Art is a flat circle

One of the greatest honors of my life is to be able to enjoy great art, then hear from people who helped create that art that I, in an EXTREMELY tiny and minor way, was somehow, weirdly, part of that creation process.

The other day I saw Hamilton at the Pantages and was blown away by the brilliance of its concept and execution. I mentioned this in a few blog posts. Shortly after, I got the below email from a listener named Ben.

May we all have small, invisible connections.

Hey Dave,

I saw on your site that you recently saw and were surprisingly moved by Hamilton.

I actually work in a costume shop that makes a lot of the pieces you saw on stage. Hamilton costumes in particular are among the most complicated and labor intense projects we produce. Today for example I spent eight hours just CUTTING one short jacket haha.

I’m telling you this because it was these demanding pieces that made me first start listening to podcasts about two years ago. The first pod I ever listened to was the /Filmcast, and I’ve been a Dave Chen loyalist ever since. Even when my brain turns to mush and my hands ache, I can always turn on a Cast of Kings, /Filmcast, or Gen Pop (RIP) and push through my work. You make the tedious tolerable, and you’ve helped me get through more giant dresses than I can count.

So really I just wanted to thank you for producing such great pods, encourage you to keep going, and maybe surprise you with your own small, invisible connection to a show you’ve come to love.
Cheers,

Ben from NYC

Seeing ‘Hamilton’

Lin Manuel-Miranda’s “Hamilton” debuted in New York years ago, but when I saw it at the Pantages theater in Los Angeles last night, I have to admit that it affected me in ways I could not have anticipated. The story of Alexander Hamilton’s life, with people of color playing nearly all the central roles, takes on a special significance in our current times. Seeing people of color advocating and dying for the founding principles of this country — it was all very moving, especially in an age where the President and the majority of the white-dominated political party in power refuse to unequivocally denounce actual Nazis. 

This country always had greatness, but even at its founding, it’s greatness was predicated on a group of people who were willing to stand up for what was right, even when that meant deep sacrifice. I feel like history is again calling us to do the right thing, and not throw away our shot.

Anyway, “Hamilton” is an amazing experience and you should consider making major life sacrifices to see it.

Auditioning for Magic Castle

I’m really enjoying how /Film editor-in-chief Peter Sciretta is carving his way through life these days. Check out his piece on how he auditioned for LA’s Magic Castle:

As happy as this experience has made me, I’m very regretful of not trying out for the Magic Castle earlier. I feel embarrassed and dumb. It really sucks that I let fear own my decisions. If I hadn’t, who knows? I may have had seven years of fun in the Castle as a member at this point. Who knows what I missed in that time.

I’m not a motivational speech kinda guy, but I hope anyone reading this takes something away from this experience. Sure, you might not be into magic or have interest in joining The Magic Castle. But I’m sure you have things in your life that you have pushed off or away because of your fears and anxieties. Maybe there is a woman (or man) you want to ask out, but are afraid to make a move. Maybe you have always wanted to try taking an improv comedy class, but didn’t want to deal with the possible failure in front of a crowd. Maybe it’s something much simpler. Whatever the case, don’t let your fears get the best of your possible happiness. Don’t be in regret years later. Go, do it.

See also: Peter’s forbidden journey.

The beauty of adoption

Rene Denfield has written a piece for The New York Times’ Modern Love column that really destroyed me, emotionally:

To be a parent is to step into a great unknown, a magical universe where we choose to love over and over. It is an act of courage no matter what.

“Didn’t you want your own?” people would ask.

“They are my own,” I would say, softly.

By adopting from foster care, I became the mother I had needed and rewrote my own story. I got to have a childhood all over again, the right one, filled with cuddles and perseverance, safety and love. If there is such a thing as a cycle of abuse, I broke it over the wheel of my own desire.

What’s the point of life if the universe will one day end?

