Friday, May 22, 2015

The Catbus-Stop

A haiku I wrote after the meeting.
Last Tuesday I went to an International Game Developers Association (IGDA) meeting. In the meeting, Shane Shmit, talked about happiness in the industry. Part of that conversation was a historical review of the industry and game development. I was engaged. I took a lot of notes. I contributed. I got to meet local professionals. It was awesome.

My classmates and I showed off our junior project. It was a little last minute but we presented as well as we could. Want to know something? They were impressed! Shane said it was one of the best student projects he's seen. I was complemented for my visual effects work. I had a great time. I got a bit of the same feeling I felt when I went to GDC. I felt like myself. I felt whole and connected to who I am at a deep level.

When I left the meeting, (It happened to be held on UVU campus this time around.) I walked in the rain towards my car. My spirits were high. I felt great and my imagination started to go wild. Hearing the rain pitter and patter on the leaves took me back to my childhood.

I thought of Satsuki and Mei at the bus stop in My Neighbor Totoro. It's night. It's raining. They are illuminated by a lamppost by the bus stop. The guardian spirit of the forest, Totoro, joins them with a giant leaf on his head to keep the rain off. They both carry umbrellas above their heads. Rain drops collect on the evergreen leaves above Totoro. A drop falls on his head and a smile emerges. Totoro jumps and stomps the ground and all the rain drops fall from the trees in a deluge. The Catbus comes and Totoro bids the girls farewell as he boards.

I'm pretty sure if I waited a few minutes more, the Catbus would have stopped at the lamppost. I imagined the giant creature squeezing and crawling through the tunnel and stopping at the lamppost. He'd look at me with his giant chesire smile and invite me on a trip to some magical place--free of charge. That's where my mind was.

I realized a sign for when I'm being who I want to be. My imagination is active. I'm creative. It's when I know I'm in the right place and I can trust myself. When I'm imaginative and creative, I'm at the Catbus-Stop and I know I'm where I need to be.

How about you folks? What are the signs, or Catbus-Stops, that you're at your best?

-Stephen

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Introducing DC's Legends of Tomorrow

It was only about a year ago that I first watched CW's extended trailer for The Flash. And once I had seen it, I was instantly impressed and excited to watch this new series. And now that the first season of The Flash has just come to a close, I can definitely say that it lived up to my expectations.

Last week, I first saw the trailer for the next series CW's superhero line-up, DC's Legends of Tomorrow. And my reaction to it was very similar to the trailer for The Flash. If you haven't seen it yet, watch the trailer below and you'll see what I'm talking about.


While DC has sometimes been hit or miss with the movies produced about their characters, one thing that they've definitely gotten right is their current TV universe (known affectionately by fans as the Arrowverse, as Arrow was the series that launched DC's current TV universe). While it took me a while to get on the bandwagon, Arrow was a fast hit. And I've watched The Flash from the start, and though it's been very different from Arrow, it has been every bit as good.

Now with Legends of Tomorrow, the legacy continues.

The title card for DC's Legends of Tomorrow
Legends of Tomorrow is being produced by the same team that developed Arrow and The Flash. Co-developer Greg Berlanti has said that, it is intended to be “most similar to our crossover episodes, where you feel that ‘event-iness,’ but all the time.” The cross-over episodes of Arrow and The Flash have been among my favorites. And if the trailer is any indication, the Arrow and the Flash will be making appearances in the new show as well.

And as you may have noticed, not all of the stars of Legends of Tomorrow are heroes. As Rip Hunter alludes to in the trailer, and as the title states, they are not heroes, but legends.

The cast of Legends of Tomorrow. From left to right: Arthur Davrill (as Rip Hunter), Ciara RenĂ©e as Hawkgirl, Victor Garber (as Professor Martin Stein), Caity Lotz (as White Canary), Brandon Routh (as the Atom), Wentworth Miller (as Captain Cold) and Dominic Purcell (as Heat Wave).
As the trailer showed, Legends of Tomorrow features Rip Hunter, Professor Martin Stein (who makes up one half of the superhero Firestorm), Ray Palmer (better known as the Atom), Sara Lance (returning in a new role as White Canary), Kendra Sunders (also known as Hawkgirl), and Leonard Snart and Mick Rory (Flash Rogues Captain Cold and Heat Wave).

Although this is an all-star cast, the characters I'm most looking forward to seeing are the Atom and Rip Hunter.

