Ever since I bought the soundtrack ten years or so ago and it had been running in endless loops on my iPod when it was still fresh, Cirque du Soleil‘s «O» (or just O as they use it now after modernizing the branding like two or three years ago) has fascinated me. the music is easily one of the best for any Cirque production, given how it’s almost a symphony. Yet, on the other hand, this being a resident show in Las Vegas, info on it beyond a few promotional photos and clips was scarce and chances of me ever getting to see it were slim for obvious reasons.

Thanks to our friends at arte.tv that has now changed, as they had a recording of the show running on Wednesday evening. Yes, exactly that day when I was seeing the latest Star Wars, so this made for a busy and exhausting afternoon and evening that day.  You can still grab it via their online mediatheque for a while if you care to give it a try. I’m definitely going to re-watch it at least once or twice despite its flaws. Flaws? There, I said it, so let’s elaborate.

The one and only Todd Kopriva had warned me about not having wrong expectations way back then in some dark age and now that I have seen the show, I totally get what he meant. the short version of it is, that it’s no doubt a technical feat, yet it never really connects with you. As far as I’m concerned, there are a few clear reasons for this.

Age. Yes, like it or not, it shows that this was conceived some time in the 1990s and while it remains impressive that it still runs after 20 years, it is more than ripe for a thorough overhaul or replacement with a follow-up show. Especially the stage design feels dated with no projections or video walls to speak off. even the lighting schemes feel simplistic and don’t exploit the possibilities that interaction with water might have offered.

The View. The enjoyment of this performance totally depends on where you are sitting. This is of course true for every show on some level, but here it is particularly critical. You really need to see the big picture, especially when the artists are immersed in the water. Of course this is only a negative sideeffect of the show not being very three-dimensional with regards to the stage interactions, which brings us to the next and probably most important point.

It’s about water, but then it’s not. What really bothered me was how little the potential of the water effects was actually used. It just felt weird that there are a number of acts where they somewhat desperately bring in “dry land” pieces for conventional contortionist performances and all that and the water-based acts themselves were rather hum-ho, mostly relying on some splashy stuff or the water acting as a replacement for the usual safety nets.

So for the most part I was simply underwhelmed. Of course all of this can be fixed, but will they do it? It would probably mean shutting down the theater for a while and redesigning everything as well as training new acts. If the people at the Cirque need input – I’m here for you. ;-) That said, of course I still wouldn’t object to seeing the show in its current state if my imaginary billionaire boyfriend took me to LV for honeymoon. no matter what, I’m still a sucker for all of this stuff and at the end of the day all the work that’s poured in such projects remains admirable.


The not so last Jedi

It’s that time of year again when my overworked brother has a few days off and we can go to the movies without him missing his bedtime once a year. As in the last two years this slot was firmly occupied by the latest Star Wars outing and I suppose it will be like that for several years to come, considering they are firing one out annually. Before we go into details, the short version: Bad CGI, penis problems, Snoke being a total moron, some really cheesy humor, cute PorgsGareth Edwards cameo, lots of wasted potential, overall too long, plot holes as big as the galactic core. *booh* To clarify some of those things, let me explain.

Bad CGI. Yes, there was tons of it, most notably Supreme Leader Snoke, some really shoddy background creatures, those oversized horses in the casino section, lots of nagging details done wrong. Snoke was particularly disappointing and even his deformations couldn’t explain some “rubber face” effects. Similar things could be said about other creatures. Which only goes to show that motion capture is totally overrated, after all. It might work with the right people taking their time and adding the nuances manually, but when it’s overused and on a tight deadline it seems it fails every time. Other CG parts were okay, but naturally at this point you would expect that your mom could animate a spaceship in Paint 3D or her favorite iPhone app.

As terrible as some of the effects were, so was the writing. I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I dare say that this movie won’t go down as one of the greatest in Star Wars history and be counted among the ranks of the prequels, just without their originality (they at least tried and failed, but this movie risks nothing). Most annoying was the out-of-place humor. It wasn’t particularly smart or witty and after a while you just knew when it would come, totally nixing its punch. Some of it was so groanworthy it was really hard not to booh at the screen. If I may be so bold: It’s like heterosexual people laughing about totally unfunny gay jokes. Yes, it really was that bad.

Other bad plot points include somehow everybody seemingly never even having heard of fundamental things like bombs only going hot after they are dropped or beam weapons most likely not losing much energy in space and thus being able to cover insane distances. Sure, I get it – they are plot devices, but it wouldn’t hurt if every now and then those writers applied some common sense. That also extends to Leia‘s “Mary Poppins in space” moment. Force or not, she would not only have been frozen, but her blood vessels and cells simply exploded. They could at least have made her robe float around. You know, weightlessness and all that good stuff…

I’m also going to spell it out: Clearly, the The First Order just like The Empire before it has some sort of penis problem where the size of their war machinery compensates for something. It’s getting ridiculous to see ever bigger ships pop up. That in itself wouldn’t even be that bad, but they are never even used to good effect. All we get to see is the same hangars and hallways that just could be on a regular Star Destroyer.