In David Lowery’s recent film, A Ghost Story, one of the characters goes on an extended soliloquy about the nature of humanity and how one could easily interpret the whole of human existence as a pointless of exercise. One day, everything as we know it will be gone — even, most likely, the universe. So what’s the point of it all? A24 released a short excerpt of the speech on YouTube above. (You can also watch my Periscope review of the film).

This week, the YouTube channel Kurzgesagt released a new video that tackles this very issue.

From the video:

If the universe ends in heat death, every humiliation you suffer in life will be forgotten. Every mistake will not matter in the end. Every bad thing will be voided. If our life is all we get to experience, then it’s the only thing that matters. If the universe has no principles, the only principles relevant are the ones we decide on. If the universe has no purpose, then we get to dictate what its purpose is.

Humans will most certainly cease to exist at some point. But before we do, we get to explore ourselves and the world around us. We get to experience feelings. We get to experience food, books, sunrises, and being with each other. The fact that we’re able to think about these things is already kind of incredible.

Obviously, there’s no one answer for this eternal question, but I appreciate them taking a shot at it.

In short: in the grand scheme of the universe, our time on earth is but a blink of an eye. We might as well enjoy it and try to help others enjoy it while we can.

For more ruminations on making the most of life, see Wait But Why’s post on Life in Weeks.

A Conversation with Aditi Natasha Kini about ‘The Big Sick’

The desire to see yourself represented onscreen can be a powerful one. I’ve felt it for most of my life, and I was sympathetic when Aditi Natasha Kini wrote a piece about it for Jezebel, as viewed through the lens of shows like Master of None and films like The Big Sick.

While many people in the comments and around the web supported Kini’s post, it also attracted criticism from liberals, conservatives, and film Twitter (and me, to some extent!). Kini had chosen an autobiographical film that many folks loved and seemed to be criticizing the details of the writer’s (Kumail Nanjiani) own life.

I reached out to Kini to see if she’d be willing to chat with me about the piece. She graciously agreed. What follows below is a transcription of parts of our conversation. It has been edited for clarity and brevity. This conversation contains some plot details from The Big Sick.

[Also: You can listen to my podcast review of The Big Sick over on the /Filmcast]

David: Before we begin, can you re-iterate again the main thrust of your article?

Aditi: The question that I’m asking is why liberals are lauding TV shows and movies like Master of None and The Big Sick for being a gold standard for progress despite the erasure and invisibility of believable women of color in them.

I think that the gist of my piece is we can still enjoy things and hold them to higher standards. And what the brown guys of Hollywood are doing is they’re othering women of color, especially women in their communities, by making this a platform for them to assimilate in white culture.

What motivated you to write this piece?

It’s been kind of a build-up, a cumulative frustration, but it started with Master of None. I had a lot of discussions with people who thought it was it was an amazing show. It’s a good show but I had some issues with it obviously, and I had to bear the emotional labor of explaining that to non-women of color. And then I saw The Big Sick at a preview screening in New York. I didn’t laugh at some parts that a lot of the audience members laughed at. For instance, in the trailer they show the Pakistani woman who says who makes that X-Files joke. It’s not a joke; she just says The X-Files tagline. But it’s with an accent, and people laugh. I liked the movie but I walked away feeling a little uneasy.

I started writing my thoughts down. It started out as a personal essay. Then I started talking about it in some Asian activist Facebook groups and with friends who are from similar backgrounds. They felt like I did. The impetus to write it became more of giving a voice to people who are being marginalized. After going through approximately 11 drafts, the essay became more grounded in race theory and the history of the US as time went on.

I’ve seen a lot of right wing blogs that have picked this piece up and have claimed that you are anti-interracial relationships. What’s your reaction to that?

It’s very curious that like white supremacists and centrist liberals are united in hatred of the piece. They’ve denounced me as racist. A lot of people took it very personally or took it to mean that I am this new face of the overly politically correct, progressive left, and that like white nationalists, we also don’t want mixing or whatever the phrase is.