Brandon Routh portraying Ray Palmer/The Atom
I've come to love Brandon Routh's portrayal of Ray Palmer in Arrow. He adds humor and lightheartedness to to what is often a rather dark and serious show. And while I will be sorry to see him leaving Arrow, I look forward to continuing to see his character in a new more central role.

Arthur Darvill portraying Time Master Rip Hunter
And Arthur Darvill, who is best known for playing Doctor Who companion, Rory Williams, marks the third actor from the Whoniverse to be featured in the Arrowverse (following John Barrowman's portrayal of Malcolm Merlyn and Alex Kingston's portrayal of Dinah Lance). I'm still not sure whether Darvill being cast as Rip Hunter is just really fitting or if he's being typecast, but either way, in just the short appearance he makes in the trailer, he seems perfect for the role.

Legends of Tomorrow is scheduled to begin filming this August and is scheduled to premiere in January 2016. Personally this is one show that I don't want to miss!

As the first season of The Flash and the third season of Arrow have just recently wrapped up, stay tuned during the next few weeks for my review of the season of each show.

Monday, May 18, 2015

LDStorymakers 2015

Sadly another conference for LDStorymakers is already over. For me, it was a two-day whirlwind where catching my breath (and a cold) have been difficult.

This year was vastly different than any other year, for me at least. With all my studying and house-buying coming to a close, it's been a very busy year. Add teaching a class both days of the conference and you can see how 2015 has started off somewhat hectic. But I was able to laugh and have fun as the pseudo-Survivor meme below suggests. Pretty much, I outsmarted my negative self.


This was the first year the Storymakers was held at the Utah Valley Convention Center. It was an awesome location with acrophobia-inducing escalators. Seriously, when you get on an escalator and it takes at least 90 seconds without walking to get to the top, it's really high up there. Rode an elevator once. Wasn't any faster. Other than that (and the spitting soap dispensers), it was a great place for the conference. The main ball room held the 700-ish people. We were then able to go upstairs or downstairs for one of many classes offered. Besides the 2 I taught, I only attended 3. For some reason, I kept falling asleep sitting in any classroom.

Also, the bookstore was awesome. There was so much to choose from. Good thing I only made 3 choices (one of which was the Whitney Award winner for Best Novel of the Year this past Saturday night. Congrats, Sarah Eden!) But it's amazing to go from what I recall seeing in the bookstore in 2010 at the first LDStorymakers conference I attended and compare it to how much it's not only grown, but also features books written by people I've met before they were published. Or friends who were already published but added a few more books over the years. As I was privileged to help out at the bookstore (because Scott and Julie tolerate someone who knows how to work a cash register), I smiled anytime I saw a book from one of my friends pass through the line.

There was a theme around "this is my tribe" from our conference chair, Melanie Jacobson. The theme definitely fit for me. Last year it just wasn't my best year. With the exception of hanging out in the bookstore, I just had lost all my mojo. But this year, I feel revived. Part of that is last year my annual roommate, James Duckett, couldn't make it. After feeling deflated from an agent's remarks, I just didn't have it in me to enjoy Storymakers last year. This year, complete 180. I felt at home the whole weekend. Following James' example of exerting extrovert energy (how's that for alliteration?) I decided to be social. And you know what, I had fun this year. More fun than any other year I've attended.

And as much as the LDS writing community is a tribe, it's also a family. It felt like a family reunion. I don't feel nearly as comfortable around any group of people as I have with my Storymakers family. Especially this year. This year, I felt at home. I had conversations with people I only see once a year (rarely more) and still felt like I was seeing a cousin or other relative I get along with. And as the conference grows, so does this pseudo-family. Every year I meet or talk to someone who hasn't been before or been in the time that I've been going or has been and we've just never crossed paths. This year, I got to meet all three types of people and adding them to my family like Ash Ketchum collecting Pokemon. Okay, maybe not that creepy sounding.

So, if you missed the epicness of LDStorymakers this year, next year's conference was already announced that May 12-14, 2016 at the Utah Valley Convention Center.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Do What You Love

Hello my friends!

I know it's crazy to hear from me right now. I've been MIA for the past 5 months due to the intensity of school. I have so much to catch you all up on. So many personal changes and life experiences I've been needing to share for a while. For today, let me tell you about what I got out of the Game Developer's Conference (GDC) and what I learned from watching the documentary Harmontown.

