Sundown: Interactive Graphic Novel hits virtual newsstands

Sundown CoverWell, it has finally arrived. After over a year of my own time and even more prior to my involvement, Sundown: Part One – White Birch, has been released to the public.

I first got involved with Sundown around May of 2011 when it was being designed as a fairly bog-standard motion comic – i.e. it was a single panel per page, self-propelled video format production. After a few months of working on that, and two or three other titles under development at the time, the pause button was pressed and everything came to a grinding halt. After some review, revision and restructuring, the project was redesigned as an interactive book with a new layout much more akin to printed comics. This was in no small part due to our discovery of an iPad app created in the same tool we eventually adopted, CIA: Operation Ajax. Since then till now, I have been pretty much buried in layout designs, artwork appraisals, animation and building interaction to create a digital reading experience which, whilst maybe not 100% new and original, hopefully stands out in the crowd as both innovative and entertaining.

I know, at the very least, this project has help to push the development of the tool, The Active Reader, which we have been using. I think we have had to upgrade the tool 6 or 7 times over the course of production to be able to have some the things we were doing work. It has been a lot of hard work which has, at times, driven me to edge of madness – the sound won’t play, or that font failed to load, again, or that layer of art simply doesn’t show up anymore (Thank you everyone at Tall Chair for helping me through). But, as with most creative endeavours, its completion and now release brings a special kind of satisfaction. All that’s left is to panic over whether anyone will read it and, more importantly, like it.

The book has been published by Motion Works Entertainment, based on an original concept from the creator of The Crow, James O’Barr and features original artwork from the same, with additional art created by Space Goat Productions. The build, animation and effects work were undertaken by myself, here at Dancing Fish Productions, using San Francisco based Tall Chair’s Active Reader tool. The book also features the music of Godflesh along with original music and effects created by AK Audio & Design.

Go download it, and let me know what you think.

Sundown: Part One – White Birch can be downloaded from the App Store:

Sundown Icon


giving thanks

We have started a bit of a bedtime tradition in our house.  After stories and before prayers, I ask Wee Man what he is thankful for today. It is always either his toy garage or his train signal box. I was looking for something a little deeper, but no matter.

Thanksgiving is my favourite ‘American-only’ holiday. I’m going to adopt it wherever we end up living. Maybe it’s because I feel no pressure to cook anything, or that my mum doesn’t expect us to travel somewhere for the day, or just the brilliant food. But I also love it because the idea of giving thanks is such a good one to celebrate. I don’t have much of a stake in 4th July. Halloween – don’t get me started. The walking dead? It is taken too far here and it is not little people friendly.Valentines day? Commercialised saccharine. But thankfulness? That’s a holiday I can get behind.

So our apartment complex ran a competition to write a 100 things that we’re grateful for, in the following categories. So here’s mine. Give it a go, it’s a great exercise for today. And mind, these  are things that I am personally grateful for, so they aren’t necessarily the best!

10 physical things (I didn’t know what this meant, but hey hum)

gravity – photosynthesis – colour – dancing – kisses – listening to the rain when you’re snuggled in bed – babies falling over comically – the Force (pre-prequels, pre Disney) – swirls/round things – laughing

1o material things (I took this literally)

velvet – cotton – silk – mashed potato – smooth wood – pretty shoes – cashmere – warm blankets – wellington boots – jelly (jello)

10 living people (I found it really hard to find famous people today that I respected, so most of these are personal and included groups…)

My husband – my children – my family – my friends – Aung San Suu Kyi – Ruth Ghent (a missionary in Japan) – Michelle Obama – Bono (I know, but I like his music and his work on poverty – Jamie Oliver (UK chef and healthy school dinner advocate) – Jessica Ennis (UK Olympian)

10 deceased people

Queen Elizabeth I – Albert Einstein – Rosa Parks – Florence Nightingale (nice name) – Queen Victoria – Virginia Wolf – Eleanor Roosevelt – King David – John Lennon (we share the same name!) – Robert the Bruce (the good one)

10 things about today

Being able to travel quickly -women’s votes – contraception – the middle class – free healthcare and education (Scotland) – films – moisturiser – contact lenses – disposable nappies/diapers – availability of many types of food

