Saturday, May 30, 2009
Book Reviews (Sort of): Paradise Island, The New Mars, and The News Mars (A Family Vacation) by John L. Manning, Jr.
Friday, May 29, 2009
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Monday, May 25, 2009
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Friday, May 22, 2009
Posted by Harry Markov
This is yet another wonderful Friday and time to get moving with another Artist Corner. This time, we will tame things down with concept character work developed by a very talented artist in this field, who goes by the name of Ionen. Here is what he told me: HM: Hello and thank you for accepting my invitation. It is a real pleasure having you here in my virtual chair. Let’s start with the simple and basic questions. What was your first encounter with art and how did you decide you would become an artist? I came from a completely un-artistic family, becoming an artist was just not something I ever really thought of. I was however always fascinated by cartoons. When I was in middle school was when Cartoon Network’s Toonami came out, where they pushed Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon. I got really into anime for awhile, but didn’t really put pencil to paper until I was about 16. After watching Gundam Wing I wanted to create my own Gundam designs, and I guess that’s where I really started. It was still more of a hobby than anything else until I was 18 and decided to go to an animation school. Drawing was fun, but I wanted to be more involved than that. HM: Another tradition with the “Artist Corner” is to say something about yourself. Who is ionen and why did you chose this interesting sounding username for your DA profile? Ionen is actually a name of one of the characters from the Aphelion series, I tend to use the names of my characters. HM: Who are the artists that inspired and influenced you the most? Hyung-Tae Kim is a huge inspiration, but Shunya Yamashita, Feng Zhu, James Hawkins, Limha Lekan, and Jeong Juno are also some favorites. HM: Your work is fantasy in the computer and video game sense of the genre. Are you by chance an avid gamer and are games your primary source of inspiration for your imagination? I’ve a huge gamer probably to the point that when I design characters I think about how they would be built in 3D as I work. I went to an animation school that focused on video game production as well. That streamlined my thinking in that way. I’m also at the beginning of my career as an indie game developer. HM: What attracts you to the out of the ordinary and fantasy? Different people find something entirely unique for themselves and I always like hearing a new answer on the subject. There seems to be sort of a Western style and an Eastern style of sci-fi and fantasy. Western tends to be gritty, muted, realistic and often dark. Eastern tends to be saturated, fantastical, and young. My interest is bringing those two groups together, as both have elements I like and dislike, and the two groups are rarely mixed together in the video game world. HM: Most of your work resembles pin-ups and calling cards for characters in different poses, but usually static and on gray font. What attracts you to this type of art, is it safe to say concept art, or do you also plan to bring in a full piece with background and a story behind it? Being a character artist primarily I tend to focus on just the character, and I feel that the viewer should be looking at the character, not the background. Since a lot of the colors I use are highly saturated or high-contrast, a middle or dark-gray tends to make the viewer focus on the brighter colors. I have actually done quite a bit of environmental work as well, I just tend to keep things separated. HM: What you do is fascinating towards the details in armor and weaponry. To me this looks like a complex brain surgery, but how hard is it actually to apply detail to armor and other objects? What’s your way of doing it? It is hard for me to really explain it. For me, creating the details is usually the easy part. My brain sort of shuts down and goes on auto-drive. HM: I also couldn’t miss the slightly pointed years, fair complexion and silken hair you attribute quite a number of your female characters. How great a fan of elves are you and are they inspired from somewhere, because I do catch a slight Lineage vibe in your vision? Adding pointy ears just seems to make the drawing suddenly a lot more fun to work on, and it can add a lot to the character, a lot of mysticism without changing the character much. HM: What is your working process? Do you paint by traditional means or do you also mix in with the digital world? Now I work exclusively digitally. There are some elements I miss, but using a scanner was always incredibly annoying to me. HM: Another completely customary question would be about your work process. How much does it usually take to complete a piece from start to finish and what’s your way of doing things? It can actually range quite a bit for me depending on the detail, sketches and how developed the character already is. On a fresh full-body concept it’s usually around 10 hours though. Research – If I need to find references it is the first thing I do. Thumbnail sketches – Do some quick sketches of various poses and costume ideas. Quick lineart – After I’ve chosen the best thumbnail I scale it up and clean it. Base colors – Put some flat colors down underneath the sketch. Shade everything – Add layers of color and start blending them together. I generally start with the face or skin. Add details/lighting – Add in minute details and if there’s a backlight this is generally when I add it. Polish – Fine tune things, let the painting