As most of you know, I am studying Animation and Game Design at Utah Valley University. Before I went to GDC at the beginning of March we were just starting production for our video game junior project. I worked hard. I drew up some really cool concept art and stylized visual effects. (A future blog post.) The thing was, I worked hard primarily because I was afraid what would happen if I didn't.

Up until GDC, I didn't really feel like myself. I just felt like I was there. I felt like I was someone I didn't know or recognize. Something changed in me fall of last year that took me a while to process and changed me. The only time I really felt like me was when I was drawing and doing stuff for our project. Even then, when I completed artwork and assets for our video game it was primarily out of fear.

Here I am with classmates and my professor.
So why was I afraid? I lost a sense of confidence. I was afraid that if my portfolio didn't look good that I would fail. I was afraid of not being able to get a job. I was afraid that I was wasting my time when I really needed to be pursuing a different path. I was afraid of being a starving artist and need to make sure everything is perfect. I was insecure and anxious.

When I went to GDC, I felt like I came to an emotional oasis. I felt secure. I felt belonging. I knew this was where I needed to be. I knew this was the industry I needed to work in. I felt alive. I felt excited. I felt like me. I knew I had a long way to go but this time I felt hope and not fear.

Before GDC, I did artwork because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn't. After GDC, I did artwork because I loved doing it.

So what lesson did I learn from Dan Harmon, the creator of Community?

The documentary Harmontown follows Dan Harmon between seasons 3 and 5 of Community. NBC fired Dan Harmon for the 4th season and he was out of a job. Dan felt angry, discouraged and depressed. He decided to broadcast a podcast called Harmontown to work through his emotions. (Subsequently, Harmontown became a hit podcast.) Dan went on tour for live recordings of his podcast throughout the country. This was covered by the documentary.

Dan is alcoholic, sometimes a jerk, crude and blunt. He's completely honest with himself and everyone around him. He doesn't fool himself, he knows his weaknesses. He's a little lazy. He's sometimes a control freak. He's a genius. He's compassionate. He's inspiring. In short, Dan Harmon is Dan Harmon.

What I loved about Dan Harmon's story is simply that he does what he loves. He doesn't care about tv ratings for Community. He writes because he loves to write. Not many people watch Community but the people that do are the best kind of fans you could ever wish to have. The documentary shows that they are real people who have felt alone for being the "weird ones." When Dan Harmon meets these people he's humbled by how he touched their lives.

It made me realize that this blog may not be the most popular blog out there. It may never go viral or become extremely popular. But we have the best readers and we don't write to become popular but because we love it. Similarly, the video games I create in the future may not be hits. I may not make a lot of money from them. But I don't do what I do for money. I do what I do because I love it.

When an artist produces something because they love it you can feel it. It's the best work. It's the most influential. It's the real and authentic. I fall into putting off creating and doing work I love. I'll give that time to television and video games. I love it so why do I do it? Well, that's a different blog post. The point is, I think we should all do what we love. I don't mean doing something to help us relax but doing something to help us be. Put down the remote and write. Put down the controller and draw. Start creating plans for something you love when you walk out of the movie theatre. Give time to do something.



-Stephen

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Batman vs Superman-could it work?

Let's face it, Marvel is winning.

I hate that we live in a time where this image is real
but not everyone is excited about it. 
They're owned by Disney. Marvel films are collecting far more praise and fangirls than any DC film since Dark Knight. Used to be kids wanted to exclusively dress up as Batman, now Halloween is full of Captain Americas, Iron Mans, and Hulks.

Will DC recover? Will kids dress up as Batman and Superman once again? Will the Dark Knight escape from the Riddler's sinister death trap?

Sorry, went somewhere different for a minute.

If you'd have asked me last week if I thought DC's upcoming "We're just as good as Marvel"'s Batman Vs. Superman film was going to go, I'd have told you that they're was little hope. The casting rumors has it filled to the brim with heroes that have sparked heated debates. The fact that it's directly tied to the bafflingly awful Man of Steel film and rumored to be connected to the unbelievably awful Green Lantern films, I just had no hope for the people who have taken thousands of dollars of my money for comic books.

Then I saw this:



Okay, they've got my interest.

Marvel, being owned by Disney, seems to be taking the classic good guy/bad guy angle when it comes to super hero films. Easy morals the kids can follow, over-dramatic villains for the snarky heroes to beat on (Loki and Winter Soldier of course excluded), and that's fine. DC though seems to be headed into the dark and gritty direction. Moral questions being brought up, complex villains and even the best heroes making mistakes.

