Reluctantly crouched at the starting line

Here are some more thoughts on “Cars” based on what I saw last weekend at Wondercon. I’ve noticed a lot of traffic from Cartoon Brew regarding the Pixar segment of my last post.

One of the biggest things that convinced me to check the movie out this fall is the Pixar’s continued attention to detail on many levels. This is something I’m sure fans have come to expect from Pixar over the years. On first blush, this tradition seems to apply to “Cars” as well.

According to the members of the panel, film director and writer John Lasseter is a huge car/racing fan and that fever spread to the rest of the “Cars” team. I’m not a racing fan, but I think many of the film’s details would please racing enthusiasts as well as the general public. Who doesn’t love a snobbish tire salesman who quickly loses interest in a driver because he’s not in the F-1 circuit?

I was hoping the guys from the “Car Talk” radio show would be in the movie (well, they are according to IMDb.

When I saw the teaser last year, I thought the cars were extremely similar to the Chevron Cars used to peddle gasoline. Looking at both of them now, a lot of differences become apparent (aside from the different animation styles).

For the Chevron campaign, the headlights double as eyes and it makes sense — the cars hold human passengers. For “Cars,” the front windshields make up the eyes. That difference wasn’t readily apparent in the teaser poster.

While windshield eyes look a little odd at first, it makes sense because the cars _are_ the only inhabitants in this world (as a panelist pointed out). Looking at the giant windshield eyes, I thought about the giant eyes on bit characters (literally) in the “Reboot” TV series.

Still anything is better than those freaky half-fish, half-people used in the Will Smith movie last year.

It’s great that Pixar can base many of the characters on classic automobiles, according to the panel. It seems a lot of automakers are reluctant to license their vehicles to things such as video games. Other characters were based on original designs.

A panelist said the personalities of the characters were often based on the type of cars. Hot rod car = upstart racing rookie. Mini vans = soccer parents. And so on.

When the cars are racing in the movie’s opening moments, there’s a tremendous amount of detail. The animators had a TV director who oversees NASCAR broadcasts show the team where he would place the cameras in the CGI stadium and the shots he would use as if it were real. Then the animators asked the director for his “fantasy” shots — those he would use if it was physically possible. I think the angles used in the opening sequence is a good balance of the TV-based angles and the fantasy shots which would likely show up in a movie anyway (paging “Days of Thunder”).

The rendering in the stadium looked really strong. The speedy blurs of the surrounding environment as the cars zoom across the track. There is tremendous detail in the cars themselves as they reflect direct light upon them. This shine is a marked contrast to the Silly-Puttyish look of the Chevron cars, which I think is Claymation or some similar technique.

Small details showed up in the forgotten, dusty Route 66 town where our brash, young protagonist is stranded. I smiled when I noticed the “teepees” at the roadside motel where actually traffic pylons (or cones). A panel member pointed out that the ridges surrounding this town are modeled on old Cadillac tail fins.

These nice touches, along with some lighthearted humor, will likely enhance the story involving a racing rookie seeking to win the championship before getting waylaid in the town on Route 66. It seems like a coming-of-age story that, again, is something Pixar excels in.

Wonder world

[Edit — Feb. 16: I’ve added more thoughts about “Cars” here]

I journeyed to San Francisco to attend Wondercon Saturday to check out the show and hopefully meet some of my friends from TrekBBS (where most of this entry was first posted). The convention was a blast and there was a ton of people (at one point, the line to get in stretched around the Moscone Center West). Although smaller than the über-con Comic Con in San Diego, it was a “world of pure imagination,” to steal a phrase from Willy Wonka.

I actually ran into one poster after the late-night screening of Star Wars fan films. So while it would’ve been cool to hang out with my fellow TBBSers, but I hope those people that went had a good time.

Some observations (taken from memory):

– I felt like my geek card was left at home. A lot of these people know their stuff and I had to sheepishly admit several times that I’m not really a “comics” guy. I can still redeem myself with “Star Wars” references.

– Nonetheless, I liked the comics-related stuff I did see, including meeting Keith Knight of “The K Chronicles” and his wife Kerstin. He pens a weekly alt-newsweekly comic. I asked extremely predictable questions, but it was a pleasure to meet him and Kerstin (who BTW looked strong after going through surgery recently).