rest for awhile and see if there’s anything that needs to be fixed. HM:Judging by your gallery, you have updated a considerable amount of commissions you have done over the last year or so. I’ve been curious for quite awhile about the whole process. What’s your experience so far mainly with the people, who hire your talent? Most experiences have been positive. I can’t speak for everyone, but the majority of my commissions through DeviantArt are from people who have their own story and want to be able to visualize their character better. HM: Since you have been quite popular with commissions does this mean that you are a freelance artist and does art pay the bills in your case? Yes, I work freelance on a variety of projects. I’m currently a concept artist on a sci-fi comic, and have done various work for game companies and RPG books. HM: Every once and awhile I spot a slightly fan-fic themed art. A lot of people bash and disregard fan art as a testament that an artists has no original ideas of their own. What’s your opinion on the matter? Some people only enjoy drawing fanart, some people may use it as a crutch. I rarely do fanart, because designing the costume and how the character acts and moves is a lot of the challenge. Duplicating an existing character doesn’t take nearly as much thought. HM:To close off this session I will ask the frequent last question. What are we to expect from such a talented artist? A long list of games created under our group, Lunatic Studios, and hopefully I will progress and become better at painting. :)
Posted by Harry Markov
The problem with series' reviews is that you always have to start at the beginning, at least most of the times, and so was not the case, when I received Stephen Hunt's "The Rise of the Iron Moon". Naturally this caused problems at the beginning 200 pages, when I was bombarded with information about the world, the reader is expected to already know. From reviews on the first two books from the series I know that worldbuilding wise there are numerous facts to keep in mind. It was a rough and hard transition for me into the wondrous world on Stephen Hunt, but it was worth every minute of puzzlement. How can a plucky young orphan girl save the world from ultimate destruction? Born into captivity as a product of the Royal Breeding House, lonely orphan Purity Drake suddenly finds herself on the run with a foreign vagrant after accidentally killing one of her guards. Her mysterious rescuer claims to have escaped from terrible forces who mean to enslave the Kingdom of the Jackals as they conquered his own nation. Purity doubts his story, until reports begin to filter through from Jackals’ neighbours of the murderous Army of Shadows, marching across the continent and sweeping all before them. But there’s more to Purity Drake than meets the eye. And as Jackals girds itself for war against an army of near-indestructible beasts serving an ancient evil with a terrible secret, it soon becomes clear that the Kingdom’s only hope is a strange little orphan girl and the last, desperate plan of an escaped slave from a land far, far away… Without more detailed information about the previous books in the series other than the book blurbs and positive reviews in general, I can't decide on a stand how well or strong the series develops, but as a confused reader I can testify that this is one of the strongest novels in the spec fic genre I have read as a whole. In that light I can't comment about such things are characterization of previous character that re-appear in this installment such as Molly, Hood of the Marsh and Coppertracks, who from my point of view are wholesome, well rounded individuals with strengths and flaws and read completely human. Hunt made me care for everybody in this novel, at least those that he intended for the reader to care for, even the prickish Lord Rocksby, who can drive you insane with his obnoxious behavior. The new additional set involved in this novel such as Serenity, the destined new queen of Jackals and her mystical army of bandits, and Duncan, a weirdo with a skeleton in his suitcase, are extremely colorful and offer quite the excitement. The pace of "The Rising Moon" spirals with an organic set of highs and lows with a tendency to increase, until adrenaline turned me into a junkie. The uniqueness of steampunk is that it combines the best of fantasy, science fiction and the ever popular 19th century Britain and you can go with this genre in several directions that can lead the reader towards many pleasant surprises. As a fan of originality and unorthodox story elements I am left satisfied with the fresh take on classical tropes in fantasy and sci-fi such as sentient robots, magic, prophecies and sentient space ships. Brilliant blend of the best of both worlds at least for my tastes. The quality that lured me in completely is the actual prose and style of writing, which customary for the steampunk genre has to carry the polite melody of 19th century British mannerism. For not one single line have I found a fault in this department. Not a single modern expression slipped through the fingers of the author and it shows how much Hunt took care to be impossibly accurate. Something, which can elude most authors. Overall as a conclusion, even though I had slept through world basics 101 in the first two volumes, I give my two thumbs up for the book and a gun barrel pointing at a potential reader to get to the nearest book store and hoard copies of the three novels, because I think they are also as good as this one.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Monday, May 18, 2009
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Posted by Harry Markov
