REVIEW: ISLE OF DOGS

So, let me start this off by fully disclosing that this review is totally biased — I am a typical media student and therefore a huge Wes Anderson fan. His work has such a unique style that it’s hard for me not to instantly love anything he puts out. Not only that, but I am a lover off the stop-motion medium. So it goes without saying that I loved Isle of Dogs, and it’s going to be difficult for me to pick any faults with it. (maybe I should just title this post Love Letter: Isle of Dogs)

The most striking and unique aspect of this film is it’s visuals – handcrafted stop-motion figures and sets throughout the film – everything has a handmade feel, even the explosions and smoke are animated from cotton wool and cellophane. It’s little details like this that really make the look for me — on top of the handcrafted animation style, the methodical, almost surgical directing and camera Anderson is known for, really juxtaposes and compliments this. Every single frame of this movie is aesthetically pleasing and satisfyingly crafted, and seeing it in motion is a real treat.

The story of Isle of Dogs is just like the visuals; unique, colourful and exciting. Without spoiling it, it’s about a young boy who goes looking for his dog on the island they have been exiled to, Trash Island. The characters are done really well – and the ‘performance’ from the voice actors and animators goes hand in hand — you can really see the emotions on those model dogs!

Anderson seems to have found a perfect medium in stop-motion animation for his surgical, quirky directing style – the combination of unique setting, story and visuals of Isle of Dogs means it’s definitely one of my new favourites films!

Stories and Spaces: The Start

I recently finished an exciting unit at Uni titled ‘Stories and Spaces’. For this project, we were tasked with holding an exhibition in the Union nightclub, The Old Fire Station. Each group was assigned an area of the building, and beyond that we had free reign to do whatever we please within our area using projectors and projection mapping. The final show was a really amazing mixture of work, and everyone’s work was creative and made great use of the projectors and the space around them. I’ll be making a few posts about this project, highlighting the process of bringing our project to life.

In this post, I’ll be going through some of the planning for our project – before we had anything made or animated, we went through a lot of design ideas for our exhibition.

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Here’s what we had to work with.

We knew from the start that we’d love to use instruments and music in our show – some kind of mixed-reality ‘show’ in which songs would be played on the real instruments, with animated visualisations projected on top of them. We had a huge space to work with, so the next challenge was something to fill in the rest of the room. This ‘show’ plan evolved into the concept of a theatre, with an art-deco style.

With the concept in mind, we set out planning the logistics of the project; finding the instruments to project on, working out where and how to attach them to the ceiling and wall – it was important that they didn’t sway or move at all as this would distort the projections. Luckily we had access to the Fire Station every week to be able to plan our project and visualise the space.

If I’ve taken away something from the planning and brainstorming part of this project, it’s the sheer importance of planning! The more effort you put in to a project while it’s still on paper, the easier everything else will be from start to finish.

Quick Review: ‘Artemis’ by Andy Weir (spoiler-free-ish)

I’ve been on a real sci-fi book binge recently, and after finishing off James S.A. Corey’s ‘The Expanse‘ series (big fan), I moved on to Andy Weir’s ‘Artemis‘ with high expectations following The Martian. (I’ve only seen the movie, not read the book so take my comparisons between the two with a grain of salt!)

This review doesn’t reveal very much about the books plot so spoilers aren’t much of a problem.

So overall, I thought this book was fairly good; the setting is convincing, the plot is intriguing and fits well to the lunar setting, and Weir’s sciencey nerd stuff spread throughout is well researched and interesting. But there’s a lot of significant issues that prevented this book from being a lot better.

This ‘sciency nerd stuff’ is what Andy Weir is known for, and is what helped make The Martian such a success – it seemed almost like a biopic film rather than fiction! Explaining all the sciency bits is great when it adds to the story; in The Martian, I found this to be unique and a great addition to the story; adding to Mark Watney’s character as this space-MacGyver, using what little resources he had to survive.
In Artemis, Weir takes this up to 11 – everything is explained, from how the oxygen is produced to how the showers work on the Moon. There’s even some economic science explained as to the economic viability of a Moon colony. While these gratuitous explanations satisfied the nerdy part of me, I did find it to be rather tiring in bits that had no relevance to the plot whatsoever; especially as some dialogue existed with no other clear purpose than to shove some extra science in the book.

