Monday, August 29, 2011

Sleep No More, Video Games, and the Potential of Interactive Storytelling.

 This will not be a review of Sleep No More, although it will be discussed. I'll warn you of spoilers.

On Thursday the 12th of August, I attended a performance of Sleep No More. Billed as 'indoor promenade performance', it entails being immersed in the world of the McKitterick Hotel (an impressively redecorated warehouse or three on west 27th, across the street from the back entrance of Scores) and treated to an adaptation, of a kind, of Shakespeare's famous play that shows us the nature of evil, Macbeth.  It was astounding.

Though it is not a word that can be found anywhere on the website (, Sleep No More is a highly interactive experience- though one might suppose that physical interaction is a part of any immersive experience. Still, this is important to note for the upcoming discussion: The specific difference between immersive and interactive when one or the other is the goal of an experience. In the McKitterick Hotel, almost every door, drawer and closet is unlocked. You can read anything, pick up anyway, dig through people's luggage and letters. The entire environment is touchable, if not tractable- even the performers. Though it is against the rules of the game to touch the performers, the performers may very well decide to touch you. You may be pushed gently aside, or taken by the hand and led, or- as I experienced- have a madwoman cup your face and lament at the cruelty in your eyes. The world you enter is filled with eerily familiar but ultimately alien landscapes and enough details to drown in. You can watch or play, observe or participate, that much is (largely) your choice.

The performance is interactive, but it is not changeable. Those choices I just mentioned do not effect the characters' overall arcs, their intentions or their stories. Scenes play in a loop throughout the roughly three hour performance.  Short of doing something dangerously disruptive, the audience cannot effect the outcome of the story.

The goal of Sleep No More is an immersive theatrical experience. It is not a game. It sets no goals or objectives for the audience, other than to experience. It's brilliant and freeing.

And potentially frustrating, if you're of a gamer's mindset. Over at Wired, you can read an article by @jasonschreier about his experience of the theatrical piece, which he describes in the headline as "Like a game, but more confusing." Schreier primarily decries the fact that it is impossible for an audience member to see the entire show, and that this fact makes most of what one experiences difficult to decipher or put into context: The experience is difficult to understand.

He argues that video game experiences are more rewarding because you achieve things. The game tells you so. I think this is an ineffective comparison, but the opening of an interesting discussion.

Compare Sleep No More to an open-world game like Fallout: New Vegas. While Sleep No More drops you into the middle of a performance and expects you to figure out what’s happening, New Vegas sets up the story first, then lets you loose. More importantly, New Vegas makes you feel like the things you do matter. Whether you’re shooting down raiders or discovering a pile of bones in a child’s crib, you’re always an active participant, integral to the story. Not just an observer.
 This argument is flawed in a few ways:

You can, in fact, prepare for the sort-of-plot of Sleep No More by brushing up on your Shakespeare, but the story is present in an abstract, exploratory way. The scenes, when you do find them, are not exactly straightforward. Think lyrical and interpretive dance. The story, as such, is not the most important part of the show. More important is the audience's story: What they see and experience and what it does to them. Now, if what they see and experience frustrates and bores them, more the pity, but I have to say, I'd imagine it would take a respectable amount of willful disinterest to walk away from Sleep No More wholly unmoved.

The end result(s) of both Sleep No More and any video game are predetermined. Nothing you do as an audience member or player can actually change what happens outside of a couple permutations. Schreier is absolutely correct in that video games make you feel as though your choices have weight- and they do, but a very limited amount. I will defend the unique special snowflake status of my Commander Shepard TO THE DEATH but ultimately, I am not the only FemShep Paragon with Renegade Tendencies when Faced with Ultimatums who is Bedding Garrus Vakarian aka Dinosaur Batman: The Hero Omega Deserves. No, I am but one of many; because though the Mass Effect series provides the player with thousands of choices to make over the course of the franchise, they are still choices you are being offered and have to choose from. You can't just make up your own. The ending to any work of art or entertainment created by someone other than the participant/user has a finite amount of leeway.  Sleep No More is a single event comprised of smaller, looping events. It's meant to be an immersive experience that theater-goers can explore to whatever depth they choose. It is, in fact, quite possible to see all the primary, story-centric scenes of Shakespeare's Macbeth in one evening at Sleep No More. It's not really necessary, though, nor would it be easy.  

Sleep No More is not a game, it is not a puzzle. It's more like a haunting. It's like watching spectres enact their wicked follies again and again, helpless to stop themselves or break free. Sometimes the ghosts reach out for you, and you can rifle through the relics and detritus they've left behind, but the story cannot be changed.

Now let's pull a bit of a conversational one eighty. The Minnesota Fringe Festival is a breeding ground for fun, funny, original and rather ingenious theatrical experiences. One participating company, Walking Shadow, has mounted two interactive theatrical puzzle experiences. The first was entitled 1926 Pleasant, and ran in 2006. You can read a detailed account of the play/game here: it is, in fact, a walkthru, something all gamers are familiar with. Both a theatrical experience and actual game the audience had to play in order to advance the story, 1926 Pleasant (and their latest puzzle production, Saboteur, reviewed here) seems to accomplish what Schreier says Sleep No More failed to do, but the intent behind the two pieces are completely and utterly different, and so the comparison becomes useless.

Now, if the two pieces could be combined, you would have something that appeals to theater goers and gamers alike. Let's take a look at a video game property like Bioshock and think of how these two formats of theatrical experience could be applied to making Bioshock a live action interactive event. Why? Because I am goddamn obsessed with this whole freaking idea, that's why. If you're still reading this, I don't even know what to tell you. You're as sick a puppy as I am.

As a self contained environment, it could be constructed the same way as the fictional McKitterick Hotel: Six stories of immersive environments fashioned after Bioshock's more iconic levels, like Neptune's Bounty, Arcadia, Fort Frolic, the Farmer's Market, Hephaestus and Olympus Heights.

 Rapture is largely comprised of sweeping atriums and surprisingly open spaces for being an underwater city. However, as Sleep No More demonstrates nicely, constructing outdoor spaces indoors is entirely achievable on multiple floors. Also the ballroom on the lowest level sports two stories of balcony seats and vaulted ceilings. It is a huge room that could easily be transformed into any number of centerpieces from the game.

