Friday, December 28, 2012


2012 was the worst year of my life. Such terrible things happened in continuous waves of debilitating awfulness that I spent most of the year staring at the ceiling in shock, seeing nothing, unable to write or even think beyond grief and despair.

Needless to say, not many blogs were written. However, here are some fairly coherent posts from between ghastly events in annus horribilus 2012:

MOCAP IS NOT ANIMATION  it's actors in Spandex.
WINEGLASS DESIGN - Form doesn't always follow function.
COMFORTING and CONSOLING - How to comfort a friend.
TRUE STORY - A random phone call in NYC. 
CHOOSING A CHAIR - Designers: respect human anatomy, please.
SCIENCE IN CGI ANIMATION - Cloth, skin and hair.
LIKE A MOVIE - Real life has a little harshness in it. 
The DANNY BOYLE SHOW - The Olympics opening ceremony.
The PORTS OF PARIS - Le Port des Champs Elysées
GOOD READS - Le Carré and Proulx
The CATCHER IN THE RYE - JD Salinger's lasting influence
CHOOSING AN AGENT - Tell us about yourself.
ARTS AND MUSES - Writing has more muses than art
STAR WARS and DISNEY MARKETEERS -Film brandification. 
MISOGYNY IN ANIMATION - A woman's place is behind the camera.
          Drawing of lovely Natalia Makarova in Swan Lake by N.Lumière ©

Friday, November 30, 2012


For the last decade the “changing” role of women in animation has often been mentioned but not much has changed for women in the industry. There are many female producers in film and animation, but it’s among artists that the situation is still in the Dark Ages. 
     Obviously, a stronger word than sexism is called for when discussing the way women are treated in the animation industry. Female animation artists who are single mothers or just plain single are too often  ignored, dismissed, groped, harassed and paid .77c per male dollar. Wives and girlfriends of animators are an exception, since women attached in some way to a powerful male are paid more and considered for promotion to head of departments or to direct a feature film.
    This all started with Walt Disney himself who was notorious for his dismissive attitudes toward women. Listen to his description of SNOW WHITE’s “Grumpy” in this clip. He refused to hire female artists as animators, relegating them to “pretty girl” inkers and painters. This is a famous rejection  letter from Walt Disney to a female artist and the website comments are revealing. Even though misogyny was prevalent at the time, the same attitudes still exist at Hollywood animation studios in 2012, when such prejudice is not only unacceptable but illegal. Again, the comments by professional animators (some female) are telling.
    There’s a common culture of disrespect, even contempt, for women in the medium. Often veiled, sometimes hidden but always present. It’s this additional burden that women have to deal with when fighting for and assuming the responsibility of directing a feature film and heading a department. Artistic leadership is hard enough without having to deal with sabotage, disrespect and hostility from both women and men.
     Protest about harassment, inequity in promotion and pay is not tolerated in animation studios unless backed up by a law suit and suing your employer is not conducive to getting promoted or to even being able to do your job in a hostile work place. “If you don’t like it here you can leave” is what protesters are usually told and not only by men. Women don’t speak up about inequities for fear of being called shrill, harsh, PC harpies then fired or frozen out. What is politically correct or harsh about being paid properly for one’s work and not having to dread being belittled or undermined? 
          The fact that there are only five women directors in Hollywood animation is certainly not due to a lack of ability, talent or experience among female animators. It’s a reflection of animation management’s shameful reluctance to hire women for leadership positions. Why should audiences be deprived of half the animation directing talent in Hollywood just because of ignorance and bigotry? Why should female animators not be allowed to realise their ambitions?
     Watch this interview with soft-spoken, bamboo-strong Jennifer Yuh-Nelson, director of KUNG FU PANDA 2. She’s not only talented but  also smart, a clear-thinking, serene and natural leader who plays violent video games and directs fights and explosions with flair and panache, probably causing animation industry management types to fall off their chairs in amazement.
     Another pioneer animation director is Brenda Chapman who, after she was fired as sole director of BRAVE, left Pixar and went to work as a consultant for Lucasfilm Animation (ironically, now owned by Disney/Pixar). Her firing garnered so much adverse publicity for Disney/Pixar and for discrimination in the animation industry that it would be a shame not to follow her example and stand up to industry bigotry and bullying.
     Here’s what monkeys do when they’re treated unequally. Why would women in animation not do the same with equal anger and justification? Studios count on our fear of being fired for simply standing up for our rights. When women in animation refuse to be intimidated and stand up to the studios with precedent-setting lawsuits, they will put a stop to these unnecessary and unpleasant issues in an art and an age when they shouldn’t exist.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Princess Merida is an unforgettable character, with her willful ways, wild hair and luminous eyes, but the story is a bit of a mess and suffers from too many directors (Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews, co-director Steve Purcell), too many writers (Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews. Steve Purcell and Irene Mecchi, the only actual screenwriter on the film) and too much studio interference.
    If Brenda Chapman, the original director, hadn’t been fired by Pixar  halfway through the film, BRAVE may well have been clearer and more fluid. Considering the additional directors, writers and the usual formulaic elements tossed in to make the film appeal to the widest possible audience (boys, fights, female boyishness, cartoony male buffoons, goofy sidekicks) it’s not surprising that the pacing suffered, the story got muddled and the director’s vision blurred. Many hands don’t make light work here, too many cooks spoil the broth.
    The only part of the formula that’s missing is the hero. Merida is both hero and heroine and that’s unusual and a cool thing. Too bad she isn’t allowed to be a competent, confident girl without having to swagger, shoot and (improbably) muck out the stables. We understand that Disney’s girly princesses are out of favor but do all future heroines have to be extreme tomboys? 

