Thursday, September 29, 2011

space race

Alpha from The Animation Workshop on Vimeo.

When the space programs were in their earliest incarnations I always felt sorry for the dogs and other animals who were sent up in rocket ships never to return to earth. Poor Alpha has been captured and coerced into participating but although the results might not surprise you I think you'll find his journey to astronaut status as amusing as I did.

There are some truly amazing animation studios around these days proving that not all new art is bad.

Far from it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

golden age masters

Longer ago than I prefer to remember my parents acquired all 51 volumes of the original Harvard Classics, works of literature that were considered by the then president of the university to be essential reading for an educated person circa 1909. In the late '50's I was far too young to be fascinated by Aristotle, Dante, Hobbes, Shakespeare, or Voltaire, to name but a few, but Volume 17 was a different story. In it were all of the original stories of Aesop, The Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Andersen which I got to read before stories like Snow White or Beauty and The Beast were Disneyfied.

It's quite likely nobody reads them anymore but even after all this time I still remember Andersen as one of my favorite writers of children's literature. Unlike Aesop and the Grimm's collected fairy tales he actually wrote the stories published under his name. Many of them are just a little too ironic to be labeled as classic fairy tales with the pre-supposed happy endings the term implies. His stories are more complex and the resolutions don't depend on the type of magic fairy stories usually rely on. Rather than spells and transformations Andersen allows readers to draw magic from the edges of our own imaginations.

Among my favorites is the Little Mermaid, a coming of age story about a mermaid princess who discovers the world above the waters and becomes obsessed by a human prince she saves from drowning. Tragically, she discovers that her current form makes her unsuitable to love a prince and, worse still, that she has no soul. To satisfy her dreams she must become human but only by winning the love of the prince will she gain an immortal soul. (The 'Christian' in Andersen's name was not without meaning.)

A sea witch crone gives her a potion that will change her fish tail into legs but irony dictates her every step is at the cost of continuous pain. The potion has also made her mute - a tragic loss for a siren whose ability to sing defines her identity. Her grace and beauty attracts the prince to love her as a sister, but not enough to recognize her as the girl who saved his life. Now she experiences a double irony since her sacrifice allows her to be close to him but unable to close the gap between them.

Meanwhile, family politics arrange for the prince to be betrothed to another princess, a girl so beautiful that when he meets her he becomes convinced it was she who rescued him. The little mermaid now has come to a dilemma. She has neither union with the prince nor can she she return to being a mermaid. Doomed to spend the rest of her life in pain, she will eventually die without an immortal soul. Andersen doesn't let it happen by supplying a twist wherein the mermaid’s sisters sacrificed their beautiful hair in exchange for a knife she can use to kill the prince and end the sea witch’s spell. In the end, Christian morality wins and the mermaid, who can't bring herself to murder the man she loves, kills herself by jumping into the sea and merging, as mermaids do, into its foam.

In the original story Andersen let it end there, but his editors wouldn't allow such a tragic conclusion to a story meant for children. He introduced air spirits. By becoming one, the little mermaid can serve as a guide for the proper behaviour of children and if she does her job well, will be able to earn an immortal soul. I don't know about you but I prefer the irony of the original ending.

Edmund Dulac, my favorite of the Golden Age illustrators, created some very beautiful paintings for this classic story. I hope you've enjoyed seeing them as much as I always do. Now I'm going back to re-read The Snow Queen which I once thought of illustrating myself just to see if I could.

Friday, September 23, 2011

a walk with Crow

This morning as susan and I strolled along the beach she mentioned that my absence from her blog had been noted. This is true and I do apologize if this has caused any consternation. The fact is I've been sequestered in my library for long hours in a vainglorious attempt to write a book for my animal friends on the subject of human intelligence. After copious rewrites the only thing I have to show is a pamphlet. Yes, yes you people have made huge strides in all sorts of ways that benefit you - I won't argue that. Yet I wonder who among you wouldn't agree, if asked to take my point of view, that so much of this achievement has a hollow ring. Let me spell out a few of my concerns for you in brief.

