Monday, 8 June 2015

The Vampire Diaries S1-4 (review)

What? No, I totally didn't watch four seasons in one month :no:

This has been one of my guilty pleasures for a long time. I watched some of season one back when it started in (2009 I think?) but my mum got a bit freaked over one of the subplots in the early episodes and tried to steer me away from it. I read the books (all of them, no joke, only the first seven are worth reading) and enjoyed them even though they're nothing special, but now that I've gone back and revisited the TV series, I'm hooked.

I was expecting it not to be as good as I remembered, but honestly, it's better. While there are some arc motifs that get repetitive (there's an episode in season three that's almost an exact dupe of one in season two, save the villain is different), overall the show has some pretty stellar character development.

It has this repetitive habit of slowly turning really vicious, murderous either into heroes, or simply watering them down into being likeable. It does it from the get-go with Damon, who is easily the best character, and then flawlessly does something similar with most of the Originals (the first vampires).

Damon is by far the core of the show. He starts off as the antagonist but doesn't stay that way for long. His transformation into a semi-decent person is the most interesting character arc in the first two seasons (not to say that Jeremy, Caroline and Tyler's arcs aren't also extremely significant and enrapturing), and Ian Somerhalder's performance is flawless. I quickly became so invested in just about every character in this show (except Klaus, who was really miscast). It's also refreshing to watch something that's primarily a teen drama that isn't vacuous and poorly handled. It felt like it was getting to its audience without being patronising or feeling like a parent's attempt at seeming cool to their teenage children, and the times when TVD gets deep, there's actually some weight to what it's trying to say. You genuinely feel for the characters when they're in emotional pain, and it's saddening when characters die.

Its tone and stylistic choices are also very neatly constructed. There's quite a bit of magic but its rules and limitations are organically detailed to the audience over the course of the show without any clunky exposition, and visually it's extremely subtle and all the better for it. There's a shapeshifter late in season four, and the actual transitions between his 'faces' are all done through reflections and framing devices. Neato burrito.

When I was younger, it made such an impact on me that it got me interested in young adult fiction as a serious medium of storytelling, and still has a lot of resonance for me now. It's also weird how comfortingly familiar it feels, despite the fact I watched so little of it when it was first on; I don't remember half of these characters, I never saw these storylines the first time around, and yet I'm strangely nostalgic for all of it.

And if you're about to say "yeah but Twilight", there's literally no reason to bias an entire genre because of one bad example. It's like saying you don't like all sci-fi films because you didn't like Dreamscape or Dracula 3000.

I'm taking a very long break before watching the fifth and sixth season or the spin-off show The Originals, purely because I enjoy this show so much. It's had me so hooked, and I've binge-watched it in a way that no show have ever convinced me is a good idea before.

Easily an 8 out of 10.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Avengers Tower: Invasion

After rewrites, reshoots, much kafuffery and myriad setbacks, it's done.

Avengers Tower: Invasion is my longest brickfilm to date, coming in at a grand 8 minutes 21 seconds. It's possibly the most complex I've ever done too, and considering my own internal controversies over this brickfilm, I figured it warranted a proper write-up, just for me to explain everything that went on while I was putting this hunk a' junk together.

The origin story
From March through to August last year I was working on Avengers Tower, a series of fight videos for another channel (though I moved them back to my channel after a disagreement). They were Avengers 'training' fight sequences, and I started trying to use more minor Marvel characters. Anyway, the third video was originally going to be a brainless fight against Ultron and his AIM minions, and so I started animating before I really had a clear idea. At this time, it was called Ultron Ascending, and would be released in two parts. However, part one received a lot of negative backlash, and issues with this other channel caused me to shelve Ultron Ascending.

The dilemma
Ultron Ascending was a really low point for me. I was just about to head off to university and wasn't sure whether I would be able to continue brickfilming there or not (more on that later) and when the reaction to this was so poor, I hated that it could be one of the last things I'd be able to make for a while. It became a sore spot, and I wanted to put the very memory of it out of my mind.

