Friday, April 29, 2011

Upside Down Cake

There’s not much we can depend on in this life, least of all our eyes.

Magicians and filmmakers know that when we look at a photo or an image, unless there is stark evidence to the contrary, we as viewers assume that the top is up and the bottom is down. 

Filmmakers often throw their images off balance for dramatic effect.  By making the bottom not quite down and the top not quite up, a cinematic environment will be perceived as off-balance and helter skelter.  These dutch, or canted, or oblique, or “Chinese” angles can create tension, and separate a particular setting from the rest of the movie’s world.





Photographers take advantage of this assumption in our perception to create witty optical illusions.








But in 2010’s  “Inception,” director Christopher Nolan created a dream reality in which spacial orientation was subjective, in which gravity was adjustable.  When the dreamer is thrown off balance, when the dreamer’s world is turned upside down, so is the world of the dream.



Nolan created these effects by building a rotating set.  The camera retains a fixed perspective on the set, often rotating in sync with it. So to our eyes, it appears that characters bound from floor to wall to ceiling, that gravity itself is shifted.

Nolan was not the first to take advantage of the naivety of our perception.  Here’s a little film I put together giving some of the history of a very special special effect.



For a behind the scenes look at the rotating set effect from "Inception," watch here.



ADDENDUM:  Turns out that the "upside down cake" effect can be traced back as far as 1902 and Georges Melies.





And 1907, from film pioneer and Melies imitator Segundo De Chomon -



And even earlier, in 1899, from British cinema pioneer R.W. Paul, "Upside Down."


ADDENDUM 2:  Independent of any attempt to deceive through disorientation, look at how simple reorientation can create an unsettling effect in this credit sequence from “Devil.”

video





Friday, April 22, 2011

This I Believe - Part 3



Edward R. Murrow once said, in addressing the impossibility of absolute objectivity, "We are all the prisoners of our own experience, of our reading, or our indoctrination, and our travels." This is just as true of teachers as it is reporters. It therefore seems fitting that, in full disclosure, I express something here about my background and beliefs. So, here are a few more things I know to be true.





7. Actor and Rapper Joaquin Phoenix suffered a very public nervous breakdown.

How do I know this? I saw the documentary.

The first signs that Academy Award Winning actor Joaquin Phoenix might be in emotional distress was a disquieting and uncomfortable appearance on "Late Night with David Letterman" on February 11, 2009. Disheveled and befuddled, he announced his retirement from acting and his desire to begin a new career as a rap artist.






Phoenix's brother-in-law, Casey Affleck, bravely chronicled the actor's tragic decline in a documentary titled "I'm Still Here."





Luckily for all concerned, Joaquin Phoenix made a miraculous and somewhat sudden recovery.





8. In 2000, psychologist Dr. Abigail "Abbey" Tyler used hypnosis to recover suppressed memories of alien abductions from residents of Nome, Alaska.

In the course of using hypnotherapy to treat patients with sleep disorders, Dr. Tyler recovered disturbing repressed memories from three patients suggesting that they had been abducted by aliens. These terrifying session were videotaped, and were included in a feature film telling Dr. Tyler's fantastic story.





For those who might be skeptical, the internet has proven to be a treasure trove of substantiating information. The Alaska Psychiatry Journal Online lists Dr. Abigail Tyler and has published an article on sleep disorders by her. Dr. Tyler has a Twitter account at http://twitter.com/#!/drabigailtyler. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner has posted an obituary for Dr. William Tyler, Abigail Tyler's late husband, who died under mysterious circumstances. Suspiciously, most of these internet postings have been removed since the film debuted.
An apparent cover-up of the truth of this story resulted in Universal Pictures paying over $20,000 to the Alaska Press Cub and a Calista Scholarship Fund to settle claims that the studio "created a number of Web sites purporting to be 'news archives'" in their viral marketing campaign for their new alien abduction thriller The Fourth Kind.

http://movies.ign.com/articles/104/1044714p1.html

9. And finally, two words -

ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE !!!!!!!!