10 things about nature

the sea – trees – mountains – autumn leaves – lavender – monkeys – giraffes – hot springs – fresh snow – sunshine

10 places

Scotland (all of it) – Lake Como, Italy – Kobe, Japan – Scarborough, UK – Low Fell, UK – White Rock Lake, Dallas – Colorado Rockies – Seville, Spain –     Northern Ireland – the moon (gotta love those tides)

10 modern inventions (it doesn’t say how modern)

the internet (skype) – washing machines – flushing toilets – the car – music on the go – planes – electric kettle (for tea) – TV – wind turbines – air conditioning (for Texas summers)

10 foods (this was by far the easiest for me)

sushi/sashimi – chips (fries) any potato, but this is the best – real bacon (sorry America  – you just don’t’ have it) – anything made by my mum – poached egg on toast with a cuppa tea – sausage, beans and mash – roast beef and Yorkshire pudding – medium rare sirloin steak – chocolate mousse with cream – salt and vinegar crisps. My mouth is watering.

10 spiritual things

grace – forgiveness – salvation – heaven – mercy – sanctification – compassion – blessing – understanding – hope

Killing Them Softly – with bullets, though, not songs

It’s the perfect crime, isn’t it? Knock off the game run by the guy who everyone knows already knocked off his own game once before. Any dumb monkey could do it.

That is the basic premise of this post-millennium gangster flick. With an all-star cast headed up by Brad Pitt, along with James Gandolfini (The Sopranos), Richard Jenkins (Burn After ReadingThe Visitor) and Ray Liotta. But Goodfellas this is not. Gone are the ‘Families’ and ‘Made Men’ of the Mob epics of yesteryear and so is the epic running time, Killing is a mere 97 minutes, but it is time well used and well spent, and who wants to sit through 2 and a half hours anyway.

The game in question, is a mob-protected poker game run by Markie Trattman (Liotta) and the ‘monkeys’ are recent parolee Frankie (Scoot McNairy, MonstersArgo) and permanently wasted puppy pincher, Russell (Ben Mendelsohn, AustraliaThe Dark Knight Rises). The mob, understandably pissed at having their game ripped off, again, needs the mess cleaned up so they can reopen the games. Enter Jackie Cogan (Pitt), the mob enforcer entrusted with the delicate job of finding and removing those responsible.

This hour and a half or so is spent in the company of some varied, well constructed and well portrayed characters set against a backdrop of a rain soaked post-Katrina New Orleans, the growing economic crisis and the final days of the Bush administration. From Pitt’s jaded, cynical but well understated Jackie, to Gandolfini’s over-the-hill, washed-up hit-man, Mickey to McNairy’s in-over-his-head Frankie, Killing Them Softly is as much a study of this diverse collection of characters as it is about the unfolding of Pitt’s cleaning job, which punctuates the film with moments of violence as varied in their cinematic execution as the characters involved.

A bare-knuckle beating which forces the viewer into the position of the victim. A slow motion CGI ‘dance’ of bullets through brains. A there-one-instant-gone-the-next execution. While these moments are well executed (sorry for the pun), I’m not sure that this variety of visual style is particularly necessary given the substance of the interpersonal stories being played out around them and some even feel a little like gratuitous showing off. Cinematically, outside of these performance pieces, the rest of the movie is fairly standard fare, but it doesn’t need to be anything else.

And then, flowing just below the surface is the not so subtle allegory suggesting the mob is no different to Corporate America and even the government. The regular snippets from both Presidents Bush and Obama (then still a Senator) on the state of the nation and the economic climate, heard on radios and TVs throughout the film. These start as seemingly incidental background noise, gradually increasing in prominence until becoming virtually the centerpiece of the final scene between Jackie and Jenkins’s mob liaison  Driver, punctuated with Pitt’s closing line, “America isn’t a country, it’s a business. Now pay me my money!”. Liberal Hollywood ‘having a go’ at the Rupublican right-wingers? Maybe, the original book, George V. Higgins’s Cogan’s Trade, was written in 1974, so I’m not sure if this particular subtext has come from there. At least not in the same specifics.

