Friday, September 23, 2011

Tearin' up the Town

Forget about Zeus ordering the Kraken to "Destroy Argos!" in Clash of the Titans, a bunch of students at the Vancouver Film School issued the order to "Destroy Vancouver" for an assignment a couple of years ago, and they didn't pull any punches.

Though it was brought to my attention just a couple of days ago, it looks like the "Destroy Vancouver" project has been online for a couple of years. That being said, it's definitely worth watching for fans of science fictional mayhem - whether you're a Lower Mainlander or someone who's only visited the city, or even if you've never been in this neck of the woods at all. Clicking on the link takes to you to a standard Google map of Vancouver, with a number of neighbourhoods or landmark buildings flagged. Rather than giving you the standard photo and address of said building or neighbourhood, clicking on each flag gives a summary of a short visual effects reel put together by a particular student who's chosen that location as his or her target for annihilation. From there you can link to Youtube to watch the destruction in question.

Overall, the students' work is pretty awesome. There's a lot of creativity in the choices of means of devastation and a fantastic attention to detail in depicting it. The degree of SFX artwork varies from reel to reel - some are spot-on photorealistic, while others are good but still have the somewhat animated look of, say, the later additions to the Babylon 5 franchise. The length varies too, with some features running just a few seconds to show off post-apocalyptic cityscapes, while others go for more than a minute blasting out action-packed SF mini movies.

Of the 19 reels offered on the map, my top 5 favourites were:

5) Whale City by Taeyoung Kim - No actual destruction of the Downtown business district in this one, but it's just so pretty to watch that I had to include it in the top 5.

4) Experiment 8 by Juan Carlos Mendoza - Another reel featuring a gigantic sea animal, but this time, this beastie runs amok in and on the Vancouver Sun and Province building and the nearby plaza. While the lead actress could have done a better job playing the reporter, the berserk mega octopus was top notch.

3) The Levis HVC by Nicholas Markel - A well-animated and funny public service announcement about personally-owned flying cars versus public transit. That being said, I still want my own flying car!

2) The untitled robotic orb short from Ed Holdsworth felt cold and downright creepy. There's a price to pay for being a Yaletown yuppie I guess.

1) The Steam Tank by Chris Paul - A steampunk tank slugging it out with a sniper up in the old Sun Tower on the Downtown East Side - what's not to love?!

I don't know if this is a regular assignment at VFS, but if it is, it's certainly something the organizers of VCon should incorporate as a special feature in the movie room. I'd love to see a showcase of new SF shorts like this become a standard part of the con. Too late to forward the idea to the con organizers to consider for this year's event (VCon 36 kicks off Friday Sept. 30 for anyone still thinking of attending); I'll have to remember to include this in my suggestions for next year.

Thanks to Steve for passing along the "Destroy Vancouver" site.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dead Air

By strange coincidence, it's been a week for the undead as far as TV & online video watching around our house goes.

First up, this week's installment of Epic Mealtime featured Harley, Muscles Glasses and the rest of the gang of gluttons getting all zombied-up to cook - brraaaaaaaainssss! (what else?) Not sure whether it was calf or lamb brains on the menu, but as usual their concoctions looked pretty tasty.

Then last night's episode of CBC's The Debaters (episode 15, halfway through for anyone following the link) devoted its second round to grappling with the question of "Zombies vs. Vampires" - which is the superior undead? Comedians/pundits Kristeen Von Hagen (pro-vampire) and Pete Zedlacher (pro-zombie) traded barbs that were worth a chuckle. Best shots of the debate:
Von Hagen: "Zombies shuffle around slowly and mumble - so they're like an episode of The Golden Girls."
Zedlacher: "Vampires don't go into your house until they're invited - like Jehovah's Witnesses."

