Written by Tim Girard
Behind-the-Scenes at Skywalker Ranch
Sunday, June 19, 2016 1:30pm-2:20pm
Matthew Wood, David Acord
You may not immediately recognize the names David Acord and Matthew Wood, but if you check the credits for the Star Wars prequels, the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, the Star Wars Rebels animated series, as well and the credits for Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, you'll realize that you've heard their sounds and their voices...a lot. They have worked at Skywalker Ranch doing sound design and voice acting on almost all of the "modern" Star Wars media. They graciously spent most of the panel answering questions from the audience, and while I'm sure most of the questions posed during the panel they've heard many times before and since, there were a few surprises.
The first audience member wanted to know about the sound in Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones when Obi Wan was pursuing Jango Fett and Jango was releasing seismic charges. A murmur from the crowd let me know that this was a favorite sound of many of the audience members. Instead of going into an in-depth discussion of advanced audio synthesis and editing, Wood told a funny story about it. Some time after that sound had been submitted for the final mix and they had moved onto other projects, Wood got a panicked phone call from an editor saying that the sound at the beginning of the explosion was missing. Wood had to reassure them that the silence at the start of the explosion preceding the "BRAAAAAM" was intentional and that there was nothing missing.
The next audience member wanted to know, "why are the prequels so bad?" This caused an awkward hush to fall over the crowd. Matthew Wood diplomatically took this one. He started by pointing out that good and bad are relative, and that he personally loves the prequels. He has fond memories of all of the time and hard work that he and his crew put in on them, and in his eyes they are great. He then went on to point out that, especially today with the anonymity that the internet/social media provide, it's easy to just hate something. It is easy to just dismiss something as bad, as opposed to taking the time to think about why something is good. Also, even if a majority of people can find at least one reason or another to love something, the voice of hate is usually the loudest, but that doesn't mean that it is right. His answer was met with a round of thunderous applause.
To lighten the mood, they talked about some of their voice-over work. When there is a voice actor needed for a small part, the opportunity will be open to those who already work for Lucasfilm/Disney. When the part of General Greivous was posted, Wood auditioned under the name "Alan Smithee" (which some of you will know is the name directors will use if they don't want their real name attached to a project). At first he almost didn't get the job because no one knew who "A.S." was (they used initials to keep the auditions confidential), but luckily he heard about it and remembered that he had auditioned under the pseudonym. One of David Acord's most famous voice-over jobs was for the baton-wielding Stormtrooper FN-2199 (who was known as "TR-8R" before the character's real name was released). When Finn is first using the lightsaber, we hear the stormtrooper yell a single word before throwing his blaster and shield, in exchange for his baton. They laughed about how people kept coming up to their booth to have David yell his famous line. Matthew suggested that he do it once for the entire room so that he might save his voice by not having to do it for each of us individually later. David laughed and obliged us by taking a deep breath and shouting,"Traitor!" Again, the room erupted in applause.
Another audience member asked them what the process was like whenever they work on a new film. First there is a spotting session where a group will watch the film together. This group will include people such as the director, editor, sound engineer, composer, etc. They then have a meeting to discuss where the dialogue is most important, where special effects will be used, where music should go, etc. The sound effects team will experiment with creating different sounds and send them to the director. The director will tell them which ones might work and which ones won't, and then they go back and try again, and repeat that process. Eventually the editors will add the sounds where they belong and then start to mix and blend them all together into a cohesive whole, keeping in mind which one of those is telling the story at any given moment: the dialogue, the effects, the music, or some combination of them. An interesting fact that might not occur to many people is that the costumes can have an effect on the audio. If there is a mask or a lot of facial prosthetics (or even if the clothes make a lot of noise), that can interfere with recording the dialogue. This means that the dialogue will have to be rerecorded in post-production in the studio.
This can sometimes effect the performance, because the actor might be more preoccupied with matching their words to the movement of their mouth onscreen, and therefore not be as focused on delivering their most engrossing performance, and being in a sound booth by yourself, as opposed to being present with the other actors, all in costume and in character can also effect said performance. Another important part of postproduction is the foley stage, where they add many of the "organic" sound effects. It's a few people in a room full of random junk, watching the film and adding all of the little natural sounds that you probably don't notice, but would miss if they weren't there. If someone is walking on a wooden floor, they take shoes and tap them on wood, if someone is walking in the woods, they will crumble leaves, etc. This is done mostly because the microphones that record dialogue are meant to only record dialogue and hopefully no ambient sounds. The ambient sounds can't just be recorded at the time of shooting, because once the footage is edited, all of the background ambience would sound all chopped up. This is why they record it later, in the studio, when're they can have total control.
One audience member asked if there was anything controversial about any of the audio in The Force Awakens. They said that Admiral Akbar's voice was a point of discussion. Tim Rose originally did the voice of Admiral Akbar in Return of the Jedi, and they had him reprise the role for The Force Awakens. Since over 30 years had passed in between films, Tim's voice had obviously changed, so the Akbar in The Force Awakens sounds much different than the one in Return of the Jedi. They were concerned that the audience might think that it was actually a different actor because he sounded different, and they considered altering his voice to make it sound more like the original. In the end, they decided that the character had also aged 30 years, so it was okay and natural that he wouldn't sound exactly the same, so they left Tim's recording unaltered.