- Her hair! Bravo to whoever designed Merida’s hair! What a fabulous mass of wild, bouncy curls that even get suitably darker and flattened when wet. Give that designer an Oscar.
- Her luminous eyes have character and charm despite being lit like dolls’ eyes.   
- Her skin is soft-looking and translucent and altogether lovely.
- The sumptuous shiny fabrics that move so brilliantly: heavy satins, brocades and tapestry. Not to mention all those kilts.
- Most of the lighting is astonishing. As beautiful and moody as any Vilmos Zsigmond cinematography.
- The excellent acting: Merida’s nose-wrinkling grimace, the close up when we see her thinking, Elinor’s expressions when tasting the magic cake, even the cretinous suitors’ expressions are wonderful.
- The witch is hilarious, so full of sparkle and personality and her mouth movements for the dialogue are terrific.
- The horse is wonderfully heavy, furry and chicken.
- Loved the will-o’-the-wisps.

- Merida and Elinor’s little individual teeth were quite disconcerting.   
- The music wasn’t as inspiring as it could have been, heck, bagpipes can be so stirring.
- the staging of some important moments lacks clarity, drama and often, originality. For example, the split arrow from ROBIN HOOD.
- the story quickly degenerated into a thundering, crashing cacophony of brawls, chases, gallops, corny gags and sentimental music meant to please every type of audience. Once again creativity and vision have been sacrificed for profit.
- The writing is seriously overshadowed by the stunning graphics. 
- And there's the ever-popular but unpleasant superwomen vs. bumbling males concept that’s just as nasty as the opposite. Do we really want kids to grow up thinking men are fools?
- the night scenes are too dark: a black bear at night, no matter how glossy, is hard to see without proper lighting. More moonlight may have helped.
- The male characters were not only all buffoons, but far too cartoony (Fergus is three times the size of Elinor).
- Not showing the morphing of the bear into the new and improved Elinor is a let-down. We love morphing and transformations so, having the Elinor-to-bear transformation happen under a blanket is bad enough without being deprived of the reverse.
    BRAVE is the first movie I viewed on my Kindle Fire and, while I love the intimate experience of curling up with a movie, the film didn’t generate the warm, fiery feelings I expected.