There’s a whole vein of critique that is accusing me of being salty and ugly, and that this article just reeks of “intra-sexual competition.” That’s one of the reasons many women of color don’t write about these things or talk about it that much, because they can easily be written off as bitter. I have color and caste privilege in South Asian communities, so I was more empowered to write this essay.

When white women are the main characters, the meatiest roles, in these depictions, and you have women of color as foils—as anti-attractive foils—it simply furthers a deep history of colonization.

This is not a new thing. Media representation includes books that represent white women and POC relations, especially cishet men-of-color relations, through the ages. And theorists have reacted to these representations for decades, centuries because the white woman is still held as the pure ideal in the US.

When we work within the framework of white supremacy by saying, “Why can’t love be love?” and defending it as the artist’s “personal experience,” you have to question why they’re choosing to make fictional shows still working within that framework.

In my opinion, the right seized on your piece as a means of destroying liberals’ moral high ground. And liberals saw you taking a piece of art that was valuable and denigrating it.

I think movies and shows like The Big Sick and Master of None give liberals an opportunity to congratulate themselves on being liberal and progressive. So watching and liking these movies makes them feel like you’re in a world that is progressing and being more open. And if I call it out I sound like I’m being unnecessarily difficult. I have got a lot of hate mail and a lot of it’s coming from people in interracial relationships.

I’ve also gotten a lot of thank you’s. A lot women of color, even in interracial relationships, understand where the piece is coming from, a place of wanting to understand why Kumail Nanjiani and Aziz Ansari are doing the same things to women in their community that were done to them by the white person.

I think there is this idea that I’ve violated a perception of liberals, their perception that the world is improving. I’ve had people reach out asking “Why can’t we just have a good thing for once? Why do you have to make it so unfun?” I hope I haven’t ruined someone’s experience of the movie, because it is a fun movie. It’s possible to like something and still be critical of it.

I think one thing a lot of people have struggled with regarding your piece, and that I struggle with, is what exactly is the counterfactual in this case? Given that the movie was about Kumail Nanjiani’s life, what other movie would you have wanted him to make?

He didn’t have to make all these women of color the butt of every joke like he did. It’s highly unlikely that every scene with brown people was 100% autobiographical.

I don’t actually agree with you that they are all butts of jokes. Yes, there is that one woman who says the X-Files line. Agreed, that’s a bit of a joke. But there are several other women of color who he meets who are not portrayed as the butt of any joke whatsoever. There is one woman who he rejects, but that rejection makes Kumail look like kind of a jerk!

The phrase that I used to describe that specific woman in the film was pitiable spectacle. The woman you are talking about is heartbroken over someone she barely knows because her future happiness depended on him or something. The counter-factual is that this movie could’ve been one that didn’t “other” these woman and instead conceive of women as full-bodied characters in non-sister and non-mother roles.

What you’re describing is a problem that’s widespread in Hollywood films. I think part of the reason people are reacting poorly to your piece is that The Big Sick is a movie that does many progressive things really well, but there are thousands of other movies that have exactly the same problem that you’re describing. So why are you picking on this particular movie?

A lot of people asked, “Why aren’t you talking about The Mindy Project?” I did not watch most of The Mindy Project. I got tired after one episode. The reason that I’m holding The Big Sick and Master of None to these excessively high standards is because I like them and there’s potential in these artists to make a lot more. They’re trying. These are the role models that people are going to grow up watching. Second- and third- generation South Asian and Asian immigrants can aspire to this level of craft because there is quality there.

I see potential in Aziz Ansari who tells minoritized story so well, like the Thanksgiving episode and the New York episode of Master of None. Those are exceptional episodes.

And the same with The Big Sick.. I’m really impressed by how comedic it was. I was enthralled and I walked away feeling uneasy because I liked it, not because I didn’t like it.

Thanks so much for your time today, Aditi.

Absolutely.

What it’s like to win a medal, eight years later

The New York Times has the story of Chaunté Lowe, who won a bronze model eight years after she competed in the Olympic high jump:

She read a news report: Three Olympians — two Russians and a Ukrainian — who had finished in front of her in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing failed retroactive doping tests. She had moved from sixth to third place.

