Mylenium’s Brick Corner
- BFF Gang – Unikitty’s Sweetest Friends Ever! (70822)
- More Magenta – Snow Resort Chalet (41323)
- Ramp or House? – Modular Winter Lodge (31080)
As you know from reading my blog, it has become sort of a tradition for one of the more recent Cirque du Soleil shows to appear in the holiday programming of Arte TV, our go-to Franco-German cultural channel, every year. This year we got Kurios – Cabinet de Curiosités which launched officially early this year. I only now had time to catch up and watched it online after it originally aired on Christmas.
As much as I’ve always been a fan of the Cirque and still am, I tend to see things a little more critical as I’m getting older. Inevitably not every show can be a hit and to everyone’s liking as new themes are explored and the performances built around them, but the wave of Steampunk-ish/ 1920s Retro shows in the last few years is not necessarily my kind of thing. The gothic/ Art Nouveau style, the freaky contraptions, the drab colors, the strange costumes and even men with mustaches aren’t really up my alley and make it difficult to get into the mood. It’s a strange trend and I much prefer the zany and wacky or baroque stylings of some other shows. The video recording having been color graded in a similar way with lots of brown-ish and green accents doesn’t help, either (it’s no doubt much more colorful in the real world).
Anyway, as far as this one goes it seems at least there’s some sophistication and prowess in the performances themselves. I’m not going to take the overexcited audience of this recording cheering even at “simple” stunts as a measure of the show’s quality, but some acts are indeed quite adrenaline-inducing. The first half is a bit too slow for my taste, but the second noticeably amps up the wow factor with some very speedy, exciting stuff and an almost poetic finger theater piece.
The music is unfortunately very forgettable. It really sounds like some “tried & true” standard chords and riffs from older shows have been thrown in the cobbler and remixed with some syllable-based swing style chanting thrown in here and there. Not a single theme truly sticks. You can literally have the show run all day and still not remember a single note in the evening.
Once again I’d totally watch the show for real, given how rare opportunities are to do so, but regardless, it still strikes me as a perhaps not the greatest work of the Cirque. All the fancy design work and technical finesse can’t disguise the absence of a consistent story line and heart, things that made e.g. Varekai or OVO so enjoyable. It indeed feels like what the name suggests – a cabinet of curiosities or even partially a freak show. Interesting to look at for a while, but leaving you with a slightly uneasy feeling even after you have left.
With my energy these days being focused elsewhere and the extreme summer heatwave across Europe drawing everyone’s attention on other priorities, anyway, this is kind of an “Oops, is it really that time of the year again already?” thing, but yes in the run-up to SIGGRAPH the annual updates to your favorite 3D programs are being announced.
Maxon are the first out of the gate with Cinema 4D R20. Last year people got all hyped up that this needs to be special just “because it’s an even anniversary” or something along those lines, and while this new release isn’t bad, what we got perhaps is not quite that. Call me a cynic if you must, but to me it still feels like they’re busy catching up to other tools, so many of the new tools feel like they should have been there ten years ago.
What stands out most notably is at long last a nodal material/ shader editor. I’m not giving away any secrets when I say that the traditional material editor long had begun to file like you scratched open an inflamed pimple on your butt, so this finally should solve some of those pesky problems like re-using textures in multiple slots. The irony here is of course that Cinema 4D forever has had XPresso forever and by ways of complicated workarounds with creative use of some nodes you could do some things already, which makes you want to scream “What took you so long, after all?”. It’s really that it always seemed obvious to everyone except Maxon themselves. Of course a nodal editor makes some simple tasks a little more convoluted and abstract, so depending on your experience level and daily requirements it can be a mixed bag. It’s the price you pay for flexibility and versatility.
One thing that almost makes me dance with joy are the new generalized Fields. Back in the day I always thought that MoGraph falloffs could be ten times more powerful if only they could be used on other things and now they finally made it happen. Again, there were of course all sorts of clever workarounds even then like settings your cloner objects to Thinking Particles group to pipe info back and forth, but to say it was often pain would be an understatement. Not only did it require sideways thinking and extra effort, but was then bogged down by TP‘s poor performance. Similar observations could be made for other techniques – it’s not that some things were entirely impossible, they were just not obvious to the average user, convoluted to set up and clunky in their use. Providing a unified infrastructure could improve this considerably.