Speaking of things from the original trilogy, they are currently working on updating the sound for Episodes IV, V, and VI. Wood let us in on an industry trick, which is, when you have a battle scene and there is laser fire going on in the background, they would use a tape loop of laser sounds that they would just add into the scene, to have a seemingly random sequence of laser sounds. Since the original loop is lost, they have to study and analyze those scenes to figure out where the loop happens and what the "rhythm" of laser sounds is, in order to recreate it digitally. This is so important, because they are sure that if they changed it from the original, even in the slightest, someone, somewhere would notice that, in one scene, where there is supposed to be three laser shots, now there are only two (he has probably written an entire dissertation on this scene, which depends on there being three laser shots). Although this creates so much more work and attention to detail for them, they don't mind, because that one fan's extreme attention to detail, just proves how important these films are to people.
One audience member wanted to know what scene was their favorite to work on. Wood said that his was the pod race in Episode I. They had to create a different signature sound that fit the look of each pod racer. Also there were plenty of malfunctions, explosions, and pieces of pods tumbling that all needed sounds. His least favorite part however, is spending a lot of time crafting the perfect sound...only to have it cut.
He also went on to talk more about just how important sound is to the Star Wars universe, and that it is because, according to Wood, "George is a sound guy." He sees the sounds as an integral part of his universe and that is why they are encouraged to take time to accumulate all of those great sounds. Some sounds are drawn from older, traditional sources, like the Wilhelm Scream, and all of the original sounds used in the original Star Wars trilogy. Other sounds are custom made from scratch and even use organic source material, such as FN-2199's baton, which at its source is the sound of pulling duct tape off of a surface. While some sounds might be created completely electronically, their preferred method is to have some sort of organic source for the sounds they create. For Kylo Ren's force sound, they wanted something that would be raw, rough, and inconsistent, since he is very powerful, but moody and untrained. They used the sound of David's cat, Pork Chop purring which they then lowered in pitch and added other effects to.
The final topic of discussion was how they created BB-8's signature voice. It began with Ben Schwartz recording actual dialogue in English in all of the scenes when BB-8 is talking to someone. This helped to give everyone a better idea of what BB-8 was actually saying and feeling in every situation, as opposed to it being just boops and beeps from the very beginning. This also gave the dialogue a more organic rhythm and cadence that they could eventually layer the beeps and boops on top of. J.J. Abrams had a program that he could use to create and manipulate the boops and beeps, which was attached to a Peter Frampton talk box that allowed Bill Hader to change the shape of his mouth to further alter the sound. All this was so that when BB-8 has a conversation with R2-D2 at the end of the film, they have two distinct voices.
Let’s be real here, Rocky Mountain Con is one of my favorite cons of the year, mostly because it is a time to visit with my fellow con goers, along with many of my favorite artists that I did not get to visit with during the rest of the season. It is hard to watch the con season to come to a close with Rocky Mountain Con here in Colorado, mostly because it means that I will not run into most of these people until the following spring or summer when all of the cons are in full swing, yet, it is fun to stop and talk with everyone and get the ‘see ya later’s’ done for the season and allow everyone a much deserved down time for a couple months. And it is far from being depressing, as I have found another round of great take home artwork that I cannot wait to get framed and put up on the walls. So without further ado, here are some more great prized pieces that are now part of my collection.
Skylar Patridge – I cannot lie here, I could not wait to talk with Skylar again, especially after getting my Batman commission in the mail. I have been following her work and when Inktober came around, I got to see a little bit more into where her passion lies and it was more than fantastic. Even though I needed a special Joker to go along with my favorite artist collection, I was surprised to see that she had a couple of her Inktober pieces in print status, so I needed to make sure to pick up the 'Wraith' piece that has captured my attention on more than one occasion.
Joe Oliver – I am never surprised to see Joe at a con, actually I am more excited to see him at one as he is a joy to chat with and our love for horror movies always makes the conversations fun. Joe is infamous for carrying around his ‘box of art’, which is full of originals that are looking for a good home. I love digging through this box because you never know what you are going to find since there are always things being added to it and I was happy to find yet another Joker piece just waiting for me.
Steven Pulawa – One of the nicest people you will ever know, Steven is always willing to give you a story about his artwork, or even the life you choose. I make sure to keep an eye on Steven’s work since everything that he draws has his own special flair added to it and when I saw a Hellboy piece get posted that was a joint work with Joe Oliver, I could not pass it up. Digging through his book of originals, I was lucky enough to find it, and like most art that catches my eye, I have to own it. With Steven’s hard work to tighten it up and bring the piece back from a forgotten folder, I hope to see him do this again, because this turned into a piece of work for the ages.
Alex Miller – I always tell my friends to keep an eye on the local talent and when asked for someone that is very versatile, I like to throw Alex’s name in the hat. Being able to cross between any genre, she is a great talent that is going to be fun to watch for years to come. Prior to RMC, I had yet to pick up any of her artwork, but this was the con to change all that and with one new Hellboy in my collection, I was shocked to see that she had just finished another one for me to take home shortly before I got there. It was a match made in heaven and it is going to look great on my wall. (Come to find out that this was her first Hellboy, and it really came out great!)