Conversely, those big guns begin to make less and less sense. Isn’t it convenient that the First Order just happened to have a ground-based version of their super laser that could smash that super heavy door at the rebels’ outpost? If they have something like that in episode IX, a unison facepalm slap noise and a deep sigh at the cinema seems a given. They really need to get away from that, especially since those biggies always seem to have a convenient weak spot. It makes them look like utter morons.

Speaking of morons – yes, Snoke. He’s just totally obnoxious. That scene where he kept blathering on about how he (fore-)sees everything. Oh my! See everything? Look up my ass, your supreme douchebagness! Too bad he probably isn’t dead, after all, and will annoy us further in future episodes. He could have been a great arch-villain, but then they ruined it with their poor writing. That goes for so many things in this film, I can’t count them all. from that I explicitly exempt the Porgs. Even though their funny interactions were just as predictable, they were simply too cute and adorable. I would totally adopt one of them. So yes, I’m in the pro-Porg camp.

Overall this movie felt way too overstuffed. It’s like they crammed in every actor they had at hand, be that just due to contractual obligations or Disney‘s interference. That whole segment with the casino was superfluous and Finn and Rose could have been left out of the movie entirely without any damage. They got caught in the end, regardless, didn’t they? There’s a lot of other things that fall into that category. It’s like they just didn’t know where to go with this and at times it feels like they have intercut scenes from three or four different scripts.

And there’s just too much “fan service”. Sure, even I would have loved to see my face on camera for 15 seconds in a Star Wars movie like that Gareth Edwards cameo and we all love Yoda, but honestly: Why not make a true fresh start? With two movies into the current trilogy it feels like all we have arrived at is this weird mix of rehashing the originals with some ideas from the prequels sprinkled in plus every comic, video game or other “tie in” causing open-ended storylines that of course only will be explained when you buy this stuff. If this goes on for too long, even the most ardent fan will get weary of it. It’s really beginning to feel like the commercial aspect of Star Wars, that of course has always been there already, has taken over completely.

The Gray

After a few weeks ago Rance Howard passed away whom I honestly only ever remember as John Sheridan‘s father in a few episodes of Babylon 5, today the sad news of Bruce Gray‘s passing reached us. This is much closer to my heart and of course significant in that he also played in B5 (the excellent episodes with Sheridans inquisitory interrogation), has had tiny roles in every of the mid-1990s to the 2000s Star Trek series and of course played in Queer as Folk.

As a supporting actor he always brought a certain gravitas to these things, playing older, well-mannered men with a twist. I’m sure he even popped up in some other series that I just can’t remember, but in fact now that I looked up his IMDB page, I’m slightly flabbergasted in how many crappy series and movies he played. I’m fully aware that even bad jobs pay the rent, but “My big fat Greek wedding”. Really? *yuck* Anyway, I shall fondly remember him from what little I knew his roles.

Speaking of other elderly men, of course Johnny Halliday also passed away last week, but strange as it may sound, despite having an inclination for francophone music, I never really could get behind Johnny. He was okay, but it’s just not my kind of music and well, lately he didn’t do himself favors by appearing in public with all too obvious cosmetic surgery. Those lips… Still, sad to think that I watched a concert of his on TV5 earlier this year (in May, I think) and then things went downhill so quickly.

Mental-ly gone

Tough times for 3D old-timers like me it seems. After the demise of Fabric Engine a few weeks ago, today we have to put on yet another grief-stricken face for Mental Ray. NVidia, current owners of the product have declared the cessation of active development.

Surprising? Not really! When was the last time you heard any relevant news on the subject, anyway? Exactly! As far as everyone and their mum was concerned, the product had been dead for a long time already, latest when Autodesk put the final dagger into the chest by removing it from their products in favor of Arnold. as I wrote about one year ago in that article, Mental Ray was once really hip and at the forefront, but it had been clear that they never knew what to do with the product. Even their outsourcing iRay seems like a ditch effort, considering that most of their (former) customers quite likely have moved on to greener pastures and will never be looking back.

While it’s said to see a product go that was part of every 3D artist’s wet-dreams in the early 1990s, at this point few are going to miss it. Personally I never really got so deep into MR during my Maya days and thus won’t shed a tear. After all, wiring up a ton of nodes just to produce a simple shader seemed unnecessary complicated and the actual rendering speed was nothing to write home about. the term “glacially slow” springs to mind. it made you wonder how they ever finished those movies it was used on. in a way one could argue that this ultimately was their biggest issue: They never managed to make it simple enough for a more wide adoption and then their already limited active user base dwindled into obscurity….