However, and that’s still a stinker, let’s not forget that in particular those two new feature sets will still suffer from some features not being on the same level and thus impeding overall usefulness. Yes, I’m talking about that UV texture thing, dynamics and particle simulation. Maxon can brag about UV-based fields and texture operators all they want, but with Bodypaint not having been fully rebuilt there is still no easy and good way to do explicit UV work or live-paint those flow maps and whatever. similarly, without a revamped particle and simulation framework it’s probably fair to say that those dynamics in the demo videos still will require meticulous planning and out-of-the box thinking. Still a long way to go here.
The volumetric modeling tools and the CAD import strike me as a clear stab in modo‘s direction or for that matter similar volume tools in Houdini for instance. The demos look a bit too made up for my taste, though, and the workflow with the redundant object/ layer hierarchies could become pretty aggravating on more complicated setups. This seems like unnecessarily repeating the same mistakes from the past like on some other items. And of course again it would probably be a lot more fun to make those meshes splash with real dynamics.
While it’s a solid release, my overall impression still is, that somehow Maxon‘s priorities are backwards. Point in case: All those showy, motiongraphics-centric features make for some nice demo videos, but one can’t shake the feeling that either you are never really going to use them in your own work (for whatever reasons) or if you attempt to do so might get stuck due to a feature you may need not having been renovated yet, not being available at all or even its new incarnation lacking compared to programs from competitors. More than anything else this uneasy feeling is what probably would still have me using Modo for some of my work and Cinema for other tasks without ever being able to fully commit to either. It’s an imperfect world…
While I’m still waiting for that billionaire prince who takes me to Las Vegas, New York and all around the world to see great shows, I of course have to make do with what I have in front of me here in Germany and aside from the Cirque du Soleil occasionally popping by and many smaller entertainment shows that’s not much. The one thing that stands out like a shiny tower in the middle of the desert is the Friedrichstadtpalast in Berlin, one of what we call “Erich (Honecker) ‘s good deeds” back from the days of the GDR. Built to the newest standards back then as the largest open stage in Europe, it somehow survived all the turbulences of the great turnover and after some dire years in the 1990s things turned around in the early 2000s, when they started creating their own resident shows.
I always wanted to go and see those shows, but as is typical, for one reason or another I always missed out, so this has been on my bucket list for forever. Conversely, my mom always wanted to go as well, but when she was still working as a teacher the timing never worked out and when she went into retirement, we had all this trouble with my dad, so it took us just that much longer to work things out. At long last we went this Saturday and while I never had much doubt that I would enjoy it in some way, The One turned out much better than I had anticipated. I was pleasantly surprised. Mind you, it’s still not Cirque du Soleil, but highly enjoyable.
Structured around the old trope of somebody’s dream serving as the framework of the show there is of course not much in the way of a linear narrative, but you still kinda get what it’s about. They didn’t need to hammer it home by explaining it all too much in a spoken voiceover during the intro, IMO. Once the show starts, time flies by quickly, which is alway’s a good thing. If you are not speaking German, though, that may be a bit different, since naturally some of the songs are not in English and you may not understand what they are about. For my taste the singers were a bit underused, considering that in many Cirque shows there’s often a permanent chorus, so there’s room to improve on that. I wasn’t too convinced by Roman Lob‘s performance, which sounded very much like “your average musical singer guy”, but Brigitte Oelke as the aging diva was great.
The musical performances are helped by a sizable live orchestra, something which is becoming rarer and rarer because many shows aren’t willing to afford the cost. This is also where the size of the stage pays off. It’s very deep (to the point where you could literally build a palace inside the Palast) and the musicians have plenty of room at the back of the stage, with only the wind instruments having been put in a separate room at the side of the stage (to better control their volume and overall sound, presumably).
The artistic performances were a bit of a mixed bag, being that the larger groups of course were represented by dancers with some additional training, which limits what they are able to do. The solo performances by “real” acrobats on the other hand were quite good and caused a lot of cheering, with the cyr wheel and trapeze acts enawing the crowd in particular. There was also quite some rigging and wire work with people and set pieces going up and down and appearing in unexpected locations, which goes to show the advantages of a resident show with stationary equipment perfectly finetuned to the needs of the performances.
The marketing makes quite a bit of Jean-Paul Gaultier‘s costume designs, but to be honest it’s not really that much that’s standing out. It’s more or less a “best of” collection, from Madonna‘s cone bra making an appearance to a lot of fetish- and BDSM-inspired shapes and materials. I would argue that a halfway talented fashion student could have copycatted it without the maestro himself being involved at all.