In summary; Killing Them Softly is an enjoyable, albeit violent, watch with solid performances from a great cast. It’s not your average mob flick but I think it will still appeal to fans of such. Hardcore Republicans may find some cause for offence, though.

Killing Them Softly will be in (US) theaters, November 30th. Sorry, UK readers, I think it has already been and gone.

The Origins of Animation?

If I was to ask you when animation began, where would you go? 1995, Toy Story (don’t laugh, there are kids out there that can’t imagine even that far back!). OK, more serious, the 1920s, Disney? How about Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in 1911? Earlier? OK, what about Emile Renynaud’s 1892, Pantomimes Lumineuses? But then there was the Zoetrope from William George Horner in 1834. But even that can trace its origin as far back as AD 180(ish) China. So is that it? Animation started in China sometime around 180 AD? Well, apparently not.

It’s been I while since I’ve put finger to key here and offered any peas of my mind. What with back surgery, welcoming a new baby, a stereotypical toddler and working up to 4 projects at a time, there’s not a lot of opportunity. However, last week as I was making an urgent nappy (diaper) run to the store, I caught a few minutes of PRI’s The World on the radio. And in these few moments an interesting story caught my ear.

Marc Azéma, a French archaeologist and film maker, has been studying French and Spanish cave art for 20 years and has come to the belief that many of the depictions were deliberately designed, not just to show the subject is moving, but to actually show that movement. He proposes that they should be viewed sequentially in much the same way we would a modern animated cartoon and has created a video to demonstrate this;

He also makes the bold suggestion that these cave paintings, estimated to be in the region of 30,000 years old, mark the beginnings of cinema – albeit several evolutionary stages away from what we have now. I’m not wholly convinced myself, it’s a wonderful idea and in the video he has created a great supporting visual for his idea. But it is a video he has made himself by superimposing the various paintings over one another, not exactly concrete scientific evidence.

So, were the Neanderthals of prehistoric France and Spain the originators of the moving image? Or is Mr. Azéma’s theory yet another of archaeology’s grand speculations – I mean, come on, can we really know what colour a stegosaurus’s belly was?!  Why not take 6 minutes out of your day to listen to the man yourself and watch the video, then make up your own mind.

GUEST BLOG:INTERVIEW with all round good egg – Emily Dodd

“We know some pretty amazing and interesting people and we’d love to share some of them with you. 

One such person is the very lovely Emily Dodd. We first met Emily about 7 years ago, whilst we were all living in Edinburgh. She was working at a local visitor centre, Our Dynamic Earth, teaching a combination of science and art  – a great mix methinks. There are lots of things that are great about this gal, but what is particularly inspiring to us is how she as taken her passions, made some big bold steps to make them happen and is now making a difference in her field”. 

So, (in my best Liverpool accent), what’s your name and where do you come from?

Emily Dodd, I’m originally from a little village in Derbyshire but I’ve been living in Edinburgh, Scotland for almost 7 years.

And what do you do right now?

Good question, I’m not too sure how to describe what I do anymore. I’ve been a full time freelancer for almost 9 months now doing a variety of projects. To give you a flavour, here’s what I’m up to in the next 4 weeks: I’m writing 2 episodes of ‘Nina and the Neurons’, a BBC Children’s science programme. I’m running two storytelling training courses for teachers and after school club helpers. I’m writing a school science workshop for the National Museums of Scotland. I’m making a couple of films about picking up dog poo for a local environmental charity, Greener Leith. I’ve also got some poetry gigs coming up and some potential projects in the pipeline.

How did you end up doing that?

The Screenwriting came after getting in to training course run by the BBC and the Scottish Book Trust. I’d been writing and presenting science theatre shows, stories and workshops to children for 7 years before that but the media labs taught me how to write specifically for children’s TV.

I started writing science theatre shows for museums while doing a Masters in Communicating Science 8 years ago and have been writing them ever since.

I started storytelling when I was writing the Early Years (3 -7 years) programme of science workshops at Dynamic Earth. I went on loads of storytelling courses and used the techniques along with my science communication background to write stories that teach children science. I wrote them for Dynamic Earth Edinburgh, the Scottish Seabird Centre and Changeworks and I started running my own training courses along the way.