However, I still had about 5 minutes worth of animation done, and a super-complex 1 minute digital intro. That's more than I've ever filmed/edited of anything before, and while I wasn't pleased with much of it, I thought it would be a shame to let it go to waste. At this time, I had also just started talking to Galactic Bricks about a shared LEGO Marvel universe, since I wanted to attempt a different, fresher Avengers project at some point soon. So, I made the decision to try and find a way to use the Ultron Ascending footage.

Invaders assemble
The main difficulty in rewriting Ultron Ascending was that it was such a small-scale story, and the original script had Ultron be destroyed. Thus the first thing I decided to do was have Ultron only appear in a behind-the-scene capacity, and let the Avengers just fight AIM, who I decided (being an organisation of techno-geeks) would somehow have come under the android's sway. Since, with the MBU now better formed in my mind, I wanted to add more set-up for future brickfilms, I tried to interweave some backstory for the robot, while at the same time not making it too oblique. Annoyingly, the original footage, didn't have any space for me to add more in, so it feels like all the build-up is in the second half.

(Click for detail)

Which brings me to my honest truth about the film: I don't like it. It hasn't been much fun to work on: it's riddled with light flicker (in both the new and old footage) which I just seem to get rid of, the story is a bit half-hearted, hastily edited, dodgy VFX, and it represents an unpleasant part of my brickfilming career...I'm already looking at how to make my next large project more of a departure from this. While I made the best of a bad situation, there's so much I've learned from how not to brickfilm.

So I hope you enjoy watching this more than I did making it, basically. I've had months of wanting to work on something else but being driven (for some inexplicable reason) to finish this, and I'm not satisfied with the end result.

On a lighter note...

Now this I am pleased with. Together with Galactic Bricks, I've been working on establishing a lot of backstory canon, planning lots of brickfilms, and have even begun filming on a few of them. Black Panther: The Gold Vibranium is my next Marvel brickfilm, while a Doctor Strange tribute is also in the works. I'm also quite happy that I've managed to do two episodes of SHIELD Declassified, which you can view on the MBU playlist. Big things are in the works, and while I'm going to be working on some non-Marvel projects too, the MBU has a lot of my attention. Future installments will be far better than Invasion. That's a promise.

The one good thing that did come out of Invasion was the amount of set-up I managed to add without making it clunky. I've established Ultron, AIM (including Andrew Forson, who'll return in Black Panther), Superior Spider-man, and even threw in Inhumans and the High Evolutionary (shhh, spoilers), all of which will have further repercussions in the MBU.

There's better to come, and now that Invasion isn't at the front of my mind I have time to work on becoming better. Like I said, there's so much I've learned about what not to do, and I'll be experimenting with new techniques to try and improve my work.

That's all I have to say for now. I do hope you enjoyed Invasion, and I hope you'll enjoy the future of the Marvel Brickfilm Universe!

(Click for detail)

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Countdown to Justice, Vol II: Chapter Three

Chapter Three: A Momentary Lapse
     In Gotham, Bruce was stuck in a waking nightmare. He wanted to inspire the people of Gotham to take back their city, using the bat as a symbol of justice, but instead a new group of radicals had warped it to their own ends.
     The Arkham Knights. Militaristic, capeless versions of the Batman himself. They sought an ordered Gotham; they committed heinous acts themselves, killing any criminal they deemed ‘too dangerous’ and organising the rest into something more manageable. The Batman was constantly having to deny his involvement with them to GCPD, through Gordon. Bruce was not a killer, and he would not watch a group of killers use his image to turn his city into a place that nourishes crime while murdering criminals.
     But now he was surrounded. He counted seven of them, each carrying a dagger that glowed orange. The metal was being heated. It went without saying that Bruce had to avoid taking a hit.
     The ringleader spoke. He had a voice modulator, adding a metallic grate to his speech. “You will submit, Batman.” His grip on the hilt of his sword tightened. “We will have order.”
     Bruce could feel the ring slowly moving in on him. He lowered his hand to his utility belt, ready to spring his sonic disruptor while striking the nearest Knight, but there was a flash of black and red. The ringleader’s sword was knocked out of his hand, just as he was thrown into two of his comrades.
Bruce seized the moment and jabbed his elbow into the next Knight, flipped him over his hip, and pinned his hand to the ground with a batarang. Before he could remove the Knight’s mask, another one was on him, driving him back towards the edge of the rooftop.
     He dropped all his weight into his feet, tried to slow his attacker down, but ultimately it was the dark-haired, black-jacketed metahuman who saved Batman from the fall. She was tall and muscular, and wore a golden tiara. A lasso was strapped to her hip, a sword on her back, and a shield in one hand.

