and storytelling centers on plot and leaves the intimate details of relationships up to the viewer. These are two different ways of telling a story, two polar performances. What would happen if we combined the two?

In October of this year (1995), I teamed up with some musician friends of mine to put on a storytelling show for Halloween. This time, instead of it being just me telling and them accompanying, we brought in two other storytellers and an actor to join me in the show. Most of the pieces were merely each one of us taking turns telling a spooky piece by ourselves with musical backup. But three of the pieces used all four of us to create a performance style which I think combines acting and storytelling in a harmony which worked well for our audiences.

Here is the way it worked:I’ll use the first one of these pieces, “Dancing Bones,” as an example. Daune Greene, our beloved narrator, stepped onto the stage and sat on a stool with a microphone placed in front. She began the tale: “Clarence Kelly was dead. Everyone was happy.” As she continued her narration, and mentioned Clarence’s widow, I entered, in the costume for the widow. I said no lines, but did actions as I heard them coming from the narrator. There was another actor portraying my dead husband, and another for the courting fiddler who comes in later. We said no lines unless Daune’s narrative included it: that is, we had short snatches of dialogue, but constantly interspersed with her narration. We even, for comedic effect, sometimes reacted to the narration itself, such as when she said that the widow might lose her insurance money if Clarence refused to stay dead, I stopped the action and looked towards her, in a “say-it-isn’t-so” manner. This further lowered whatever fourth wall

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UMKC Theatre shows the masks of the stylized acting of Brecht. Sorry but I couldn’t find a picture from that production I described for the life of me…

was there, and distanced the audience emotionally, so they didn’t empathize with any character, since the narrator was onstage, a character almost in her own right–almost a quarterback’s role in American football. This kind of performance (which I have both done and seen often) is not strictly drama, nor is it pure storytelling. The presence of the narrator as a character makes it storytelling, but having one actor per character engaging in dialogue makes it drama. Perhaps we should call it Storyacting or Dramatelling, because it combines both mediums effectively.

Brecht’s problem, as I see it, is that he was trying to map dramatic acting onto storytelling, the one on top of the other, which doesn’t work. He should have combined the two instead, not expecting actors to be both narrator and character at once, but one or the other–having actors to portray both. In fact, he actually does this very thing in his play Caucasian Chalk Circle. There is a minstrel-like character who inserts narrative into the action as he strums his guitar, much like our Halloween production. Perhaps this play is the exception to the rule that Brecht failed in effectively combining acting and storytelling into one whole.

 


 

Works Cited/Consulted

(Note to any Comp students reading this: I have zero idea what style citations these are in. I’m assuming it’s an old version of MLA.)

Braun, Kasimierz. “Modern Acting Theory and Practice.” Brecht Yearbook, 1982 v11, p.108-121.

Kirby, Michael. “The New Theatre.” Tulane Drama Review. 10.2 (Winter 1965), p.23-49.

Martin, Suzanne. “Altered States.” Storytelling, 1993 Summer v5, p.20-23.

Pellowski, Anne. The World of Storytelling, H.W. Wilson Co. NY, 1990.

Rouse, John. “Brecht and the Contradictory Actor.” Theatre Journal, 1984 March v36, p.29-41.

Sawyer, Ruth. The Way of the Storyteller, The Viking Press, NY, 1951.


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