Due to some time restrictions yesterday, a very long 14 hours shift at work, I was unable to get the Artist Corner interview up and running on Friday per se, but let’s pretend it’s Friday once more and take a dip in the hauntingly beautiful world of art with Camille otherwise known as Kmye Chan. This French flower cultivates her own garden of phantasmagoric fragile images, which if you have been around the Internet long enough must have already seen. So here is the person behind the art and her rendition of the answers to my obnoxious questions. Harry Markov: Hello and thank you for accepting my invitation. It is a real pleasure having you here in my virtual chair. Let’s start with the simple and basic questions. What was your first encounter with art and how did you decide you would become an artist? Kmye Chan: Thank you very much for inviting me! It’s a pleasure to be virtually here. ;) Well, to be honest, I didn’t really “choose” to become an artist… it kind of fell on me. I’ve been drawing for almost all my life, I started as a kid, except that unlike most people, I never really stopped. At first I was drawing just for fun, but in my late teens, I realized that drawing was something very, very important for me, and that I wanted to go a little bit further in that direction. From there I started working harder to improve, and before I knew it, I guess you could say I was an artist. HM: Another tradition with the “Artist Corner” is to say something about yourself. Who is kmye-chan and why did you chose this interesting sounding username for your DA profile? KC: That’s a long story! Kmye is a contraction of my real first name, Camille. It’s the nickname I’ve been using online ever since I had an internet connection. Back then, as a teenager, I was part of a group of friends with a common passion for mangas, drawing and roleplays, and one of those friends extended my nickname to “Kmye-chan”. In Japanese, the suffix “-chan” is a diminutive for kids and girls. Around that time, I also opened my first accounts on art communities like DeviantART, and I used the nickname “Kmye-chan” as my account name… and the name has stuck since then. Now I turned it into “Kmye Chan” and it’s the name I’m known by in the art community. HM: Who are the artists that inspired and influenced you the most? KC: There are many, so I’m not going to enumerate everyone! As a kid, I read a lot of comic books (mainly French and Japanese) which influenced me greatly: a few names that come to my mind are Bernard Yslaire, François Bourgeon, Ai Yazawa, Kaori Yuki… As far as painters go, I love the works of Dali, Magritte, Schiele, Klimt, Mucha, Waterhouse, Rossetti… just to name a few! I’m also very influenced by pop-surrealist artists such as Mark Ryden and James Jean, or illustrators as Edward Gorey and Nicoletta Ceccoli. HM: Your work is dreamy, airy and fantastic bordering on dark and surrealistic. How do you feed such an active imagination and where does your inspiration come from? KC: My inspiration comes from everything and anything… it’s usually something unusual or odd that attracts my attention, and sparks an idea. But this little “something” can be anything really. It just happens out of the blue, and most of the time I’m not even able to trace back the train of thought that took me to that idea. That’s what you get when you daydream a lot, I guess! But once I’ve got the initial idea, that’s where the real work starts : I try to refine the original idea, to develop it and make it grow into something interesting, which can be quite different from the original idea I got. HM: What attracts you to the out of the ordinary and fantasy? Different people find something entirely unique for themselves and I always like hearing a new answer on the subject. KC: I have always had a soft spot for the misfit, the odd, the unusual. I’m someone who gets bored easily, and I like to be surprised, intrigued, interested. So I love everything that stimulates and challenges my imagination, that shows me something I have never seen before, that contains more than it looks at first glance. If it makes me dream, if it tells me a story, if it shows emotions that I can relate to, then I’m attracted to it… and that’s just what the out of the ordinary and fantasy does! HM: All of your works center around a young fragile girl in a different scenarios and situations. What brings you back to this image and haven’t you been tempted to try painting a boy? KC: Well, I’m putting a lot of myself in my artworks, emotionally. When I draw, I completely relate to the character I’m drawing. So it doesn’t feel right and straightforward for me to draw a boy…! But I’m planning to try and include male characters in my artworks… I just need to take a large breath and dive! HM: Most of your pieces are inspired by the 19th century and their style of dressing. What fascinates you about this era to bring your fans back to it? KC: I’m mainly fascinated by the aesthetics of 19th century fashion (and historical costumes in general – I’m in a big Renaissance period right now). I love complicated dresses, lace, frills, embroideries… I’m such a girl! Also, most of my artwork portrays girls that are somewhat misfits, strange creatures… and 19th century fashion, with its tight corsets, carries the idea of contention, constraint, pressure on women, which works well with the ideas and emotions I’m trying to convey. HM: I consider your work otherworldly, like witnessing a bittersweet dream. As a host of a more fantasy oriented blog, I would want to know, what your stand with fantasy is. Do you plan to ever dabble into more classical fantasy as genre? The medieval kind. KC: To be honest, medieval