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kottke.org posts about Phil Edwards

How Slow Motion Works

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 27, 2020

The kids and I were talking about how slow motion video works the other day, so I was happy to see this new video from Phil Edwards detailing how the technique works and its history in cinema, from Eadweard Muybridge to Wes Anderson and from Seven Samurai to The Matrix.

I am an unabashed fan of slow motion; you can check out dozens of slow motion videos I have posted over the years, including this video of Alan Rickman dramatically drinking tea.

The Breakthrough that Made Animation Look Natural

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2019

In the latest in a series of videos on film innovations that came from outside Hollywood, Phil Edwards highlights rotoscoping, a process of filming live action and transferring the motion to produce realistic animated movement invented by Max Fleischer.

As the above video shows, it started with Max’s brother Dave dancing on a roof in a clown costume. Footage of that was then used to model the classic Koko the Clown cartoons, which formed the basis for many Fleischer Studios films. Today, animators still use techniques like rotoscoping to turn real movement into animation.

A number of the studio’s most memorable cartoons used footage of legendary jazz singer Cab Calloway to create fluid animated sequences, like this dancing walrus from Betty Boop.

As Edwards notes, Fleischer’s studio also invented an early multiplane animation device, which allowed for the independent movement of different parts of the background to create the illusion of depth, resulting in yet more realism. Here’s Steven Johnson describing Disney’s more sophisticated multiplane camera in his book Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World:

All of these technical and procedural breakthroughs summed up to an artistic one: Snow White was the first animated film to feature both visual and emotional depth. It pulled at the heartstrings in a way that even live-action films had failed to do. This, more than anything, is why Snow White marks a milestone in the history of illusion. “No animated cartoon had ever looked like Snow White,” Disney’s biographer Neil Gabler writes, “and certainly none had packed its emotional wallop.” Before the film was shown to an audience, Disney and his team debated whether it might just be powerful enough to provoke tears — an implausible proposition given the shallow physical comedy that had governed every animated film to date. But when Snow White debuted at the Carthay Circle Theatre, near L.A.’s Hancock Park, on December 21, 1937, the celebrity audience was heard audibly sobbing during the final sequences where the dwarfs discover their poisoned princess and lay garlands of flowers on her.

The Origins of Stop Motion Animation

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 26, 2019

In this episode of the Almanac video series from Vox, Phil Edwards takes a look at how an early film using stop motion animation, a 1912 short of dancing bugs made by an insect collector, showed the promise of the technique.

Though people have been experimenting with stop motion since the beginning of film, the new art really took off when an insect collector named Wladyslaw Starewicz (later Ladislas Starevich, among other spellings) wanted to see his beetles move.

His 1912 film, The Cameraman’s Revenge, was the most significant of those early experiments. By that time, he’d been discovered as a precocious museum director in a Lithuanian Natural History Museum, and that enabled him to make movies. The Cameraman’s Revenge was his boldest experiment yet, depicting a tryst between star-crossed (bug) lovers.

Starevich’s later films influenced the stop motion work of Terry Gilliam and Wes Anderson, as well as its earlier use in King Kong. Here’s the The Cameraman’s Revenge in its entirety:

How Leonardo Constructed a Satellite-View Map in 1502 Without Ever Leaving the Ground

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2019

Have you ever wondered how mapmakers made bird’s-eye-view maps before the invention of satellites or even hot air balloons? I have and was glad to find Phil Edwards’ video on the subject:

Leonardo da Vinci is justly famous for a lot of different things, but we’ve heard somewhat less about his mapmaking prowess than his painting or mechanical designs. His 1502 map of the Italian town of Imola is the oldest surviving example of an ichnographic (i.e. bird’s-eye-view) map of a place, a type of map that is ubiquitous today in the form of satellite imagery.

Most Renaissance maps are known for their fanciful inclusion of dragons, castles, and undulating mountainsides, and most of them show buildings in elevation, or the “oblique perspective.” But da Vinci’s sought to capture the proportions and relationships between land features more accurately, and he developed new technologies to do so. To make this map of Imola, he may have used the special hodometer and magnetic compass he’d already invented (he’d been fascinated by maps and optics for years). With careful measurements in hand, he drew every “street, plot of land, church, colonnade, gate and square, the whole encompassed by the moat,” writes the Renaissance historian Paul Strathern.

Here is Leonardo’s Imola map (cropped) compared with a contemporary satellite image:

Leonardo Imola Map

Leonardo Imola Map

As Edwards notes in the video, Leonardo’s map is not strictly an illustration or drawing of a place but more of an infographic. We take this type of map for granted now, but 500 years ago, that shift was a genuine innovation.

Where the $&%@# Did Grawlixes Come From?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 25, 2019

A grawlix is a string of typographic characters that represent obscene language, often found in comics. In this video Phil Edwards traces the history of the grawlix back to the early 20th century, right around when the comic form was invented.

Known as the “grawlix” — a term invented by Beetle Bailey cartoonist Mort Walker — this string of symbols is almost as old as comics, extending back to the early 1900s. Comics like The Katzenjammer Kids and Lady Bountiful were truly inventing the art form and, in the process, had to figure out a way to show obscenities to kids. Enter #*@!$ like this. The grawlix performs a censorship function while, at the same time, revealing that something naughty is going on.