She had become an Olympic bronze medalist. It was her first medal. She felt herself beginning to dance.

“I screamed like someone was in my house trying to take away my cookies,” she said. “I was excited and relieved at the same time. ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, you are not a failure’!”

Recode lists Decoding Westworld as one of the best podcasts of 2017

I am honored that Decoding Westworld, the recap podcast about Westworld that Joanna Robinson and I created, was recently listed as one of Recode’s best podcasts of 2017. According to reporter Liz Gannes, “I don’t think I would have wanted to watch it without having that discussion around it,” Gannes said.

Neither would I have, Liz. Neither would I have. You can subscribe to Decoding Westworld on Apple Podcasts here.

You can check out Recode’s full list of podcasts here. A lot of amazing company on here.

Brief thoughts on ‘Alien: Covenant’

I had a chance to see Ridley Scott’s new film, Alien: Covenant, last night and I wanted to share a few thoughts on the film:

  • Overall, I am very torn about it. On the one hand, all the complaints that people had about scientists/crew members behaving stupidly in Prometheus are back with a vengeance. On numerous occasions, a character says “I’m just going to wander off by myself in this extremely dangerous location, but I’ll be right back!” Did these people learn nothing from Wes Craven’s Scream? The fact that it’s 20 years later and filmmakers like Ridley Scott are still using the same tropes of people acting super dumb is a disappointment.
  • On the other hand, I think this movie is one of the best prequels/requels/sidequels/sequels/whatevers ever made, in the sense that it not only improves upon previous films like Prometheus, but actually makes them more thematically resonant. The story, the plot, the ideas are really strong in this film — the characters are not.
  • Fassbender’s performance in Covenant is one of its highlights. Putting aside his blockbuster fare, Fassbender continues to choose roles that are artistically challenging, and his role in this film is no different.
  • There are Xenomorphs in this movie and they mostly look pretty weird because they are mostly CG creations. Remember when you first saw Attack of the Clones and there were a gajillion storm troopers that didn’t look quite right (because they were all CG and not practical)? That’s what it kind of feels like to see Xenomorphs move and behave in ways completely free from the constraints of their filmic predecessors.
  • DEFINITELY watch Prometheus before you see this film, if you want to be slightly less lost about WTF is giong on.

I think Covenant is definitely strong enough to recommend it. I just wish its profound ideas were in a better film. I discuss my thoughts further in this Periscope broadcast.

How most people misinterpret Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’

Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” is one of the most popular poems of the 20th century. Here it is in its entirety:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Despite its popularity, it is also one of the most widely misinterpreted poems. Here’s David Orr, writing about “The Road Not Taken” for The Paris Review in 2015:

This is the most remarkable thing about “The Road Not Taken”—not its immense popularity (which is remarkable enough), but the fact that it is popular for what seem to be the wrong reasons. It’s worth pausing here to underscore a truth so obvious that it is often taken for granted: Most widely celebrated artistic projects are known for being essentially what they purport to be. […]

Frost’s poem turns this expectation on its head. Most readers consider “The Road Not Taken” to be a paean to triumphant self-assertion (“I took the one less traveled by”), but the literal meaning of the poem’s own lines seems completely at odds with this interpretation. The poem’s speaker tells us he “shall be telling,” at some point in the future, of how he took the road less traveled by, yet he has already admitted that the two paths “equally lay / In leaves” and “the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” So the road he will later call less traveled is actually the road equally traveled. The two roads are interchangeable.

According to this reading, then, the speaker will be claiming “ages and ages hence” that his decision made “all the difference” only because this is the kind of claim we make when we want to comfort or blame ourselves by assuming that our current position is the product of our own choices (as opposed to what was chosen for us or allotted to us by chance). The poem isn’t a salute to can-do individualism; it’s a commentary on the self-deception we practice when constructing the story of our own lives. “The Road Not Taken” may be, as the critic Frank Lentricchia memorably put it, “the best example in all of American poetry of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” But we could go further: It may be the best example in all of American culture of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

I remember reading this poem in high school and, at a surface level, believing it represented all the best parts about American individualism. What a delightfully meta realization to understand in adulthood that I was wrong all along.