Friday, November 2, 2012


What does Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm Ltd. mean? It means a new trilogy of the iconic but worn out STAR WARS films and relentless marketing of the brand. The trend for major Hollywood film studios these days is to produce very few original films and instead, spend more time and money on financing and developing outside films, then marketing and merchandising the hell out of them. 
    By buying up creative companies like MARVEL, PIXAR and now LUCASFILM, which includes such stars of the movie business as Skywalker Ranch, ILM visual effects and ILM animation (producer of the Oscar-winner RANGO), the Walt Disney Company seems to be following this trend and has dropped all but a  pretense of creativity to do what they do best: merchandising and marketing.
    The Disney Company is the only movie studio in Hollywood not owned by some giant corporation because it IS a giant corporation, with a very long list of assets, including a publisher (Hyperion), hotels and the Disney Cruise Line.
    Popular opinion seems to be that nothing good will come out of this merger. This is a shame when you think of all the genuinely creative and innovative (mainly animated) films made by Walt Disney himself, who won twenty-six Academy Awards and seven Emmy Awards, giving him more awards and nominations than anybody else. He was also a marketing innovator but these awards were for invention, creativity and risk-taking in film, not for marketing, yet it’s the marketing that endures.
    The company’s concentration on profit has snuffed out almost all creativity. Many talented, enthusiastic artists and film makers fled Disney for more creative studios like Pixar and ILM and now find themselves right back where they started. But understanding that Disney isn't really trying to be creative is somehow reassuring, suggesting that they could
still do it if they wanted to.
    Who will be the new innovator and risk-taker? Will The Weinstein Company ever produce an animated film? Will princess Leia make a lucrative Disney princess? Will the Walt Disney Animation Studios ever return to the one truly creative and innovative thing that made them famous and that audiences still want to see: hand-drawn animation? Perhaps the best we can look forward to is a stop-motion animated film of Disney merchandise.                                                       *

Friday, October 26, 2012


Not too long ago, Disney swore off their princess and fairytale formula that had worked so well for decades to make leaden films like ATLANTIS, THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE, TREASURE PLANET and also the charming and beautiful LILO AND STITCH


Monday, October 8, 2012


Using a new in-house technology called Meander, a small exploratory team at Walt Disney Animation Studios explores new directions in animation in the much talked-about short PAPERMAN, which seeks to combine the charm of pencil animation (2D) and the practicality of CGI (3D). Here's how it was done.
     “Drawing can have a really powerful, visceral effect on the viewer. You can create anger and surprise or anguish with just a few lines of a pencil,” says director John Kahrs, an animator on THE INCREDIBLES and TANGLED/RAPUNZEL. “It  really goes back to working with Glen Keane on TANGLED, watching him draw over all the images."
     In this interview with John Kahrs , we see some of the aforementioned hand-drawn magic from Peter Pan and the hand-drawn model sheets for the PAPERMAN characters.  See how your eyes perk up as soon as pencil drawing appears on the screen?
     There’s a lyrical look to the moving pencil line that has never been captured by CGI, a look that audiences, as well as animators, yearn to see back on the screen, a look that animation studios seem determined to banish forever for its supposed slow costliness. They tell us that we don’t want to see old-fashioned, pencil animation, we want cutting edge digital stuff. Well, actually, we’d like to see both on the screen.
     The fact that this short is about the power of paper and was named PAPERman, seems to endorse that yearning to return to paper animation and the magic of a pencil line. Although the Meander software gives a certain looseness to usually stiff computer animation, it still doesn’t have the free-flowing exuberance of a pencil line.
     Digital animation has been used in hand-drawn animation films for decades, like the spectacular CGI ballroom in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and this combination works seamlessly. But a pencil line
incorporated into CGI still seems overwhelmed by the digital medium.

    The PAPERMAN short premiered at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in June 2012 and its theatrical release will be on November 2, 2012 when it's shown with the feature film Wreck-It Ralph.
    Go and see what you think.