– The “Ultimate Avengers” screening was popular with an added screening. The animated film comes out on DVD on Feb. 21. I thought it was good — the style is very similar to DC’s Batman/Superman work, voice performances were pretty dramatic and not too hammy for a superhero cartoon. I don’t know if I would buy it or the two follow-ups — maybe I’d rent.

– Kevin Smith was funny as all get out. I loved his stories about Prince (and how some of his footage for a behind-the-scenes video ended up in a video for Jehovah’s Witnesses). We laughed and cried at Smith’s stories about the cast and crew of “Clerks II” chilling at the hotel across from the set. People in the mostly full audience also ate up the Clerks II clip (which was preceded by countless reminders for people to turn off their video cameras, seriously. He wasn’t kidding. He wanted those cameras turned off. Or else he would stop the clip and we’d sit quietly. He meant it.).

Oh, and the people booing the guy trying to pitch him a film project was a good time.

– I felt more lukewarm about the Superman stuff because of the relatively weak Q&A with Brian Singer and Brandon Routh (who was a surprise guest). I came in towards the end, but Singer and Routh’s responses just seemed awkward and unrevealing.

– “Cars” looks a lot better with some of the fully-rendered clips presented by a panel from Pixar. The details are pretty breathtaking, IMO. Before I was concerned because the cars looked like Silly Putty in last-year’s trailer. I’m still a little ambivalent, but I’m willing to see it. [Edit: I’ve added more thoughts about “Cars” here]

The Oscar-nominated “One Man Band” short was awesome and hilarious.

– TV personality sighting: I saw Blair Butler from the G4 cable network with a film crew for “Attack of the Show.” Speaking with her briefly before the Star Wars Q&A, she was polite and funny (referring to herself as “P-list celebrity”) and looked great in person with her hair down.

– The Star Wars stuff was OK. There was nothing too revealing in the Q&A (the cartoon series will highlight both American _and_ Japanese animation styles, Lego Star Wars II will be out this year, etc.). The film fest was cool although I had seen several of the shorts before. But they gave us buttons and stickers, so I can’t complain.

– The Browncoat meeting was a mild disappointment. The SF and Sacramento clubs had intended to show some of the panels from other cons, but the con operators wouldn’t let them do it. So they were watching episodes of the show (which isn’t bad, just that there’s a lot more going on outside). “Shindig” was good.

– Peter David had a “big announcement” at his panel. He said he was going to go exclusive with Marvel for the next three years. It was a winning proposition for him — he will be able to continue the other comic projects he has on the table (some with other publishers) and he gets medical benefits.

His latest New Frontiers book “Missing in Action” was available early at the show for the fans to purchase. Several of his fans proudly held up their copies of the large paperback.

I’m very excited about his new “Next Generation” book about the Borg with the intended purpose to get the Borg back to their original, horrifying roots. David said the Borg are supposed to be an unrelenting force like a million Terminators (from the first movie). The novel will be set post-Nemesis.

Asking David later, my concerns about why he had the crew of Excalibur skip the Dominion War were entirely unfounded.

He’s writing a new Battlestar Galactica book (something like “Sagittarius Rising”) which he said primarily deals with Roslyn after “Epiphanies.” David said he loves the new series, but he initially stayed away because he thought they were doing a disservice to Richard Hatch. He changed his mind after some fans told him Hatch has a recurring role. He was blown away after seeing his first season one episode — “Kobol’s Last Gleaming, Part II.” That’s a doozy of way to break into the show (especially the end).

There was a lot of stuff going on Saturday and there was very little downtime between sessions. The sessions were informative and there were lots of available seats in most of them.

I didn’t hit the vendor floor for very long, but I couldn’t afford anything anyway. The floor was crammed with so many comic books and collectibles, I wouldn’t know where to begin with my exploration. If there was time, I’d hunt for a copy of the Star Trek Mirror Universe saga released by DC Comics in the Â?80s (or the trade paperback re-release) and Futurama stuff from Bongo Comics.

