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Monthly Archives: July 2007
New York’s Forgotten Substations

Filed under Reading / Watching / Consuming

retro industrial power converters

Christopher Payne’s photographs are a sort of urban archaeology that digs down not through sand or sediment, but through the layers of our forgetfulness. Because these remarkable industrial monuments are still there. They’re just ignored.

art deco machinerySome of these subway power substations are still in use, rebuilt and equipped with more modern equipment; while many, which make for the most interesting pictures, are abandoned. Those photographs are dreadfully still and fascinating – peeling paint, drifts of debris, and pools of standing water frame the massive power converters and banks of switches and gauges in these innocuous buildings, sprinkled throughout the city.

A power substation received power from one or more powerhouses through massive underground cables. The power converters look like gigantic turbines. Their function was to spin, powered by the incoming AC current, and by spinning generate the DC current that powered the subway.

Analog dial gauges and banks of switchesPayne’s book includes period photographs of manned substations, several shots of the exteriors of these buildings, which blend into their setting and are largely ignored, and – best of all, for me – the photographs of these lost installations with their titanic machinery in decay.

The pictures make wonderful reference, which was my reason for getting the book, but they’re beautiful and interesting in their own right. I’m a sucker for early 20th century technology and machinery, of course. But I don’t think you need to be, to be moved by the neglect and decay of these immense machines that once were the embodiment of our progress and hope for the future.

Retro Appliance Death Rays by Greg Brotherton

Filed under Found on the Web

I like the way Greg Brotherton thinks. His online gallery shows us demented retro-futuristic devices like the Electrolux Death Ray, the Sunbeam Heat Ray, and the Hydraulic Robo-Slab; just the sort of equipment I need for the Secret Laboratory.

Do not, on any account, miss the Electrolux Death Ray commercial. You will definitely not want to be the last on your block to own one of these babies.

And of course in addition to the household appliances there are some fascinating robotic sculptures like the Minitron, an insectoid robotic minotaur. Honestly, that’s a phrase I never thought I’d use.

Anyway, these are about as close as I’m likely to get to the mad scientist appliance I really need – the Omnidirectional Disintegrating Weed Eater. Though one can hope.

Homeless, by Eduardo Suazo

Filed under Computer Graphics, Found on the Web

Homeless animation

Homeless” is an interesting animated short film by Eduardo Suazo; if you’re used to brief, frenetically paced animations you’ll probably hate it, but it’s well worth your time.

It’s technically proficient but it does raise the question of why, if this were the film you wanted to make, you’d animate it rather than shooting it in live action. The few (though important) effects in the film could as easily be done in either case. I guess when it comes down to it, the answer is that if you’re an animator, you use the tools you have. Anyhow, those musings aside, an interesting piece.

Swept up from 3D Total.

Mega Robot Returns

Filed under Computer Graphics, Found on the Web

Short on story but big on photo-realistic gonzo-ism, “Mega Robot Returns” is a test piece from Kaktus Films in Sweden.

Possibly an answer to that age-old question: “Why don’t those nuclear dinosaurs and invading alien cyborgs ever smash Stockholm?”

But I’m still left wondering what, exactly, happened to the dog.

Discovered at 3D Total.

Making of – Warrior Tools

Filed under Computer Graphics, Works in Progress

Warrior Tools Contest Winner

I’ve posted a previously unpublished “Making of” article I wrote for my winning entry (several years ago) in a 3D art contest at 3dLuvr.com – it’s not as in depth as I might like, but it does explain some of the experiments I was doing at that time: mainly, using displacement mapping to create interesting terrain.

You can find the article here.

A Great Big Robot from Outer Space Ate My Homework

Filed under Computer Graphics, Found on the Web

Mark Shirra’s “A Great Big Robot from Outer Space Ate My Homework” is yet another terrific animated short spawned by the Vancouver Film School. Nobody’s eating their homework over there.

Really nice work on the materials and textures, but it’s funny enough that you might not notice that at first. Nice one!

Harvested from 3D Total.

The Call of Cthulhu silent film

Filed under Reading / Watching / Consuming

What if they’d based a film on an H.P. Lovecraft story during his lifetime?

Not only would it have lacked the shlock of “Re-Animator”, but it would have been… silent! In glorious black and white! With thrills, chills, and title cards!

Just like this one, in fact.

What we have here – “Filmed in Mythoscope” – is a re-creation of what that might have been like. Don’t expect expensive (or even inexpensive) CGI here, folks. It’s all filmed with practical effects like hanging miniatures and the action takes place in wonderful, low- to no- budget sets. The most advanced thing going on here, except in the editing, is some judderingly retro stop motion animation.

The actors do a creditable job and the film, which weighs in at a brief 72 minutes, just approaches its own low budget nature – with quivering tentacles – and absorbs it, makes it its own, as a feature of its period style. It’s a great example of turning necessity into a virtue.

And should you buy or rent it, don’t fail to watch the making-of material in the bonus features. Once you know that the South Atlantic and the ruins of R’Lyeh were filmed in somebody’s back yard, you’ll be about ready to give it a go yourself.

It’s a fine adaptation, a curious object, and a lot of fun to watch. And should you speak a language other than English – even I think, Finnish – you can watch in your own mother tongue. The fact that all the dialogue’s on title cards meant that the makers could translate the movie into an eldritch and unspeakable variety of languages. Which, compelled by the will of the Old Ones, they did. Nifty!

The Device Patented Process Indicating Apparatus

Filed under Found on the Web, Reading / Watching / Consuming

Mad Scientist Gauges

I’m always on the lookout for new additions to the Secret Laboratory, whether it’s sharks for the moat, or… in this case… nifty analog gauges to tell me whether space pirates have breached my defenses, or whether my coffee’s getting cold. (As if!)The Device

The Device Patented Process Indicating Apparatus promises to be all this, and more. Though I think it’s likelier to tell me how hard my cpu’s working.

The Device is a handsome, wood and brass built unit that offers two analog gauges and an indicator light; it’s a programmable, um, Device, and has a USB port so that it can talk to your computer. The custom software allows you to tell the unit what it should be monitoring (like my CPU usage). Though the web site mentions both “Electrotherapeutic Shock Intensity” and “Ebay Auction Status”, which, um, indicates just how versatile a Device it is. Whillikers!

Just wish it was available already – like those Weta rayguns!


[tags]computers,hardware,usb,gizmo,widget,apparatus,retro,analog,device,mad scientist[/tags]
My Sites – Long Playing Computer Graphics

Filed under Web Development, Works in Progress

Long Playing Computer GraphicsMy personal web site was, as you’d expect, my first. In its first few years it went through substantial changes – after all, I was learning how to design sites at the time – but around 1999 it settled down and since then I’ve mainly made only visual changes to it. That’s partly because I’d accumulated so many inbound links that I don’t want to make huge changes there any more. Why did I get all those links? Well, because I was giving things away for free. I still do. It’s absurdly easy to give things away, and people like it. And I was used to doing it.

I Lived on the Moon

Filed under Computer Graphics, Found on the Web

Mysterious and strange – Yannick Puig’s “I Lived on the Moon“, set to the song from the Kwoon’s album “Tales and Dreams”, uses 3D rendered animation combined with effects that feel like 2D in a 3D space. The idea reminds me quite a bit of cut-out animation (think Terry Gilliam) though the visual style is softer and painterly.

But the foreground characters are fully animated and nicely lit in 3D, in a surprisingly successful style. This is a haunting, lovely piece of work.

Gleaned from 3D Total.

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Down in the Basement. Where it Strains Against its Chains and Turns a Gigantic Wheel of Pain, for all Eternity. Muahahahahaha.