Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Exeter: Of Sky and Star

There was nothing quite like standing on an ancient city wall with possible Roman foundations, on the side of a steep hill, overlooking a Devon valley under the sky with the sun's dying light.

Have I not say that I'm a big sucker for winter sunsets?

A single star shines in the clear sky. If my compass serves, this should be facing southward. Hardly an astronomer, I can't tell what star is this, however it sure is beautiful. Alone and under the heavens with a single star as your companion, a blessed company indeed.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Exeter: the 10th Animated Exeter

Date of Trip: 15 & 16 Feb

Previously regarded as second only to Bath as an architectural site in southern England, since the 1942 bombing and subsequent reconstruction Exeter has been a city with some beautiful buildings rather than a beautiful city. (wiki)

The trip to Exeter has been absolutely fabulous. I find the hilly city quite charming in its own ways and that will warrant several blog entries to describe. For a start, I will talk about Animated Exeter, which was the primary reason I went.

Most of the event I was interested in took place in the Phoenix Center. The multistory building on a hill was guarded by 3 mythical creatures.

An orange dragon watches over the western side of the building.

A unicorn stood on the eastern side, on the steps up to the cafe.

And right above the main entrance roost the center's namesake.

The phoenix will rise every hour or so (about 7 minutes earlier than the actual hour, or so I was told). I was fortunate enough to witness one of its 'resurrections' without even knowing that the mechanical thing can move. I did make a short animated clip of it, but that will have to wait till I find a suitable way to upload it.

Tales From the Golden West is the exhibition within the center. The South West of England is home to some of the greatest and oldest animation companies in the UK. This exhibition showcases their work with many eye-opening treasures. The many production models, original storyboard and snippets from the creative mind's sketchbook makes you wish they'd share even more! The following are some of the awesome production models on display.

The intricate and peculiar models from the advertisement for Fanta by the Bolex Brothers company.

Aardman's early success, the plasticine Morph.

Aardman's recent foray into 3D CGI, Chop Cocky Chooks.

Aardman's partnership with DreamWorks, Chicken Run.

and Finally the popular plasticine duo, Wallace and Gromit along with the were rabbit.

In the life drawing workshop for animators that I attended, this was the first time I try to draw a model in movements and sequential poses. It came as a beneficial exercise though it is really hard to get a great model like her who is a dancer and knows the specific needs and vocabulary of animators.

While my main motive was to watch Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues, I ended up watching Go West: A Lucky Luke Adventure as well since all the shops, and most of the businesses were closed as regulated in UK on a Sunday evening.

Sita definitely lives up to the hype surrounding it. Having seen Nina's previous film, the style of utilizing collage and 2D animation was apparent in this one as well. Of the various mix and matches of styles, I still do like her Flash vector characters the most. Their strong stylistic design with limited but well times animation makes for an entertaining watch. Laughs are aplenty, but what is special about this film is the sincerity or rawness perhaps, of 'the greatest break up story ever told'. While the Ramaya epic was quite a storytelling material, interweaving so well, the thread between the modern tale about Nina's own story, the three shadow puppet's hilarious dialogs along with their not always concurring accounts and finally the Annette Hanshaw 'music videos' was very admirable. It is really an alternative film that is not to be missed!

Irreverent yet so human, when Rama finally sheds the single tear, Nina was happy with her new cat and in the final scene with the role reversal between the Hindu deities, there was a real sense of triumph for the ladies.
A link from New York Times here.

The other feature of my 'accidental comedic and irreverent double-bill', Lucky Luke, was even funnier than Sita (it being more children targeted than the later). The film is simply too hilarious, ridiculous, silly and witty for words to describe. It is so hyper-actively choke-full of gags both in the visuals and the dialogs that you have to be the Ice Queen not to laugh out out. It was really nothing less than what I would expect from the producers of Oggy and the Cockroaches. A sure cure for any blues, go see it, if you ever get the chance. I most thoroughly enjoy wasting 90 minutes of my life for that and will be more than happy to it again and again!

More from Exeter later...

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

February Snow: Bath

This morning's overcast sky brought drifting mist over the snow capped hills in Ashton Court. Dots of green are showing through the thinning ice like holes on cheese. When late afternoon came, the snow has retreated further up the hill as the deer herd moved to the thawed lower slopes to feed. Again the sky is painted with many vivid colors as the sun's dying rays were filtered through layers upon layer of clouds, each with their individual silver linings, reflections and shadows. I do not know if snow will fall in Bristol again this winter, being so scares, not entirely unlike desert rain, that brought so much change, and a fleeting cheer to the air.

I will end this chapter of February Snow Chronicles with my visit to Bath again last Saturday, the day after the worst of the snowstorm, the day which the airports were back to some semblance of normality after the mega interruption.

The city center was as busy as always, with live human statues, street performers and bands entertaining locals and tourists alike.

While little snow remained in the area around the Abbey and shops, the hills surrounding the historical city were still white, including the Royal Crescent area. The beautiful Georgian architecture was bathed in a brief golden glow under the setting sun.

