Back from Edinburgh

My destination directly after my little London trip was to the capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh.  I fell in love with the place last year when cPanel were hosting a one day conference.  I extended the stay for 4 days, but it wasn’t enough to explore the city.  This time I had 9 days, and let me tell you, I saw (and drank) a lot.

The next few posts will recount my Scottish adventures, but let me just say that during my time in Edinburgh I was a tad annoyed at Disney/Marvel’s presence in shooting Avengers: Infinity War in the city which meant that tours (or anything) involving the Royal Mile was interrupted throughout that time.  And on my way home that also meant Waverley train station.

I suspect in order to qualify for the British film tax credit (read: free taxpayer money) which requires productions to pass a British cultural test (how the other Marvel films passed I just don’t know), I like to think the Avengers were fighting giant space haggises. Given how terrible Marvel has shoehorned British locations to get their tax credits, I reckon for the next Marvel film it’ll probably be shot in Blackpool where Captain America wears a knotted handkerchief, Thor judges a knobbly knee competition, and the Hulk becomes a ballroom dancing champion…

Flashbacks to my time in VFX came flooding back to me.. Hope Marvel’s Avengers enjoyed a nice cup of coffee while saving the universe from mutant space haggises.
Marvel was in town for over THREE weeks…
.. which meant that the section they closed involved a LOT of steps or significant detours up and down hills to get around them..

I’ll be talking more about various movies in the coming posts – particularly Skyfall, Harry Potter (I went to Hogwarts – but not the version I worked on), Downton Abbey and Angel’s Share (a Ken Loach film).

A Day in London

Every year I try to spend at least one day in London as a tourist to see what’s what with our nation’s capital.

So for this Easter weekend, I stayed at the Premier Inn York Way that’s just opposite King’s Cross station.  It’s conveniently located to everything – there’s a Tesco Metro just around the corner if you’re looking for snacks and drinks, but the Premier Inn itself has its own steak restaurant and Costa Coffee if you’re feeling peckish.  I decided to buy a Meal Deal for the two nights I was staying – this entitles you to a 2-course dinner and breakfast.  Breakfast is an all-you-can-eat buffet-style service and offers free Costa Coffee alongside the usual fare.  The restaurant offers a great choice of meals – I enjoyed the 8oz Sirloin for the first night and a very generous portion of fish and chips for the second.

Sock choice is important if you’re visiting London.

I booked a Big Bus tour for the Saturday and picked up the green route bus from directly outside of King’s Cross station which took me to Waterloo where I changed to the red route.

This was an opportunity to test out my new camera kit before I take it on my P&O cruise coming up later this year.  I have got to say that I absolutely bloody love my Sony RX100 M5 compact camera.  I’ve had the M3 and M4 (albeit briefly) and found them to be worthy cameras – but the M5 knocks my socks off with just how easy it is to use.  The autofocus and shutter speed on this thing is so fast and accurate (even in full auto mode) that practically all photos have come out super sharp.  When you’re on a bus, you’re a limited amount of time to frame and take a picture – and when you’re moving, it’s even more difficult!  But the Sony RX100 M5 is just a beautiful, beautiful piece of kit.

King’s Cross Station – where my adventures started

The camcorder, the Sony FDR-AX53, is also a wonderful bit of kit.  I haven’t had a chance to get to edit together the footage, but it’s super sharp and the sound (especially using the external hot-shoe microphone with dead cat) is spot on.

The London Eye, taken while the bus was travelling at a fair pace along the Embankment

The bus tour itself was hugely informative.  The blue route has earphone-based audio commentary (as it’s intended for multi-lingual tours), but the red route has a live English guide.  Both routes weren’t packed, and I even got to sit up front at one point which allowed me to take some great photos (albeit slightly reflective).

I was giving serious contemplation to taking a Duck Tours trip, but decided to leave this until another time

London itself was doing very well.  Despite that absolutely horrible atrocity that happened at Westminister recently, people were out in full force.

Westminister Bridge
Richard the Lionheart at Westminister. This shot really surprised me, since the bus was moving at speed and I just literally pointed it generally in the statue’s direction & hit the shutter button. It came out much better than I could have ever hoped.

I also used my “backup” phone, a OnePlus 3T, that I bought that I’m intending to use with the Samsung Galaxy S8+.  I wanted to have a spare phone in case I smash, lose or – heaven forbid – have the S8+ stolen.

The 3T is a lovely Android phone.  It’s much, much cheaper than most other flagship phones – but it has a decent spec that doesn’t compromise on anything.  My only complaint with it is that updating the thing is a pain in the rear end, and the battery life isn’t super great.  But it charges exceptionally fast using the proprietary Dash charger.  That said, the camera is pretty decent, and it’s now running the latest version of Android.

The following photos were taken on the OnePlus 3T as were passing Knightsbridge and other posher parts of the London.  As with all photos on this blog, click to enlarge – but please be aware that for optimisation purposes (to make things load faster), all photos have been lossy compressed on upload to the blog.  They should all look pretty decent, though,  I’m looking to make them all available in original formats at some point soon.