 Of course site-specific theater is just that. One could find a space more uniquely suited to Rapture's grand halls, but the space Punchdrunk created in the form of the McKitterick Hotel is smartly and very successfully constructed. With relatively few changes, Sleep No More as it stands could be turned into the site of a Rapture live action interactive gaming experience.

The next question, of course, is who would go? Who would shell out, say, $100 to be let loose in that kind of environment for three hours, not knowing before hand how it would go? You'll have adventurous types, you'll have gamers, you'll have theater goers, but the added responsibility that's placed on the audience member when they're expected to participate and actively move the game forwards as opposed to merely observing events as they unfold could potentially scare away much needed ticket sales, and come to that- how many tickets a round would have to be sold to make the endeavor even remotely feasible?  Those are the questions I don't want to think about because the other stuff is more fun, but it does make me think that the ideal place to try out an experience like this would be San Diego Comic-Con.

Your audience isn't just built in, it's swarming the grounds around where your theatrical gaming experience is held. San Diego boasts a throng of beautiful hotels, plenty of which are historic, as well as some industrial and warehouse sites that could be appropriated and converted. Passes could be given away at panels as well as purchased ahead of time to guarantee your spot.  It would be, for the logistics of running such an experience, the perfect litmus test. Branching out to other audiences, of course, would be a different ballgame, but if this sort of thing was going to be made a reality, I think SDCC is a prime opportunity to give it a test run. Not to mention, I'm sure it would be the talk of the con.

Bioshock, Dead Space, Walking Dead, Arkham Asylum, even Game of Thrones- all are properties that could utilize the concepts of mystery, clue finding, puzzle solving and even, eventually, combat to engage an audience and motivate a player, as well as blend seamless with theatrical style presentations and fully fleshed out but self contained environments. We're certainly seeing plenty of transmedia projects happening, and various properties bleeding into other mediums, so who knows- maybe this kind of thing isn't that far off. I hope it's not, because the only thing I want to do more badly than go back to Sleep No More is return to Rapture. See full post

May 21st - Judgement Day: An Original Play Premiering this September

Recently, I was able to score an interview with the young, but already well-experienced local playwright and director, Josh Young. His play May 21st - Judgement Day opens for a three-show run September 1st at the Kraine Theater in the East Village. As Young describes, the play is story of a girl named Valentine who lives in an underground bunker. Valentine has been trapped in the bunker for 13 years by the sexual abusive James, who keeps her hidden there under the pretense that the world ended on May 21st, 2011 and that he's protecting her from the Holy War raging above on Earth. But Valentine is not completely alone. She has created two conflicting, spiritual personalities that may either keep her trapped in desolation or guide her in breaking free of her solitude and imprisonment.

Read more about Josh Young and his post-apocalyptic, psychological thriller, after the jump!
See full post

The Highs and Lows of D23

As you may have been able to tell by my incessant tweets and articles, this weekend marked my first D23 and boy was it an experience. What began innocently enough with a drum playing Mickey and a look at the new attractions being developed all over the world, ended with a panel that upset me to my very core, and of course, a nice batch of food poisoning from the Convention food. What happened in between had some good, some bad, and a lot of Deadpools wearing Mickey ears.

Panels On Art & Artists
My favorite panels of the Convention were the sit down with Michael Giacchino and the look at the Character Design of Monster's University. What these had in common were a focus on the art, as opposed to a focus on the money behind the art. Taking Disney almost completely out of the equation allowed for enlightening discussions, genuine quotables, and the ability to actually learn something. Even though in both cases, a good majority of the audience left when the Q&A began (unfathomable to me), the people who stuck around got to see some lovely interaction, like a woman asking Giacchino about a specific refrain from the opening of Star Trek, Giacchino revealing the scores that touched him most (Lawrence of Arabia, Planet of the Apes, The Accidental Tourist, Star Wars), and a fun moment when the director of Prep and Landing, posing as an audience member, asked Giacchino when we was going to compose a musical to go after getting his EGOT. For details on the Monsters University panel and Q&A head here. I've heard similar things about the Art of Brave and Imagineers panels - when the event at hand is focusing on the art and interaction with fans, and not the theatrics and Disney Dog & Pony show, it's actually a wonderful way to spend an hour.

Arena Panels
Every panel in the arena was a regular potpourri of Disney propaganda, dripping with desperation and so enthusiastically egotistical that by Sunday's Marvel panel, I just about couldn't take it anymore. Instead of Q&As and genuine fan discourse, every person on stage read from teleprompters and left a cold, dead feeling in the room. I couldn't help but be bothered by this seeming need to control the show on Disney's part. Nothing real was permitted to happen and there was no room for surprises. With every single little thing written and planned out beforehand, the energy in the room was bizarrely minimal. I myself only felt compelled to clap a couple of times during the Studios panel, which showed off upwards of 10 new films over two and a half hours. Instead of being comfortable with us seeing what they had to offer and making up our own minds, we were constantly bombarded with the notion that "Disney rules!" as if them saying it enough times would make it true. And while certain films did stand out like Wreck It Ralph or The Muppets (which showed off stellar footage and a delightful live bit between Jason Segel, Kermit and Miss Piggy), they only could have benefit from a less controlled forum. Can you imagine Kermit and Miss Piggy answering fan questions, the way Pee-Wee did at this year's Comic-Con? How brilliant would that have been? In perhaps the strangest move of all, at the end of the Studios panel, the entire cast of The Avengers was brought out and except for Robert Downey Jr, no one said anything. This may have been acceptable as a surprise button at the end of last year's Marvel panel at Comic-Con, when nothing had been shot or read and they were simply announcing the official cast, but over a year later, with two weeks left of shooting, to bring the cast down just to stand there? It shows a complete lack of understanding where this film is concerned, where the fans are concerned and where marketing is concerned. No substance. All talk. Unacceptable.