fantasy was never really my thing. I do enjoy a good fantasy book or movie, and I love the work of many amazing fantasy artists… but it’s not something I picture myself drawing. I’m a romantic and dreamer at heart, and the codes of classical fantasy hold too much adventure and romanesque to really fit with the bizarre and the melancholy that come with my ideas! HM: I always marveled your technique. What is your working process? Do you paint by traditional means or do you also mix in with the digital world? KC: For the past three years or so, I have been working exclusively with traditional media. I’ve tried digital artwork, but I’m just not very good with digital media, I’m afraid! HM: Another completely customary question would be about your work process. How much does it usually take to complete a piece from start to finish and what’s your way of doing things? KC: My working process is rather simple: I sketch with a pencil on watercolour paper, I ink with various Indian inks, and then I colour with a mix of markers, watercolours, pencils and acrylics. I work a lot on textures and shadows by texturing and “dirtying” the artwork as a final touch. As for the time it takes me, it varies enormously depending on the size and complexity of the artwork. Painting an artwork can take to from 2 to 25 hours, from the moment I start sketching until completion. If you start counting from the moment I have the idea and keep it in a corner of my head to mature, it can go up to months! HM: Following closely your blog I see that you have been a frequent victim of art theft, which is a very cruel form of piracy. How do you deal with these cases and also are there any means to prevent this from happening at large? KC: Unfortunately, there is no way that I know of to prevent art theft from happening. Internet is a gold mine for designers and so-called “artists” lacking imagination to find artworks they can take, claim as theirs or copy, and make money off. The best you can do is to make sure you protect your artwork the best way you can: no high-resolution files online, watermarks, and if possible, register your artwork. It won’t stop people taking your work, but at least it gives you legal leverage when it happens. When it does happen, it’s a hurtful experience… especially because in most cases, there’s not much you can do. But it’s important to fight back and try to protect your rights, because the more people get away with it, the more they’ll keep doing it. HM: The logic from the last question leads to the fact that you are quite popular professionally in the art scene. What are your professional heights and does art pay the bills for you? KC: Unfortunately, no! I’m not all that popular in the art scene, to be honest, I’m still a newbie and it’s a tough world! Right now, I have a full-time job and I work as an illustrator on the side. I couldn’t earn my living with my artwork right now, unless maybe if I accepted every commissioned work offer I receive, including the ones that don’t really float the boat of my imagination. I prefer to keep a day job, and be able to choose only the projects that really interest me. Maybe someday I’ll be able to switch to more art, less day job… I’m thinking about it, but no decisions made so far. :) HM: From your own personal site I have seen that you have had plenty of exhibitions back in 2008 and some scheduled for this year as well. What’s the feeling to be a part of an exhibition and how is your art being received? KC: Being part of an exhibition is amazing. It’s a great honor and a beautiful achievement. I’m very grateful to the people who gave me my chance and trusted me and my work so much (they know who they are!). My work was very well-received in convention art shows in the USA, I’m hoping to do more this year if I can. I also made my first gallery shows this year, from which I got good feedback and critics about my work, although sales weren’t amazing – a normal thing for a newcomer in galleries, I was told. Now it’s wait and see! HM: To close off this session I will ask the frequent last question. What are we to expect from such a talented artist? KC: No disappointment, I hope! I’ll do my best! ;)
Friday, May 15, 2009
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Monday, May 11, 2009
The new Star Trek has an unusual challenge. They have to take a cast and story that has evolved over a very long time on the small and big screen. They have to take the reins of a beloved saga and not only carry on a well established tradition, but they also have to make it accessible to a new generation that has been weaned on PG-13 action films that fit the "Transformers" mold. Additionally, the director, J.J. Abrams, only has two hours to present a story that introduces multiple characters, establishes their personalities and presents it in a action-packed way. Whew! That's a tall order.
"Star Trek" opens with a a big action sequence and doesn't let up for the duration of the film. --I don't want to offer any spoilers, so I will be as general as possible in breaking everything down-- Like other movies of the same type, such as "Fantastic Four" and "X-Men," "Star Trek" is basically a foundation film. It's main job is to introduce us to the characters, show us some personality quirks and set the stage for future installments. There is a pretty big cast here, all beloved characters with certain personality traits that many loyalists are going to feel are set in stone, and very little time to fuse the new faces with the well known quirks. Because of that the story focuses primarily on Kirk and Spock, giving us their personal histories, while only giving us the sketchiest outlines of the rest of the group.