 (Click for detail)

     Batman looked around. The other Arkham Knights were lying around him, disarmed and either unconscious or heavily dazed.
     “I had this,” he said.
     Before she could say anything else, Batman had launched himself across the Gotham skyline, on his batrope. He didn’t seem to keen to talk.
     She was waiting for him when he landed a block away.
     “You can’t outrun someone who’s faster than sound,” she smirked.
     “What do you want?”
     “To learn from you,” she said. “I’m not...used to my powers. I’ve had them all my life, I just didn’t have to use them until recently. I need to control them.”

(Click for detail)

     Batman sized the woman up. Despite the sword, she didn’t have the air of a killer. For a moment, his harsh, untrusting demeanor lapsed. It was enough.
     “Meet me on the roof of Gotham Central Bank tomorrow at eight.”
     And then he was gone, disappearing into the swell of the city.
     Tomorrow at eight, Diana thought. Tomorrow at eight.

To be continued...

Finally, the continuation of Countdown to Justice! Volume II will predominantly follow Wonder Woman, as well as the animosity between Batman and Superman. I'm not setting a regular upload schedule this time because of uni life, but I'm hoping Vol II won't drag on for too long.

The first three chapters are now available here and on my Flickr, and I hope you enjoy reading it!

Countdown to Justice, Vol II: Chapter Two

Chapter Two: Throwbacks

Deep in the rainforests of the Congo...
     Racing ahead of his colleagues, Fine rushed over the brow of the forested hill and was faced with a beautiful sight: a sheer cliff divided by a waterfall, surrounded on every side by dense forest. Among all this green, there was a tiny, bare oasis of pure blue. This would make for a good campsite.
     Milton Fine and his team of LexCorp scientists had been on the move for only a day and a half, and already the others were flagging. Fine was holding up - after all, he was no ordinary man - but while Luthor’s ‘best and brightest’ were experts in their fields, they had never been out in the field itself, so to speak. Also, Fine’s nanoprobes were slowly draining them of all of their data; their energy and strength came in as a nice addition to that. An early Christmas bonus for all of Fine’s hard work pretending to be human.
     The doctor sighed and ran further in to the waterfall, snapping a handful of photographs along the way.
     Then the rainforest exploded, and a wall of brown fur came haring towards him.
     Western lowland gorilla. Fine remembered its taxonomical name and chuckled.

(Click for detail)

     The gorilla was getting closer. One of the other scientists screamed. Foolish boy. It was almost upon him now. Fine raised a single hand, and the creature went limp as soon as it made contact. The doctor’s inhuman strength had damaged its skull.
     Fine set his nanoprobes to work repairing the beast. This hadn’t been his reason for coming to the Congo and spending so much of Luthor’s money, but it would make for an interesting side-project.
     Realising that his compatriots would no doubt be shocked at the display of strength, he mentally switched them into hibernation. He would need their minds for processing power, at least until he got his own body back, and that required their individual personalities to be inactive.
     The nanoprobes worked their way inside the gorilla’s central nervous system and got to work, feeding Fine everything from memories to evolutionary data. How did one species of ape evolve into the planet’s dominant species, while others were relegated to glorified national parks?
     But the gorilla had potential. Its brain was small, but underused. The nanoprobes increased its size and its mental capacity...unlocking a power buried deep within, something most humans didn’t even know they had the potential for.
     Fine’s work took three minutes and seventeen seconds, and then he recalled his nanoprobes from the gorilla. He took a few steps back, and waited for the beast to wake up naturally.