Opposite the buildings on the park, there was still enough clean snow for snow ball fights. I find the green circles under each tree more fascinating still. The emerald shapes were especially obvious when seen from afar on a moving train.

And finally as we head to the train station at night, we saw this Gothic scene.

May kinder weathers and better days be ahead. If it snow any more in Bristol, one would start to wonder if the day after tomorrow is coming true.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

February Snow: the Beginning

As I listens to Faunts' M4 (Part I), sleets are powdering the car park outside my window again. The tiny flakes danced with ever changing paces and directions under the lonely street lamp, like thousands of restless fireflies or falling stars in the milky way as seen on a giddy roller coaster ride. The dreamy music and the unpredictable flakes make familiar sights feel so surreal and alien. This can be most fascinating and meditative. I can watch the unpredictable movements of the white dots in the dark for hours without end.

I do not know what scene will greet me when the sun rises, but tonight, it is apt to reflect on the first day (and night) of such a snowfall in Bristol as it has not been for at least two decades. It was the 4th of February, when the unexpected happened and this was how the car park looked after a day of snowfall.

Walking to uni in a snow storm was quite an experience. It made you wish you were wearing goggles especially when the wind was greeting you face on.

Lots of dogs were out enjoying themselves, yet none of them looked so right compared to a husky in the snow. What a joy to see this wolf-look-alike indeed!

A blanket of white can really changes your perspective of seeing things you see everyday. In hindsight, perhaps experiencing snow in Bristol is far better than to seek snow in any other places. Here, I've seen it through the different seasons and I can make the comparison. The snow added depth, a side and a face of a place you never know.

What interests me a lot after the snow is how the frozen moisture clung to different kinds of foliage. A needle-like leaf, a blade of grass, pebbles on the road, these are the very things that I have always overlooked. But that which concealed them do verily magnified them to me at the same time.

The ice remained in the shadowy side, still unscathed by the sun of a clear morning the following day.

The resilient grass, lowly yet ever green in Bristol, even in the heart of winter, poked their spiny heads and reached for the sky.

A fallen leaf rested tranquilly on the snow, disturbed only by water droplets from the melting ice on branches above.

The snow does much to accentuate the weathered and battered looks of these ancient stones. One can wonder how many winters had the castle saw and how many generations, cycles and seasons had these walls stood.

But unlike the stones laid so many years ago, snow comes and snow goes. It is powerful. It transforms all that it touches, both physically and otherwise. Besides coloring things white, it can change the mood completely. Yet it is only so brief. A few days' sun, a few nights' rain, and it will be gone without a trace.

The grace that washes us clean as snow is wonderfully not so brief. I have seen more snow than these, yet remembered less. But perhaps the brevity of its existence, before its ascension once more is just a common fact of life. It is just the obvious, that we are often oblivious with, given a form that we can't deny. And if one is wise, one will heed the reminder of a phenomena that graces Bristol seldom.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Snow Blight and the Severn Dwarves

The coldest snap for 20 years shows no sign of letting up, with the freezing weather expected to last all weekend and into next week. (BBC's website)

Yesterday we were suppose to be flying off to Prague, but due to the weather, many flights were canceled and airports closed. In the end, we decided to cancel the trip altogether and perhaps go to Central Europe when the Earth tilts the other way a little more. After all, the choice is really between these, we can stay in Bristol and witness a small history, or we can fly, but well, there is always another winter there.

One of the main reason we want to go to Prague is to see snow. And now, it looks like Ms White is a little too enthusiastic in running our direction and locking us in her frosty embrace. While snow is really lovely, like the romantic storybook winter in many people's imagination, I've about have more than my fill with the disruption she brings.

Anyway, to make ourselves feel better because of canceling the trip, we decided to visit Brandon Hill to make the most of what the temperamental weather brings. On the way towards the hill, we saw a red fox killing a bird (or a pigeon). I've not yet seen a red fox in the wild, much less one in the middle of a successful hunt and so close to the city center. I'll count this as blessing number 1 for not being able to fly.

As we arrived at the hills a little late, many of the slops were quite dirty with 'runway tracks' and slushy mud. Youngsters in drench and filthy coats along with wet brownish dogs were common sights.

We made a small snowman with the remaining clean snow higher up the garden and named him (or her) Jason. Speaking of snowman, this snow Man is one of the most impressive ones that I've seen so far. Blessing number 2.

Poor snow man, feels so lonely sitting on the bench alone.

Each of us took our turn to sit beside it to cheer him up. But he is a cold dude. Nothing about him is warm at all.

As the sun inches closer to the horizon, we left Mr Cool to enjoy his solitude on a bench in the woods.

Blessing number 3 came with the sunset. It was an absolute joy to see the blue sky and sun again! I've never realized how well snow goes together with sunset. The golden sun bath all things westward in its warm hue, accentuating the long bluish shadows on a white carpet.

Here is me and an ex-classmate.

And our friends from Hong Kong.

How could I forget how beautiful winter sunsets can be with the brilliant interplay between cool and warm colors!

Bristol looks so foreign again under the white spell and that can help reawaken my eyes to see this place afresh.

Prague, Vienna and Budapest, I look forward to visiting these places when all things are more favorable.