I learnt to make films during a 1 week intensive course as part of my Communicating Science Masters. I’ve been making them ever since and in the last year people started paying me to do it.

I launched a poetry book last year and since then people have been asking me to perform at various events in Edinburgh. One gig often lead to another when someone in the audience tells a friend or invites me to do something else. Usually I say yes and work out how I’m going to manage my nerves and plan my set nearer the time! It’s always fine once I’m on the stage but awful before that. It’s lovely to have been paid for the last couple of gigs too.

I started volunteering for Greener Leith a couple of years ago, I love making podcasts and writing blogs for them. Now I freelance for them if we’ve got a grant for a media related project like the dog poo films. I still volunteer for them too.

Is there a pivotal moment when you knew what you wanted to do? (or did it happen gradually)

I think it happened gradually. I wanted to be a writer when I was a child (I first got published when I was 10) but I was really terrible at spelling so decided I couldn’t be a writer. I took science and art instead and went on to do a science degree (I almost did an art degree). I’ve always loved learning and creating.  Science was a brilliant way to learn about the amazing world around us and I wanted to express some of that wonder to others. Eventually I was writing and presenting science to children. I love working with children because it’s fun and challenging. My ability to communicate something complicated or dry and make it interesting was really useful with adults as well as children. I always wrote poetry but I wasn’t planning to publish a poetry book until that happened.  That started because I wanted to get some children’s stories published to help children with their mental health, they liked my poems and asked for lots more.

What do you hope people gain from what you do?

Ultimately I’d like to use my creativity to make the world a better place. In the meantime I hope people enjoy what I do. The workshops I do with children are about building confidence, showing them how brilliant and unique they are and helping them to enjoy being themselves. The storytelling training with adults is about that too. The films and podcasts I make are about communicating sustainability in an engaging and entertaining way. Much of my writing is about being yourself, enjoying life, celebrating nature and there’s some that’s about challenges too, my poems aren’t all happy (but many of them are).

How do you balance the many different things that you do?

Hmmm, I’m still working that out. I prefer to work on one thing at a time but that’s usually not possible. I try to go running every other day to keep me sane.

What is your favourite thing about what you do?

Seeing someone else gain confidence. I love coming up with ideas so anything that involves that. I really like working with other people to create something brilliant, teams are great.

What is the most challenging thing?

Not knowing how I’ll pay my mortgage in a couple of months. Having to be self-motivated. Keeping up with the everyday things like remembering people’s birthdays or washing up the dishes when I’ve got a deadline.

Is there anything that stops you from doing more of what you’re doing?

Fear used to stop me, I still sometimes find it hard, like I did a gig in a comedy club last week and was almost sick but it all went great once I was on stage. Sometimes I just feel rubbish and don’t want to do anything but running helps loads with that. I guess finances too; if I had more money or more guaranteed money I would perhaps be able to spend a bit more time doing things like writing picture books.

Who do you have supporting you and how do they do that?

Friends, family and others. I meet freelancer once a month for a blether, that’s lovely just to see people are doing life a little differently and they’re fun to be around. My family is really supportive too.  There are loads of amazing people on twitter and in the Edinburgh media / literary scene who are a massive encouragement. I’ve got a mentor, Elspeth Murray, she’s fab too. I’m trying to learn to take compliments and remember them when I’m feeling like I can’t do it. I also go to church and to a weekly community group, they’re brilliant, we support each other like a family. It’s so good to pray about situations and see them change as a result.

What do you think you’ll be doing in 5 years time?

I hope I’ll be writing for children and living in an eco home on an island or in a forest (but definitely somewhere near mountains).

What piece of advice would you give to anyone with a dream they’re thinking of acting upon?

Do it! Step out. Do the things that scare you. Try. Try when it hurts. Encourage others. Think about others. Love. Be Yourself. Pray.

If you’d like to know more about Emily, you can follow her blog: buy her book bananamebeautiful or on twitter: @AuntyEmily

Photo Credit Lilly Hunter Main picture by Emily Dodd