(Click for detail)

     A finger twitched. An eyelid fluttered, then opened completely, followed by the other. It lumbered off its stomach and onto its hind legs, and then howled at the sky. For a moment, Fine thought that his work had been in vain, that the beast didn’t recognise its own capacity for greatness, and then the gorilla fixed its iron gaze on him. Its eyes were now filled with emotions that no gorilla could form to be so coherent and...human. Confusion, then anger, then understanding.
     And then, it spoke.

To be continued...

Finally, the continuation of Countdown to Justice! Volume II will predominantly follow Wonder Woman, as well as the animosity between Batman and Superman. I'm not setting a regular upload schedule this time because of uni life, but I'm hoping Vol II won't drag on for too long.

The first three chapters are now available here and on my Flickr, and I hope you enjoy reading it!

Countdown to Justice, Vol II: Chapter One

Chapter One: Who Rules The Night
       Two weeks ago, I went to Metropolis in search of Superman. You’d think with senses as acute as mine, and with my particular skillset, that I’d be able to track down the world’s most powerful superhuman with little more effort than I would a wild boar.
       But no. Every time I get close to finding the Man of Steel, the trail vanished. It is erksome not being able to find him when my intentions are good, but it’s no doubt that he doesn’t want his ever-expanding list of enemies finding out his identity. I’d hazard a guess that the people in Superman’s life - parents, friends, lovers - don’t share his invulnerability.
       I have other problems, too. Ares hasn’t found me per se, but he’s looking in all the right places. A minotaur hunted me in DC. Two makhai warriors attacked me the day I left Metropolis, less than a week ago. I’ve must have been careless and let something slip somewhere. That, or Ares has found a new oracle. If he has, then Steve is in a lot of danger as well; a man who has learned some of the ways of the Amazons could be a powerful asset to the wargod.
       A car rushes by, fishtailing over the black ice that had compacted on the road. Then it pulls over, and I’m running before I see who gets out. Somehow I know. I just know.
       Another of Ares’ minions.

(Click for detail)

       I sprint down a side alley. Dead end, but I can make the jump over the wall before the minotaur rams me. I leap-
       On the other side is a small garden. I don’t want to disturb these people, so I scale the building. In less than a minute I’m on the roof, far away from that horned demon.
       I need to get out of Washington DC again. There’s no point trying Metropolis again, but there is another. He may just be a man, but some believe he is a vampire. Some say he can turn invisible, or command the shadows to do his bidding. That he can fly.
       Man or super-man, I have to hope that - assuming I can find him - there’s something this Batman can teach me.

To be continued...

Finally, the continuation of Countdown to Justice! Volume II will predominantly follow Wonder Woman, as well as the animosity between Batman and Superman. I'm not setting a regular upload schedule this time because of uni life, but I'm hoping Vol II won't drag on for too long.

The first three chapters are now available to view here and on my Flickr, and I hope you enjoy reading it!

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Nuclear Man (story)

The Nuclear Man
        I have no idea what I’m doing. I should do, being the former apprentice of a world-renowned nuclear physicist - surely he picked me for a reason - but something tells me this is a situation no scientist ever really prepares for.
        First there was that accident at STAR Labs, with the particle accelerator, and then again with Dr Stein...I think I’m hexed. The universe can prove me wrong by letting Doc be alive, somewhere, somehow, though I know the chances are slim.
        Right now, it’s hard to focus. As if trying to control atomic superpowers wasn’t difficult enough on it’s own, I have to do it with Emily stuck in my head. Our head. Whatever.