‘Logan’ is about fatherhood

Micah Peters, writing for The Ringer, on what Logan is really about (assume spoilers):

When Logan begins, there’s any number of directions it could take — a sullen cogitation on violence (what do 10-inch, razor-sharp claws really do to human flesh?); a protest piece in the age of Trumpism (it’s not a coincidence that most non-Wolverine characters are young, nonwhite, and targeted); a prestige drama about death and loss. It is all of these at various points, but the film it chooses to be makes it the superhero movie I’ve been waiting 17 years for: At its core, Logan is about hard-earned pessimism, the inertia in which it suspends you, and the practical difficulty of overcoming both.

The vehicle for overcoming that pessimism and inertia is fatherhood. About a quarter into the movie, Logan is charged with caring for a young girl with adamantium claws who, like him, is given to fits of homicidal rage. Exhausted by life and waiting impatiently to die, he doesn’t want to be the one to teach Laura Kinney — or “X-23” (played by excellent newcomer Dafne Keen) — how to quell those urges, but there’s no one else to do the job. The scene that appears in the trailer, where Charles croaks from the backseat that “someone has come along,” turns out to be in reference to a family whose truck was run off the road. But really, it’s an epigram for the movie: a call to lead by example.

A beautiful piece about what these movies can mean.

A husband’s dating profile 

This is a devastating edition of “Modern Love,” one of my favorite New York Times features:

Want to hear a sick joke? A husband and wife walk into the emergency room in the late evening on Sept. 5, 2015. A few hours and tests later, the doctor clarifies that the unusual pain the wife is feeling on her right side isn’t the no-biggie appendicitis they suspected but rather ovarian cancer […]

So many plans instantly went poof. No trip with my husband and parents to South Africa. No reason, now, to apply for the Harvard Loeb Fellowship. No dream tour of Asia with my mother. No writers’ residencies at those wonderful schools in India, Vancouver, Jakarta.

No wonder the word cancer and cancel look so similar.

The popularity of PSVR

In an article for The New York Times, Nick Bilton reveals the first sales numbers for PSVR (and thus any VR headset) ever publicly released:

The headset, PlayStation VR, has been scarce in many stores, especially in Japan, since it went on sale in October. In an interview at his Silicon Valley office on Friday, Mr. House revealed PlayStation VR’s sales for the first time, saying consumers had purchased 915,000 of the headsets as of Feb. 19, roughly four months after it went on sale.

Sony’s internal goal was to sell one million of the headsets in its first six months, by mid-April. The company will almost certainly surpass that forecast. “You literally have people lining up outside stores when they know stock is being replenished,” said Mr. House, describing the scene in Japan, one of the largest games markets […]

Sony’s primary competitors, Oculus from Facebook and HTC, have not disclosed sales of their premium headsets. One research firm, SuperData Research, estimates there were 243,000 Oculus Rift headsets and 420,000 HTC Vive headsets sold by the end of last year.

Those sales numbers are interesting, and make the PSVR sound much more popular in Japan than here. The lack of a killer app makes me loathe to invest in PSVR. My colleague, Devindra Hardawar, had a pretty good review of the product when it was first released and nothing about it made it seem like a must-buy.

That being said, the fact that I already have a PS4 Pro means PSVR is likely going to be my first VR purchase when the time is right.

The benevolent deception of fake progress bars

Kaveh Waddell, writing for The Atlantic, on how some programs like TurboTax use fake progress bars in their UIs:

It’s not because TurboTax delights in messing with its clients. Instead, the site’s artificial wait times are an example of what Eytan Adar, a professor of information and computer science at the University of Michigan, calls “benevolent deception.” In a paper he published in 2013 with a pair of Microsoft researchers, Adar described a wide range of design decisions that trick their users—but end up leaving them better off.