Pixar's Presence
On a similar note, everyone from Pixar seemed genuinely enthusiastic about their involvement. I believed that they were happy and love their jobs and every one of them was an inspiration. I got to know the faces and names of the creators (Right: Monster's University Dan Scanlan was kind of hot in college, no?....) and hear them talk about their profession that brings them so much joy on a daily basis. In all the mess that I find Disney to be, Pixar continues to stand out, with higher standards and a positive attitude that stems from something true.

Marvel & ABC's Presence
For some inexplicable reason, neither ABC nor Marvel had a booth on the floor. There were no ABC or Marvel exclusives, no comics or DVDs. Why? Why when you own these two companies, both of whom could provide products I would actually buy, why would they not have booths at your convention?! Not to mention the horror show that was Marvel's panel and the fact that there was exactly ONE panel for ABC. If there is any hope of my considering going next year, both Marvel and ABC have to have more of a presence. And not a Disnified presence, simply Marvel and ABC, doing their things.

Dealer's Room Cosplay
One of my favorite aspects of D23 was the cosplay. I'm so used to people dressed up at anything Disney related being staff members, that every time I saw a prince or princess, I just assumed they were working. More than once I made the mistake of asking where something was only to be met with "Oh, I don't work here." I had no idea this many people were eager to dress up as Disney characters! And hilariously enough, the only non Disney character I saw the whole time was Deadpool. TONS of Deadpools. Many of them wearing Mickey ears. Why Deadpool?! Perhaps the least family friendly Marvel character of the bunch?! Whatever the reasoning, it was awesome.

Dealer's Room Booths
What an odd Dealer's Room this was. It seemed much more like a trade show, with an area dedicated to showing off the new Parks & Resorts plans, a whole stretch that featured only liscensed Disney products, most of which weren't for sale, and then the back part of the room, filled with Disney collectibles, that were for sale, but why on Earth would I ever buy any? It was fun enough to look around, as there were no crowds and barely any lines anywhere (except to get into the Disney Store booth, of course), but it was just kind of boring. I don't have kids to play in the kids area, I have no interest in owning parts from old Disneyland rides, I'm not about to buy any clothing with Disney designs on them and why tempt me by showing off your Muppets makeup line, if it's not available to buy, huh?

VoluntEAR Booth
 One thing I did appreciate on the floor was the Volunteering booth, where throughout the weekend attendees could write notes to soldiers, make relief kits, plant seeds and more. In exchange, they got a sticker and a bag, but more importantly, got to do something good.

"Health" Booth
As someone who actually has an understanding of health and nutrition, I was a bit more than mildly offended by the booth focusing on how to have good health. Anyone who still propagandizes that milk plays any role in a healthy lifestyle needs to do a little bit more research and I was really bothered by the Disney branding that went with it. "Walking at Disneyland burns x amount of calories!" "Disney toothbrushes are really popular!"

Free Cupcakes!
Call it bribery or call it good old fashioned friendliness, cupcakes were given away on multiple occasions, first by John Lasster in the Arena, celebrating Pixar's 25th anniversary and again on the show floor at the booth dedicated to children's birthday parties. While the Lasseter cupcakes were AMAZING, the floor cupcakes were still good and they definitely made me forget about any of the Convention negatives for a good ten minutes every time.

Convention Food
Tasted awful, was way too expensive, and made me sick. I've never encountered convention food THIS terrible before. Id you ever find yourself at this convention center, do yourself a favor and eat at the Hilton food court instead, where you can find Baja Fresh and freshly made Sandwiches.

Plenty Of Free Time
With no crowds and very few panels, there was plenty of free time at this Convention to wander around, get free cupcakes, not buy anything, and if you were a member of the press, sit in the media room and write up the panels you just saw.

Plenty Of Free Time
My GOD, was I bored at night. I shouldn't have been bored, Louis CK, I know. I could have been watching TV or reading or using my imagination, but I was at a CON! A Convention! These are normally spent going out and drinking with friends or going to screenings or SOMETHING. Instead, I could have been found drinking in the lobby while reading or drinking in the hot tub starring at hot German men. Not that these are horrible ways to spend your evening, but seriously, some evening events wouldn't kill them.

For all of the control surrounding the panel content itself, myself and many others, were baffled by the lack of organization when it came to other areas, especially getting into panels. There have been many reports of attendees organizing lines themselves, without the help of any staff members, lines that in some cases were dissasembled when staff members got involved. The instructions for press remained unclear throughout the entire process, as they were told to wait in line, then not to wait in line, then to wait until everyone who was in line got in (despite having already left the line to wait in another line) to come up right before the panel for press seating, to do so only to discover there is no press seating, and so on. There was so little consistency, that a lot of the time, people didn't know when to wait in line, where or for how long, and would end up dedicating hours of their day to get into a panel that was so far from full, they could have just walked in five minutes before and not had a problem. To add to this frustration, there was only one - ONE - door we were allowed to enter the convention center from. Which meant if I had to go to the Arena or had a meeting at the Xbox booth, I still had to go all the way to the far side to enter.

So that about does it for me. I could include the LOW of I woke up Saturday morning with 15 bites on the small of my back, but since that concerns the Anaheim Hilton, not D23 itself, I can't exactly fault Disney, but it does mean I may be trying out the Marriott next time if I ever come back. All in all, a strange experience that has done a good job of putting me off Disney for the time being. If you're wondering about going yourself, all I can say is, if you loves you some Disney, sure. If you aren't obsessed with Disney? So not worth it. See full post

D23 - Disneyland Kinect Adventures Slightly Improves, But Is It Enough?

After being extremely disappointed in Kinect Disneyland Adventures at E3 in Jue, I decided to give it a go here at D23, with a couple more months of work under its belt, to see if anything had been improved upon. There were absolutely new features, game mechanics and levels, but is anything actually better? What I learned and my impressions below.


