Summer Update. A little late.

31 Aug

          First of all, check out the new iMac. That’s one of the most beutiful designs ever. That’s enuff of that. Onward with the catching up on backlogged entries that aren’t written yet.
          For those who don’t know, I was lucky enuff to have an internship this summer in San Fransisco at The Orphanage. Now, they do special effects, so people hear about it and think (or say) cool! Special Effects! Yes, I got to work on Sky Captain and a few commercials, but I didn’t actually create anything. This lead to the internship being, overall, very disillusioning. There is almost no creativity involved in creating special effects. The Orphanage is nothing but a bunch of guys (and girls) sitting behind computers and playing with After Effects and Maya. That’s it. That’s all it is. Two off the shelf pieces of software running on boxx machines are responsible for most of the effects in Hellboy, several sequences including the ending of Sky Captain, the super-cell storm, helicopter crash and the freezing city in The Day After Tomorrow. There’s no magic involved. There’s very little creativity involved. The client (say, Warner Bros. Post Production, for example) pays the effects company (The Orphanage) to make specific shots, and then the company (The Orphanage) puts some contract digital artists (actual people) on it, they complete the shot, get paid, and then move on. Most of the people who do the actual creating in the industry are contract players. They have no other choice. we got literally hundreds of demo reels and resume’s a week from hopeful digital artists. Many of their reels looked like highlight reels from the latest blockbusters. People who worked on LOTR, the Matrix Sequels, the Harry Potter films… they can’t get a regular job. That’s the way the industry is set up.
          So what’s the main thing I learned? Most of working at an effects company or a production company is standard office work: talking on the phone to clients, complaining about previous clients, impressing potential clients by supplying them with complimentary food and fruit baskets, and bidding on potential jobs by creating effects tests to show off what can be done, and then hoping clients will pay you. Only in the creation of the effects test (or an actual effects shot) is there any creativity involved. And to become one of the “digital artists” who gets to work on an effects test, takes years of (essentially) slaving in the industry. Being a render monkey or a pixel pusher: “here, we have this one shot that is 356 frames long. We need to isolate the top right corner in each frame. Go.” Woohoo. Thrilling. And, to top it off, if you do end up lucky enuff to actually be creative, and, uh, create something for one of these visual effects tests – hardly anybody sees it! While I was there, we worked on an effects test for Warner Bros. Post Production. Why? We want them to pay us to work on a few shots on the next Harry Potter film. So, we rented a goblet prop, filmed it in 360 degrees, and made a computer model out of it. Put it in Maya, and made an entirely computer generated scene where there is a goblet of fire on a bedside table next to a lamp. The flame simulation was the main focus of the shot, and it looked damn real. Nobody will ever get to see it except those of us who worked there at the time, and the few people in Warner Bros. Post Production. (If you want to see how well The Orphanage can simulate fire, watch Hellboy. None of the fire in that movie is real.) And we may not even get any shots from the film to work on. We don’t get paid for the test. That sums up about a month of work for about 6 or so people. Does it sound thrilling to you? ‘Cause it doesn’t to me.
          So that was the first part of my summer. More recent (and much more enjoyable) was the trip to the F and W fair. Here were many many people who have been important parts of my growing up, and many many more people that I don’t know at all. It’s always fun to go to the fair, and I haven’t missed one since 1990, but as I have that long-time goer perspective, it’s sad to see every year just how much Farm and Wilderness is losing its identity. I’ll give one example.
          When I went to Timberlake, Farm and Wilderness had a policy called fifth freedom. It was told to me to be the “freedom from clothes.” It is a policy the camps have had since they were founded in the 30s. It meant that there were lots of naked people around. At the waterfront, in the showers, in the garden, in the cabins, and just generally all over. This included campers, staff, lifeguards, and female staff, tho at the boys camp there weren’t very many of those. (Just the co-director, some of the cooks, and sometimes the nurse, when I was a camper.) Nudity wasn’t an issue, it just was. Timberlake was, tho they didn’t come right out and say it, a nudist camp. They were pro-nudity. Now, they didn’t make you go naked, but, they encouraged people to try new things, and they believed that nudity was healthy and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with it at all. In fact, I was taught at camp that nudity in a society or a community makes for a stronger society or community. That it desexualizes the body in healthy ways, and that it builds confidence. There are no drawbacks to nudity. This is what Timberlake taught me, and this is what its stance on the practice was. What is it now??
          Timberlake (and all of F and W) seems to not have a strong stance on anything anymore. They are no longer a nudist camp. They will allow nudity, sometimes, in certain places, under certain circumstances. Their stance on the issue (well, on any issue) is that they will do whatever they can to not offend anybody at all. Let me type that again: Farm and Wilderness is doing all that it can to make sure they don’t offend anybody at all. I hope I don’t have to explain why that is a terrible stupid idea. Let me ask you, do you feel safer, (both physically and emotionally) in a place that has beliefs and stands up for them, or in a place that tries to accomodate everyone’s beliefs without infringing on them? Who convinced them that a nudist camp is an “unsafe” place? Who decided that on Fair day, nobody is allowed to take their shirt off, ever?
          Anyways, I’m rambling, and I imagine I could for quite some time on this subject. It angers and saddens me to see such a beautiful, important, and magical place lose its way. I’ll end this with a bit from the conversation I had with Star at the Fair. Hampshire people might now him as the guy who co-owned and ran the Fire and Water cafe that recently closed down in NoHo. Old TL people will know him as the head cook for many years, and a damn good one. He loves Farm and Wilderness. In two years, his son will be old enuff to go to Timberlake. He tried to get into the Music Video industry and learned the same thing that I learned at my internship: there’s hardly any creativity, and only a little bit more actual creation, and most of it is standard boring office and telephone work. He keeps coming back to Farm and Wilderness because despite all the drawbacks, it’s still the best place in the world to be. I hope they don’t forget that too, because I’d like to keep going back as well.
          So that’s that, and tomorrow I go to Hampshire to help out a bit with orientation and start moving in. The JC Story is now actually being written. I’m sure I’ll write more about it too.

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