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We Can’t All Be Great

You’re walking out to your car after a late day at work. Its about 7:30. The suns making its way down under the horizon and you can see long shadows forming on the sidewalk. Its not that you’re scared – why would you be? You live in a safe part of town – but you are surprised when you hear footsteps approaching from around the corner.

The boss had you lock up, so when the men appear at the edge of the adjacent brick building, you know that you have no one to call to.

And they look like this.

After you bolt – after you get far far away – who is it you call? Is it the President, or is it the Police? Is it the Major of Gotham, or Batman?

In a book, its important to monitor how many “Great” people you are following. Gauge how many Kings, Dukes, and Majors are in your book based on the loftiness of the plot-line. If they are supposed to be duking it out with criminals on the street, you might have picked someone a little too high up the social ladder. The president shouldn’t be doing the job of the police, anymore than the major should be doing the job of Batman.

The author George R.R. Martin does this very well in his book series, Song of Ice and Fire. While he juggles characters who are undeniably lordly, he also has a cast of characters that are of a low caste. Characters that are deposed. These are the characters who are able to get in the muddy conflict on the street while the posh lordlings are battling with their minds in the castles.

You’ll notice that many characters are shamed, dethroned, or that their royal status is more of a joke and no one (save for themselves) recognizes it.

Seems presumptuous.

Seems presumptuous.

Its a great way to get some variety in a novel’s plot, so that the types of conflicts the author tackles doesn’t become stale. If you are writing a book and you feel like you might just be writing the same kind of scenes over and over again, try this out. It doesn’t hurt to shake up the social castes a bit.

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Late to the Party of the Apes

Yes, I know that the movie came out awhile ago now. Don’t look at me like that Caesar.

It's frightening.

It’s frightening.

Still, I think that I want to throw my two cents in on the glorious movie that is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. In keeping with my petty cash metaphor, the first of my two pennies on the subject is about the plot – and why I think the loose interpretation of the series continues to be good. The second of the pennies is exclusively about CGI Monkey Facial Expressions.

It is widely agreed that the 2014 series is a loose interpretation of the original series movie – Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. I stress the loose interpretation, but there are still lines that can be drawn between the two of them. All in all I think that the newer iteration is tackling a different subject (I’m not just talking about the threat of fully-realized CGI Apes instead of the imminent incursion of people in monkey masks). For those of you who love the original series – please try not to bite my head off.

In the original series, the influx of apes before the rebellion is blamed on Americans using the creatures as pets – but soon after the purpose of the pets is warped into being easy enslaved labor. Especially in the modern day, the concept of apes being used for labor is so outrageous that I won’t even let PETA get out of bed to argue it for me.

Z Z Z Z...

Z Z Z Z…

See? Sleeping soundly, because we aren’t trying to make dogs work in a factory. Or make cats fix your plumbing. Not going to happen.

I’m much quicker to buy that the uplifted apes came out of an extraordinarily effective anti-Alzheimer treatment implemented through a virus. As a double wammy, it explains why apes could all become uplifted the minute one of them escaped the lab. If it wasn’t so sudden, I’d have to ask why we didn’t take action earlier.

All this also retools the movie to move away from the obvious racial implications of the first series. Now they focus on the fears that are all the rage in the media today. Superflus. Bioweapons. With Ebola tearing through the world, it feels pretty on point.

Ah, but its time for the second penny. While watching the facial expression of Caesar and his accompanying apes, I was left wondering “Why have I seen real non-digital casts of characters with worse characterizations and expressions than these apes?”

Well, I do have to concede that there were motion capture artists responsible for the facial expressions realized in the movie. With Caesar being captured by the talented Andy Serkis and the other apes by numerous other talents, no wonder it was fantastic.

Thanks, Alex!

Thanks, Alex!

No problem, guys.

But there was still something more to it. I think that in an environment where animators are constantly asking themselves what they should be doing with the motion and appearance of their digital characters – not just for the span of a scene, but for each single second – it puts pressure on the motion capture actors to give more thought into their second-by-second performance than even a live actor might put into it. They aren’t accountable for scenes, they are accountable for moments.

And truly, its something to see.