You'd think, given a planet that's 70% covered in water and 10% covered by mountains, deserts, and snow covered wastelands in a solar system with no other habitable biospheres that people would be careful of the real estate. You'd think they'd develop an intelligent approach to land use. You'd think they wouldn't fight stupid little wars over useful areas of terrain, wouldn't deploy weapons and energy generating systems that could render the land useless for human and animal habitation for centuries to come. You wouldn't think they'd knowingly pollute their water with poisons. You wouldn't think they'd fill the air with chemicals and the crops with genetically modified pesticides - what you call a pest is dinner to many of my friends. You'd never imagine a sensible race would chop down forests and pave the continents with asphalt and pipelines. Well, you wouldn't, would you?

The worst effects of human depredations could be overcome if you acted in concert to live in harmony with your environment as all other animals do. The trouble is that many of you aren't able to come to this conclusion on your own. The birds I've spoken with have told me you interpret their cries as simple bad temper rather than the urgent communication about danger they've been trying to establish.

We may have come up with a solution. Not only have the birds been studying you but now the parrots who have lived closely enough with humans to learn your languages have returned to the wild to teach the flocks how to speak. Perhaps when the day of reckoning comes it won't be zombie armies or hordes of robot warriors bearing deadly cleaning implements. Instead, you may witness the cockatoo apocalypse when millions of birds the world over stand outside your windows to shout:

I bid you a temporary farewell as I retire once more to my library with a fresh pot of espresso, an old fruitcake, and a snifter of Remy. This search of my files for anecdotes about human intelligence is a trying procedure. Meanwhile, susan has agreed to forward any remarks you see fit to leave for my attention.

Salutations, dear friends.

Monday, September 19, 2011

surface details

Just in case you've been wondering what I've been up to lately here are a couple of the sketches I've been playing with in the past couple of days. Neither of them is actually done or even close to it in the finished sense but I'm tending to lean toward refining the seated lady more than the mirror woman. Both tell something of a story but the reflection on outward form and stretching time to some machine like plastic being interests me less than the contemplative aspect of the other. I'm curious about what it is the seated lady may be considering.

A long time ago I spent my painting time trying to reproduce modern versions of the work done by the 19th century watercolorists whose work I continue to admire more with passing time. Although I did come up with some interesting images I never did manage to capture the look of both innocence and wisdom I was trying to portray. It's no longer the 19th century or even the early 20th and my imagined version of the tranquility of those times is currently in abeyance. I'm not a particularly realistic person when it comes to my preferred memories or thoughts about the past but I do believe there was a time not so very long ago when mutual respect was more common. Things are going much faster now but nobody knows the ultimate destination.

I think we each must have a better world we dream about in order to allow for a better place to grow. My plan is to continue spending the time I have imagining and painting a prettier one. Whatever your skills and interests I hope you will keep on doing so too.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

free ride on space ship earth

Camtrac from Dan Eckert on Vimeo.

Having found both of these pieces earlier in the week I thought they'd make a nice set. There have been and continue to be some people in the world whose vision is exquisitely clear. I continue to hope a little will rub off on me.

A Letter from Jack Kerouac to his Ex-Wife:

I have lots of things to teach you now,
in case we ever meet,
concerning the message that was transmitted to me
under a pine tree in North Carolina
on a cold winter moonlit night.

It said that Nothing Ever Happened, so don’t worry.
It’s all like a dream.
Everything is ecstasy, inside.
We just don’t know it because of our thinking-minds.
But in our true blissful essence of mind is known
that everything is alright forever and forever and forever.

Close your eyes,
let your hands and nerve-ends drop,
stop breathing for 3 seconds,
listen to the silence inside the illusion of the world,
and you will remember the lesson you forgot,
which was taught in immense milky ways
of cloudy innumerable worlds
long ago and not even at all.
It is all one vast awakened thing.
I call it the golden eternity.
It is perfect.

We were never really born,
we will never really die.
It has nothing to do with the imaginary idea
of a personal self,
other selves,
many selves everywhere,
or one universal self.

Self is only an idea, a mortal idea.
That which passes through everything, is one thing.
It’s a dream already ended.
There’s nothing from staring at mountains months on end.
They never show any expression,
they are like empty space.
Do you think the emptiness of space will ever crumble away.
Mountains will crumble, but the emptiness of space,
which is the one universal essence of mind,
the one vast awakened-hood,
empty and awake,
will never crumble away because it was never born.