Frankie Serna – I am always happy to see Frankie at a con, one of the main reasons is, he is always smiling and say what you will, but it is contagious as hell. I always love stopping by his booth because he spans different genres along with styles and he had a newer piece that caught my eye. I don’t have a Joker from Frankie yet, but that has been partially taken care of since now I am a proud owner of a Batman/Harley/Joker piece that shows the best of all of their worlds. I must admit that this piece caught my eye, not only because of the Joker being a part of it, but there is something in the eyes of Harley that makes me feel like she is staring into my soul and while that freaked me out a little at first, it was really the reason for getting it.
Phil Spaulding – Being on my list of artists I had to talk to this year, Phil topped the list, mostly because I was keeping an eye on his Inktober progress and was blown away by his horror characters. Yet, not all of the drawings were of the characters that haunted our dreams from the movies, one was a master of suspense that all horror fans should love. The Alfred Hitchcock piece took me back to watching a couple old movies and the television show where he just came out of the shadows and stood alone on the screen with just the tiniest of smirks on his face, mostly because he knew what you were going to see would freak you out for many nights to follow. This was captured perfectly in Phil’s sketch and I knew right then and there I had to have it.
Joe Becker - One of the other artists I like to follow is Joe, mostly because he has found a good way to do what he likes and that is where Captain Deadpool came from. It made me laugh when I saw it and now, it has joined my growing Deadpool collection. But when searching through his box of originals, I found something that caught my eye that I had never seen before. Spider-Man being, for the lack of a better term, violated by Venom. I don’t know what it is about this piece that really got my attention, but just seeing Spider-Man human and helpless makes me remember that no matter how strong someone is, they are not immune from life itself. Deep thoughts, I know, but I think it is a deep piece that I will look to when being down to liven my mood.
Izik Bell – Is it called stumbling across another great artist when you are told to check out his work? I don’t think so and thanks to Joe Oliver for telling me to do so. Kind of fresh to being in Colorado, Izik moved in a little over a year ago and has blown all of his new fans away. With work this rich in detail, the important things are not missed and you can tell that his characters have a soul. I was drawn to a Batman v Superman piece right away, because you can see the pain and rage in both of them. Then I could not get away from the Ghost Rider and Lobo flying down the boulevard. The speed, the flames and the hair (flames in Ghost Rider’s case) just reminds me that life is too short, so you just need to ride instead of feeling bad for yourself. I cannot wait to see more from Izik in the years to come, since an artist that is not afraid to show emotions is always fun to watch.
Todd Jones – If you go to a con and don’t talk to Todd Jones, you do not know what you are missing. With a joy for life that everyone should have, Todd is just a joy to chat with, laugh with and sometimes even at. Even though Todd has made his mark as a writer, he is still working on perfecting his next craft in the drawing sector. Not too long ago, the idea came out that Classic Monsters should all be put into Shark form, because sharks have taken the world by storm the past couple of years. While there are several characters in the series already, Todd is willing to pass on some of the alternates and someone will be receiving the one of a kind Bride of Sharkenstein. Also, I am not somebody that will say no to having a one of a kind commission made just for me so Todd decided to do something that I have not had done for many years, he drew me! I am not ashamed to say this, it looks just like me after using Just For Men on my greys.
Well that is it for the 2016 season, and you know what, I regret nothing. I am a believer that once you find something that you like, you need to pick it up right away, mostly because when I was a kid and I waited, it was never there again. One of the bright parts about knowing so many great artists is starting to know what they are capable of, then being blown away by their always evolving work. This is one thing that never gets old and I would tell anyone that asks to follow as many artists as you can, mostly because you may find something that could change your world forever, or even just for a minute, it is the emotional response the artwork gives you that makes it so special. Rocky Mountain Con did a fantastic job once again of bringing some of the most talented artists together and I cannot wait to see them all again next year!
I still distinctly remember what it felt like to attend to my first convention. There were of course, butterflies in my stomach because I'd never done anything like this before, but once I stepped through those doors, I was privy to an incredible world where I simply felt at home. Everyone there loved the geeky things I loved and they were friendly and welcoming and that comfortable and at home atmosphere is something that stuck out in my mind, and became the standard for every single con that I've attended since.
Some cons live up to that standard, some cons don't and that's okay. But for me, if a con remotely feels as though I belong there, I'll have an incredible time and last weekend, I had the chance to attend a convention that not only welcomed myself and my friends with open arms, but went a step further by providing us with the most relaxed convention experience that I have, quite frankly, ever experienced. The con in question is Colorado Cosmic Con 2 and how it managed to pull off such a chill environment I will never know, but I welcome it. After all, attending a convention is an energetic experience, one that can create anxiety if you let it, but there was none of that to be found at this convention.
Perhaps the best way to describe it, is that it was just like hanging out a friend's house and there were plenty of friends to be found for that matter as well. We were able to spend a little time chatting it up with Jason Meets and Stan Yan and that relaxed atmosphere where you could just sit around and chat like it was a normal day extended to every single vendor's table at the con. Everywhere we went, vendors were conversational, happy of course to let you know about some of the great deals available at their booths which is always appreciated since hey, they have to eat and Shae and I got some awesome Pops out of it and Scotty added some more incredible artwork to his collection, but I digress. Because once any discussion about deals were out of the way, it became clear that these same vendors were genuinely excited to be at this convention and asked us at every turn if we had seen all of the cool stuff that this con had to offer.