Overall, though, this is worth your time and your money. It’s only still running to 5th of July, but if you are in Berlin on a day with bad weather this could be a good way of killing some time. I’m already looking forward to the new show Vivid and definitely have plans to go see it one day. Let’s hope it doesn’t take as long as it did to even get started with this…
…and she won! Yupp, the chubby girl with her chicken imitation took home the prize and next year’s Eurovision Song Contest will once more be in Israel, pretty much exactly twenty years after Dana International. That could be fun, but it doesn’t change the fact that the song wasn’t particularly good and it seems to me that it was pandering a bit too obviously for the #MeToo movement with some cheap, crude lyrics. One has to be thankful for little things, though. At least this spared us from Norway‘s and Sweden‘s umpteenth attempts to manipulate viewers’ opinions with their shitty mainstream-optimized, smoothed-over radio music fare. Talk about nepotism! Geez, they should introduce rules to prevent that! It also saved us from many a poor singing like the one with that Lithuanian lady. Girl just can’t sing!
As far as personal favorites go, though, it would be hard to mention any. Naturally I’m pleased that our own German contest entry was well-liked and scored heavily, even if I find the song just slightly annoying as well. Others could be deserving of similar observations, be that Denmark with their well-sung, but poorly presented Viking-ish chants, Italy with their politically flavored song, France with something similar or even that weird opera singer from Estland. All of them are kinda enjoyable when you hear them, but you wouldn’t necessarily remember them five minutes later, much less do they compel you to dig deeper into the artists’ work. It seems we have come to a point where the ESC is almost too perfect for its own good and memorable songs and performances are barely to be found.
Even the surrounding show was less than memorable this time, with only Salvador Sobral‘s presentation sticking out. He clearly didn’t care much for the trappings of the Eurovision show and if he had his way, would probably have jammed out all evening on the stage. ;-) The four lady presenters were struggling with language a bit too much on occasion, which made the interludes painful to watch. Interviews can be really awkward when both sides don’t communicate in their native language and even simple attempts at humor tend to be misfires. What also rubbed me thew wrong way is that despite all optimizations on the voting procedures and a strict show schedule the event seems to be getting longer and longer. I’m really having more and more of a tough time to stay awake for so long and probably will feel the effects for the rest of the week and try to compensate my lack of sleep…
Yupp, exactly what you would expect: It’s NAB, it’s Adobe, it’s the latest After Effects update being totally screwy. You have to hand it to them – if there was an award for “Most reliably predictable mess-up with every new version”, Adobe‘s video division in Seattle would have an entire showcase full of them. I really, really would love to write something positive, but one can really only wish them to shove it up their collective fat and lazy asses. Need proof? Here goes!
With the demise of Quicktime they have now fully switched to custom PNG handling code and – surprise, surprise – suddenly a lot of people are unable to import their sequences in that format. Similar observations seem to apply to items that are dependent on Camera Raw and Lumetri due to changes in their features.
The new Master Properties mess with the renderer not just when they are actually used, but seemingly even with mundane stuff and the crooked logic of this whole system drawing ghost images of other layers/ comps. Supposedly this is only to happen when re-using the same nested comp over and over with different tweaks, but alas, here we are.
If you ask me, this was bound to blow up in their face, anyway. Since it seems that these days their Beta testing force seems to consist of like five people, it was inevitable that only hours after release a user in the wild would come up with a way of totally breaking the upstream/ downstream inheritance logic. It makes you wonder why they even bother with such stupid features, as clearly it isn’t the much-requested “edit nested comps in the parent comp timeline” thing, either.
Looks like they already got themselves in a pinch by making everything dependent on the Essential Graphics panel (and the expression-based linking it uses) and with more and more features being dumped onto this ailing infrastructure, the more convoluted and error prone things can only get. but i told you that a hundred times already, so I won’t bore you with my gloating.
They also pimped the Puppet tool, but that seems so wrong, too. I never quite understood why people even attempt to use it for tasks it never was meant for. It always seemed that after the initial release most users simply forgot about all the other distortion effects and used Puppet even when it was possibly the worst solution to their problem. Will better interpolation and smoother motion help? Sure, but wouldn’t it make just as much sense to finally update Bezier Warp, Mesh Warp and a few other effects? Oh my!
As should be clear by now, this is yet another release full of bugs, quirks and neglected features in desperate need of renovation…
Over the last few days I’ve read a lot of articles over the “transformative powers of virtual reality” and similarly fancy-sounding gobbledegook in the wake of the upcoming/ just released (depending where you live) Ready Player One movie. The whole thing is just ridiculous on so many levels, but offers the perfect opportunity for a reality check on the state of VR, regardless.