Will it work?
Let's just be glad they didn't dress
her up in a string bikini. 

Honestly this is probably the only way DC could go to not look like they were flat out ripping off Marvel. Going the gritty dark root opens DC up to the more adult audience, the ones who like having a significant plot to go along with people in their underwear beating each other to death with cars. My worry is if DC is going to be able to make it work. The Dark Knight series only really worked because of Heath Leger showing everyone how a villain is done, and the third installment barely pulled the franchise together. As I said earlier, I was not at all impressed with Man of Steel's attempt at making Superman dark, my biggest reason being is that they tried to force it on him so much it smacked in effort, like trying to sell Hot Topic clothes at the MTC, it just didn't seem like a good fit.

This trailer seems to indicate though that Superman is being swept up in some sort of mass hysteria of people either thinking that he is god and here to save everyone or is not god and will doom us all, and Batman seems to be on the side of the doomsayers. If you look at Batman from an outsider perspective, he is a vigilante running around with unlicensed weapons assaulting countless victims a night and causing massive property damage so I can see how Superman would see him as dangerous as well, so I can see now why these two would end up in a brawl.
Nobody is making fun of Aquaman again. 

My last concern is one I mentioned earlier: the trailer only showed Batman and Superman. Where is everyone else? The above estimate at the plot seems like it would take a lot of screen time to establish, so where could they squeeze in Lex Luthor, Wonder Woman and Aquaman? Not to mention the rumors that have been floating around about Darkseid, Doomsday, Green Lantern, Flash, and Martian Manhunter. This is why Marvel took their time and gave most of the main characters their own movies to establish and breathe in before smashing them all together to trash New York. Avengers works because we already know these people, so what's going to happen when we have to stop the epic Superman/Batman brawl to explain who these people are and what they're doing?

Overall, I feel more hopeful for this film. I was going to see it either way because they'res nothing I love more than a good train wreck, but now I'm hoping Superman comes by and saves the day.

Either way, I'm seeing this train.

Or film.

Or whatever.

-JOE

Monday, April 13, 2015

T.J.'s Sci-Fi Faves

Yeah, I have a cold. I've had one since Saturday. So why am I blogging about it? I'm not....I'm just being whiny. Sheesh, calm down.

And I'm finally steering away from religious posts (for now) and talking about something geeky.

I'd like to think I watch a lot of TV (maybe that's not as positive as I think it should be). Then I talk to a co-worker and realize I really don't. Over the last few years, actually, I feel like my television watching has gone down.

But today, I'd like to go through a list of TV shows in the sci-fi realm of things (includes non-animated comic-based shows) that are my favorites. I'm going through my top 8. So a shout out goes out for Lost and Sliders. I have never seen Firefly for fear of disappointment that it doesn't continue on. Gotham is too dark for me and I can't decide if I want to continue watching it. And I haven't watched enough of Farscape or Fringe or Warehouse 13 to give a fair comparison.



7T. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Out of the three 24th century Star Trek series, DS9 was sometimes hard to follow. Not to say I didn't like it. There were some great episodes (Bada-Bing, Bada-Bang has to be one of my favorites). There were also some less than stellar ones (The Visitor bugged me.) DS9 was a good space opera full of a few good continuing storylines. My problem with it is its ending. Sisko deserved better.

7T. Star Trek: Voyager Yes, they made it home. The "happily ever after" concept was met. Which is why I liked Voyager better than DS9. But marginally better. It has a lot of issues that bugged me. How many times can Janeway go against the Prime Directive in one episode and then follow it to a T in the next? It's hard to decide between DS9 and Voyager. One day I'll do a better comparison between the two. But for me, it's easier to call it a tie.

6. Batman (1966) Holy classic television, Batman! Campy style. Awesome (not really) puns. Many, many near-death-experiences-that-are-solved-by-employing-deus-ex-machina. When I was a little kid, this show was barely 20 years old when I was watching it. It's been almost 30 years since I became a fan of the dark knight and boy wonder, but in that time, this TV show still holds a place in my heart.

5. The Flash (2014) To be honest, I'm two episodes behind and will probably be three by tomorrow night. But that doesn't mean my wife and I don't intend to get caught up soon. The Flash has been the "calmest" show in the current wave of comic-based shows. It's got a great episodic feel with an overarching storyline that isn't too frustrating to follow. Grant Gustin's Barry Allen is well-written. Iris? Not so sure. But we'll talk about my favorite CW DC character in a few.


