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?

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).

We live in a truly connected world. A world in which television has been transformed by the internet. Streaming services have been de rigueur for the TV connoisseur looking for the very best in entertainment. Battles between traditional broadcasters and streamers are a regular occurance – often ending in the two working together to create, produce and distribute a series outside of a broadcaster’s home country.

Netflix’s first original TV show was produced in conjunction with Norway’s national broadcaster, NRK1. It was called Lilyhammer and featured The Soprano’s Steven Van Zandt as Frank Tagliano, a former underboss in an American Mafia family who testifies against his former boss who placed a hit on him. Under federal protection, he opts to go and live in Lillehammer, Norway, under a new identity of Giovanni “Johnny” Henriksen.

We had three wonderful seasons of Lilyhammer. It was almost the perfect show – especially after Breaking Bad. It mattered not that Johnny only ever spoke English and everybody else spoke Norwegian (with English subtitles) .- the excuse WAS plausible. This was a true “fish out of water” comedy drama which exuded charm. And it all came to a sudden end at the end of season three – with the only episode directed by Van Zandt himself.

There were rumours that NRK1 did something that Netflix didn’t like. Some said it was the other way around. But in any event, Netflix pulled out of the deal and we were left with a great show that ended suddenly, leaving at least one major plotline unresolved (that of Sigrid, Johnny’s former girlfriend and mother to his children).

Fast forward to 2019. Moria Walley-Beckett, a former actress turned writer-producer and showrunner, who has won more awards and nominations than I can count on my fingers (including three Emmys), announced that season three of “Anne with an E” – her more modern take on Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables – has not been renewed for a fourth season.

Quite frankly, I’m pissed off.

You may think it’s rather odd for a 43-year old straight bloke to enjoy a show whose demographic – well, I’m not and never was going to be the key demographic for this genre am I? But trust me, I do like this show. I really do.

Firstly, Anne (with an E) has such a fine cast and crew for a historical drama that’s as complex and endearing as Upstairs, Downstairs or Downton Abbey, two shows that I never expected to love and enjoy as much as I did (and still do – and I also include The Crown in that bunch – something I wouldn’t normally have ever touched 20-30 years ago).

The show absolutely found its Anne in Amybeth McNulty, its Marilla in Geraldine James, and Matthew in R. H. Thomson. The supporting cast are equally as brilliant – and you really appreciate the work that casting directors do – a very overlooked profession that doesn’t truly get the recognition it deserves.

The crew is equally superb – some of Canada’s finest directors including Anne Wheeler, Ken Girotti, Helen Shaver, Amanda Tapping (of Stargate fame) and Norma Bailey, amongst others. The first episode was directed by none other than New Zealander Niki Caro, whose Whale Rider was a triumph of filmmaking. Anne (with an E) doesn’t feel like regular episodic television – the cinematography, direction, writing, performance and production design makes it feel that you’re watching a cinematic masterpiece each week.

I think Anne (with an E) is an important show as it’s an exceptionally positive adoption story. That and Dreamworks Kung-Fu Panda trilogy. It may seem silly to compare a big live action drama with a family animated film – but having gone through (and unfortunately due to a variety of reasons never completed) the process of (international) adoption some time ago, the meaning of belonging, acceptance, and dealing with things like attachment is important.

I tell you right now – the second episode of the first season of Anne (with an E) had me literally in floods of tears when Matthew, who instantly warmed to Anne’s strong personality and intelligence after meeting her for the first time, managed to find her after running away from Green Gables and exclaimed to everybody in the room that she was his daughter. Anne started crying. I started crying. It was such a bloody lovely moment.

Moria Walley-Beckett’s Anne (with an E) goes beyond the books and introduces themes that simply couldn’t or wouldn’t have been addressed in Victorian Canada at the time. Not just issues surrounding adoption, but other social and personal matters. It’s truly an inclusive drama which I’ve seen critics have a go at the show for – but the beauty of transformative works is that they can be whatever the writers want it to be.

Now while I haven’t yet read the Green Gables books – I’ve bought the whole lot on Kindle as soon as I started watching the show. I know certain key points in Anne’s life, and how the series ends. It would take a considerable number of seasons to cover it all – and you’ll find that previous adaptations (including a version of Studio Ghibli’s Isao Takahata) only go up to a certain point in the book series. But from what I gather of season three (which hasn’t yet aired internationally) it’s a rather bittersweet ending.

My question is – who put the knife in? Netflix? CBC? I doubt it’s CBC – a national broadcaster is unlikely to have killed off a series which is universally liked – especially in its home territory. Did CBC manage to piss off Netflix? Is it Netflix data? Did the computer say no? (I always say, computers are generally good for some things, but without humans behind them, cold facts can get in the way of doing good deeds.)

That there are several petitions (which I’ve signed) with over tens of thousands of signatures each to ask to reinstate a fourth (and maybe fifth) season goes to show that this show has a solid fanbase. It IS a good show. It’s a damn good show. It is one of the best, most lovingly produced shows I’ve ever seen, and everybody involved with it has clearly poured their heart and soul into it.

If Netflix did pull the knife, it has got to be careful about how it does so in the future. I can terminate my Netflix subscription at any point. Anybody can. There are alternatives now. There always will be alternatives. It’s difficult to ask us to invest ourselves in a show, then cancel the bloody thing two or three seasons in. Who are you? The SyFy Channel (or as I like to call it: The Cancellation Channel).

Save Anne (with an E). It makes sense. It keeps people in employment. It’ll continue the excellent storytelling. It’ll make the fans happy.

For this poor, unfortunate soul – absolutely nothing. I spotted the fox from my train which was just about to enter Wimbledon station. I’ve reported it to Network Rail so they could clear the corpse from the track.

If only the fox decided to cross the railway lines during the upcoming strike action by RMT against South Western Railway (2nd December through to the 20th), he or she would have probably been safe because of so few operating trains. And even fewer trains are likely to be available if there are any signal, track or train defects which has been plaguing the SWR network like mad for the past two years.

If I were the UK government, I’d be looking to withdraw SWR’s franchise as early as possible if the deadlock isn’t resolved…