The biggest misconception is that people don’t seem to grasp the concept of movies (and in this case the book it is based on) being works of fiction. Even though the novel is pretty recent, it ultimately portrays a possibly dated, but definitely romanticized version of what VR can do and achieve and how it might work, based on the understanding of a writer. No matter how feasible the scenarios and technologies displayed in it may seem, based thereon any predictions on when and if they come to pass in the real world are as sensible as asking your 85-year-old grandma about what next year’s hot mobile app is going to be.
Here this is even more critical because the novel tugs heavily on our heart-strings with nostalgia. Some German reviews nailed it perfectly: It’s a crazy race through video games pop-culture, but nothing more. One also asked the almost philosophical question of whether you would actually want to live inside such a virtual world for an extended period of time or permanently and the overall conclusion seems to be a pretty firm “No!”. Also you need to figure in the additional soft-washing by Steven Spielberg in the movie, and you know how “realistic” this possibly is.
For better or worse it simply is a world someone may have dreamed up, not how it is necessarily going to be or how it would “work” to add something to people’s lives. Technology in movies just like fashion and hair styles ages badly, anyway. We all know that when we laugh about stuff in films that ten years ago we thought were the coolest thing on Earth. Nokia phones anyone? I’m sure we’ll giggle just as heard over those ski-goggles in the movie (and the movie itself) one day, which brings me to the next point.
Yepp, you’re gonna hate me, but to me VR is just another technology rat race. The harsh truth of the matter is that enough is never enough. At the moment dealing with VR content is more than a royal pain in the rear, both in production and delivery/ playback.
The first element in this chain of failure pretty obviously is the actual display resolution. 4k and 8k resolutions may sound impressive for that new flat screen you just bought, but but once you wrap those many pixels into a sphere or cylinder, it still looks a lot less than 720p HD even. Those resolution issues alone could suffice to explain why most VR experiences are pretty *meh*. Add to that a ton of other technical issues like those pesky lens distortions and you begin to wonder why anyone would even put up with this stuff – both for production and suffering through the unpleasurable viewing experience.
Of course you need to figure in even more things. So far nobody really has cracked navigation and spatial orientation in a way that would prevent headaches and nausea. There’s more mundane side effects like your eyes turning sore and itchy when staring too long at those screens glued in front of your eyes, your hearing being impaired under those helmets and ear muffs, spatial audio mapping and so on down to the almost too trivial to mention issues like physical safety as in not bumping your head and knees into your living room furniture.
What’s pretty aggravating is that companies despite being fully aware of the shortcomings of their VR devices and solutions, manufacturers/ vendors seem to expect the customers to pay for everything. Now of course one could argue that “early adaptors”, depending on how you see it, were either always the ones that got shafted or the ones that helped technologies on their feet by financing the initial cost. Yet, at least they got something out of it in return. With VR that seems a quite different thing because the old chicken vs. egg paradox is particularly prominent here. You can cook up the nicest stuff on your computer, but you have no good way of getting it out there and let people experience it in the same way you may have intended.
Strangely, it somehow always boils down to current VR devices being either way too expensive and too unwieldy or on the other hand just cheap “fun” toys that only half work or are seriously underpowered. In the first category you have things like the Oculus headsets of course, in the other things like for instance Samsung‘s Gear VR. If that wasn’t bad enough, the real kicker is of course that on their own those devices don’t do anything and they need to be fed by a beefy computer, a PlayStation or your smartphone plus possibly a ton of other peripherals. As a result, your VR experience can vary hugely and range from pretty cool to downright awful. It simply depends way too much on how much you are able to afford and invest.
And it doesn’t end there. Remember how Oculus made their stuff (temporarily) useless with a botched update just two weeks ago? How the heck are you supposed to get a reliable, enjoyable experience that way? I mean you have that ugly two thousand dollar helmet and then it suddenly becomes just a piece of trash because the company who sold it to you messed up big time? Such experiences certainly don’t instill confidence and will make people think twice, assuming the actually can get over the fact that they have to wear those conkers. It’s funny how people always refuse to wear bicycle helmets, but totally don’t mind looking like idiots with VR gear on.
So for what it’s worth, until someone can tell me that you can pack all this stuff in a simple box that can be put in your pockets, connected to simple, elegant glasses and at the price of an iPod, I’m not buying it – literally and figuratively. I’m not saying that it won’t be this way some time in the future, but currently we are far, far, far away from that point.