Right from the start we see how events unfold that set the stage for Kirk's impulsiveness and Spock's determination to mold himself into the quintessential Vulcan. Chris Pine has the biggest shoes to fill as a young James T. Kirk. He doesn't show up as Captain Kirk, but begins life as a reckless young man growing up in Iowa. Smart but not challenged he is encouraged to channel his energy into the Star Fleet Academy, and like everything else he does, he jumps in with both feet and his brain in neutral. Certain aspects of military life come naturally to Kirk, but he still spends most of his time breaking the rules. There is a fecklessness to Pine's portrayal of Kirk that will rub many the wrong way. I don't know if it's a mistake of casting or a problem with the script, but Pine's Kirk jumps from situation to situation in a way that makes him seem like a highly unlikely candidate to make it to the Captain's chair. He also spends far too much time getting beat up and seems less like a tough guy and more like a farm boy who's out of his league; like he's trying to be Han Solo but doesn't have the goods. The most egregious demonstration of the sometimes ham-handed handling of Kirk's character is the Kobayashi Maru sequence which sets up the relationship that develops between Kirk and Spock.
Spock by comparison is handled very well by Zachary Quinto, known for his role as Sylar in the TV show "Heroes." Quinto does an admirable job of conveying the gravity with which Spock approaches every situation. He even manages to make a fairly absurd sequence (I need only say 'ice planet' and those who have seen the film will know what I'm talking about), one that is introduced as nothing more than a means to introduce certain characters into the film, somewhat credible.
The rest of the cast isn't given as much screen time so they have little more than a line here or there to set their individual tones. Karl Urban is probably my favorite of the extended cast as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy. He's older than most of the crew, with the exception of Simon Pegg (Montgomery "Scotty" Scott) and he hits the right notes with his sardonic humor and asides toward Spock when he refers to him as green blooded hobgoblin. John Cho (Sulu) and Anton Yelchin (Chekov) also do well with their limited time on screen. The most complaints I hear are directed at the casting of Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana) but truly she suffers the most from a limited opportunity to develop the role. I will say, without adding any spoilers, that she is involved in a romance that is in no way credible, and that does detract from the character.
This "Star Trek" is an unabashed action film. There is no time spent setting up the mission of the Enterprise which is a glaring omission. At the same time there is no benefit in making a genre film too preachy as has been a problem with "Star Trek" films in the past. Genre films fund the pocketbooks of the production companies. "The Dark Knight" is proof that no matter how good a comic book movie is, no matter how well developed, casted and produced, it is not going to get Academy Award recognition. Director Christopher Nolan has proven that depth can be found in any storyline and that it can be sold to wide audience, and perhaps that is why he was snubbed at award time. An award winning vehicle is not supposed to have so big an audience. This is not an excuse for the developmental gaps in Abrams' version of "Star Trek," but it does offer an explanation. And maybe I'm cynical but I can live with being pandered to in this case. Yes, I would have liked to see Kirk have more depth and I would have appreciated it if the underlying mission of the Star Fleet had been included-- it is rather essential to the story.
But "Star Trek" managed to do something unexpected. It brought life back to a tired franchise; something Stephen Spielberg wishes he could have done with the dreadful "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." "Star Trek" also does a far better job that most movies of its kind. I like "X-Men" a great deal, but there are times when too much time is spent on developing the politics of the story vs. getting to the action. It's a delicate balance and not many movies do it well. Movies like "Iron Man" and "Batman Begins" have the luxury of only needing to focus on the background of one main character, so they're given the time to be given more depth than can be spared for an ensemble cast while still having plenty of action. Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, Bones and Scotty-- that's a lot of territory to cover and not each one is endowed with the characteristics we've come to expect. But there are moments in which we see a glimmer of what you hope to see when you go to a "Star Trek" movie. Spock's logic, Bones' cynicism or Kirk's impetuousness-- it's there and it's fun to revisit.
The Enterprise looks different but the uniforms recall old times. There are little bits of continuity that let long-time fans like myself relate to the new version. Logically I know there were gaps in the movie. Yes, Kirk was thrown off of an awful lot of cliffs. Yet the movie entertains. It hits all the right emotional chords. It brings back the feelings I had when I watched the original show. No, the new cast doesn't have the gravity of the previous one, but how could they? As far as I'm concerned, "Star Trek" does what it's supposed to do. It takes you away for a couple of hours and it brings a well-loved show to a new generation.
By the end of the movie I began to have faith that it could also bring a new appreciation the space opera and while most spin-offs aren't likely to rise to a high level of sophistication, if one "Blade Runner" or "Alien" came out of it, I would be satisfied. I also, surprisingly, began to believe that Chris Pine could pull off the role of Captain Kirk despite the slightly hyperactive performance. There next movie will have to have some real development put into it to make this attempt worthwhile, but I think there's a real chance it can, and will, be done. So, bottom line, put me in the category of someone who really liked this movie. I would go see it again tomorrow and feel it was money well spent.