Which was a valid point for them to make, because there were some pretty incredible sights to be seen at this convention. To keep it retro and fun, there was a gaming room where classic arcade games on free play were up and running and it was extremely cool to see younger kids who didn't grow up with a local arcade step into that room with wonder and awe upon their faces. A replica of the car from Supernatural was there as well, something Shae was more than happy to spend time admiring and there was even an awesome Star Wars room complete with members of the 501st in full costume and plenty of incredible displays and props from a galaxy, far, far away and all of this was complimented by a lovely main floor/vendor room filled to the brim with plenty of top notch artists alongside the big name guests and the environment in there as well was equally as relaxed.
In the end, it was wonderful to attend a convention and not feel an ounce of pressure to complete everything on my list in record time before the doors closed for the weekend and I loved the fact that everyone there was so laid back and friendly and just up for having a wonderful time. It speaks volumes to how the convention is run and credit is definitely due to John Hernandez, the man behind this entire show, for making it a requirement that everyone working this con and attending this con simply have a good old fashioned fun time and because he's created a con with this kind of environment, I will most certainly be back to check it out in 2017. Until then.
Written by John Edward Betancourt
Fall is a bittersweet time to be a geek in the city of Denver. Sure we get all of our favorite shows back on the air, incredible movies are coming up from Disney and Marvel and hey, you can't go wrong with the Doctor Who Christmas Special for that matter either, but the only downside to the leaves changing and the temperature dropping, is that con season is about to come to an end.
Yes, the window to enjoy those wonderful gatherings where we can all wander through vendor rooms and partake or participate in cosplay is coming to a close but before we truly say goodbye to our favorite season of the year, there's a still a couple of conventions left to attend before the weather forces us into a geeky hibernation and one such convention, located in Colorado Springs, arrives this weekend, the always wonderful...Colorado Cosmic Con.
Now in its second year, this convention provides all of us with a more down to earth and home away from home feel and with it kicking it off in mere days, I thought it would be high time to follow up on a few of the recent additions to this event that are definitely worth a geek's time. For starters, if you're all about cosplay, there's some awesome names being featured at the con this weekend like Erin Lei, Desert Rose Cosplay and local cosplay phenom Kristi Kai, just to name a few. Plus in addition to that, the ultra popular Club Cosplay is partnering with Cosmic Con to help put on the Imperial Ball on Saturday night, which also just so happens to be hosted by Kristi.
Outside of cosplay, quite a few local artists were also announced to the guest lineup as well. The phenomenal Jason Meents will be on hand to display his high quality Chibi line of artwork. In addition to Jason, zombie master Stan Yan will be available to zombify you and your loved ones with his outstanding work and while at his booth you should check out his incredible children's book There's a Zombie in the Basement. It's a wonderful read and quite frankly entertains children and people of all ages, and while in artist alley make sure you also check out the fine work from Steven Pulawa, just trust me, you'll be glad you did when you see the stunning pieces on display in his booth.
Either way, with cosplay guests of that caliber and artists such as these added to the lineup, there's a fair chance our weekend is going to be filled with incredible costumes and new additions to our artwork collections to go along with mountains of fun for everyone. For more information on this amazing con, or to find out who else is attending cosplay wise and to get your tickets, make sure you visit Colorado Cosmic Con's website and act fast if by chance you've been holding off on getting a ticket or two. I say that because after Friday, ticket prices are going up online and at the door, so to get the best price possible, act today and use the code COSMIC on the site to save 20%. Outside of that, I know myself and the gang can't wait to swing down the Springs this weekend and we will see all of you at Colorado Cosmic Con 2!
Written by Tim Girard
Launching Your Superhero on Screen
Sunday, June 19, 2016 11:45am-12:35pm
Trai Cartwright, Stephanie Train
Trai Cartwright's panel is for all of us who have seen our favorite super heroes/heroines go from the comics to TV or the big screen and thought, "hey, I have an idea for a great character! How do I get them made into a tv show or movie?" The first obstacle she says people encounter is that before they let their character see the light of day, they want it to be perfect. Trai says, it doesn't have to be perfect, "it's gotta be made." If it's an idea for a story, then write it. You can always edit it later, and there's only so far the first couple chapters of a book will get you. If it's an idea for a comic, find someone to draw it, and get issue number 1 finished. You can always write more issues and refine it as you go. If it's an idea for a TV show or movie, get some friends together, film it, and put it on YouTube. You can always do other episodes, sequels, or even a reboot later.
If you haven't fully fleshed out your character yet, think about other successful creators, and what made their characters a hit, and see if (without copying) you can incorporate some of those elements into your creations. The example that Trai gave was Joss Whedon. We are all familiar with at least some of his work, but really take a look at what he has brought to the table and why his fans love him. The most obvious common thread is his use of strong female characters. This could be something that might make your character stand out: a new female superhero amongst the sea of male superheroes. You could take another page from the Whedonverse playbook and you could give your superhero a sidekick or best friend...and then kill them. Because Whedon will kill his characters, even the most beloved ones, you know that no one is safe. This gives stories a sense of gravity that you don't always get with comic book adaptations. Whedon is also a master at writing for an ensemble. Every character has a role, and the heroes could not have saved the day unless every single character plays their part. Maybe instead of a single superhero, you could create a new team with contrasting and complementing superpowers.
