amusements


It’s been twenty years since I wrote the American culture test, so it’s time for an update.

(Mostly it’s new pop culture references, but attitudes about race and sexuality have changed significantly, and there’s more to say about the Internet.)

You undoubtedly know about Ross Scott’s fantastic Freeman’s Mind, in which Gordan Freeman goes through all of Half-Life 1 talking to himself all the way, and turns out to be kind of a maladjusted douche (but an amusing one).    But he also has a series, with Craig Mendel, called Civil Protection.

Dave and Mike, you see, are two beat cops in City 17, trying to get through the day and keep themselves sane in post-apocalyptia. (It’s weird, though, to recognize Scott’s voice, so familiar as Freeman, playing Mike.) Here, warm up on this:

Most of the videos are pretty funny, but this one is the longest and goes into an unexpected direction:

This is one of the best machinima I’ve seen. As a short horror film, it’s actually more effective than this Source Filmmaker one. There’s some genuine mystery to it, and the change in tone as the two goofball cops get in over their heads is cleverly done. Scott’s approach to horror is minimalist, which is refreshing– he doesn’t try to gross us out, and the slow building up of the story allows us to get interested.

(A warning, though– it seems to end on a cliffhanger, and doesn’t offer any closure. FWIW he’s put out another entry in the series, a comedy, but I don’t know if he intends to continue this particular story.)

Sometimes I’m slow to pick up on things… Youtube has been around for ages, and for ages I’ve read about Winsor McCay’s animations and wanted to see them, but I didn’t put these two facts together till now.

As one of the earliest of animators, he’s most famous for Gertie the Dinosaur, available here.  But to my mind, his 1912 How a Mosquito Operates is funnier and holds up better.

The repetitions are a bit weird, but a) probably were enhanced by music, and b) helped pad out the piece, a perennial animator’s preoccupation, magnified in these days before the invention of the cel.

McCay was an amazing and lightning-fast draftsman, which allowed him to personally produce the thousands of drawings needed.  What’s more remarkable is his ability to produce lifelike movement.  Today you can look up in a book how to animate, or use computer tools to preview your animation, but McCay was inventing his techniques.

And even more remarkable is the humor and humanity that he puts into his characters.  I used to watch compilations of computer animations in the ’80s; the technical mastery was impressive, but almost no one attempted stories or characters.  McCay’s mosquito, though horrifyingly large, is in his own way dapper and endearing.  His persistence and greed give the short a story, and once he’s gorged on blood McCay shows off both technical prowess (the skeeter really looks heavy) and humor (he has such a hard time flying an inch off the humanscape).  Not a few contemporary animators could learn from this sequence how movement can be funny.

(For McCay’s comics work, see Bob’s review here.)

So Li’l Guardian Pyro is up for a Saxxy award. I just watched all of the nominees, and it’s the best. But some others are very good, IMHO:

  • Chinatown Getaway is set in Koth King and feels just like a Hong Kong action film.  Makes me wish TF2 included parkour and expanded melee.
  • Frozen in Love is very clever.  Someone turned their lack of animating skills into a plus.  Plus why can’t we have female models already?  There’s already an insane amount of pictorial variation in the game.
  • A Fragile Dream is affecting.  Post-Apocalyptia is a little bit easy for generating pathos, but this is well done and very well animated.

Hat tip to my friend Samwise for pointing this out:

This is pretty much the best Source Filmmaker short I’ve seen yet. A little bit of cute overload at times, but it’s lively, clever, and totally captures the spirit of TF2.

A lot of TF2 shorts are good, but marred by wooden animation. This stuff is professional-level, and goes beyond merely re-using Valve’s art assets– the little pyro/spy/medic have all been specially rigged and animated. As I’m doing this stuff for my game, I’m aware of how much work it is.

And technical prowess isn’t enough; you also have to have characters and a story. The interaction between the characters is really well done here– lots of little details like the wordless frustration of the Pyro when he wants to be in two places at once, or the fact that when the Guardian Pyro is put back at the end, the other Guardian pyro is animated and looks at him. Really amazing work.

Cartoonist, writer, and man-about-town John Leavitt, known to Interpol as The Whelk, noted on Twitter his intention to create a doodle for the first person who replied. No one had, so I have a doodle!

It was supposed to be my favorite TV/movie character. I actually spent a bit of time deciding… did I want the immortal Bogart, the immortal Tommy Perfect, the immortal Tank Girl? I ended up with the immortal Dante:

I'm not even supposed to be here today!

I’m not even supposed to be here today!

It’s harder to explain why I like Dante. Maybe because it’s actually a little difficult to make an everyman character who’s actually likeable. If you make them too bland they’re forgettable, and if you make them too virtuous they’re annoying.

David Rappoccio has reimagined the NFL as English, with one suspects not complete seriousness, and provided logos:

StonkingTweetybirds

It’s pretty much monocles all the way down.

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