I heard from others that this Wondercon seemed smaller this year and that it’s definitely smaller than San Diego Comic Con (which I’ve never actually experienced). Still, it rocked and I would love to go again next year.

Passing the word

I received this mass e-mail from a former classmate from Poway High School Class of 1996. It says to pass the message on, so here we go. BTW, I tweaked the links slightly because I don’t like to direct spam to anyone. – RTO

Hello Class of 96!!!!

I hope each and everyone if you is well. It’s great to see all your names again!!!

I just wanted to let you know that we are busy planning our reunion. (Can you believe it’s been 10 years already!?) The date has not been set but time wise we are looking at the end of August/early September. (Not Labor Day weekend as I know everyone tends to have big plans.)

More information and updates will be forth coming. If you haven’t so already please add your name to the PHS alumni list so we can get in contact with you:
[It’s in the alumni section on the PHS Web site – RTO]

Also please pass this along to the rest of our class if you have their e-mails!!!

We look forward to seeing you!! It’s going to be an unforgettable and FUN NIGHT!!!

Warmest regards,

Anna Massengill
-at- yahoo

Tube Talk: Super show

I was going to take off after the Big Game ended, but ABC started airing “Grey’s Anatomy” pretty quickly. I hadn’t seen the show since the first episode left me uninterested. Although I was only vaguely familar with the show or its characters, tonight’s episode drew me in.

After opening with a rather pedestrian woman feeling down after a romantic situation ended badly, the show was off to the races. There were a dozen plot threads running almost to the point of implausabilty (for example, the cranky, pregnant head doctor in labor while her husband is going through brain surgery after an accident en route to the hospital), but darn if it wasn’t good TV with a engaging mix of comedic and dramatic moments.

Things were moving so fast, I told my friend that it was a two-part episode to minimize the bummage factor when the inevitable cliffhanger came. And it was a doozy — finding one of the main characters holding an embedded explosive in place in a victim’s body.

I didn’t say it to Joel at the time, but I really liked the bright image from his HD TV. True, the local ABC affillate wasn’t airing an HDTV feed, but the broadcast via Dish looked pretty clear. I must definitely mention this when I see him again. I’d be very interested to see how BSG looks when it airs on the NBC Universal HD channel.

OTOH, the remote for the DISH DVR looked like a control panel on a 737. There’s a ton of buttons and I still don’t know what a third of them do.

And lastly, I probably shouldn’t have been talking so much during the broadcast. People didn’t seem annoyed, but it’s probably a little rude and annoying. Also, my hit-to-noise ratio was probably a little low (although there was one good laugh somewhere).

Half-time hijinks

Quick thoughts about tonight’s halftime show at Super Bowl XL. The Super Bowl organizers teamed up the Rolling Stones in Motown, just like they would pair up peanut butter and spaghetti. Criticisms that the NFL missed an opportunity seemed to ring true.

Don’t get me wrong, the Stones seemed like a nice act although one viewer noted that Mick danced like a 60-year-old grandma. However, the fact that the NFL wouldn’t take advantage of the homegrown Detroit talent is an indication of this post-Janet world that we live in.

Since that horrible faux pas that brought Western civilization to the brink of collapse, the NFL has changed the rules with the Rolling Stones this year and Paul McCartney last year. All these rules are geared to avoid another wardrobe “malfunction.”

Thanks to my exclusive access to Paul Tagliabue’s computer, here they are:

– They must be older. Perhaps because they’re less likely to do … you know.
– They must be British. I don’t know why it is, maybe the “No sex please, we’re British” rule is in effect.
– They must be men. Hey, if there _is_ a “malfunction,” it will be less serious because they’re dudes.

Following this pattern, we should expect to see another aging British icon hauled up on stage for Super Bowl XLI. A friend suggested Sting.

I don’t mind that they’re Brits. I guess it’s sort of cultural exchange program. We get McCartney and the Stones for the NFL Championship. The Canadians got the Black Eyed Peas for their CFL championship. Following that pattern, German pop star David Hasselhoff will be singing midgame during a Premier League Championship in England sometime soon.

Anyway, the second half of the game was pretty exciting with some key plays. Thanks to Joel for hosting the party at his very nice pad (and cooking!). It was quite nice.