My next point about Artemis is about the characters. The protagonist, Jazz, is a 26 year old woman who has lived on the Moon all her life. Many other reviewers found her character to be too similar to Mark Watney, which I also found true; the wisecracking jokes, the creative engineering ingenuity. I think Weir really fell flat in writing a female protagonist though – it’s constantly reminded that she is a female in awkward, shoehorned ways. There’s a really, really weird plot point about a reusable condom??? Given to Jazz to test because apparently she is promiscuous?? I suppose the goal of this was to show that Jazz is known throughout the colony as being promiscuous in a funny way, while introducing sexual tension with the character who gave it to her, but all it did was make me cringe every time it was mentioned.

Anyway, problems aside, it’s quite a fun read and if you’re into nerdy sciency stuff and how a moon colony might realistically work, then this might be up your alley. More than anything, I think a movie adaptation of this book isn’t unlikely after the success of The Martian – and in my opinion it has the potential to be visually exciting and improve on the book’s shortfalls!

 

6/10

Websites from my ‘Cool Stuff’ Bookmarks folder

This post is just to share a few cool little things I’ve found on the internet. They range from interesting things, useful things to simple timewasters.

1. Languageisavirus.com

This website has great ways of curing writer’s block. The first page that appears is a daily writing prompt, with a button that generates a random new one. The website also features articles on writing techniques, sentence generators and other things all tailored to helping your writing.

2. Dark Room

Another writing site – this is simply a very minimalistic word processor. The idea is that it has no distractions – it’s full screen, so it’s ‘just about you and your text’. This is great if you just want to write with nothing else to distract from your projects.

3. City Creator

Now for something a little bit less useful. This website lets you create cute little pixel cities by dragging and dropping different parts onto the canvas. It’s easy to use and quite fun.

4. Kittens Game

This one should come with a warning – it’s addictive. Essentially a souped-up version of cookie clicker, this text-based web game starts with clicking to collect catnip for your kittens — then eventually (eventually) develop space travel and advanced trading. Yeah.

The New Camera

Recently, I got a new camera for my general photography / video stuff; upgrading from a Nikon D3400 to a Nikon D5600. I threw together a little video to explain why:

This is the one time I actually wasn’t very happy to get a new camera 🙁 It’s just a really annoying process to go through just to have a microphone jack. I’m not sure why Nikon removed it from the D3300.

After having a few days to play with and get to grip with the D5600 more, It’s definitely been worth the upgrade – the flip-out touch screen is a godsend, I’m not sure how I ever survived without it!! There’s a timelapse feature built in, which should let me do some exciting things in future.

If anyone is on the fence about spending the extra £100 on the upgrade from entry-level Nikon, I’d definitely recommend going for the 5600.

‘Viyna’ Shoot

Back in October, I took part in a shoot for my course’s ‘Fiction’ unit, in which we were tasked with making a 5 minute short film. Our film, titled ‘Viyna’ (Ukrainian for ‘war’), was shot over two days in 3 locations. Making this film was great fun, and I definitely learned a lot. I could make lots of posts about this shoot (and I might), but one of my biggest takeaways from this was the importance of planning and testing!

Here’s some comparisons between the test shots we completed and the final shots as seen in the video.

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By practising the shot-reverse-shot, we were able to work out what was missing from the shot, in the lighting, set dressing and angles, to make it visually interesting.
The first thing we were able to change was the lighting. In the test shoot, the lighting is very flat, almost too soft. The actors have very little distinction from the background. We solved this problem by introducing more lights. There’s a fill light pointed at the ceiling as well as a diffused LED pointing at the actor in focus for each shot. We also used a small light on the male lead intended to give him a sort of ‘ghostly glow’, but it turned out to be very subtle.
I’m quite happy with the end result – there’s a nice moody contrast on the actor’s faces but the light isn’t too harsh and I think we managed to achieve the romantic, soft atmosphere we were going for here.

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Another aspect which we found was vital, was the set dressing. It was clear from the start that we’d have to put in a lot of effort here as we essentially had a blank slate of a room to work with. It was great to learn how each prop has a purpose other than just to be pretty; the things stuck to the wall are there to give a sense of depth; the tablecloth, plates of food and cups for drinking were intended to show the end of a meal. Even the fairy lights in the over-the-shoulder shot were put there in order to give a further sense of distinction between the foreground and background.