stunts

Sign up for Advanced Stage Combat plea #4

And the reason this time is:

Strange and unusual weapons.

At Metro, the beginning Stage Combat class covers the basics of both unarmed and rapier techniques. And as you might imagine, the whole 16 weeks’ worth of time is necessary for the introduction and especially the practice, of the bare basics.

In the advanced class, everyone enters knowing the basics, basically (we of course do a review session on our first day), and so we can use that knowledge to move forward into other stuff. This coming semester, we’ll be doing broadswords and staffs, as you’ve already heard about.

But there’s other stuff we’ll cover, too: some have to do with harder versions of the basic weapons. For example, large group fights, sword fighting up and down stairs a la Errol Flynn, circular or erratic footwork in sword fighting, advanced taihenjutsu like dive rolls, simulated (and real) martial arts throws, falling from a height, etc. (See me below, playing around on a climbing wall with a past advanced class–we learned some aerial dance rope stuff as well as basic climbing, plus falling from a height.)

In the past, I’ve also done micro-units on martial arts styles and found weapons (which are normal everyday objects used as weapons–something that pops up in current theatre far more often than, say, swords), and then of course one can also use classic weapons techniques to inform other, more unusual ones.

For example, a knowledge of basic Japanese katana technique will make you pretty decent at wielding a lightsaber (and staff knowledge helps with that double-bladed number Darth Maul had).

This coming Fall (if I can get 12 students signed up), we will be doing a video-game fight unit. And wouldn’t it be cool if I got UCD’s renowned film department in on that project. Is mo-cap, animation, or film technique in our future? Will I bring this class (as I have done for one of our summer private courses) down to one of the Parkour studios in Denver for specialized training? Time will tell. That’s if I get the enrollment numbers.

A reminder: anyone can audit, but anyone attending the three schools on Auraria campus (MSU, CCD, and UCD) can sign up for this course. As of last time I checked, I had 6 enrolled, which is half the required number I need for the class to go.

So. What are you waiting for?

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Plea #2: sign up for Advanced Stage Combat

Reason Number 2 of thousands:

Six foot staffs.

Even in SAFD land, the six foot staff (what they call quarterstaff) is not often taught in the basic stage combat courses. This is certainly understandable to a certain extent, as it’s not one of those weapons that most actors will most often find themselves wielding.

This coming fall semester, however, I will be adding staff back into the Stage Combat curriculum. Fun fact: when I first designed the beginning Stage Combat course for Metro back in 2005, there were three weapons systems they all learned: Unarmed, Staff, and Sword (rapier). I later axed the staff unit, for to spend more time with the swords and the finals, and with the knowledge that the staff (though basic weapons training for me at the time in martial arts) wasn’t really a fundamental weapon most beginners would need to know about.

But it’s so very much fun!! And so this fall we will be wielding them again for the first time in about a dozen years. So if you’re an Auraria student or want to audit, get on your registration now so I can hit my minimum enrollment before cancellation. Do eet.

Stage combat as a ryu

Back in my first martial arts training experience, I had the good fortune to train at a dojo that was intensely focused, complete, and rigorously disciplined in the instruction of its myriad arts. All the ryu-ha put together made for some high quality, authentic ninja training that has formed the base and foundation for many other practices in the many (many!) years of my life since then.

One of the documents I’ve come across as I cull my belongings is a page of musing re: making stage combat a facet of the trainings offered at the school. Before I recycle this (handwritten) document, allow me to share these thoughts of mine from 2004 with you, lovely lurkers.

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When most people think about the martial arts these days, one of two things come to mind: sport tournaments, and the movies. Therefore, most non-martial-arts people have a completely distorted view of what real martial arts (read: actually used in combat or self-defense) are really about.

As practitioners of ninpo, I feel it’s important to know what the fake stuff constitutes, so that we can freely communicate the differences to those who inquire. Also, as practitioners of theatre, I feel stage combat is one of the most important and useful trainings one can get in the theatrical arts.

Fake fighting and real fighting go hand in hand in this culture. Mark Grove isn’t so crazy in his inclusion of stunt work and stage combat in his dojo. I’d like to embrace this cultural idea of martial arts as theatrical, and include a branch of training in this art. In reverse, too, hopefully those only trained in the fake stuff can then also come to us, to learn what a real punch feels like to throw, and especially to receive, and etc.

I get poked in the sacrum with my brother’s boshiken. My first black belt test, ninpo taijutsu, at the Genki Kai dojo. Also pictured: sensei Jason Boughn.