Something Trai suggested to keep in mind when forming the idea for your character and their world is the possibility of expanding to the global market. Some companies will have this in the back of their mind and might take this into consideration when deciding what the next "big thing" might be. If you want to tailor your character for this possibility, two things she said to keep in mind are that when something is made for the global market, they might have to be more diverse, but they also might have to be more simplified. Other countries will be more interested in an American film if the cast is more racially diverse, so keep that in mind when creating your team. Also, if the struggles of your characters are too specific to America's current events, other countries won't be able to identify with them. If your story is more broad and relatable on a basic human level, people all over the world will be able to connect with your characters and their journey.
Right now the market is being flooded with sequels, remakes, franchises, etc. mostly because they are safe. They already have a fan base who will go see them, in some cases, regardless of whether or not they are any good. While some of these might actually be done well and even stand on their own, eventually people will tire of the same things over and over again. This can give your character a chance to stand out if it is unique, compelling, relevant, and well-built.
So, what makes a great superhero/ine? First: they need a great costume. This may seem superficial, but it is the first thing people will see and that impression can decide whether or not that character gets a second look. Second: they have to have great powers. No one will care about a hero unless they have a power that the reader/viewer would want for themselves. The powers of flight, super-strength, invulnerability, etc. may seem cliché, but the reason they are popular is because most people would love to have them. Third: your character must be relatable. most people are fans of a character because they either want to be that character, or idolize them in some way. They want to see some part of themselves in that character. One thing that can help with this is to give your character a tortured backstory. Most people who are fans of fiction will relate to having some terrible event from their past which shapes their future. Giving your character a haunted past and the right powers will set them on an engaging journey that people will want to follow. Trai outright says to "break your character to create conflict," which will complicate their relationships. One way to do this is to make your character an orphan. Think of all of the characters we know who are orphans and all of the complexity that comes with it. They have abandonment and trust issues, guilt, an overinflated sense of responsibility, etc. Another example are Marvel's mutants. They can't fit in with non-mutants, especially those whose mutation manifests itself in a physical way. Their options are to either find others like them, or to try to change the world to either be more like them or so that they are accepted. This can be done either through peace or by force. Doctor Who is another damaged character who broke the timeline, and out of guilt is trying to fix it. His story, like many other compelling characters, is one of redemption. Since the broken piece of the character is what generates the drama, your character can never be healed. "Their best selves have to be subverted by their worst selves," Cartwright says.
Trai strongly believes that a character's powers should come from his/her flaws. Whatever powers are bestowed upon them should connect to who the character was before they got their powers. She used Spider-Man as a "bad example" of this. Peter Parker is a nerdy, smart, awkward kid who gets picked on, but has a loving family at home, even though his original parents died when he was a child. What does that have to do with spiders? She says that Peter Parker should have been given powers that were a metaphor for who he was before. If the idea was to give him super strength to contrast how weak he was before, there are ways to do that besides making him a spider. If you wanted to have a hero who is a spider-man, then he/she should be more like a spider before getting powers: having a dark personality, always creeping around in the shadows, etc. Another way she put it is that "their strength is their weakness" or their weakness becomes their strength. She suggests checking out the animated show "Burka Avenger," about "a superheroine who wears a burka as a disguise to conceal her identity while fighting villains. Her alter ego is Jiya, an 'inspirational teacher' at an all-girls’ school. Jiya fights corrupt politicians and vengeful mercenaries who attempt to shut down girls’ schools, using "Takht Kabadi", a martial art that involves throwing books and pens." (Wikipedia) She is a teacher who fights ignorance with knowledge, so her superpower is to use the "tools of learning" to physically fight those who are trying to actively spread ignorance.
Another problem we can run into when trying to bring our character into the world is the medium. She suggests pursuing every form of media possible. Try to find collaborators for a comic book or graphic novel. If that doesn't work, self-publish it as a novel, make an online mag, or a web series. If you have a more cinematic vision for your character, then write the screenplay, and look for local filmmakers who will help you produce a short film of it. If your idea is very effects-heavy, then partner with CGI companies who are looking for material to create demos. A great resource she mentioned is the Denver Media Professionals which could help you to connect with other creative people who may be able to help you bring your creation to life.
Next up to discuss from Denver Comic Con’s panels: The Sounds of Star Wars.
Written by Tim Girard
Metaphor and Philosophy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Sunday, June 19, 2016 11:00am-11:50am
Ian Martin, Jess Stayton
Ian Martin (Passion of the Nerd) began the presentation by showing his short video "Why You Should Watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer," which he made because he was tired of telling all of his friends why they should watch the show. Even though the term “vampire” brings with it many negative associations, mostly because of the terrible versions of them in our current pop culture, Buffy is a show that can be appreciated on many levels. The idea started because the show’s creator, Joss Whedon, wanted to see a show where a pretty girl walked down a dark alley and ran into a monster, but when the monster attacked her, she kicked its ass. The other, “sparkly” vampire story is about a teenage girl being stalked by a vampire and submitting to him. Buffy is about a girl with superpowers who fights evil. Buffy is full of metaphors for issues that all of us deal with throughout our lives, such as morality, isolation, sexuality, and meaning. While the show may not have the greatest production value, the point is more about the storytelling, and if you think of it more as theater, it is easier to suspend your disbelief. Martin does admit that the first season is difficult to watch, but he suggests four episodes (“Welcome to the Hellmouth,” “The Harvest,” “Angel,” and “Prophesy Girl”) that will hit on the most important points. He also has an episode-by-episode guide that could get you through Season 3, Episode 17. If after making your way to the end of Season 2, you still don’t like the show, he will understand (sort of).