Throw in the occasional rewatch of an episode or two of the 90's reboot of Dark Shadows on Netflix and it seems my viewing habits are getting rather grave. Grave. Get it? Grave? Haha, haha, ha, huh, uh. Yeah, that joke died.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Come On, Geeks: Get Out There and Do Some Good

Sunday started far too early for my liking, but it was a beautiful day for a walk in the park for a good cause. My wife and I got up early and drove into Vancouver to Stanley Park to participate in the annual Parkinson SuperWalk fundraiser, hosted in this neck of the woods by the Parkinson Society of British Columbia. My mom was diagnosed with Parkinson's several years ago when she was in her mid-late 50's, so this event's got a personal meaning to me. As a result, my wife and I have been taking part for the past few years.

Shortly after arriving we met our friend Jill Sanagan, co-owner of White Dwarf Books, who was there with her father who's fighting Parkinson Disease (the picture, from left to right: Jill, her father, and the tubby gent in the cap is me). It's always nice to chat with people at events like these, but even better when you run into friends, and most especially when they're fellow SF fans turning out to do some good.

Once things got under way we split up: Jill and her dad doing the shorter 2km walk around Lost Lagoon, and my wife and I heading off for the 7km walk along the Seawall and then through the heart of the park (I lumber along at a pretty quick march, but the wife likes to run and goes tearing off, waiting once in a while to take the odd photo as I catch up, then bolting to the finish line). I ended up finishing with a time of about 1:13, and I'm very grateful to the friends who so generously sponsored my efforts.

The point of this wandering little tale though is not to brag about my speed (or lack thereof) in taking a stroll by the sea on a sunny morning, or to teeter atop a moral high-horse, but to remind all of my fellow fanboys and fangirls out there that you can do good in your community. It isn't that hard and every little bit counts for a lot.

I say this because I know far too many geeks who don't really contribute much to the community. Oh, they're good friends and nice enough people. They work hard and are wonderful to geek-out with about this book or that movie or TV show, but they don't give much back. They don't do fundraisers or volunteer or support the efforts of others. And really, I have to ask, why not?

Sure, everybody's busy. Work takes up an obscene amount of time for most people these days. People have to, and should, make time for their families and friends. Then there's allotting time for reading or watching whatever or gaming or going online to endlessly rant about the afore-mentioned stuff. But that's not really enough. If you don't do anything, you don't make your community better in a general sense; you miss out on an opportunity to broaden your horizons, test your skills, meet new people and help turn a bad situation around; and let's face it, if you don't reach out to others, you're feeding into the stereotype of the socially-crippled nerd holed-up in his basement disconnected from the outside world. To be fair, it seems to be a social trend these days for a lot of people, not just geeks, to tune out their surrounding physical community and to just focus on themselves and their personal networks. But that's not something that will make us a better society or better individuals in the long run. And it's something we can change.

To make communities that work well, that are the places where we truly want to live, to better ourselves and create a better impression of who we are, we have to give something back. And the thing is, geeks are the perfect people to do that. We're smart, creative, hard-working, highly-motivated and highly-networked. We're the perfect people to draw attention to a good cause and to raise money to support an effort to make things better. We should be leading the charge!

There are lots of cases where fanboys and fangirls are making things better, at blood drives and community events and fundraisers for all kinds of special causes, and that's awesome. But there are plenty who don't. And they should.

So here's my challenge, fellow geeks: get out there and do some good! Find a good cause, any cause that helps other people or makes your community better and get behind it. Donate your time, maybe a little spare funding, or go out and be the fundraiser or contribute your special area of expertise. Round up your local Brown Coat chapter or Trek starship crew or Gilligan's Island Ginger vs Mary-Anne debate society or whatever and pitch in at a community event. Strike out on your own and join a volunteer group or raise funds for a charity. Put in an hour or two in a one-shot effort, or contribute on an ongoing basis. If you know someone who's holed-up in their basement not doing anything, give them a verbal kick in the ass and get them participating. And if your friends are involved in something and they ask for your support, back them to the hilt. The bottom line is that the old cliche is right: we're all in this together so you might as well make an effort to make things better. Find a good cause and get involved.