Benevolent deceptions can hide uncertainty (like when Netflix automatically loads default recommendations if it doesn’t have the bandwidth to serve personalized ones), mask system hiccups to smooth out a user’s experience (like when a progress bar grows at a consistent rate, even if the process it’s visualizing is stuttering), or help people get used to a new form of technology (like the artificial static that Skype plays during quiet moments in a conversation to convince users the call hasn’t been dropped).

From my experience with TurboTax, the fake progress bars work. If “checking my taxes” was instantaneous, it’d probably feel way less satisfying, and I’d be more doubtful that the software was functioning correctly. That being said, as Waddell points out at the article’s end, these positive feelings can also have some insidious effects, like making the software seem more complicated and valuable than it truly is.

Twitter Thread of the Day: Zeynep Tufekci on “Liberal Outrage”

I spend a lot of time on Twitter and I see tons of amazing dialogue and reflections. Twitter Thread of the Day is a feature on my blog where I’ll try to share one thread that was particularly interesting, smart, moving, or impactful for me.

Today’s TTOTD comes from Zeynep Tufecki, a scholar whose work I’ve admired for quite awhile. In the wake of a conservative personality’s book getting canceled and his speaking invitation at CPAC getting rescinded, Tufecki tweeted some trenchant insights about the forces that are really responsible for this. It’s not liberal outrage.

[Note: If you’re ever featured here and don’t want to be, feel free to get in touch with me via email at davechen(AT)davechen(DOT)net]

The nightmare of the Peggy Couch from West Elm

I don’t usually blog about furniture here, but this post by Anna Hezel at The Awl about the Peggy Couch from West Elm really got to me:

Around when the throw pillows finally arrived, the couch began to disintegrate in small ways. We would scooch across a cushion at the wrong angle, and a button would pop off, leaving a fraying hole behind. We would lean back slightly too far, and all of the cushions would shift forward and over the edge of the couch in unison. As soon as one button had fallen off of our couch, it was like a spigot had been turned, allowing all of the other buttons to fall off, too. I emailed customer service and asked if this was normal. They sent me a button-repair kit, indicating that this probably happens a lot. The kit was backordered, so it arrived two full months later and contained a wooden dowel, two buttons, and some directions that didn’t make sense. One direction was to “Hold the cushion properly and make sure the pointed end of the stick is all the way through, until you can see both ends of the stick on each side of the cushion.” I tried in earnest to follow the directions, but the wooden dowel would not fit into the buttonholes, and the entire exercise left me with fewer buttons than I started with.

Every component of this story is nuts, from the fleet of disaffected Peggy purchasers out there trying to warn people against this couch to the awful repair kit that West Elm sends out for people having problems. Most importantly: West Elm says the couch is supposed to last 1-3 years with light use. That is an insultingly short period of time, and not a meaningful upgrade from, say, an IKEA couch. In fact, it may actually be worse despite being more expensive.

I have friends who have had bad experiences at West Elm. After reading this article and taking that into account, I can’t imagine wanting to shop there for any expensive furniture. Instead, if you really want something that’s a big improvement over Craigslist/IKEA, I’d recommend a store like Room and Board. IKEA’s high end has also improved significantly over the years, and may be worth investigating.

Update: The Peggy Couch has now apparently been removed from West Elm’s site:

Pizza supply chain management is difficult

Imagine working at Pizza Hut and being told you need to learn how to make a heart-shaped pizza for just the span of a few days. It would probably seem like a significant imposition on your skillset without very much reward. Now multiply that feeling by 10,000 and you know how pizza franchise workers all around the country felt this week for Valentine’s Day.

The results speak for themselves. Deadspin has a round-up of heart-shaped pizza disasters from this week. A few of the best ones follow:

The stupefying odds

A spectacular data visualization by The Pudding shows how difficult it is for a band to break out and make it big:

The vast majority of bands never do make it. Acts break up, give up or decide they have other things they want to do with their lives.