Saturday, September 8, 2012


This famous best-seller never won the Pulitzer or the National Book Award but still sells 250,00 copies a year sixty-one years after it was first published, it has 3,215 customer reviews on Amazon, yet isn’t available as an e-book. Its impact on US literature in particular has been H-bomb-like.
      I just finished re-reading CATCHER IN THE RYE and confess that I skipped many pages without losing the thread of the story. Sacrilege, I know but the page-skipping is not only because I’d read this book before, it was also because I was thoroughly exasperated by the repetition of the words “stupid, crumby, dumb, goddam” and by the tortured, inner-monologue-of-an-adolescent style that has dominated US literature for the last sixty-one years. This is not Salinger’s fault, it’s like those who see Eisenstein’s BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN for the first time and find it derivative because it’s been copied so often.
      CATCHER IN THE RYE was the original, the template; it was fresh, new and innovative when it was published in July 1951. JD Salinger wrote masterfully and specifically about American adolescent anguish and exploration. Even more specifically, he wrote about a privileged New York City male adolescent’s angst.
      But so many subsequent writers have copied this solipsistic style (and it has become a style, if not a downright genre), that it has become frayed, overused and a cliché. I felt that I was dragging decades worth of books along as I read.

      Adult characters written this way sound self-obsessed and childish and are a pain to read about. You want to give them a kick in the pants and say stop sniveling and grow the hell up. Sixty-one years of imitating JD. Salinger’s style is too much. There are all sorts of other ways to convey inner life without sounding like Holden Caulfield. Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert for example, or Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov, le Carré’s Jonathan Pine.
      Finding a distinctive inner voice for a character is a difficult and wonderful thing to achieve. But very often, as in the case of Holden Caulfield, it’s claustrophobic. Little context or outer life is provided, which is understandable in an anxious adolescent, but boring and unbelievable in adult characters. I want to know where the thinking is taking place, how others react to the thinker and how the surroundings smell, feel, taste and look.
      Jonathan Franzen
uses Holden-esque voices and so does Jennifer Egan, both masterful writers but each subjects us to childish, impotent thinking from their adult characters. Jonathan Safran Foer imposes a lot of claustrophobic Caulfielderies in EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE and the voice is another male child struggling to undestand life in Manhatten. Enough already. Salinger’s is not the only acceptable style of American writing. Steinbeck and Hemingway wrote beautifully about inner life. So did Ray Bradbury, Eudora Welty, Truman Capote, Kurt Vonnegut, Stephen King, Toni Morrison, Paul Theroux,  Joan Didion and Saul Bellow.
      Is this overuse of one style because publishers, like Hollywood producers, only trust
formulas and make franchises of a prior success?  Maybe so. Or is it because readers really like reading the same style over and over again? Maybe not, despite the massive sales which may be due to book clubs, schools and readers who feel obliged to read a classic.             
       Time to let Holden go, don't you think?

Sunday, August 26, 2012


The Muses started out as nymphs then evolved into the goddess daughters of Mnemosyne and Zeus.
KALLIOPE (Calliope) – Muse of epic poetry - symbol: an iPad.
KLIO (Clio) – Muse of history – symbol: a scroll.
ERATO Muse of erotic and lyrical poetry – symbol: a kithara (hefty lyre).

EUTERPE – muse of music, song, elegiac poetry – symbol: an aulos (flute).
MELPOMENE – muse of tragedy – symbol: a sad mask.
POLYHYMNIA – muse of  pantomime, rhetoric, hymns - symbol: a veil.
TERPSICHORE – muse of dance and choral music – symbol: lyre.
THALIA – muse of comedy – symbol: a happy mask.
URANIA – muse of astronomy and geometry – symbols: globe, compass.

Presumably because we need all the help we can get, writers get the first seven muses but artists get none. What? It’s not as if there was no art in ancient Greece, heck, you can see some of it above. This is puzzling. Of course there is ATHENA the goddess of Arts and Crafts but she’s not a muse. Muses are goddesses but, apparently, goddesses aren’t muses.

Anyway, since there are nine muses, why not nine arts? I’ll see your muses and raise you three arts:
     1) ART (painting, drawing)
     2) POETRY (we assume this includes literature)
     4) DANCE
     5) MUSIC
     7) CINEMA
     8) FRAGRANCE  (or  COMICS. . .  More on comics.)
The CINEMA would have all the muses for inspiration and the muses of COMICS would have to be Hergé, Moebius and Gil Kane. But who'd be the muses of Architecture, Fragrance and haute cuisine?  
 Any ideas?
                                                      Disney's muses from HERCULES                                            

Monday, August 20, 2012


When soliciting the services of a literary agent, authors are urged to write an exquisitely-wrought query letter that follows strict guidelines and also includes a taste of our writing style, including an irresistibly intriguing sentence that will “hook” agents and make them instantly yearn to read our book.