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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Fight Clip Club

This selection from The Four Musketeers is a favorite one of mine and many of my compatriots in the stage combat profession. The main reason for this is twofold: 1) you can see it’s mainly the actors doing the choreography, not stunt doubles, and 2) it’s one of the more realistic sword fight scenes you can find in cinema.

Normally when you’re talking swordfighting, particularly The Three Musketeers, you think Expressionistic / Swashbuckling, right? Sure you do–we all do. This isn’t that. It’s arguably Expressionistic because of the length of the fight, but I’d actually call it Realistic / Dramatic instead. Can you see why I do?

(For a detailed rundown on my two-tiered classification system of stage combat, here.)

(Also: it’s period-realistic more than most, as it’s actually rapier-and-dagger, not just rapier, not random-pirate-y-sword-we-thought-looked-old-timey…)

Fight Clip Club

I haven’t seen John Wick, but I have heard the fight scenes are decent to good. For today’s Fight Clip Club, here’s a little behind-the-scenes of how Keanu Reeves trained to get ready to perform this fight-heavy role. Apart from the distinct flavor of fawning, this is a neat little window into the film actor training world. (thanks, Kevin I.!)

Daredevil Article

Check out this wee article I wrote for Your Boulder, lovely lurkers! It’s on Boulder daredevil from back in the day, Ivy Baldwin. No, Marvel hasn’t written any comics about him, but maybe they should… Excerpt below, and find the whole shebang at YourBoulder.com.

Nevada_IvyBaldwinBefore Evel Knievel, way before Jackass, Ivy Baldwin ran away with the circus at age 12. It was there that he learned the two skills for which he was most renowned: tightrope walking and ballooning. He was in fact a balloonist not only for show, but also served in the Spanish-American War, where he also worked in the Signal Corps…

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Fight Clip Club

Fight Clip Club is a thing I used to do with my Stage Combat students–it was a chance for them to look closer at the fight scenes they enjoy in their favorite entertainment. There were certain prescribed analyses I had them do to show me they were able to see what was really going on in the scene based on the things they’d learned in class.

I’m going to start doing my own version of the Fight Clip Club for you, lovely lurkers. This first one was shared by one of my random Facebook friends in the field, and I commented that it was “way too long, and also glorious.”
I’m sure you’ll agree that this fight would fall under the “expressionistic” and “swashbuckling” categories in my fight-styles system, and what makes this that much more fun to watch for me is the vast difference in style. You’ve got the Old School Movie Kung Fu vs. Classic Western Boxing, and it works very well.

UPDATE:
I’m noticing that the video may show as private? Here’s a link just in case. https://www.facebook.com/190816697621587/videos/949993588370557/

A Fight Recreation

If only there was a MSU stage combat club still: I’d ask which one you guys want to recreate ourselves. Below see the recreation of a fight scene from 300. It’s neato that they kept all their behind the scenes stuff visible–i.e. pads, mats, etc. I agree with the commenter that says this makes it more interesting, and actually I’d aver that it makes their fight look more interesting than the over-produced one from the movie. Thanks, i09, for posting the comparison.

Links That Are Link-esque

Here’s another linky list, lovely lurkers (oo, alliteration!), for your brain food happiness.   ~Jenn

Two articles re: William Gibson / Neuromancer supplied to me by Friend Harold, as I am now reading its sequel at his request. A Global Neuromancer and this one from Wired magazine.

This podcast ep done by  Friend Jason M. during which he and I hash out the “Genre Wars.” Many more linkish

This meme is about logical fallacies, which is one of the things I taught my Comp students about recently.

This meme is about logical fallacies, which is one of the things I taught my Comp students about recently.

links on the podcast’s page, too–all stuff we discuss during the ep. It’s not a new one, but I had recently re-shared it to my other social media, so.

Friend Ian’s new book is out soon, and I wrote him a Foreward. I was a beta reader for this one, and I highly enjoyed it. It’s called The Lion and the Five Deadly Serpents.

I will be helping Friend Corbin out with his latest film (coordinating stunts, natch). Here’s his film production site, and the insane 48-hr-competition short called “Spinners” for which I also supplied the fight scenes.

Did you hear the big news about Patrick Rothfuss’ brilliant not-quite-completed trilogy?

Have you followed the other websites/blogs to which I contribute my writings? There are three: Your Boulder, Nerds in Babeland, and Sherlock’s Home. All three are worth following, not just for my work alone.