Heading back to Westminister and the Sony RX100 M5:

Not the Nine O’Clock News.
A recently wedded couple taking a horse drawn carriage just by the Queen’s stables.
This made me chuckle a lot more than it should have.
National Gallery, St. Martins-in-the-Field, Trafalgar Square & the Canadian High Commission in a single photo
Directly opposite Downing Street

It was a good day, and I look forward to spending more time in London next year – perhaps more than a day.  When I was booking back in January I completely neglected to notice it was Easter weekend.  That said, everything was open and it wasn’t as busy as I thought it would be.

The curse of the digital tiger!

When Life of Pi won the best visual effects Oscar back in 2013, it was a bittersweet victory.  Shortly after the win, the industry saw the collapse of the VFX studio, Rhythm and Hues.  Lots of people lost their jobs.

The following 30 minute documentary explains what happened, and why.

I was checking Twitter yesterday and came across the following tweets:

followed by:

.. which is incredibly disturbing if true. The tweets come from the VFX chapter of BECTU (which is the media & entertainment union here in the UK). I have no reason to disbelieve them as a result.  More information can be found here.

MPC have been fighting unionisation over the past couple of years, but it is nevertheless one of the few companies where employees are members of a union (via BECTU). The VFX sector is one area of the film industry where unionisation has been extremely difficult. Given the costs of VFX which is a highly labour intensive industry, many VFX companies operate to extremely small profit margins. Unionisation is highly unattractive to these companies, and to their clients.

I’ve been talking to a few VFX companies over the past couple of years and my view is that the picture remains bleak, with limited technical resources and staffing costs being a big concern. The smaller boutique companies have had to combine resources to be able to survive (Cinesite & Image Engine springs to mind). For those going alone, you’ll find one member of staff doing one or more jobs. Even the bigger companies have merged (Double Negative with India’s Prime Focus), or bought out (Framestore with China’s Cultural Investment Holdings Co.). And VFX continues to produce significant losses – whether through expansion/R&D (Digital Domain (now owned by a Hong Kong firm) losses double at $64 million) or other means.

Meanwhile, the big corporations that run the film studios continue to get free taxpayer money through the use of film credits for filming or utilising resources in a particular country. Both Britain and Canada are currently the winners in the tax credits game – the US, not so much. It seems the US is not able or willing to financially support its own industry for whatever reason. Just bizarre.

I love film & TV, but bloody hell, the whole industry is a mess. Heavily reliant on state handouts, if this continues we’ll likely to see massive redundancies across the creative industries as film companies go bust. What cost to the UK taxpayer to keep our film industry alive and well?

I am very disappointed with my former employers if the redundancies/replacing with less experienced workers issue is true. It’s bad for the client, bad for the taxpayer, and more so – super bad for those who are being replaced – who took the company an Oscar and BAFTA victory.

It seems to me that any VFX company that provides a CG tiger (Life of Pi & The Jungle Book) and wins a major award is likely to let people go afterwards – for whatever reason. The Walking Dead recently featured a CG tiger – let’s hope it doesn’t win award. If it does, pray for the VFX people on that show. Perhaps the bad luck has to be balanced out by creating two CG magpies? Or better yet – sort out the tax credits issues which is leading the industry to this sorry state, and start making these companies profitable again.

All this has lead to another documentary being made, “Hollywood’s Greatest Trick” in which artists tell of their experience within the VFX industry.

Movie review: Sully

Format: iTunes HD with iTunes Extras + Apple TV 4th Gen
Extras: Featurettes (~45 mins in total)

I’m no fan of flying, but I have to admit that 2009 emergency landing of United Airlines flight 1549 into the Hudson river was one of the most spectacular and miraculous stories to come out of aviation history.  It made you appreciate how much experience some pilots have, and their ability to make lifesaving decisions so quickly is just extraordinary.

This is the story of that incident, but in particular, it is the story of Captain Sullenberger and the subsequent NTSB investigation into how Sully and his co-pilot handled the situation.  This movie was a long time coming,  and it’s pretty decent.

Tom Hanks plays Captain “Sully” Sullenberger – a man with over 40 years flying experience.  Starting from flying a crop duster plane, to flying military aircraft, to a commercial airline pilot, Sully has spent a great deal of time in the air.  And he also ran his own air incident investigations too.

We get to see a recreation of the disaster (a bird strike which took out BOTH engines) with visual effects supplied by my former employers, MPC.  Unfortunately, I felt that MPC’s efforts weren’t up to their usual high standards – the aircraft model and environment felt far too much like Microsoft’s Flight Simulator.  That said, I will give MPC credit where it’s due to the actual recreation of the rescue in the Hudson river.  The invisible effects are better than the in-your-face effects.

Clint Eastwood – for it is he – directs well enough.  The performance from Tom Hanks and the rest of the cast is very good, though I did feel it was a little forced in some areas – that is to say, it feels a little too over melodramatic.  Sully feels a bit like a Movie of the Week rather than something that’s more solid. Nevertheless, you felt like cheering during the NTSB hearing in which Sully calmly takes down the investigators’ flight simulations – proving they were completely flawed.

All in all, Sully is a good 90-minute insight into what happened that fateful day.  A little overplayed, maybe, but still entertaining.