In other words, it’s our job to interest the agent in 300 words or fewer. This is an understandable request and an enjoyable challenge but I’d like to respectfully suggest that agents do the same for us. Pique our interest in a similar way. I too would like a taste of the agenting style and personality of the person who’s going to represent me in the publishing world. A well-crafted sentence, preferably written by you the agent, that will hook me, show me what kind of person I’d be working with and make me want to write many books for you to represent. Example: “I’m a soft-hearted hand-holder and will nurse you and your book along. I like kittens and ice cream.” Or “I’m a hands-off agent but a ferocious contract negotiator. My hobbies are target shooting, fencing and chess.”

There’s precious little personal information on most agent’s websites. Words like: “Handles, seeks, represents” are what usually follow an agent’s CV and list of
represented authors. Not much to go on when making a choice. You may have a fabulous reputation but how are we to know about it? Occasionally an online interview gives some insight but it’s a rare agent who’s generous enough to write about what they’re like and what they like. I’m so grateful when I come across these agents and always so sorry when they don't represent my type of fiction.

Agents need writers as much as writers need them in this age of self-publication and e-books. Without us, you’d have nothing to represent, nothing to get a percentage of. Without you, who’d know about our scintillating work, let alone publish it? It also seems you have so many queries you don't have time to respond unless you're interested; providing more information on what you're looking for would cut down on misdirected queries. So, agents, please give us something more than a photo and a CV to base our choice on. After all we give you a whole book to judge us by. The least you could do is give us a well-crafted paragraph.    

Sunday, August 12, 2012


JOHN LE CARRRE knows how to create ambiance and whole characters with one sentence, sometimes, one word. His characters always writhe with thought and anguish and his plots are never dull although recently they’ve not had the same empirical intimacy as his spy novels. Le Carré is one of the few male writers who can create not only a believable female character but one who lives thrillingly on the page and with whom a female reader can identify; like Tess, in THE CONSTANT GARDNER. Rachel Weisz won as Oscar for playing her exactly as vividly written. Le Carré can do back-story like nobody else, you hardly notice you’ve slipped into it and you're even sorry to get back to the main story. None of the movies made from his books have come close to doing the books justice which, I think, tells you how good his writing is. Or maybe, how crap the directors are at capturing his worlds. It’s not the actors’ fault, they’re always wonderful but I think you have to be English to successfully direct a le Carré novel. The wonderful BBC television series of TINKER, TAILOR, SAILOR, SPY almost captured Smiley’s tortured but razor-sharp persona and the general murk of the times. A now we can look forward to the film of A MOST WANTED MAN, with Robin Wright, possibly Willem Dafoe and directed by Anton Corbijn.
My favorites: THE HONORABLE SCHOOLBOY,  A PERFECT SPY, THE NIGHT MANAGER (Soon to be a major motion picture from Brad Pitt’s production company and Paramount Pictures).

ANNIE PROULX can break your heart and make you squirm. She knows that terrible things can and do happen to people and this is such a relief from relentlessly unrealistic happy outcomes we usually find in books and movies.  She knows life is hard and unrewarding for most people, that we tell ourselves too many lies based on television shows and movies. Harsh reality is the only villain in many of her stories. CLOSE RANGETHE SHIPPING NEWS                                                                   