Yes, there’s another wrench being thrown into the gears of VR at the moment and that is simple market demand for graphics chips. You could call it sheer coincidence, you could call it fate, you could call it bad timing, but as it stands, people apparently have found better, more profitable uses for GPUs rather than feeding their VR devices with pixels. Mining cryptocurrencies, artificial intelligence and deep learning or even basic cloud computing powered with graphics hardware have become all the rage and as a result of those use cases essentially sucking the market dry, prices for cards from nVidia and AMD are soaring to new heights despite those companies maxing out their manufacturing capacities.
It’s so crazy that some models are constantly sold out and you sometimes have to wait for months to get your hands on the card you want. Should you then be so lucky you may in fact have to pay a higher price than on the initial release date even for older cards. The old rule of prices dropping every quarter after release no longer is valid, at least for those cards that qualify for those uses, which coincidentally also are the ones you would need to bolster VR. And this isn’t going to change any time soon. There is simply no way in hell for those cheap, yet powerful devices that VR so desperately needs to become available. It’s simply not lucrative. You could even expand this as e.g. nVidia is surely having a good time selling their Tegra chips for Nintendo‘s Switch console just as well.
One thing that totally rubs me the wrong way is the piss-poor quality of a good chunk of all VR. Especially when it comes to the “cinematic” variety, i.e. pre-recorded clips and presentations, there’s just so much wrong. We don’t even need to discuss the millions of sloppily done “let’s replace our regular camera with a VR one” clips, but also elaborately produced documentaries, music clips and so on all too often just totally miss the mark. It always seems to me people are way to busy shoving down the VR aspect everyone’s throat instead of focusing on telling their story. Yes, show pieces in the worst meaning of the word.
What a lot of creators don’t seem to understand that any VR piece by its nature is an experience-driven medium, not a narrative one. The user simply has way too many possibilities to evade your intended form of interaction and storytelling or misses out on it inadvertently. Basically there’s usually two ways this pans out: A sparsely designed experience will bore people to death and just at the moment they may veer off to find something else to explore, they’ll miss that single important moment that you intended to be the core of your VR experience. The other way around there’s a lot of overstuffed productions under the (wrong) assumption that there always needs to be something for your viewers to always have something to look at no matter where they turn. As a result, those viewers still may miss what was supposed to be the most important bits plus it results in a nauseating overflow of every sensory channel.
And what about interactive content? Games to the rescue? Unfortunately not. So far it’s like there’s only one or two VR-enabled games trickling out every month and a lot of them are short and convoluted, more acting like a tech demo. The rest are adapted versions of existing games with the games companies seemingly only doing the bare minimum of extra work – replacing the renderer/ virtual camera model and remapping inputs. They are of course fully within their rights – with for example 2 million units of the PlayStation VR having been sold vs. at least 50 million actual PS 4 consoles it doesn’t take a math genius to figure out how many games are actually played this way.
What is even more discouraging and confounding is that companies who have been riding the VR train for a while are already jumping off again and shutting down their games for economic reasons. A good example for this is Eve Valkyrie. A space flight simulator with full head movement is one of the most obvious and sensible uses for VR helmets I can think of, yet people aren’t even into that? Imagine how unattractive games tens of times less immersive than this then must be. It’s a bust!
With all the endless issues, it simply seems nobody really wants VR. Wait – of course the people making a buck from selling this stuff want it – but that’s about it. Otherwise adoption rates are more or less negligible and people don’t seem to have the least bit of desire to enter ridiculous virtual chat systems, explore tourist attractions from their sofa or for that matter get seasick while playing their games.
To me it looks like yet another phase we seem to be going through like every few years and because it is being pushed by “the industry” rather than evolving organically, it ultimately going nowhere. We all know what happened to the stereoscopic 3D TV fad, don’t we? Same story all over again. everyone is just wasting their time, energy, resources and money on something that will be forgotten again a few years down the road…
It used to be that I was a big fan of Modo, but over the last few versions that enthusiasm has waned to the point of a freezing zero. With the latest version 12 announcement coinciding with NAB as usual I’m even more convinced I would never buy an upgrade even if I wasn’t in this shitty health situation and had the money. But wait? Buy an upgrade? That isn’t even possible now since they have moved fully to an annual maintenance/ subscription model. Good job of shutting out the last hobbyist who just want’s to create a few assets for his little free game or model his dream car! I’m sure the Blender community will see another bump of frustrated users moving over.
With regards to features there’s almost nothing there that I would use. It seems these days they are too busy trying to cater for realtime content creation (and boosting their own content marketplace) rather than trying to keep conventional 3D customers happy. It’s particularly disappointing to see that the procedural tool set is not showing any real progress and looks just as clunky and inefficient to use as way back then in v9. Other parts like the particle simulation haven’t received any significant improvements in a while, either…