FRCC

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.

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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?

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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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Not that I’m on a break now or anything…

…but the peeps that are finished with their semesters, I have finished as well. Finally. As I said, lots and lots and lots (and lots) of research papers. I just might (might, mind you) have a half a handle on the new 8th edition of MLA format at this point. Might.

18582290_10155432990898028_6479972419694655595_nWhat else is on my plate? Well, I presented at the Teaching and Learning With Technology conference over at Front Range yesterday, which was pretty fun. Had a good, inquisitive audience that had more questions afterwards and cornered me at other sessions and stuff too. It was called “Video Killed the Paper Star” and covered a few innovative ways that assigning videos to students in lieu of papers can be a fruitful endeavor. I may do a little mini-article about it here, so stay tuned. Anyway, got to share a bunch of those grammar videos you’ve seen here, and some old reading responses in video form, especially Nate’s old ones from Advanced Stage Combat back in the day. His were so creative and thoughtful and it made me miss all you Stage Combat Club guys: Nate and Scott and Nick and Chris, Paul, and Geri, and the others that came in and out…(sniff)…

I also went to the opera recently with The S.O. and I was amused to find that I knew exactly where all those swords were from, and mused that they all needed a little coaching as far as handling them went (fight scenes though there were none). I also was shocked at the rust that has somehow coated my Schmooze Nozzle, which I guess goes to show that if you don’t use it, you lose it. So I’m polishing my charisma these days. If you run into me, force me to give you an  elevator pitch or something, would ya? Help me get back in shape.

Writing wise, I’m still doing stuff for YourBoulder.com, mainly their weekend round up thingies. It’s a fun gig, and a paid one, so I’m happy about that. The other blog I’m writing with The S.O. is also a very fulfilling project–it’s a style of personal writing I’m not super familiar with, but the pieces there are really, really good. It’s nice to have a quasi-journalling habit again, and him being such a good writer himself, it’s also nice to have a high bar to have to live up to. Write up to. You know what I mean…

Now I do have one breath before the new wave of stuff begins. During that deep breath, I will still be working closely with DU folks on their Capstones, and also working with a new batch of Regis peeps too: Children’s Lit, Editing Fiction, and Editing Non-Fiction is on my platter there.

After I take the breath, it’ll be time for summer at FRCC (two Comp 1 courses) and at Boulder_FringeMetro (an online Staging Cultures class). It’ll also be time for the first summer theatrical gigs to begin: early June I’ll be dancing with Boulder Burlesque, mid-June I may be dancing with Bronze Fox Burlesque, and late June is Denver Comic Con, where I will be presenting The Fight is the Story again, but I’ll keep you up on those things when we get closer to time. After that, I’ve got stage combat at the LDT and burlesque at the Fringe Fest to look forward to, amidst who knows indeed what else will pop up.

So there you go: the update on the workload. Now back to it.

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.

Upcoming Events and Other Things

Golly, it’s been awhile, lovely lurkers. Sorry bout that. See, it’s around midterm time at schools one and two, it’s the end of one class session and the beginning of another for school three, and for school four, I’m behind in having my updates for the complete course shell up and ready to go. All that, plus my computer dying on me yesterday means not only are there wrenches being tossed in my machine, but several of them. Which I needs must juggle. Anyway.

That’s not counting the intense personal stuff happening right now too. Sheeeez you guys. And no, as usual, buy me a pint in person and maybe I’ll tell you a little about it. But there’s a little blog out there in the online world now (that’s very well written), on which you can see some of the story unfold. I won’t direct you there, to protect the not-so-innocent, but it is out there.

But hey! There are two events happening this week, in both of which I will be performing. One is an author’s reading series, on Thursday at Front Range, and the other is a politically themed burlesque show in Boulder, called Pussy Grabs Back. Either or both should be a lot of fun, so come one, come all…

Mini-Essay Contest Winner

As you’ll know if you’ve been following this blog for a while, lovely lurkers, each time I teach Comp 1. This semester’s winner is Bennett Fresh, discussing CGI vs. practical effects. Good job, everyone, and congrats to Mr. Fresh!