The world you see is just a movie in your mind.

If this is true I wonder why I tend to be tuned in to the wrong channel most of the time?
It must be the fault of gravity.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

the rider pauses to reflect

Although the NASA space shuttle program finished its last mission this summer telescopes on earth and in space have continued to watch the stars. The scientists who operate the Kepler Space Telescope announced a bonanza of distant planets earlier this year, reconfirming that solar systems, some possibly hosting life, are common in the universe. It seems that water is very prevalent in space as are stars with solar systems - more than 700 have been discovered already.

Naturally, once we start thinking about other rocky planets similar in make-up to our own our thoughts will naturally turn to the idea there may be beings that live on them. It's true that the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence has been going on for about 50 years with the advent of SETI and its search for radio signals. Of course, it would be fascinating if beings from another civilization actually did get in touch but it seems to me even more likely that intelligent life on other planets simply has no interest in or physical ability to manipulate technology. Space is such an enormous concept that to my knowledge only investment bankers and Ben Bernanke have come up with numbers to match the distances. Does a trillion or two in debt make a few dozen light years more reasonable in our ability to understand the concept that a message to and from a distant star might take several thousand years to complete? I don't think so.

Anyway, if by some miracle we ever do get to meet an alien species, how would we hope to converse with them? Are there alien beings closer to hand with whom we could communicate? The answer is that researchers in several places in the world have been working to establish communication with dolphins - those beings who have proportionately large, sophisticated brains developed in areas linked to higher order thinking. Some studies even suggest dolphins share their own language. All are qualities we’d hope to see in an alien, and no daydream of contact is complete without imagining a conversation. Yet with dolphins, every attempt has involved teaching them to speak our language, rather than meeting in the middle.. until now:

CHAT — Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry — designed by behavioral biologist Denise Herzing's team at the Wild Dolphin Project in Florida is a device built to help humans communicate with dolphins directly. It’s a small unit worn around a diver’s neck, connected to a pair of hydrophones and a simple keyboard that can be used with one hand or a dolphin's nose. The idea is to sidestep the issue of whether dolphin ‘language’ can be translated by setting up the option of a common artificial language that both humans and dolphins could use. So far they've found that dolphins do some extremely interesting things from the standpoint of possible language. They can emit whistles and barks, use echo location, and seem to understand a basic syntax, which might indicate the difference between a statement and a question, or differentiate between a past or future tense. It would be amazing to hear how a dolphin sees the world.

Besides learning to use tools there is a very social nature to intelligence and to be social, we must be communicative. Learning about how other species on our own planet use their intelligence will eventually help us to learn more about the universe, whether we ever get to meet inhabitants from other stars or not. If the overall lesson for our lives is that we gain mutual respect for other beings on every level that would be good indeed. Looked at that way even Facebook means progress.

I like to think there are beings swimming in seas under alien suns who also wonder about the mysteries of creation. Goodness knows that's what I sometimes do when my wrist gets tired from drawing.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

happy new year

Just this past May Paul Simon played in concert in Toronto. During the show Rayna Ford, a fan from Newfoundland, called out for Simon to play "Duncan," and said something to the effect that she learned to play guitar on the song. In a moment of astonishment and disbelief, Paul Simon invited her on stage, handed her a guitar and asked her to play it for the crowd. When she strapped on the guitar, the audience went crazy. In a few strums, the band played along, tears ran down Rayna Ford's cheeks and Simon stood by her side in smiles. It was so neat I had to show you.

It's September now, the end of summer, the Labor Day weekend, the beginning, in a way, of another new year. My two oldest friends both have birthdays coming soon - Belle's is tomorrow and Inger will see her own new year begin next week.

"You can go through life and make new friends every year - every month practically - but there was never any substitute for those friendships of youth that survive into adult years. Those are the ones in which we are bound to one another with hoops of steel."
Alexander McCall Smith - The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

It's also the fourth anniversary of Phantsythat and I'm so glad to know you.