Now....2-4 (or 4-2) are hard to compare. And sometimes, it'll depend on the day. There's nostalgia, storytelling, characters, Emily Bett Rickards, Felicia Day....Anyway...all I'm saying is that it's hard to decide between Captain Picard, Felicity Smoak, and Dr. Holly Marten....

4. Eureka Do you know what TNG and Eureka have in common? Wil Wheaton. Where I wondered when Wes was gonna blow chunks when he was tired, I loved the "villain" he portrayed in this under-loved show. Its 5 seasons weren't enough, but the show did a great job in tying up its loose ends and giving the audience a well-rounded sci-fi story full of mystery, romance, and humor. There were many times I hated this show (Season 5 Episode 2) and still loved it (You're mostly forgiven, but that was awfully mean!) Eureka is classic show that just couldn't stand well on a station that I question what it's doing.


3. Star Trek: The Next Generation These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise....to watch Tasha Yar die unnecessarily, to see Musical Engineers followed by Musical Medical Staff, to see Tasha somehow change history, to meeting the failed Ferengi (they were meant to be a vicious race, but greed wasn't vicious enough), to see them replaced by the Borg (they may sound Swedish, but they're not), to see two spin-offs, to finally see it end in the way it began, with one of the best villains in Q. I was addicted to this show and somehow I don't feel like I've seen every single episode.

2. Arrow Yes, I jumped on this bandwagon. And no, I'm not sorry. Arrow is a great show. Its acting can use some help, unless we're talking about Felicity, maybe even Diggle. Stephen Amell is fun to watch when he's kicking butt, but when he's delivering lines to Laurel...or she's saying them back....blah. Not that I'm an acting expert. But I just don't believe the characters sometimes. Still, Deathstroke and Malcolm Merlyn have been awesome villains for the show. Add in Ra's Al Ghul this season and I gotta say that Arrow's villains are what has made this show great.

1. Doctor Who Am I referring to the modern Doctor Who with David Tennant and Matt Smith? Yes. Am I referring to classic Doctor Who with William Hartnell or Tom Baker? Yes. I love this show. Old. New. I don't care. For a while, Patrick Troughton was my favorite doctor. After watching more of Tom Baker, though, Troughton has slipped to 2nd. Sorry....would you like a Jelly Baby? And I must say that Clara is probably my most favorite companion. Sarah Jane gets second. Only being a Whovian for 15 months doesn't mean I know nothing about the show. Believe me, Wikipedia, Netflix, plus many many websites and of course, fellow Whovians give me enough knowledge to go for a bit more than your average "Tenant's the best" fan.

Okay, there's some reminiscing geekiness for you.

Alien abductions are involuntary but probings are scheduled.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Geek cross stitch-an old art gets a new shine

Normally here I would write something about Easter or General Conference, but frankly I spent most of the last weekend doped up on cold medicine and relearning to breathe since everything that is capable of creating pollen in Utah currently is and decided to kill me.

So here's what I was doing in my moments of coherency.

I learned to cross stitch one stormy day while sick in my teens. It was something productive to do while I sat on the couch watching M*A*S*H*, plus it was cheaper than my Yu-Gi-Oh! cards so it worked out for everyone. I fell out of the art in my early 20's since, as much as I love flowers and little birds, I just didn't want to keep making them over and over again. I hesitate to classify something as "girly", but it really doesn't help when a decent dragon pattern cost over $200, and everything for a decent price looks like it came out of an old ladies living room.

Then came Pinterest.

I won't go on again about one of my favorite websites, but needless to say I discovered an entire community of people who had taken cross stitch to a whole new place-geek cross stitch.

Since then I relearned my old art and started making these:

Black Mage of Final Fantasy/8 Bit Theater

Bowser from Mario 3. I bet he's easier to beat when he's made out of thread.

Calvin and Hobbs-AWWWWW!!!

Gir-he likes tacos

Of course I've got to make a Harley Quinn. 

Mew was harder to choose colors for. I like how he turned out though. 

Stewie rules. 

Stitch took forever just because of all that stupid blue. 
This was a birthday gift for my mom- a little baby zombie! He'll warm your heart before he eats it!

I couldn't pass up Raven. 
Seriously, if you're looking for a new fun craft to do check out geeky cross stitch! You'll love it!
-JOE