 

Real Fake Action

by Bennett Fresh

The art of special effects in film has a long and storied past, almost as long as the history of film itself. For more than a century, film has been the greatest storyteller available to the masses. From early nickelodeons to the blockbuster films of today, special effects have been used to suspend disbelief and transport audiences to new worlds. Practical effects, until very recently, have dominated the world of cinema. As computing power has become cheaper and more readily available, computer generated images have steadily risen in prominence. Many, including myself, have asked the question of whether or not CGI has been a detriment to film.  It is my belief that while CGI can be a powerful tool to help tell a story, it should be used sparingly.

George Méliès, the father of special effects, invented many of the techniques still used in film today. It was his work that laid the foundation for the effects that would captivate audiences and confound the laws of physics for more than a century. Considering the age of these early films, the effects have aged remarkably well. As time has progressed and the techniques pioneered by Méliès have become more refined, the films that make use of such effects continue to astound and amaze the audiences of today. Early computer generated imagery, on the other hand, does not possess the same luster it might have once had. Few examples from the early days of CGI are capable of producing the impact they intend and often produce little more than confused laughs from those accustomed to the more refined CGI of the modern era.

When producing a film, a filmmaker must consider all costs associated with telling their story. If the use of special effects is required, they must weigh each option carefully. CGI has an appreciable cost-to-benefit ratio when used for short sequences. As the length of a CGI sequence increases, the cost rises as the effectiveness drops. Take, for example, the less-is-more approach of Terminator 2. For those unfamiliar, the sequel to the original 1984 Terminator film introduces a polymorphic robotic foil to Arnie’s rigid, also robotic, protagonist. The scenes in which the phase changing takes place are short and dramatic. There is not much time to scrutinize the level of detail present, which lends greater power to the sequences that make use of CG. Even over two decades since its release, the liquid metal robot in T2 is still as convincing as it was in 1991. Contrast this with films that blow their entire budgets on CGI sequences that were glaringly awful even upon release, a great example being The Matrix Reloaded. The entire climax of the film revolves around a ten minute brawl between one hundred Agent Smiths that appear to be made out of silly putty and an occasionally solid Keanu Reeves. Here, even the end result does not justify the massive budget, as the action and gravity that the scene could have had is drowned in a sea of lumpy polygons that vaguely resemble Hugo Weaver in a black suit.

This is not so say that practical effects do not suffer from similar woes. The complexity of certain sequences can make practical effects prohibitively expensive, if not outright impossible. Although, unlike the big budget computer generated action sequences, absurdly expensive real fake action almost always pays off. As an example, let us look again at James Cameron’s Terminator 2. The specific scene to which I refer is the breathtaking helicopter pursuit, easily one of the most complex and dangerous stunt sequences ever filmed. The scene looks and feels real and will indeed have you “‘gespannt wie ein Flitzebogen,’ that is, on the edge of your seat,” (Anderson 1.6.10-11) because it is real. The action was all filmed in situ by James Cameron himself, as the stunt pilot scraped skids of the helicopter on the tarmac at seventy miles an hour over an artificially illuminated stretch of the Long Beach Terminal Island freeway. The lunatics who choreographed and participated in that chase produced one of the most convincing action sequences ever filmed.

Computer generated imagery is a relatively new tool for directors and filmmakers to express their stories on the screen. It has a great deal of potential and power if utilized correctly, just like any form of special effects. There are many examples of excellent films that benefited from using CGI, but there are many more examples where that is not the case. Practical effects, properly implemented, lend weight and believability to any scene in which they are used, with generally fewer catastrophic failures. Computer generated images would best be viewed as a spice that can enhance a film when used properly, or ruin a film when abused.