For every Chance the Rapper there are thousands of rappers that never play a show with more than a couple hundred people. For every Lake Street Dive, there are hundreds of promising bands that break up because they lost on their members.

To see the NYC concert trajectory of different bands, below you can search for any of the 3,000 bands that played a show in 2013, and at least one more show from 2014 to 2016. Perhaps some of them are on their way to making it, and it just hasn’t happened yet.

How to shoot in a hall of mirrors

[This post contains some very minor plot info from John Wick 2]

Last fall Spike Jonze released a new ad for KENZO fragrance with actress Margaret Qualley:

One of the most spectacular sequences in this ad takes place around 1:50 in, when Margaret dances in front of a hall of mirrors. As the camera does precise, gorgeous movements around her, you never once glimpse a reflection of the rig that the filmmakers are using.

Ian Failes at Inverse has a great explanation of how this was achieved. According to VFX supervisor Janelle Croshaw:

Doron Kipper and Jesse James Chisolm (from Digital Domain) spent hours surveying the mirrored staircase. They used tiny pieces of tape on the mirrors to capture the points needed. Lots and lots of panoramas and high dynamic range images (HDRIs) were taken. During the shoot a clean plate was captured with the Technocrane without Margaret and then the Technocrane was cleared out and a clean plate was captured with a handheld cam. Spike and team were super cooperative in clearing the frame for as long as we needed which was very cool considering those mirrors pretty much reflected two whole floors of the Dorothy Chandler theater.

All of the data collected enabled us to build an environment in compositing software Nuke and also achieve a camera track usable for projections (where the live action footage is ‘projected’ onto a CG version of the environment to enable camera movement). The tracking geometry was mirrored to represent the reflections in the mirror and that mirrored geometry was used to muscle through the matchmove. It wasn’t easy and Jim Moorhead, our matchmove artist, put so much care in to this shot. In the end there was a lot of hand painted clean-up and the shot was split amongst two companies and multiple artists. Artist Rob Fitzsimmons became the keeper of the shot, managing the paint patches and ensuring the quality level was kept to the highest standards. His perfectionism and strong eye made the shot as seamless as it is.

This video came to mind for me recently because I just saw John Wick 2, which has an even more impressive sequence that takes place in a room full of mirrors. I’m not sure whether similar techniques were used, but director Chad Stahelski does describe his process briefly in an interview with Movieweb.

A few thoughts on the ‘Legion’ season premiere

Noah Hawley’s new show Legion premiered on FX last night. Based on the X-Men character created by Chris Claremont and Bill SienkiewiczLegion tells the story of David Haller, one of the most powerful mutants ever, with formidable telekinetic powers. In the show, he also struggles from paranoid schizophrenia.

Overall, I thought this was a really bold debut, and am interested to see how they’ll develop this character and story further. A few observations:

  • The look of this show is incredible. The production design, the set pieces, the camera movements — it has all the trappings of a prestige drama, even though it’s a TV show about a lesser known X-Men character.
  • That being said, some of the visual effects are hit or miss, like the final escape sequence, which had some moments that honestly looked unfinished.
  • Like The Usual Suspects, this episode had two tropes that don’t usually go well together: The Unreliable Narrator and The Non-Linear Story. I think they barely pulled it off (which is impressive, given the immense level of difficulty)
  • Dan Stevens is almost completely unrecognizable in the titular role. From his physique all the way to his nervous tics, he’s made an amazing transformation.
  • I really loved the way they deal with the concept of a mutant who wasn’t aware of how powerful he was. The idea of his captors racing against the clock to kill/threaten him before he could use his powers against him was well explained and executed.
  • The concept of a mutant being able to get projected into someone’s memory is pretty interesting. Very Eternal Sunshines of the Spotless Mind-esque.
  • Using pools and electricity to stop powerful beings never works well (see also: It Follows)

I also recorded a few thoughts on Periscope if you want to see/hear me discuss it.