Sunday, August 5, 2012


 When my friend Sam (whose real name is Ralph) bought a new boat in the UK, he sailed her back home to Cannes through the beautiful canals of France and on the way, he stopped in the Port de Paris. Who knew there was a port in Paris?  In fact there are many, including: le Port des Champs Elysées, le Port de la Concorde, le Port des Tuileries (The best way to get to the Louvre: tie up near the Pont du Carrousel, step off the boat and there you are.)  
     What a wonderful thing to get a call from an old friend who usually only writes once a year at Christmas time from Cannes which he considers the centre of the universe: “Come to dinner and see my new home.” And what another wonderful thing to be able to take a taxi to the Port de la Concorde instead of a TGV to visit Sam at home. 
     The new boat (it’s considered crass to call a yacht a yacht, apparently) was much more luxurious and comfortable than Sam’s previous boat. Its gleaming wood paneled “salon”— I’m not good at nautical terms—was warm and cozy and Sam's dinner, made in the tiny galley, was delicious. Afterwards, the bliss of cognacs on the poop deck patio overlooking the magnificent Pont Alexandre III with the Seine slapping at the quai. 
     What a wonderful thing to be able to move your home around the world and find a different city at the end of your gangplank every now and then.  
     I subsequently spent many summers in Cannes on Sam’s boat although I’m not really a boat person.  I tend to like my boats attached to a quai and I panic if we put out to sea; all that vastness and deepness and wetness with whales and octopi, ugh.  But I do enjoy bobbing about, finding my sea legs and having endless summer meals on deck with a chilled rosé and radishes carved like roses and lots of laughs.  I like being able to walk down to the shops for chocolate truffles, saucisson à l'ail, soup de poissons and the other fabulous food to be found on the rue d’Antibes and in the pungent market. 
     It’s a wonderful thing to get up in the morning and see the misty blue Esterel, Le Suquet dominating the orange tiled roofs of the old town, smell the marine diesel fuel and hear the sound of rigging slapping against masts.


Sunday, July 29, 2012


The logo was a fail, the intestinal Orbit tower was a puzzle, the security was a bit of a mess but the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony was just right: fun, exciting, uplifting, eccentric and quintessentially British. 
     On Friday night, Danny Boyle was king of the world  and deservedly so.  What a wonderful job he did of defining Britishness when Britons themselves have been wondering recently what that meant.  Often mistaken for stuffy, phlegmatic, dour, reserved, self-deprecating, under-stated, class-conscious, tea-swilling, monarchist fox hunters, the Olympic Brits surprised the world (and occasionally, themselves) with their colorful exuberance and multi-cultural enthusiasm. Even the Queen got into the Olympic swing of it.  “Good evening Mr. Bond,” she said in that unmistakable and un-contradictable voice. Wouldn’t you have loved to have been there when they pitched her the idea?  And how breath-taking and travel-inducing was that beautifully photographed panorama of London during the James Bond helicopter flight? The IOC owns and jealously guards that footage, but look at this “making of”  video shot in May 2012. 
     Didn’t you feel comfortably enveloped by the familiar sights and sounds in the opening ceremony soup?  No need to be British to know JK Rowling, Voldemort, Shakespeare, Hugh Grant, Mary Poppins, Mr. Bean, the Beatles, Queen, Muse and the delicacy of Thomas Heatherwick’s work, so beautifully represented in the Olympic cauldron, a flame sculpture, not just another ”bowl on a stick," as he put it.  British culture has influenced and entertained the world for centuries.
     By the way, did you notice SHREK in the movie clips?  Shrek?  A DreamWorks film franchise, based on a character created by an American cartoonist. Was he included because he has a sort of Scottish accent?  Because he’s voiced by Mike Myers whose parents were English?  Or just because Danny Boyle likes him? 
     The only down side of the opening ceremony was NBC’s atrocious decision to ignore the live ceremony and delay broadcast six hours for New York and nine for Los Angeles. By the time we could see it, I had already “watched” the ceremonies on Twitter via the witty live tweets from London and New York so the surprise factor was gone and NBC's Matt and Meredith’s what-me-be-be-interested-in-something-that’s-not-American dumbed-down commentary was shamefully shabby and ignorant.  
     Excuse me NBC, do you not know the world is now connected by social media, not to mention the Tim Berners-Lee’s world wide web and we all know who JK Rowling is and what she wrote, no need to provide condescending explanations for the ignorant peasants.  Endless interviews exclusively with American athletes and coverage of American events and medals only is very pre-digital, not to mention jingoistic. Please broaden your horizons and stop with the delayed broadcasts and showing only the US gold medal winners on the podium without even mentioning the silver and bronze medal winners. The Olympic Games is an international event and all events and awards should be covered live or you insult the spirit of the Olympics as well as your viewers.                                                   