Torn Fabric

Ah, the times… It seems another one has bitten the dust. While elsewhere 3D software is getting worse and worse (Hello Maxon!), the last few bits of truly innovative programs die off. This time Fabric Engine is the victim of this trend. Now granted, it was nerdy stuff and at the end of the day, unless you were a Maya or Houdini user who was used to rudimentary graphical UIs it was one hell of an ugly bitch (including the one in the Modo version), but it’s regrettable that it seems to be a goner. At least their website doesn’t offer any clues as to what happened, so we can only speculate. Either they really bankrupted because not enough users were into their subscription model (in which case I could of course point fingers at myself because even when I still could afford it I never took the plunge) or they got bought by some other company on the sly. Here’s hoping for the latter, so maybe it will be revived in some form. Perhaps the next few days and weeks will bring us some info that can unravel that mystery…

Egg Cirque

Unfortunately Cirque du Soleil shows seem to be getting more and more scarce here in Europe, so every single one counts even more  and I’m just as glad that I got to see Ovo yesterday.

When it comes to the newer shows, I’m admittedly a bit more skeptical than for the older ones, mostly owed to the fact that information on them is rather elusive and you don’t have much of a chance to gauge them beforehand ever since the Cirque stopped making DVDs. Unfortunately they don’t run as often on arte.tv anymore even, so there you have it. I’m not saying that diving in blindly is a bad thing, but considering the ticket prices it would be nice to walk into this more assuredly beforehand. That’s just me, of course.

As things turned out, I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve had the soundtrack for as long as when it came out first and though it’s not my favorite, it helped to finally see how the songs are used in the show. Incidentally they also sound more interesting with those slight variations when played live instead of the sometimes all too clean studio recording. The show itself relies a lot on the colorfulness of the costumes, a huge back screen projection and the lighting design, while it’s otherwise staged pretty simple, the specific bits and bobs for the individual artists’ acts notwithstanding, of course.

Another positive  a-ha moment stems from the fact that several of those acts are performances high up such as a flying trapeze number, several variations on rope acts and of course the trampolines in the finale, which adds quite a bit of excitement and awe. The timing is also usually very fast, ramping up the action quickly, which furthers the feeling of something exhilarating going on. What irked me slightly, however, were a few all too obvious dark segments where they were prepping and setting up the necessary safety measures. Other shows manage to sneak that in a bit more elegantly.

That being said, regardless of my minor niggles, it is a very enjoyable experience. There’s a million worse ways to spend two and a half hours in the evening and with those shows being so elusive in these parts, this is even more a matter of a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. So if you get a chance, go, see it!

2018 ain’t coming yet

Just a quick follow-up on my article from one month ago (Wow, these days I only post about once a month. how times have changed!): Sad as it is, stay away from Adobe Creative Cloud 2018 products for the time being.

Just when you think things can’t get worse, Adobe proves that they can up the ante on the negative side even further. Calling their new line-up dysfunctional would be a kindness, a lot of the products are plain and simply downright broken. Two days after the official release forums are already filling up with issues that make you question if anyone even takes responsibility for quality assurance over there. I imagine it must be one of the coolest things to work for them and get paid 10000 bucks a month without actually having to do your job. Some of the most obvious issues:

  • Project corruption in After Effects seems back, especially when opening old projects. Similar occurences have been reported for Premiere Pro, BTW.
  • The GPU accelerated motion blur in After Effects produces artifacts, so revert to software mode.
  • Shame on Mettle: Now that they sold their asses to Adobe they didn’t even make sure that their old projects for Skybox still open.
  • The usual DynamicLink issues.
  • The usual “My computer is not good enough anymore” issues, because they ramped up the system requirements once again to only qualify for a NASA supercomputer or something like that. Photoshop users that happily worked even in CC 2017 (and that was already buggy as hell) no longer get any GPU features in the 2018 version.
  • Similarly, the new brush engine seems to never work if you don’t have adequate hardware.
  • Once again Illustrator‘s version of GPU acceleration seems to not work at all, causing drawing artifacts that make everything look like a 30-year-old CAD program, where circles were drawn as 8-sided polygons for performance reasons.

Is there more? No doubt and I expect the next month to be a wonderful time where I will find myself alternating between facepalming myself for how dumb and unnecessary some of those issues are and laughing my petit ass off hat how ridiculous this has become (as in a mad man laughing at the world). As a certain Mr. Trump would tweet: “Sad.”, even more so since it utterly tarnishes their research work shown at MAX. Some of the stuff looks actually pretty interesting, but you already expect it to totally not work as advertised once it’s turned into a commercial product…

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