-Over 35 characters to meet and greet, each with his own personality, culled from chats with actual Imagineers
-Original voice actors recorded voices for every character
-If you don't wish to follow through the physical motions for character interaction, you can also use voice command
-The game is open world, the first of its kind for Kinect, so they had to design a whole new navigation system - pointing. Point in a direction and your character will walk there.
-The crowd magically parts as you walk through them
-Can take photos with characters (note: as your avatar, not as you) and upload them to the internet
-Have a few objects at your disposal, including the camera, growler, and wand
-With the wand, you can animate up to 300 objects and receive treasure after casting each spell
-Collect enough treasure and you can spend it in shops for souvenirs and costumes
-With the wand, you can also discover magical objects, which the game keeps track of, achievement style
-Right now there are six attractions: Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Pirates of the Caribbean, Thunder Mountain, Jungle Cruise and Matterhorn
-There will be up to 20 attractions, potentially with more as DLC, but that's not in the works right now
-Every ride is based on a story, so the game developers discussed the back story to each attraction with the imagineers, and came up with the levels for each attraction based on the story
-Chapters within each attraction
-Rather than just "ride a ride", each chapter interacts with a different aspect of the attractions' environment, based on the original story behind the attraction.
-Attraction gaming interactions include pose matching, sword fighting, throwing things, flying, skiing, and more
-There will be many cinematics helping to tell the story as well
-Each attraction has a character guide (Jungle Cruise has the skipper and gorillas, Matterhorn has Goofy, Peter Pan has Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, etc)
-Players can jump in or out of the game at any time to maximize social appeal
-Avatars are children, since the idea of the game is to "bring our your inner child"
-Some avatar customizing options
-They created their own avatars rather than use the Xbox ones, because the art of the Xbox avatars is too different from the art of the Disney world that was created
-The park is almost an exact recreation, down to the secret places where Walt's initials are hiding to the golden spike in the castle marking the center of the park.


Just like at E3, my favorite aspect of this game remains the world's accuracy. I've always had a thing for recognizing landmarks in my games, usually ones taking place in LA or New York, though rarely is something *exactly* the same, square foot for pixelated square foot. My favorite part of this demo was simply running through the lands, seeing how long the lines were and pushing through the crowds. As a result, I quite enjoyed the introduction of the wand mechanic, as it means further interaction with the world around you as the player. Cast a spell on whatever, and hey, if something happens, you get coins and achievements and a modicum of satisfaction. Yay!

Also just like at E3, I'm still vastly underwhelmed when it comes to the gameplay within each attraction. I tried out the sword fighting chapter, one of the levels in the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, which had just been created right before D23. The game seemed completely unresponsive to anything I was doing. Granted, it's new and I kept drifting out of the playing space in order to avoid whacking the Microsoft spokeswoman in the face, but it was entirely too much work for very little  gratification.

An aspect I I enjoyed a lot more this time around than at E3, was the character interactions. We got to see our avatar say hello to three different characters, Mickey, Peter Pan, and the Queen of Hearts. Each had a specific reaction to everything we did, whether it be a hug, high five, or asking to dance. While Mikey was clearly friendly, Peter was friendly, but didn't like getting *too* close, and the Queen of Hearts was regal and demanded our relationship stay so. If only our "photos" with these characters could somehow combine a Kinect photo of us in that moment, with the character on the screen, I'd think the photo aspect was a good add, but a photo of an avatar with a character on Facebook seems rather pointless.

I'm still not sure in what Universe someone would actually own this game, but if a friend had it, I wouldn't object to throwing it on just to explore the park, cast spells, and buy crap, but I'm far from sold on the gameplay and even the theory behind the gameplay. A part of me would kind of rather just get a first person view of the game with the impetus to interact on that level. Like, lean correctly on the Matterhorn and the faster you go, or cast spells on the Jungle Cruise as it goes along to see things come to life - or turn the Cruise itself into a throwing game for points. But taking away the ride aspect completely away is kind of a turn off. It'll take a lot more convincing before I'll think otherwise. See full post

Sunday, August 21, 2011

D23 - Disney Chomps Off Marvel's Balls And Marvel Likes It

Today at D23, in a Herculean display of awfulness, Disney forced Joe Quesada to explain to a half full audience what Marvel was and what it has in common with Disney. He explained to us how in lieu of talking about actual Marvel properties or making any sort of announcement, Disney specifically requested that he give the audience a history lesson. So, the one Arena panel I thought *wouldn't* be one big Disney dick sucking session turned out to be just that, yet again. Even down to the Mickey Mouse shirt and professment of love for old school Disney from Quesada himself. To his credit, he put together a great lesson and really did his best to seem like he was enjoying getting raped through the ear, but I skipped out on free Breakfast to spend an hour learning what I already knew, on this occasion infused with Disney Ego, so I was not a happy camper.

Thankfully, the Q&A portion of a normal Cup O'Joe was retained, though this also demonstrated that they *could* have done a Q&A during the Walt Disney Studios panel and simply did not. But the Q&A, bizarrely consisting of way too many Boom Studios questions from Disney fans (how many times can the man say Marvel isn't working with Boom?!), still didn't feel like the right experience, as most of the questions Joe could not answer. On top of that, the session was extremely short and when a fan asked if they could show the Avengers footage from the day before and Joe said yes, he was quickly shut down, much to the disappointment of the actual Marvel fans who stayed in the room after the massive exodus took place at the beginning of the Q&A.

While it was interesting enough to learn about Marvel's history straight from Queseda himself, it was inherently so skewed towards convincing the audience how well Marvel meshed with Disney, that I felt like I was somehow being lied to or deceived. Something felt very wrong about being hit over the head with what Marvel and Disney had in common (If you're wondering - "Storytelling, Community, Accessibility, Appeals to all ages"), when one of these companies I love so much and the other, I have such a massive like/hate relationship with. A relationship that wasn't helped by ANYTHING at D23, I'll tell you that much.

And you know what I kept thinking of during this Disney & Marvel making a baby love-fest? Jack Kirby. The family and estate of whom Disney fucked out of their rights earlier this summer. Work for hire blah blah blah 1909 bullshit laws, I don't give a shit, someone should have had some compassion, and that someone is never Disney. Awfully devilish in the courtroom for all their hemming and hawwing about being about love and family, aren't they? Yeah, your family values really show when you screw Jack Kirby's family out of anything that should rightfully belong to them. I won't argue about the invalidity of an archane act, developed before artists even understood the meaning of what not owning the rights to your own work meant, but I will say that I was not the only one with Kirby on the mind. A giant section of fans screamed wildly when his name was announced as one of the first to create for Marvel.

