No, the polling station wasn’t in the Red Light district

Very interesting turn of events with the December 2019 General Election. It reinforces that Labour and Lib Dems were utterly useless (but Labour spectacularly so). I tried to vote tactically (Labour), but I just couldn’t believe how bad they did. For a former mining community to turn to the Tories is nothing short of shocking – indeed, the entire North went Blue.

The biggest problem with the opposition was that they just were not willing to work together. There were insults traded between them and all manner of stupidity mixed in with that. Consequently, it’s the lack of co-operation what killed the Remain vote. They couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. Maybe now Corbyn will be replaced with somebody who can actually lead a decent opposition (along with the break-up/closure of Movement).

Similarly for Lib Dems – for whom I was a member until Jo Swinson (for whom I voted for in the party election) made the biggest mistake ever. I won’t say what that is as it is an extremely polar view, but it was a major policy which – without discussion – would have had major repercussions. So I cancelled my membership straight away. I had to think long and hard about voting for them, which ultimately I didn’t. It would have made no difference whatsoever if I had.

Oh well. It’s not the end of the world (yet).

It seems that MPC Vancouver has shut down shop, laying off 95% of the workforce just before Christmas. There is a rather substantial thread on Reddit about it, as well as this Cartoon Brew report.

One set of comments that stood out was this one. Never go full feline.

To give a bit of context, the VFX studios Rhythm & Hues closed down after winning their VFX Oscar for The Life of Pi. The following documentary explains what happened, and what’s wrong with the VFX industry:

It’s difficult to say how much of an impact this will have on the rest of MPC’s worldwide presence, or how the industry will perceive it. Come Oscars time, it’s worth watching to see who will win the best VFX Oscar. If it’s MPC for The Lion King, this is going to be a bittersweet win – but could possibly have ramifications for the industry too.

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea…

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

… and so these ape-descendants spent a bloody fortune on Apple Watches.

Meanwhile, YouTubers (which we believe are the direct descendants from a select group of Golgafrinchans) were demanding bigger and better computing power to produce their many documentaries (usually about themselves) or to “influence” people to buy absolute rubbish.

So our favourite digital-watch-making fruit-named company came to their rescue with their outerwear-named behemoth: the Mac Pro. In order to appease the mice Magratheans (the current owners of Earth), it was designed to resemble a large cheesegrater.

It is said that a fully specced Mac Pro costs more than some people’s houses, depending on where they live. Or most sensible cars. In either case, you can’t live in it, nor drive it to work (well, maybe with the wheel edition if you push hard and long enough whilst sitting on it).

However, the question on everybody’s lips (or appropriate orifice depending on your species) is: can it give us the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything in something significantly less than 7 and half million years?

I’ve had a rather nostalgic weekend revisiting some old TV via YouTube.

Spent some time watching a couple of documentaries on Rod Hull, a childhood hero of mine, whose Emu puppet terrorised all and sundry. In many ways it was a brilliant act – he involved whoever was nearby in it, even if it meant you ended up on the floor fighting off an emu puppet:

It lead to watching several episodes of Emu’s World (including the All Live Emu’s World series in which attempting to phone people was an absolute disaster week after week ) which brought back a lot of good memories.

It made me appreciate the work that Rod did as both performer and writer, along with Carol Lee Scott as Grotbags and Freddy Stevens as Robot Redford. Oh, and David Tate as Croc. Imagine putting a pantomime on every week – live. That took guts and hard work. And the prizes were also pretty decent too. Walkmans, latest LPs, radios, BMX bikes – all good stuff.

Emu had a big influence on me as a kid..

Rod Hull had a thing for the ladies, and it was interesting to watch two different documentaries about his life. The second one, from 2003, mentioned two different girlfriends towards the end of his life (he was still married at the time – with the missus back in Australia) and there were some serious vibes when one girlfriend mentioned the other. Blimey.

But he was very good with kids. They liked him, and he got on well with them. It is said that Rod hated Emu, but I honestly think it was a very good, very funny and very clever act. And looking at his earlier work in Australia, he definitely had that Stan Laurel look and work ethic about him. I really do think people should have given him the chance to do more writing – which is what he wanted.

Rod Hull was a genius and is greatly missed.

The other thing I came to, thanks to YouTube algorithms, was this compilation of Office Crabtree’s greatest lines from the BBC sitcom, ‘Allo ‘Allo which I also loved as a kid. I still laugh like a loon at some of these.

When Disney released their mixed live-action/photorealistic CG version of The Jungle Book back in 2016, I was blown away by how good the visual effects (by my former employers, MPC and New Zealand’s Weta Digital) were. It was a perfect blend. It cut back on some of the songs, but when there were (The Bare Necessities and I Wan’na Be Like You, it was done in such a way that it never ventured into uncanny valley.

With the Lion King, there is precisely one live element – and that’s right at the start of the film, a landscape with the rising sun. From that point, the entire environment, lighting, cinematography, creatures, etc. are entirely computer-generated (albeit using a substantial number of MPC employees – we’ve not got to the point where computers are able to visualise and generate their own images – yet).

And it is one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen – at least after The Jungle Book. I still marvel how well all the elements – from the ground, stones, rocks, grass are rendered. You can barely tell the difference between it and live-action. And the animals are extraordinarily well modelled and animated. All in all, it’s like watching a David Attenborough documentary – except here the animals talk.

And here lies the problem. As for the talking creatures, they work pretty well. It’s when it comes to singing some of the signature tunes that things get a little weird. Unlike The Jungle Book, the characters don’t fit the songs being sung. The voice work is extraordinary. If you’re listening to the OST without the images, it works really well. But when combined the images, the jaunty character work feels as if I’m watching an over-extended version of a Comparethemeerkat.com TV advert. Even Timon and Pumba don’t entirely work as singing creatures – and they’re the comic relief.

There is, however, one moment which DOES work. “Can you feel the love tonight?” starts off with Timon talk-singing, with Simba and Nala singing/communicating with internal thoughts. It’s genuinely a beautiful moment that works far better than any of the other songs in the film.

There are some very powerful moments in the film that the photorealism double downs on the emotional level. One moment is, of course, when Simba finds his dad lying on the ground, dead. It as sad in the 2D animated version – but rendered using 3D modelling and photoreal texturing.. it’s heartbreaking. Another is the moment in which Rafiki catches up with Simba and leads him to the watering hole where Simba has a spiritual encounter with his father.

Overall, The Lion King is a beautiful, beautiful film. I’m immensely proud of my former employers and colleagues that worked on it. I have no doubt in my mind that it’ll pick up Best Visual Effects (and maybe Best Animated Film) during the 2020 Oscars.

I think I still prefer The Jungle Book over The Lion King. The problem that I have is how well photorealism plays in future animated Disney movies. I think it can only go so far. It has limitations. That we can produce animated films to this level of photorealism is impressive enough. But I think this kind of technique is best used in conjunction with live-action such as The Jungle Book, Avatar and their forthcoming sequels (something I am absolutely looking forward to).