October 2009 Archives

Up & 3D Cinema

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I saw Pixar's latest film, Up, last Friday. It is the first full length film I've ever seen in 3D, or DISNEY DIGITAL 3D as it pronounced itself.

The film itself is one of Pixar's best. It certainly shows a new found maturity to their filmmaking, bringing my wife and (presumably) a good proportion of the rest of the audience to tears. I, on the other hand, am a Northern English bloke hardened by a childhood working 28 hours a day down the mines, bricks for breakfast, living in a puddle, etc - therefore no film has ever had that effect on me (either that or I'm just emotionally stunted). The fact that a frankly surreal story idea works so well is testament to Pixar's excellent storytelling craft.

As for the 3D effect - I'm not completely convinced it's anything other than a short lived gimmick. It certainly works - the form of objects is realised surprisingly well and the circular (as opposed to linear) polarisation seems to negate the headache I was fearing. However, I kept finding myself distracted by the 3D effect and wasn't able to completely absorb myself in the film. Perhaps this impression will fade if 3D cinema becomes more commonplace.

Another problem which the film mostly avoided is a perceived lag that happens when there is a camera cut. Pixar seemed to be vary careful to keep the amount of parallax on the focus of the image roughly constant between cuts, but the editing on one of the trailers beforehand (some 3D CGI space thing) was jarring. Far too many fast cuts causing a noticeable delay whilst my eyes locked onto the new parallax. Maybe younger viewers are able to keep up better, but I'm a 30 year old boy - surely my eye muscles are still good!

Reading this post back, I've noticed that I haven't (yet) mentioned the graphics in the film, despite being a graphics geek and indeed a graphics programmer. Suffice to say they're so good you barely notice them - the few times I did think about it I saw flawless lighting, shading, the works. Sometimes I envy film effects people in that they have a lot more processing time at hand as opposed to games aiming to have everything rendered within 16⅔ or 33⅓ milliseconds depending on whether we're aiming for 60 or 30 frames per second.

Another technical oddity I noticed is that at the end of the credits (I hung around in case there was any extra bits at the end), there was a message saying that all final rendering had been done on Intel processors. I'm mildly surprised that Pixar aren't using any GPU technology such as NVIDIA's CUDA or OpenCL to accelerate things - perhaps because the cost and time required to port over their existing rendering software is prohibitive, despite the gains, so simply throwing more processors at the problem is a cheap way to improve rendering performance.

In the Night Garden...

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One of the joys of having children is that you get an excuse to watch children's television again. One of my current favourites on CBeebies is "In the Night Garden...". The show is made by the same production company as Teletubbies and shares some of the earlier shows aesthetics - lots of lush green grass, constant sunny weather, happy costumed characters, etc. On the surface it's a very happy smiley show, but the more I think about it, the more the show's darker side is apparent.


The protagonist is a character called Igglepiggle, who is shown at the beginning of each episode falling asleep on a small sailing boat and dreaming about adventures with his friends in the garden. At the end of each episode he's reluctant to leave the garden and is then shown asleep in the boat drifting off into the distance. This got me thinking - far from being a happy character he's lost at sea in a small boat, most probably living on fish and re-condensed sea water. He's so lonely that his mind is dreaming/hallucinating about the garden and its characters in order to keep himself sane. The garden itself is of course on dry land and there are no streams or ponds - I guess Igglepiggle hates water after being adrift for so long.

Each character has a theme song which is sung when they first appear in the garden. Igglepiggle's simply states that his name is Igglepiggle, as though he is trying desperately to cling onto his identity. An instrumental version of his theme also serves as the opening/closing music for the show and is also sung by the Tittifers (brightly coloured birds) - it's almost as though the song is stuck in his head, haunting him.

If Igglepiggle is going insane with loneliness and the garden does not exist outside of his head, then we can think of the other characters as representative of different aspects of his personality. I think I've figured some of them out.

Upsy Daisy

Iggle Piggle's best (imaginary) friend is Upsy Daisy. A young woman who appears to be his girlfriend - they are often seen holding hands, hugging and kissing each other. She sings and dances a lot and seems to represent a happy distraction from Igglepiggle's plight - he clings to her to push his loneliness away and uses her as a mask from his breaking personality. Her theme emphasises that she is the only Upsy Daisy, perhaps showing that Igglepiggle is clingy and obsessive about her. Strangely enough, she sleeps in a wheeled seemingly sentient bed that sometimes follows her around or runs away from her.

Makka Pakka

This character is simple to work out. He represents Igglepiggle's obsessive compulsive side. He collects rocks and does all the cleaning in the garden, often washing the other character's faces. He is about half Igglepiggle and Upsy Daisy's height, perhaps indicating that this aspect of his personality is not dominant.

The Pontipines & Wottingers

The Pontipines are ten tiny red characters who live in a semi detached house. The other half of the house is occupied by the Wottingers. The Pontipines appear in the show far more frequently than the Wottingers and I think I've figured out why. The Pontipines and Wottingers appear to be the most intelligent characters in the garden and perhaps they literally represent Igglepiggle's brain. I think the Pontipines represent the right hemisphere and the Wottingers the left (matching up with the side of the screen their house is on). The Wottingers appear less often because IgglePiggle is right brain dominant. Further evidence of this is that the characters in the garden all lack good language skills (most can only say their own names). Language is usually controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain. The tiny size of the characters would seen to show that Igglepiggle's brain is in a bad state overall.

The Ninky Nonk and Pinky Ponk

These are the two forms of transport within the garden, a fast train and a slow airship respectively. Although apparently about the same size as Igglepiggle, they become large enough for the characters to ride on, though the size change is never shown. They perhaps show Igglepiggle's yearning to get off his boat and onto some other form of transport. The fast speed of the Ninky Nonk showing Igglepiggle's desire to move quicky rather than drifting slowly and the airship perhaps showing his frustration - he wants to get high enough off the water to see land.


I haven't figured out the rest of the characters yet, which is why I haven't mentioned them here. Of course, I'm sure the program makers had none of this in mind when making the programme - this is of course simply my analysis after thinking far to much about a children's television show. Perhaps I've got too much time on my hands...

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