The Rock as the Scorpion King, looking like an awkward diorama from a history museum. ~Jenn

The Rock as the Scorpion King, looking like an awkward diorama from a history museum. ~Jenn

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Works Cited

Anderson, Wes. The Grand Budapest Hotel. Final Revision. 2013. Google. 3 Feb. 2017. https://d97a3ad6c1b09e180027-5c35be6f174b10f62347680d094e609a.ssl.cf2.rackcdn.com/film_scripts/FSP3825_TGBH_SCRIPT_BOOK_C6.pdf.

Stamm, Emily. “The Most Insanely Complex Stunts from Science Fiction and Fantasy Films.” i09, 31 Jan. 2014, https://io9.gizmodo.com/the-most-insanely-complex-stunts-from-science-fiction-a-1513419585. Accessed 31 Jan. 2017.

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Reflections on the Dregs of a Semester Past…

I’m reclining on my Sherlock chair, a cat taking a bath on me, writing this on my phone, lovely lurkers, so forgive any overlooked typos or autocorrect’s odd mistranslations.

As I (the holidays having passed) finally pick up my color-coded calendar to look at the overview of Spring semester coming up, I needs must tie up the loose ends of my thoughts on the events which colored the end of last semester.

Many many research papers abounded for me, work-wise, of course: both Comp 1 & 2 at Front Range and Staging Cultures at Metro all conclude with research papers, all of which took me the better part of two weeks to take care of. Topics included: all sorts of discussion of marginalized cultures and theatre; medical care for trans people; always a couple about gun control; a few about use of LSD for mental health treatments; the CRISPR gene; the beneficial effect of music and playing it; arts in the schools; the benefits of a mandatory minimum sentence; and the dangers of climate change. Apparently some of my Comp 1 students got me a tshirt that has “It’s on the syllabus” emblazoned on it, which I must fetch from them soon before the new semester begins. Such a sweet (self-aware) gesture!

Professional artistic endeavors ended up very satisfactorily–as you’ve seen here, I’m quite happy with how the fights from Outrageous Fortune turned out. What I haven’t had a chance to talk about, though, is the absolutely stellar production of Hand to God, which I was so impressed with, especially acting-wise, and would have been even if my fights hadn’t appeared on the stage. Meaningful, gripping, funny, and a frankly virtuoso performance by a brilliant young actor named John Hauser. You know your fights turned out well when, as the first blow falls (w/perfect angle and sound), the audience collectively catches its breath: “Ooo!” 

How would you choreograph a man smashing his own hand to a pulp with a hammer?


Being a part of both these productions was helpful in the healing process of the continuing stress of my domestic life but especially the most recent heartbreak, which occurred on opening day of OF. (Nope, not writing about that here: buy me a pint or two and we can chat about it if you like)…

But perhaps the most life-changing professional/artistic endeavor has been my experiences with Boulder Burlesque. Since joining the training program in October, I’ve had the happy opportunity to choreograph, perform, and slumber party with these amazing women (and men); and also work the enlightening (to me) and super-fun Kink Carnival. This last event has contributed to my continued growth in my sexual exploration and expression, as I am sort of starting from where I left off in my 20s in that area. For more about that sort of thing, Facebook-friend Valkyrie Rose, my burlesque persona. I may do simple things here like share basic events, but if this subject matter and my journey thereinto interests you further, you’ll find more of my musings about it on that profile.

That’s about it, lovely lurkers! I should be much more frequent a poster here now too, and stay tuned for another musing upon the upcoming semester. It’ll be a busy one…

I’m still here…

Hi lovely lurkers. I’m still here, never fear. In fact, I’ll be bringing you a review of Curious Theatre’s Hand To God before long. But I’m overwhelmed by emotional upheaval and also by the work that entails the end of the semester. I’ll see you at Winter Break.

This pretty much epitomizes my work these days: garters, grading, and beer.