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Every time people are mowed down by a young male who thinks he’s living in a movie or a video game, we hear the same words: unthinkable, tragedy, guns don’t kill people, I have the right to bear arms, investigation, debate, gun-control, loner, how? why?  
     Why? Because guns are easy to buy. Unthinkable? No, predictable. These shootings are a needless and predictable tragedy. If guns were not so readily available, these killings would not happen. If movies and video games didn’t depict and glamorize  gratuitous gun violence, these lonely, deluded young men wouldn’t need to shoot people to get attention.  
     When not mentally deranged, the gunman's motive is usually notoriety or revenge and underlying that, loneliness.  News media toss around the word “loner” as though it were a disease. But what does it mean, really?  Isolated, alienated, lacking human contact. Loneliness kills in more ways than one.  
     According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 60 mass shootings occurred in the United States since the January 8, 2011 massacre in Tucson, Arizona when Gabby Giffords and thirteen other people were wounded and six people were killed by an insane gunman. (If he was insane, why did he have a gun?)

There were more than four hundred and thirty mass shootings in the US in the last seven years. . . 430!       
How long are we going to tolerate recurring mass murders?  Do we want to be one of the victims? Do we think life is so cheap that we'll continue to allow it to be taken by anyone who wants to be on the news?  
     People don’t need guns. We need a “well-armed” militia (army, police force) not a well-armed populace. Multiple annual mass murders are what happens when you have a well-armed populace. 
     No other country allows its population to be massacred like this. Cops, metal-detectors and pat-downs at the multiplex are not the answer.  Strictly enforced gun laws so people can’t buy guns so easily in the first place will be more useful. The number of dead in gun massacres trumps any arguments against strict gun laws.
     If you think the US should have the same freedom from gun massacres as other countries,  sign the petition here, speak out against guns, against gratuitous violence in films and video games, refuse to vote for politicians who don’t have the guts to stand up against the gun lobby and the NRA.
     And be kind to the next shy, aloof person you meet. You may help avert a mass murder.                                             

Sunday, July 15, 2012


When people say “It was like a movie” after experiencing a hurricane, a flood, a lottery win, I want to scream. Movies are like life, not the other way around (unless we're being Cartesian which I don't think is the case). Movies are inspired by real life and real life is all about what exists and actually happens, not what should or might be.  Movies on the other hand are often about what should and might be and that’s one reason we love them.  But life isn't organized into neat thrills like Disneyland, shit happens to all of us. Magic too.  Random events can happen to anyone for no reason. Terrible things sometimes happen to nuns, just as wonderful things can happen to serial killers.  Just deserts are rare in real life, unlike the movies.  
Wailing “How can this be happening to me?” is just plain arrogant.  Why shouldn’t terrible things happen to us?  Terrible things aren’t punishment, neither are good things a reward.  They're just real life.  We like to take credit for good stuff and blame bad stuff on exterior forces.  Like  taking credit for our successes and blaming our failures on our parents.  We comfort and reassure ourselves with unrealistic sayings like: 

    Every cloud has a silver lining
    It’s always darkest before dawn      
    Everything will be all right.       


But in real life everything won’t necessarily be all right.  The idea that there's a rosy plan for everyone’s life and everything happens for a reason is comforting but unlikely.  You only have to watch life in the wild to see that.  But those are animals, you may say.  Well, so are we.  Our thin veneer of civilisation can’t hide the fact that, when nobody’s looking, we are still capable of behaving like the animals we are; our primal instincts are still strong, our basal ganglia still tell our cortex what to do before we wrangle our actions into acceptable behavior. 

Of course reality is not always harsh.  It can sometimes be thrilling.  Seeing the Arc de Triomphe looming through the platane leaves for the first time was thrilling beyond words for me and in no way like a movie.  It was far, far better than a movie because it was the real thing, with Paris sounds and smells and sights and the feel of Paris air on my skin.  None of that can be put in a movie, it can only be suggested.  And that’s why we love movies, for their suggestions of life.  Even when they suggest horror and fear and sadness.  We can walk away from them because that’s all they are, suggestions of reality.  
Unlike life.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Not many members of the movie-going audience realise how much science is involved in computer animation. Some animators also don’t know this and even some animation studios have taken a while to understand the need for good, innovative science in CGI.

