Wednesday Dec 23, 2009

Avatar: Putting the Rich In Rich Presentation

Went to see Avatar last night, on the flat silver screen instead of the 3-D version. In a word, it was spectacular. In other words, it was an homage, but not in the Dances With Wolves simile that seems to be popular.

Warning: Mild spoilers ahead.

Visually, Avatar was quite simply the best movie I've seen. Ever. For once, the movie wasn't about the special effects or how many things or people exploded with life-like splatter. The effects were great, but it was the photography and world-building that created context for the photography that made this movie. Personally, I felt that many of the Pandoran geographic elements were taken right out of the Roger Dean album cover book, including "Arches Mist" (the Pandoran holy site) and the "Floating Islands" riff that appears in Avatar as the floating mountains. Whether or not James Cameron borrowed from, or was inspired by, Roger Dean, the movie had me experiencing a fully animated interpretation of some of my favorite artwork of all time. It's one of the few cases where seeing something like this left me invigorated and excited, eager to see it again, rather than disappointed at the lack of attention to detail.

The most dismissive treatment of Avatar is that it's Dances with Wolves set in space. Making that comparison, however, ignores the body of prior science fiction art and misses the some of the underlying themes. The closest comparison I can draw (and again, whether homage, sampling or borrowing, I can't say) is to Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead, the second book in the original Ender series. In Speaker, we're introduced to life forms that are vaguely anthropromorphic in some ways but have intensely alien connections to their environment that drive the conflict through the book.

Bottom line: this is one I'm going to see again before it leaves theaters, and the last movie that got a double dip from me was the first Toy Story in 1995, because it set the bar for computer animation. Avatar resets the bar for rich presentation of a rich storyline.

Tuesday Apr 22, 2008

Getting a (Second) Life

I'm going to be part of the Sun Microsystems employee event in Second Life next week, and to get emotionally and electronically ready, our comms team has been busy crafting an avatar for me. In some ways, virtual reality has the right amount of malleability: I asked to be six feet tall, and for the first time in my life I've broken that barrier. I have a somewhat accurate portrayal of weight, shape and dress code, down to my favorite orange sneakers. What's kind of cool is going through your 2L inventory to see the components assembled, layered, filtered and otherwise projected on your form. And here's where reality intrudes again, mixing metaphor and meat-for: Several years ago, I asked one of my Chinese-literate friends how you refer to curly hair in Mandarin. Her response was that there's really no phrase for hair like that on people, and the closest thing she could come up with was "curly dog fur." So for a while, she referred to me as "black dog fur" and it kind of stuck as a diminutive.

Guess what provides the texture map for my hair in Second Life? I've been shopping in the dog fur store, folks. Folks who are strong proponents of immersive worlds are quick to point out that the worlds aren't completely artificial; they're representations of real people doing real things. And in my case, with the same real world limitations on my shaggy look.

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Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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