It's coming. How do I know? The news.

On April 25, 2005, the BBC World Edition reported on a "small outbreak of 'zombism" in a small town near the border of Laos in North-Eastern Cambodia." According to the esteemed institution of journalistic integrity, mosquitoes native to the region were spreading a new strain of 100 percent fatal Malaria. After death, the virus was able to restart the heart of its victims for up to two hours, during which the recently departed behaved violently from a theorized combnation of brain damage and chemical hysteria.







































Then, on April 30, 2009, The BBC reported on a similar outbreak in London "due to the mutation of the H1N1 virus into a new strain: H1Z1."



In an all-to-familiar cover-up, visitors to the web site that first posted the reporting are greeted by the following message:

For those of you that got the joke, please feel free to breed in hopes that some of your offspring with the very rare trait of "common sense" will mix with the throngs of senseless idiots that now crawl the web.

For those of you that *didn't* get it, go home and slap your father for not making you shovel character building snow when you were a child.

So, what's the takeaway?




We don't just want to believe, we need to.

Only a small portion of what we believe to be true we have empirically perceived ourselves. We must rely on sources of information, whether they be traditional news sources, or new media sources, or our online community, or our teachers, or our political leaders, or our religious leaders, and we must decide which we trust, and why we trust them, and the minimum number of independent sources needed to convince us, and what is and is not reasonable to believe.
And no matter how careful we may be, we are still likely to be occasionally deceived.




"You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."

Optimistic words from our 16th president.

Friday, April 15, 2011

This I Believe - Part 2


Edward R. Murrow once said, in addressing the impossibility of absolute objectivity, "We are all the prisoners of our own experience, of our reading, or our indoctrination, and our travels." This is just as true of teachers as it is reporters. It therefore seems fitting that, in full disclosure, I express something here about my background and beliefs. So, here are a few more things I know to be true.



4. Aliens from outer space crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 and their remains were autopsied.

How do I know this?  I saw it on television.



In 1995, video entrepreneur Ray Santilli revealed 17 minutes of grainy, silent black and white film of what was reputed to be documentary footage of the autopsy of an alien body in New Mexico in 1947. 






Fox Television used the footage as the basis of a highly successful television program, “Alien Autopsy - Fact or Fiction,” and Santilli made a small fortune in video sales and by licensing the footage.




Alien Autopsy by CrypticMedia

Several years later, after it had been proven a hoax, Santlli admitted that the footage had been faked. However ....

4A.  Aliens from outer space crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 and their remains were autopsied, but 16mm footage of the procedure was damaged and had to be reenacted.




Santilli claims to this day, and there are still those that believe, that the footage represents an accurate re-enactment of real footage that he witnessed but that became damaged and was never released.  He even claims that some small snippets of the original footage exist within the "reenactments."










5.  Maurice Jarre, noted film composer, once said “When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head, that only I can hear.”

How do I know this?  I read it on Wikipedia.



When Maurice Jarre, Oscar-winning composer of such films as “Laurence of Arabia” and “Dr. Zhivago” died in 2009, newspapers all over the world quoted his moving words …

“When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head, that only I can hear.”



What was the source of the quote?  Dublin University student Shane Fitzgerald had added this erroneous but obituary-friendly entry to the composer’s Wikipedia profile, thinking it poetic, and dozens of legitimate and respected newspapers had carried it as fact.

6.  Beloved and eccentric actor Jeff Goldblum is dead.

How do I know this?  I saw it on Twitter.


The Late Jeff Goldblum


On June 25, 2009, the day that both Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett died, media outlets, including “Today New Zealand” reported that actor Jeff Goldblum had died in an accident while filming in New Zealand.












The origin of the story was a tweet.











As was the correction.









The most moving eulogy came from Steven Colbert.

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Even more to come ...