Dazzle camouflage

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 27, 2018

In a new video for Vox, Phil Edwards talks about one of my favorite low-tech technologies: dazzle camouflage. Instead of trying to hide warships with paint the color of the ever-changing sky or sea, dazzle camouflage aimed to confuse the enemy by disguising the silhouettes and headings of ships.

World War I ships faced a unique problem. The u-boat was a new threat at the time, and its torpedoes were deadly. That led artist Norman Wilkinson to come up with dazzle camouflage (sometimes called “razzle dazzle camouflage”). The idea was to confuse u-boats about a ship’s course, rather than try to conceal its presence. In doing so, dazzle camouflage could keep torpedoes from hitting the boat — and that and other strategies proved a boon in World War I.

More recently, this strategy has been used on people’s faces to thwart facial recognition and on Cristiano Ronaldo’s football cleats to confuse opponents as which way he’s moving his feet.

How Technicolor changed movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 05, 2017

In The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy lands after being brought to Oz by a tornado, she opens the door and, bang!, Technicolor. It’s a surprising transition, one of the most effective in film history. But it wouldn’t have been a complete shock for audiences in 1939 because Oz was not the first film to feature the color technology. In this video, Phil Edwards details the history of Technicolor, how it works, and how it changed movie making.

Many people recognize Technicolor from The Wizard of Oz, but the technology existed long before then. Two strip Technicolor and three strip Technicolor both revolutionized the film industry and shaped the look of 20th century film.

But Technicolor also influenced movies through its corporate control of the technology. People like Natalie Kalmus shaped the aesthetic of color films, and directors redesigned their sets and films based on the Technicolor look that the company — and viewers — demanded.

Edwards also did a “director’s cut” video with further information that wasn’t in the first video.

The Black List, the humble origins of a Hollywood kingmaker

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2017

For Vox, Phil Edwards profiled The Black List, an annual listing of the best Hollywood scripts that have yet to be produced.

Phil Edwards has a chat with Franklin Leonard, the creator of The Black List, Hollywoods’ famous anonymous survey of unproduced screenplays. The Black List isn’t a guarantee that a script will be produced, however, it does give overlooked scripts a second shot of getting on the big screen. A handful of academy award- winning-films found their second chance on the Black List. And in an industry brimming with multi-year contracted sequels, and well-established franchises, the Black List survey has become one of the few places in Tinseltown where one-off scripts have a chance to make it to the big screen.

Scripts that have gone on to be made into movies include Spotlight, Argo, Slumdog Millionaire, Juno, and a Mel Gibson talking beaver movie I’d never even heard of.

Why are knights pictured fighting snails in medieval manuscripts?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 29, 2017

Snails, particularly those shown in combat with knights, show up in the margins of medieval manuscripts copied around the turn of the 14th century…a sort of medieval meme that spread among scribes. In this video, Phil Edwards investigates what’s going on with those snails, drawing upon the work of Lilian Randall in The Snail in Gothic Marginal Warfare (a corker of a title for an academic work, to be sure).

The art (and commerce) of Minecraft

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 07, 2017

Since its initial release in 2009, Minecraft has matured to the point of being a platform for people who want to make art and also for people who want to make money. Phil Edwards of Vox highlights some of the beautiful structures being created by Minecraft players (some of which are collected in this coffee table book called Beautiful Minecraft) and the challenges faced by creators trying to make money within a game owned by a large company.

The creativity “Creative Mode” enables is obvious in the work that talented designers produce. Sometimes Minecraft artists will create interactive worlds that replicate historic events; other times, Minecraft’s many cubes coalesce into a sculptural image, the same way pointillism’s dots disappear to form a picture. These images and worlds can be eerie, magical, and surprisingly beautiful.

But perhaps most surprising of all, Minecraft worlds can also be a business. Companies like Blockworks make maps for private Minecraft servers (computer networks that host Minecraft games), and they also occasionally design maps in collaboration with institutions and companies like Minecraft owner Microsoft.

BlockWorks — company tagline: “creative Minecraft solutions” — has done some really fantastic designs for themselves and their clients.

Minecraft Art

Minecraft Art

A short history of time travel and killing Baby Hitler

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2016

Phil Edwards talks to James Gleick about his new book, Time Travel: A History, and of course the subject of killing Baby Hitler comes up. Turns out, the idea of using time travel to kill Adolf Hitler was first used by writer Ralph Milne Farley in 1941, before the US ever entered World War II or before the world learned the horrifying scope of the Holocaust.

I’m currently reading Gleick’s book and the most surprising thing so far is how recently time travel was invented…it’s only about 120 years old. The idea of progress was not really evident to people before the pace of technology and the importance of history became apparent in the 19th century. Progress made time travel relevant…without it, people couldn’t imagine going back in time to see how far they’d come or forward in time to see how much they’d progress.

The voice of Siri explains the art of voiceover

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 23, 2015

On Vox, Phil Edwards has a feature on Susan Bennett, the voice of Siri, and how the art of voiceover is changing in the digital world.

Siri needs to be able to say just about everything in the English language, and that took a lot of hard work.

“I recorded four hours a day, five days a week for the month of July,” Bennett says. For a voice actor, that workload causes a lot of strain. “That’s a long time to be talking constantly. Consequently, you get tired.”

The original Siri “was to sound otherworldly and have a dry sense of humor,” Bennett says. She added that to her take on the character, even as she focused on staying consistent and clear.