Ultimately, the panel was an utter disappointment for Marvel fans with no news, no information, no sneak peaks, no special guests, no title specifics, no giveaways, nothing. And while the majority of the people in attendance had never been to a Cup O' Joe panel (Quesada had audience members raise their hands), the room was still only half full to start. So okay, several hundred Disney fans learned about the history of Marvel today. Great. Doesn't change the fact that any Marvel fan who bought a ticket and came to Anaheim for this convention would have been sorely disappointed by the entire experience and certainly doesn't change the fact that Disney fans are in no way the right target audience for Marvel. You know who is? Other genre fans. Like the ones who don't necessarily read Marvel yet, but go to Comic-Con to find out if they should.

But enough of my bitching. If you'd like to know what information was relayed at the panel, I've provided my live account after the jump, beginning with the history lesson, skipping past all the "Disney and Marvel were made for each other "expository bullshit. Maybe you will find some value in it and my missing free Breakfast won't entirely be in vain.

See full post

Saturday, August 20, 2011

D23 - In Depth Look At The Character Design Of Pixar's Monster's University

Monster's University Production Designer Ricky Nierva and Director Dan Scanlan were on hand at D23 today to provide attendees with an in depth look at the character design of young Mike and Sully in the new Pixar movie set for release in 2013. Below is a live account of what took place.


"Story is King" slide appears on screen
They remind themselves of this often at Pixar.
Can't do character design without story, until they know who characters are and what their stories are.

"Design from the Inside-Out"
Nierva's mantra.
When you design a character, you want to know who are they inside first - best friends, favorite food, hobbies, etc.

An original sketch of Mike and Sully by Monster's Inc director, Pete Docter

Nierva tells a story about how at CalArts, when he brought in a picture he drew of an elephant, the teacher said, now draw me Jim the Elephant or Sally the Elephant. It's not enough to just draw an elephant when telling a story. Can't be generic.

More after the jump

See full post

D23 - A Look at Walt Disney Studios' Upcoming Animation Slate

 Saturday marked the massive Walt Disney Studios panel, which brought lots of footage. In fact, pretty much only footage, along with a couple of announcements and staged bits. Some Q&A would have been nice, but apparently, Disney can't handle wild cards like "people" so there was very little room for spontaneity. Still, we saw some interesting stuff, so to jump start our Saturday coverage, here are my impressions of what Walt Disney Studios Animation had to offer.

First up was Planes, a film that takes place in (or as the teaser points out, "above") the Cars Universe. The director's father was an aviator, which sits nicely with the Pixar folk as they loves them some authenticity. The main character is Dusty, voiced by Jon Crier, who appeared on stage to talk about what an honor it had been to work with Pixar on this project - "Every so often I get an email that says I have a Planes session and I'm like ::cue guttural sounds of joy::". John Lasseter, present to run the whole Animation portion of the show, gave some insight into the work of a voice over actor on a Pixar film. He explained that the lead actor would typically come in for 10 sessions over the course of two years, and it's not uncommon for the character to design to change with every session, as it is molded and transformed by the actor's performance. The teaser clip was cute enough and I can say without hesitation that this *will* be a movie I go in theaters, unlike Cars 2, because flying through the air in 3D makes me a happy.

More after the jump!

See full post

Friday, August 19, 2011

D23 Live Blog: Walt Disney Parks & Resorts

Coming to you straight from day one of D23, where I will be reporting from all weekend long, is the first recap of many large events taking place this year - the look at what's new with Disney Parks and Resorts. My favorite part of Disney, aside from the animated films, are the parks, so I've been looking forward to this one. My live-blog, with updates on the Fantasyland Expansion in Florida, the new Hawaiian spa & resort, the Shanghai park, and the massive California Adventure add-ons await below!


The parks & resorts panel starts a half hour late. I'm a half hour late. This works out well for me.
I immediately notice that instead of having someone signing for the deaf, there is a screen with written text that shows up as its said. I don't know how I feel about this, as I know many interpreters who make a living precisely with jobs like this. Hrm.

The panel begins with a video, followed by the D23 band with Mickey on drums. Tom Staggs, chairmain of parks & resorts, comes on stage to chat with Mickey about Dancing with the Stars or some such nonsense. They mention the new Disney resorts in Hawaii and Shanghai, before hokey jazz finally plays Mickey off and Staggs gets on with the show.

Staggs - "We are in the middle of our largest expansion for Disney Parks & Resorts"

Staggs talks about launching the Disney Dream (Cruise Ship) and the Shanghai Disney groundbreaking as great moments this past year. Specifically notes enjoying spending time with the "cast members" aka people who work at Disney resorts. What runs next is a video of Staggs moonlighting as one of these cast members, sketch style, singing in a Barbershop Quartet, giving out balloons, piloting the Jungle Cruise (to rousing applause - people love the Jungle Cruise) and more. Okay. Sure. Why not.

I notice that people sitting in front of me are some of these Disney "cast members" Staggs is talking about. I hope they didn't have to pay for tickets to be here.

Staggs brings up the largest expansion in the history of the Magic Kingdom, the Fantasyland expansion, opening in Fall of 2012. He brings the Chief Creative Executive for Walt Disney Imagineering, Bruce Vaughn, on stage.

More after the jump

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Monday, August 15, 2011

The Fabulous Adventures of Alan Swift!

Dear LA Fangirls (and boys): New York is not the only place to see good theater at recession prices! The hilariously imaginative folks at cARTel currently have a new production up, at the Hayworth Theatre, entitled The Fabulous Adventures of Alan Swift (...Or Journey to the Center of Queer). The play travels through time, space, and queerness...and that should be more than enough of a description to sell you on it! The show only has one weekend left so go buy your tickets here now for just $10 (or $15 at the door). And make sure you get to the theater early to enjoy the pre-show reception that includes a visual art gallery and live music.