Ian also took the time to break down the overall themes of the seasons as follows: Season 1 is “committing to adulthood,” Season 2 is “acting with authenticity and integrity,” Season 3 is “accepting the absurdity of the world,” Season 4 is “rejecting conformity,” Season 5 is “avoiding cynicism,” Season 6 is “the pitfalls of adulthood,” and Season 7 is “empowering others.” Since he didn’t have time to cover all of the seasons, he mainly focused on Season 2 and some of Season 3.
Under Season 2’s broad umbrella of “acting with authenticity and integrity,” we have the sub-themes of adolescence, sexual awakening, and temptation. These lead to Buffy being pulled away from her role as the Slayer (which represents adulthood), and instead becomes too wrapped up in her relationship with Angel, to the point of being consumed by it. There was a clip from the episode “Bad Eggs” where Angel asks her what she thinks about the future, and she replies, “…when I look into the future, all I see is you.” The climax of this is when, midway through the season, they have sex and Angel loses his soul, becoming the “Big Bad” for the rest of season 2. Ian had never seen a show before where there had been so much time spent with a good character, only to have him made into the bad guy. He also went on to clarify that this turn of events is not evidence that the show is anti sex, but instead that it is pro responsibility.
In the episode "School Hard," Buffy is fighting a vampire and asks for a stake. Xander goes into her purse and pulls out a yo-yo, then a tampon, and then finally, a stake. These are not random items; the yo-yo represents childhood, the tampon is adolescence, and the stake, adulthood. The fact that Xander is the one presenting these items is also important, since he sees Buffy in a romantic way, but not a sexual way. In the same episode we are introduced to Spike and he refers to Buffy as a “nice ripe girl,” and says that (phallic) weapons make him feel more manly. He later tells Buffy that he'll “make it quick” and that it “won’t hurt a bit.” Spike is the opposite of Xander, since he is only focusing on Buffy as a sexual object. Spike referencing her blood seems obvious since he is a vampire, but the context in which he is referring to it also ties back to the tampon earlier in the episode.
After this lighthearted discussion of the more obvious metaphors in Season 2, Martin discussed the deeper underlying philosophies of the entire show. In the episode "Lie to Me" written by Whedon, Ford, from Buffy’s old high school, makes a deal with Spike to deliver Buffy to him (along with some other “snacks"), if Spike will turn Ford into a vampire, to save him from cancer. As Buffy is trying to talk Ford out of this, they have, according to Ian, the most philosophically relevant conversation of the season. Ford says that he doesn’t have a choice, and Buffy replies, “You have a choice. You don’t have a good choice, but you have a choice. You’re opting for mass murder here, and nothing you say is going to make that okay.” This reveals the role of Existentialism as part of the show’s core. Existentialism states that, “…the universe is indifferent to you. There’s no intrinsic meaning, no finish line, no ultimate goal. An existentialist sees that as both terrible and wonderful at the same time. It’s frightening that the universe lacks intrinsic meaning, but it also suggests that we are free to create meaning through our choices as individuals. Not only that, but we are required to make choices in our lives, because if we don’t, there is no meaning. The power to live a meaningful life rests inside each of us.” Also, more specific to this conversation, “individuals can never escape or have taken from them their freedom to choose, even in overwhelming circumstances. If you assume one choice you have takes undeniable precedent over another then you have made yourself an object in the universe at the mercy of its circumstances.” (Sartre). In the last episode of Season 2 (“Becoming, Part 2”) Angel gets his soul back, but Buffy has to choose between killing him or having the universe dragged into hell. While this is a terrible choice for Buffy to have to make, it is still a choice, and as pointed out by Ian, she always chooses.
Another important philosophy that shows up in Season 3 (“accepting the absurdity of the world”) is Absurdism: the belief that there is no intrinsic meaning in life, but it is the human condition to look for meaning in the meaningless. The Philosopher Albert Camus stated that there are three choices when dealing with Absudism: (1) a leap of faith: believing in something without proof, (2) suicide, or (3) embracing the absurdity: accepting that you are an entity who hungers for meaning in a meaningless universe, and continue the hunt for it regardless (embracing the way that things are, we free ourselves from the despair of how they are not). These three options are apparent in the episodes “The Wish,” “Amends,” and “Gingerbread.” (1) In “The Wish” everyone is in an alternate reality, and Giles chooses to risk everything to return the world to the way it was. Even though he has no memory of it, he believes that the other world is better than the alternate world that they find themselves in. (2) In “Amends” Angel is being tormented by The First, a demon who is taking the form of all the people he has killed. When Buffy goes looking for Angel, he is on a cliff waiting to kill himself as the sun rises. (3) In “Gingerbread” Buffy and Angel have a conversation about how she fights evil, but the bad keeps coming back, and getting stronger, but regardless, they have to keep fighting, even though they will never win. They fight because there are things worth fighting for. Fighting is hard and it’s painful but it’s still what they choose to do every day.