Pixar does. They have their own Research Group, established in 2004, to develop new, innovative technology and new methods for exporting their characters to other media, such as games and animatronic robots. This group is based on a model of an academic research department and currently has seven “tenured faculty”.

Disney does too. Disney Research was launched in 2008 as an informal network of research labs that collaborate closely with academic institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich (ETH). Research areas include computer graphics/vision, video processing, robotics, human-computer interaction, behavioral sciences.

Animators move characters around the screen with tools provided by scientists; tools like simulated cloth, knitted garments, light models, hairmore hair and this amazing model of human skin.  Any day now, we'll be seeing dead actors starring in new movies.

Where else can you see such a wonderful combination of art and science but in computer animation?


Sunday, May 20, 2012


It was December, Christmas was days away and I’d just moved to my new apartment on the 23rd floor of a building near Lincoln Center. My friends were all out of town with their families for the holidays, my furniture hadn't arrived and my apartment was freezing because the heat hadn’t been turned on yet.
To warm up, I took a hot shower and sat on the floor watching the shower steam freeze on the inside of the windows.
Outside, snow swirled and it was as cold as a Wall Street banker’s heart.  When it gets this cold, New Yorkers ruthlessly replace dainty fashions with thick, woolen scarves wound around the head like bandages, heavy hoods pulled down over shapeless caps, giant leather gauntlets, bulky padded coats and massive snow boots to combat the cold and resolutely crunch through the slush. Inside my apartment, I wrapped myself in wooly scarves, caps, gloves and coats and listened to the cockroaches scampering about in the kitchen.
My phone rang.
“Hello. I’m Jack,” said an unfamiliar voice. “I was just calling numbers randomly and you answered this one.”
What to say to that?
I had nothing better to do, so we chatted about Sartre, existential ontology and, as I was still freezing, I agreed to meet this potential serial killer in a warm nearby café. What could he do to me there, beat me to death with the copy of Camus’ “The Stranger” he said he’d be carrying?
Incredibly, he was a normal-looking, educated, interesting man and we had some hot chocolate and a lively conversation about Paris in a nice warm place. I'd love to say sparks flew, hearts thumped and we spent the rest of our lives together but, at the end of our chat, we just wrapped ourselves up again in our winter armor, said goodbye and returned to our respective lives never to see each other again.                       

Monday, May 14, 2012


I don’t know about you, but I almost always feel at a loss for words when a friend loses someone close to them, probably because death makes me uncomfortable and I’m stupidly thinking about saying the right thing instead of my bereft friend’s feelings.  Having recently been on the receiving end of condolences, I’ve noticed that I’m not the only one who feels awkward about this. Often, well-intentioned people will interrogate you, perhaps thinking this shows concern: What happened, when, how, why etc., can I help?  The worst is the hurried gloss over the death and the long story about their own experience (I've done this myself), intending, I think, to show empathy but this is of absolutely no interest to a grief-stricken person.

The last thing a grief-stricken person wants is to answer questions or make decisions. The only thing they need is to be comforted and taken care of.  Letting them know you’re aware of their suffering and concerned for their welfare is about the most helpful thing you can do. Make them a cup of tea or a stiff drink or both. A comforting presence is thebest thing you can give a grieving friend. But if you can’t be there, a phone call is the next best thing.  And a short sincere note is always better than a printed card.  

The only words you need are: I’m sorry for your loss. Please accept my condolences. The ghastly finality of death does require a certain formality, so “condolences” is a good, respectful word to use.  If you want to keep talking, be sure not to
mention yourself or your losses, don’t give advice.  Mentioning yourself and comparing your loss to theirs makes it like a grief competition.  This is the hardest bit to get right. 

You should acknowledge the  grief: You must feel terrible. Would you like to talk about it?  They won’t really be listening to any flowery words from you, anyway. Grief is a very big emotion and deserves a lot of respect. Put yourself aside and honor the berieved's profound and life-altering feelings. If they want to talk, all you need to do is listen attentively until they stop.

Shared silence with a light touch, an embrace, a held hand is probably worth more than words in these circumstances.

Suffering a loss is hard.  Comforting a grief-stricken person is easy.