The Fabulous Adventures of Alan Swift (...Or Journey to the Center of Queer)

A cARTel: Collaborative Arts LA production (in collaboration with Bob Baker Marionette Theater)
Written by: Matt Chester
Directed by: Jack Nicolaus
Assistant Directed by: Miles Marsico
Featuring: Daniel Halden, Justin Baker, Katie Smith, Nichole Elise, Phil Daddario, J. Steadman, BJ Allman, Perry Young, Laryn Stout, Laura Cheek, Christan Copeland

Hayworth Theatre
Corner of Wilshire and Carondolet

Friday, 8/19
Saturday, 8/20
Sunday, 8/21
all shows start @ 8pm (with a reception at 7:15pm)

See full post

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bon Iver Rocks Prospect Park

Those of us fortunate enough to see Bon Iver in concert, at Prospect Park Bandshell, understand that we experienced pure musical magic. The concert was a part of the Celebrate Brooklyn! series and it was my first official show there (because watching Andrew Bird for one song, from outside the gates, hardly seems to count). And it was my favorite show I've experienced since I moved to New York a year ago.

Both Bon Iver albums are subtly beautiful. You listen and gladly invite the glorious melancholy to creep into your skin. The albums are subtly epic--audio masterpieces that don't require loudly ampliefied instruments or insanely catchy beats to make you feel the grandeur. Their concert at Prospect Park, however, really felt epic in a more traditional or obvious sense. I was surprised to feel so physically energized by the sound. Without even realizing it till the end, I found myself on my feet the whole show. I was ecstaticly bouncing around and clapping when they played "Calgary" and "Flume" back-to-back. And I was immesurably happy when they did two encores that included "Skinny Love", "Wolves", and a cover of Bjork's "Who Is It" (from her album Medulla).

Bon Iver is even more magical live. You really hear the entire band and all the instrumental contributions because you get to see and feel their energy in person. Justin Vernon's voice is that uniquely, painfully wonderful. And Vernon was the sweetest, humblest lead singer, constantly thanking the audience for coming out to Bon Iver's biggest headlining show. But it's really us, the audience, that have to thank him, the rest of the band, and the New York weather Gods for giving us such an unforgettable Summer evening. It truly was one of my favorite concert experiences.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fringe Festival Fun

New Yorkers! It's that time of year again--where you go watch cheap, independent theater (aka when your Facebook event page blows up with invites from your actor/director/writer friends' shows). It's time for The New York International Fringe Festival . There are so many shows happening in the course of the festival's two-week span and I'm here to help you sift through them with my recommendations. Based on plays that include talented artists (whom I've had the pleasure of watching in previous shows) and plays that just sound awesome, I've compiled a list of highly recommend shows for you to go watch. So go out and support these small theater companies!

ATFG First Ever Fringe Guide (after the jump):
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Monday, August 8, 2011

HBO's Superheroes: A Look At The Real Thing

Airing tonight on HBO is the new documentary Superheroes, a look inside the real life superhero movement taking the US by storm. Or to be a little more accurate, with only 300 registered (Registered? Captain America would be so disappointed), taking the US by light drizzle. The doc most specifically profiles Mr Xtreme, a dumpy but dedicated San Diegan security officer, the New York Initiative, a group of legitimately badass crime fighters who attempt to keep Brooklyn safe one patrol at a time, Master Legend, based out of Orlando, a bridging on alcoholic local celebrity who may or may not have a few screws loose and to a lesser extent, Zetaman and Life (Chaim), who focus mostly on charity and good will, and Dark Guardian, who shows no fear in the face of the Washington Square drug dealers he tries to eliminate.

Apparently getting this film made was not easy for director Michael Barnett and producer Theodore James. Most media coverage of Real Life Superheros - RLSH - had been unflattering, ridiculing these folks whenever possible, so initially, none of them wanted to participate. As soon as Barnett and James made it clear that this was to be an accurate portrayal of their cause, more and more RLSH started to come around and eventually Superheroes, featuring a wide array of interviews and footage of the subjects in action, all topped off with some fun comic book graphics, was born.

When the doc began however, I felt rather uneasy, as I was laughing more than anything else. Laughing in particular at Mr Xtreme and his "Xtreme Cave", a tiny, disheveled apartment filled with comic books as well as texts on law and civil rights, where beside an Iron Man poster is a dummy intended for combat practice and on a small television lined with action figures play episodes of Power Rangers. I began to wonder if this film would be making fun of its subjects after all and started to get uncomfortable, especially when interviews with Stan Lee and a member of the San Diego Police Department put forth the idea that no one but the police should be putting themselves in danger's way or taking the law into their own hands. How is this helping the cause of RLSH?

But things quickly turn around when we meet the New York Initiative, a group of twentysomethings from Brooklyn who are as fit as they are committed, truly as professional as it gets. Led by the superhero Zimmer, an openly gay man who doesn't hide behind a mask because it feels too reminiscent of being in the closet, the New York Initiative regularly patrols the streets of Brooklyn, often using one of their own members as "bait." Don't worry - as much as the SDPD employee on hand would like us to believe - it's not entrapment to walk around a neighborhood, tailed by crime fighters in case someone mugs you. The New York Initiative trains, they patrol, they take this as seriously as anyone could take it. One of my favorite parts in the whole documentary involves this group stumbling upon a situation that needs handling and handling it.

Another RLSH who falls more into the crime fighting category is Dark Guardian, who regularly goes into Washington Square Park to discover who the drug dealers are and get them to leave the park. We get to see him too succeed, although perhaps not in the exciting way we may have initially hoped.

As the doc goes on, we see more and more types of superheroes. The most inspiring are the true crime fighters at first, while Master Legend and Mr Xtreme fall more on the side of sad jokes - men from unfortunate circumstances who now think they are making a difference, but are unfortunately nothing more than boys in costumes. And while the jury is still out on Master Legend for me, who seems worshipped by those in town, but who I never saw truly do anything wonderful, Mr Xtreme ended up winning me over completely. With a look into his family life, his dedication to the cause and ultimately, his small, but important success in catching his nemesis, his story becomes the most poignant, his dreams the ones you most want to see fulfilled.