Ian ended the panel with a very moving Stanley Kubrick quote from an interview when he was asked, “if you believed life is purposeless, how is it also worth living?” To hear his response, go to the video (starting at 26:36), which is paired with appropriate imagery and music.
Next up to discuss from Denver Comic Con’s panels: "From Comics to the Big Screen"
Written by John Edward Betancourt
As the con craze continues to overtake nerds and geeks alike in our proud state of Colorado, the city of Colorado Springs is quickly becoming a beacon for the constant expansion of new conventions and events to celebrate the things we love. Over the past few years, we've seen one new con after another put down roots south of Denver, and one of them has certainly caught our eye this year...Colorado Cosmic Con.
Now in its second year, this convention is quickly establishing itself as one of the premier events in the state, bringing together a collection of fun guests and events to keep all of us entertained, and since they're looking to build upon their solid success from year one, Colorado Cosmic Con has already added some awesome guests to their lineup for 2016. This year, you'll able to meet Erin Cahill, Alison MacInnis and Yoshi Sudarso from Power Rangers, and they even managed to book the legendary Sgt. Slaughter of WWE fame.
In addition to those guests, you'll also be able to check out plenty of vendors and artists, including the legendary Frazetta Girls and one of our good friends, Mister Robert Elrod. But in addition to meeting all these guests, a con wouldn't be a con without plenty of activities planned and CCC is no exception to that rule. You'll also be able to see 'Baby' from Supernatural and come Saturday night, you can hit the dance floor and shake the night away at the Saturday dance and enjoy a little Karaoke that evening as well.
Either way, this is just the beginning for what Colorado Cosmic Con has planned for us, since they're currently working on putting together so much more before the con kicks off this October 22nd & 23rd, which means it would be wise to keep an eye on their Facebook page and website (it is under construction at the moment, but that's always a good sign that new things are on the way), and the reason we here at Nerds That Geek are talking about it so early...is because CCC is currently offering one hot deal on their VIP tickets...for a limited time.
That's right, if you want early access to the con by thirty minutes, and priority seating to any panel and the Cosplay Contest, swing by their ticketing site and pickup your VIP pass for only $25. But act quickly, we can't stress enough that this is a limited time offer, so snag your tickets today, and keep checking back with us and CCC's social media feeds for more news about this convention and any new guest announcements, and we will see all of you at the DoubleTree Hotel in Colorado Springs for Colorado Cosmic Con 2 this fall!
Written by Tim Girard
Sound Design and Scoring in J.J. Abrams’ 'Star Trek' Films
Saturday, June 18, 2016 1:30pm-2:20pm
Cali Thrailkill, Mary Odbert, Sebastian DeTemple
Before beginning the presentation, Cali Thrailkill and Mary Odbert, who both studied music and film, explained the difference between diegetic and non-diegetic sound. Diegetic sound is any sound that takes place in the world of the narrative. They are sounds “whose source is visible on the screen or whose source is implied to be present by the action of the film: voices of characters, sounds made by objects in the story, music represented as coming from instruments in the story space” (FilmSound.org). The sounds can be on or off screen, but if it is something that the characters could hear, then it is diegetic. A non-diegetic sound is any “sound whose source is neither visible on the screen nor has been implied to be present in the action: narrator’s commentary, sound effects which are added for the dramatic effect, mood music”. Some sounds may function as both simultaneously, or morph from one to the other. The great example they gave of this is when a young James T. Kirk steals a car (in the film it seems as though it's his stepfather's car, but according to Imdb, and the novelization, it is his father's car and his stepfather is going to sell it while his mother is off-planet) and turns on the media player. It is clear that the song playing ('Sabotage' by the Beastie Boys) is heard by Kirk, so it is a diegetic sound. As the scene continues, the song continues to be heard by the audience at the same level, even when the car is far off in the distance (and falls off the cliff). This shows that is has crossed over into being a non-diegetic sound.
Another big talking point was that many of the sounds (or variations) from the original series and films were used in the reboot. Most importantly was the "sonar ping" sound that so characteristic that most of you probably just heard it in your heads. This sound and other distinct sounds let the viewers know that we are on the bridge of the Enterprise. They also pointed out that almost no scoring is used while they are on the bridge. This use of diegetic sound design could possibly be a way of subtly immersing the viewer in the environment, without "telling them what they should be feeling," which is sometimes the role of the score. There were also alarm noises on the Kelvin which obviously indicated to both the characters and the viewers that there was an emergency. This same alarm sound was used when Vulcan was about to be destroyed. This is a diegetic sound to the characters, but also a non-diegetic signal to the audience saying, "you know what happens when you hear this sound." Nero's Romulan "bad guy" ship, the Narada doesn't have the same type of ambient sounds as the Enterprise. Since it is a mining ship, there are mostly "industrial sounds" and any "beeps" are reactive (only when you push a button). In Star Trek Into Darkness, on Admiral Marcus' ship the Vengeance the sonar ping is lower and slower. On a diegetic level, this could be explained by the fact that it is a much bigger ship than the Enterprise, and bigger things are usually lower in pitch and slower. This is yet another sound that also has a non-diegetic role, and that is as a red flag to the viewer that something is not quite as it seems with this ship and its captain. In many cases, a sound designer has to ask his/herself what is more important for each scene: the practical reality or setting the mood. Fortunately, most of the sounds used in Star Trek serve both purposes.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the discussion about silence. The director of any film that takes place in space has to make the decision between realism and entertainment: silent space or the sounds of weapons, explosions, sound effects, and music. Luckily, Star Trek gives us the "ear candy" that we want during all of the action scenes, because, as the presenters put it, “If you are going to see a science fiction movie, there have to be 'pew pews’.” This isn't to say that there are never moments of silent space, but when it is used, it is very intentional and also serves a dual purpose as both diegetic and non-diegetic "sound." These instances (only four, according to the presenters) are when characters are exposed in space, and the silence is used to highlight the isolation, fear, and tension from the point of view of the character. Imagine a scene where there are the sounds of intense action/battle music, alarms going off, weapons being fired, crew members shouting and screaming, and explosions tearing a ship apart... then imagine the impact of all of that cutting out and being left with only silence as a crew member flies out of a newly made hole, to die alone, floating in the vastness of space.