(Click for detail)

        I should probably explain. After the particle accelerator malfunctioned, I went looking for Dr Martin Stein, to see if he could help me understand these new ‘fire’ powers I’d developed. He called me a meta-human, and it turned out not be fire at all - I was literally making atomic energy, like a living nuclear reactor. Dr Stein’s lab was built right on top of one, and he was trying to tap something called a ‘firestorm matrix’ when a hired gun tried to steal his work. Thank God the whole facility didn’t go up, but whatever Stein was working on blasted him, his assistant Emily Sung and me. Something impossible happened; my powers saved me and Emily, who was standing next to me, but Stein was gone. And when I say Emily and I were ‘saved’, I mean we were...fused.
        I’m not even kidding. We’re currently sharing a superpowered body (my handsome body, to be exact) and while I control the arms and legs, Emily’s the brain. We’ve only just begun to see what this body can do, but already we’ve been able to transmute metals. How sick is that! It’s mainly Em’s work - I direct the power, she does the calculations, remembers formulas, blah blah important stuff.
        But right this moment, I have no idea what I’m doing. Em’s gone silent and this headcase in a hood just did something impossible too; he threw out a miniature black hole. You can’t transmute a black hole! There’s all this energy ‘round my hands, and I’ve got no clue how to use it.
        Unless I go for the guy. I might be able to throw some of this energy, like a fireball.
        I aim through the black hole, which has started to weaken, directing my atomic fire towards the perp. I just want to knock him down, not damage (or kill).

(Click for detail)

A vicious jet of atomic energy fizzes through the air, ignoring the now-fading black hole’s pull and tearing a hole through the other guy’s outstretched hand.
        Ronnie! Careful!
        Oh now Emily chooses to resurface.
        The black hole is completely gone, as is Headcase’s hand; there’s a smouldering stump in its place. Oh my god, I did that. Thankfully, the wound’s cauterised, but I still just took a guy’s hand off.
        What were you thinking?
        Shut up, Em.
        Sirens. I need to go. The police will take care of his wound, but if he uses his powers on them...
        Oh man. I. Have. No. Idea. What. I’m. Doing.

To be continued?

So for anyone not too familiar with their DC heroes, this is Firestorm. I wanted to do something with him after seeing this week's episode of The Flash and thought a photomanip was the best way to go. The second image and the story was me getting a bit carried away. Officially speaking, this does tie into Countdown to Justice, though I have no idea how as I only did this as a spur-of-the-moment project yesterday. Nonetheless, I hope you've enjoyed this story!

Monday, 24 November 2014

Istari Adventures: Back In My Day

Back to Middle-earth for my latest brickfilm. What did Gandalf get up to in his youth?


This video was technically a long time in the making. I first had the idea for it this time last year, and wanted to make a Hobbit brickfilm in time for the release of The Desolation of Smaug. I put it aside because I had no orc minifigures at the time and went to work on An Istari Halloween, but that failed and I was left without any Middle-earth mischief for a while. Sometime later I found 79014 Dol Guldur Battle and 79011 Dol Guldur Ambush at supermassive discounts, then in July I finally scripted the thing...and filmed it last week. Procrastinating seems to be strong in this one, mmmmm.

I also really wanted an excuse to use that Bilbo minifig. It was an exclusive with the pre-order of the LEGO Hobbit video game, so I thought I'd missed my chance of getting it, and then found a bundle at GAME with the minifig and a DLC, for half price! I won't be able to play it until I go home for the Christmas holidays, since I couldn't bring my PS3 to uni, but I've already got some use out of that minifigure.

"By the power of Grayskull!"

The fight scene was a lot of fun to do. Parts of it are in homage to Fancy Pants' amazing LEGO The Force Unleashed brickfilm, which you need to go and watch right after you've finished reading this blog post. I tried grading it a greenish tint, to make it feel more like how Dol Guldur appears in the films, and between that and the very dark lighting I think I got the tone right. Some of the effects are a bit dodgy, though. Next time I do lightning, I shall definitely be spending some time getting to be more familiar with After Effects' 'advanced lightning' function. It came out looking okay, but not amazing.

There's not much more to say about this brickfilm. It's just another short bit of lighthearted fun, and I hope I get around to making another episode of Istari Adventures (I have the lines collected for three more, though I have no idea which order or when I'm going to film them). Thanks again to Jorden Davis for voicing Bilbo, and I hope you enjoyed the video!

I leave you with a cut frame, of another hobbit going about his daily hobbit chores.

"Are those pumpkins or carrots?"