Perhaps the most beautiful part of the documentary comes at the end, when we take a trip to Comic-Con. A chance for the RLSH to all be in the same city presents itself and although they are ostensibly there to enjoy the convention (because pretty much everyone featured in the doc IS a fan), instead of waiting in line for a panel or perusing the floor every hour of every day, they take some time to travel a mile away to a place in need. Their acts here got my tear ducts going, especially as those they were helping offered to the camera that while people may not think superheros exist, they clearly do, and here they are. "We need them more than they will ever know," one woman says. This final sequence which I don't wish to completely spoil points out that some of these RLSH are simply good people who choose to give back in more of a unique way than anyone else. Instead of volunteering at a soup kitchen or joining Habitat for Humanity, they dress up in costumes and go help the homeless on a one on one basis, whether it's by giving them a bottle of water or simply talking to them about their hardships. And they probably make more of an impact in the process.

But this doc engendered yet another unexpected emotion in me - frustration. The aforementioned police officer from San Diego who was interviewed seems to really have a distaste for the RLSH. All the cops in the film seem to simply tolerate them, some are nicer than others, sure, but each and every one carries a weight of pretension, of condescension, as if the constant subtext reads "This is cute and all, but obviously only I am the real thing. Only I can do anything about these problems." And to a certain extent, in this real world, the police are correct. In every situation where a RLSH does make a difference, at some point they do have to call the cops. And watching it, I'm not necessarily sure I'd want it any other way. When Dark Guardian confronts a drug dealer, we as the audience, are begging him not to physically engage. Because in the real world, Dark Guardian too would have to be arrested. He isn't Batman. He can't jump into his Batmobile and go hideaway in the Batcave. He doesn't have the police commissioner on his side, supporting his efforts. It really puts things into perspective and makes us understand to a deeper degree why superheros are considered vigilantes, why cops would distrust them, why people would be afraid of them. Because technically, they aren't the law, and when you aren't the law, you can't, by our rules, enforce the law. But because we end up believing in these folks so much, we can't help but feel a bit of disgust seeing the way they are treated by the police.

I was not expected to be moved by Superheroes. I was not expected to inspired. I was not expected to be frustrated. I was not expecting something so mentally stimulating. And I certainly wasn't expecting to find myself having a good cry. But Barnett and James pull off something pretty phenomenal here. Yes we learn the basics of around fifteen RLSH - their history (most have incredibly dark back grounds, as is the case with most of comics' best), their weapons of choice (the Zimmer's equipment is the most impressive), their day jobs, their motivations, but we also get truly inside these people and this movement. We debate with ourselves - are some of them mentally unstable or are they simply on a different level than the rest of us? You might look at the RLSH and think they are less evolved, that they don't have a basic understanding of how the world works, when in fact, they are further along in the evolutionary process, wholly and truly devoted to helping others in a large and impactful way, willing to go further to protect their fellow man than most anyone else.

I encourage you to check this film out tonight, airing at 9pm on HBO, and decide for yourselves. It's a fantastic peak into a world we rarely, if ever, get to see taken seriously and portrayed accurately, with respect. Frankly, it's what this noble, odd, persevering group deserves. So do yourself and them a favor and check it out. See full post

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Comic Con 2011 Highlights

Another Comic-Con has past, and with it, another set of unforgettable highlights. 2011 was an interesting year for my home away from home. Hall H had more magic for the cinephiles of the Convention rather than the celebrity-obsessed or even us comic book geeks, trotting out multiple visionary directors to discuss their work over the course of the event, resulting in panels which were always fascinating, informative, and in the case of Spielberg and Jackson, simply a sight to behold. Ballroom 20 often felt like a rock concert, especially on Thursday when the deafening screams for Peter Dinklage at Game of Thrones easily trumped those for Breaking Dawn's Robert Pattinson. The Dealer's Room seemed decidedly less crowded every day except for Sunday, which normally has been regarded as the best day to hit the floor because of the mass attendee exodus. Guess word got out? And the city of San Diego was transformed to an bigger extent. Everywhere you looked was a lounge, cafe, oasis, recreation of South Park (seriously, it was nuts), outdoor party, indoor party, screenings, themed pedicabs, branded trucks or a separate off-site convention such as NERD HQ, Tr!ckster or Gam3rCon. With so much great programming both on site and off, it seemed like there was *always* something fantastic for someone to do. Even if all that something was, was taking shots of the weekend's exceptional cosplay.

But I'm not here for generalities and neither are you. While the Con was in fact a great time all around, there were particular highlights that definitely stood out above the rest, making for a memorable, hilarious, exhilarating and often moving experience once again.

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Andrew Garfield Officially Wins
There is no way to talk about Comic-Con 2011 without addressing Andrew Garfield's heartfelt speech to the crowd in Hall H. Clad in a Spiderman costume and fanny pack, Garfield brought tears to our eyes as he read aloud two pages of hand written thoughts. And before you start calling shenanigans - I have it on good authority that this was 100% this idea and he was being completely and utterly genuine. Throw in the spectacular first clip package that showed off his chemistry with Emma Stone, the darker nature of this reboot, and just how Peter Parker Garfield truly is, and there's no denying this role was made for him.

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Badassery: Khal Drogo
One of my favorite moments at the Game of Thrones panel was when George R. R. Martin asked Jason Momoa who would win in a fight, Khal Drogo or Conan the Barbarian. Momoa responded "Between you and me, George, Kahl would kick Conan's ass." The audience, already at a 10, slid on up to an 11 for that one.

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Peewee Takes The Stage
A late addition to the Comic-Con roster, this ended up being one of those gems of a half hour we might not have gotten had some tent-poles that didn't show this year snatched up the spot earlier on. This was one of the most hilarious Q&As I have ever seen in Hall H. Peewee was on fire and the audience ate it up. I laughed so hard my face hurt and in the span of 20 minutes went from not caring about Peewee Herman to highly anticipating the movie he is making with Judd Apatow. He had the perfect punchline to every single question, and that kind of wit is difficult to come by. But perhaps the best part of the entire panel? When he took a moment at the end to explain how much the love from the crowd meant to him.

Improved WB Bags
Okay, so, whoever came up with the mechanics to turn the WB bags into backpacks is a GENIUS. Poster tube slot AND backpack capable?! All it's missing now is a way to get newly purchased items into the backpack bag without having to take it off. Come on, WB bag innovators, I know you can do it!

Hershel Farm Reveal
I'll be honest, I wasn't too thrilled by the mildly redundant Walking Dead Season 2 Trailer, until roughly the last 15 seconds. Something about seeing Maggie in the flesh immediately reinvigorated my interest in the show.

A New Tradition?
For the first time, Hall H hosted an evening panel focusing on films that would perhaps be a bit too dark, scary or blue for a daytime slot, but still deserved the chance to be discovered. The dedicated crowd that remained got treated to a "drive in" experience of sorts, at first watching a slew of trailers, some premieres, some not, followed by the feature presentation - writer/producer/director Robert Meyer Burnett moderating a lively and engrossing panel on two lesser known indies - the found footage horror film that got raves at Tribeca, Grave Encounters, and Tucker and Dale vs Evil starring Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk, a horror comedy that's been generating fantastic buzz. Here's hoping this concept continues to grow and becomes an even greater outlet for up and coming filmmakers to show off their goods.

Han Solo in Carbonite Cosplay
There are no words

Joss Whedon Dance Party Redux. And threedux. (Or as @davidehrlich called it, Joss Whedon Dance Party, Parts Two and Three, filmed back to back)
I can promise you something. With absolute certainly. If you ever go to a party and Joss Whedon is there, he will dance. Most likely, this will eventually turn in to a full on dance party. And yes, he does want you to join in. Saturday night, there have been multiple accounts of people leaving him dancing at one party, only to walk into the next to find him dancing there as well. Two Joss Whedons? Teleportation? MAGIC? However he did it, Comic-Con will now never be truly complete without dancing in a circle with the Whedon for at least one song.

Also, here's a fun fact for you Whedonites out there - I heard, and I really wish I remembered from whom, that Sookie Stackhouse herself, Anna Paquin, is a huge Joss fan and arranged for them to be introduced this Comic-Con. Adorbz.

Best. Last. Question. Ever.
In a move so brilliant, I'm surprised he was the first in 40 years to try it, a fan asked Steven Spielberg at the end of the Tintin Panel whether he still used film, but his shirt, huge on the Hall H screen, read "If possible, I would like to meet Steven Spielberg just to shake his hand and say thank you very much." Spielberg, Jackson, and the entire Hall H audience was so impressed with his originality that the legend pulled him on stage and in "the most directed photo ever taken", shook his hand as Peter Jackson snapped away. As if this wasn't fantastic enough as it was, as soon as there was a lull in the excitement, the guy said, sounding as sincere as can be, "I just wanted to know if you still use film!" (To which the answer was yes, but not for Tintin because no film is involved at all) Moments like this don't often happen in the big room anyway, so when they do, it's a pleasure to witness. Of course, by the next day, people asking questions were holding up signs as they asked other questions, petitioning for hugs or handshakes, but none were welcomed favorably as the first and original was.

Statue of Avatar Aang
During the best panel of Comic-Con 2011, the minds behind the new series, Legend of Korra, a sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender, took to the stage in 6BCF to premiere the trailer and take us though a slideshow of concept art. That was IT. And it was unfrakkingbelievable. The exact moment I suspected the panel would turn out as special as it did was when the trailer revealed the statue of an adult Avatar Aang. I immediately started crying and in a room packed to the brim with the most dedicated fanbase I had seen collected in one place during the entire convention, I was most certainly not the only one. What followed was a panel that was as basic and beautiful as it gets - which is why it was so amazing. Sometimes simplicity over spectacle is key.

Getting Everything I Wanted From The Dealer's Room
For whatever reason this year, the Dealer's Room was significantly easier to navigate than in cons past. Though I suspect some of that related to my prep, involving an ever-growing, detailed list of giveaways and exclusives and a map with every corresponding booth circled, but I swear, there was a larger sense of ease and accommodation in the air. So what did I score? Check out the article here wrapping up my finds on the floor.

If You Can't Get Annie....
Although a lack of Alison Brie at the Community panel was truly disappointing, Annie's Boobs (aka Cynthia) made her first Comic-Con appearance in her stead, presenting the Season 2 DVD to the Indigo Ballroom audience.

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Joe Lynch's Enthusiasm
One of the most electric filmmakers appearing on stage, amidst one legend after another, was Joe Lynch, who is making his theatrical debut with the Metal/LARPer/Horror/Comedy Knights of Badassdom. Lynch was so excited to be in Hall H (one of many, including Andrew Garfield and Darren Criss who all dreamt of being there one day) that you couldn't help but hang on to his every joy soaked word. When he first got on stage and exclaimed "We're in Hall H.....THANK YOU!!!!",we all suspected we were in for a treat. Strongly backing up his passion for the project was a fantastic cast, stellar footage, and the announcements that the creature is practical, through Guillermo del Toro's Spectral Motion and that Bear McCreary is putting together a metal orchestra and composing the score.

These Photos (courtesy of Francis Ford Coppola's TWIXT)

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The People
This year, more than ever, the place was crawling with amazing folks I know or had been dying to meet, from Twitter pals to pros to bloggers to friends who live across the country. Staying out til 4am had never been easier and to everyone I had the pleasure of spending time with this Comic-Con, I can't wait to do it again next year.

Of course, these are barely the tip of the iceberg, other highlights including Bryan Cranston stealing the Total Recall panel, the sheer beauty of Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington at Game of Thrones, the intense Haywire footage, Joshua Jackson surprising the Fringe audience in Observer cosplay, Hall H singing happy birthday to Patrick Stewart, Ridley Scott getting us jazzed up for Prometheus, getting our makeup done for free at the Wired Cafe while sipping on cocktails thanks to True Blood, and more. All in all, another great year. Already counting down til the next one. More photos here. See full post