In addition to sound design, Thrailkill and Odbert also discussed Michael Giacchino's scores for J.J. Abrams' Star Trek films. The main purpose of the score is for emotional signaling: to tell the audience what they should be feeling during a scene. The main theme, which was referred to as the "Courage Theme," has a heroic, triumphant quality with a sense of adventure. It gives the broad open feeling of the positive exciting aspects of floating in space, as opposed to the terrifying use of silence to represent dying in space. One of the early significant uses of this theme (after the opening title) is the first time we see the U.S.S. Enterprise. It is also used for moments of triumph. Another significant moment is at the end when they eject the warp core and detonate it so the explosion pushes them out of reach of the black hole that they are being sucked into. If sound effects were used for the sound of the explosion, then that moment would probably have been the climax of the scene. Instead, the explosion is silent (silent space), which creates tension; followed by sound effects from the ship (diegetic sound), which build intensity; and then the climax is when the Courage Theme (non-diegetic sound) is heard as the Enterprise breaks free of the explosion.
Probably one of the most poignant uses of the Courage Theme is in Into Darkness after Kirk fixes the warp core and is talking to Spock as he is dying. It is a somber treatment for a delicate solo piano, accompanied by strings. The strings take over when Spock tells him that he is feeling and has the realization of how important their friendship is, and the climax of this interlude is when their hands "touch" through the glass. There is an echo of the Courage Theme on piano for Kirk's final moments.
Next up to discuss from Denver Comic Con’s panels: Metaphor and Philosophy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Written by Tim Girard
The Origins of the Force
Friday, June 17, 2016 7:25pm-8:15pm
Alexandre Philippe, Ernie Quiroz
The panel “The Origins of the Force,” was based on Denver Film Society Programming Manager, Ernie Quiroz’s four-part film series where he shows the films that George Lucas either was inspired/influenced by, referenced, borrowed, or just flat out stole from (I've also had similar discussions about John Williams' music, but more on that later). This is the central discussion point around the four films (Hidden Fortress, Dam Busters, THX 1138, and Metropolis). It was co-presented by Alexandre O. Philippe, the director of the documentary The People vs. George Lucas. There are also comparisons made to Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and especially Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
The presentation started out strong with a video (Star Wars Rip-Offs: The Dam Busters - Side by Side Scene Comparison, featured below) of a side-by-side comparison of the 1955 film Dam Busters and the attack on the Death Star at the end of A New Hope. At first it shows a few scenes that do look similar, like schematics of the dam/Death Star and targeting systems, then shots of the pilots inside the cockpits. The point is really hit home when we hear comparisons of some of the dialogue (”How many guns do you think there are, Trevor?”/“How many guns do you think, Gold 5?” and “I reckon you should be able to see it by now.”/“We should be able to see it by now.”). Ernie did admit however, that if you watch the whole scene from Dam Busters, it is much longer because the pilots make many more attempts, so the pacing is incredibly different.
Next they discussed Akira Kurosawa's film Hidden Fortress (also with a video, Star Wars vs. Hidden Fortress Mashup, also featured below). The most easily identifiable comparison is that of the Samurai to Jedi. Both films also have characters that parallel each other. In Hidden Fortress there are two peasants (a tall one and a short one) who at one point are walking through a desert together, get in an argument, and split up, only to be reunited later on (C-3PO and R2-D2). There is an evil general who has a scarred face (Darth Vader), a good and wise general (Obi Wan Kenobi), and a princess (Princess Leia). One thing that didn't quite translate culturally is that in Japan, most people are probably at least somewhat familiar or aware of the samurai code, so it does not have to be explained in Hidden Fortress. The Jedi and the Force, however, were not a well-known part of American culture (like they are now), yet Lucas didn't explain much about them, so they remained mostly a mystery. This would have made watching Star Wars in America a very different experience from watching Hidden Fortress in Japan. This aspect of the comparison then led to a side discussion about how Lucas attempted to explain the Force in the Prequels with midi-chlorians. Some preferred the inclusion of midi-chlorians because they said it added a scientific explanation for how the Force worked, solidifying Star Wars as science fiction, while others preferred not having an explanation and leaving the Force as a mystical element, which some believe makes Star Wars fall into the fantasy genre. The conclusion that everyone could agree upon, however, was that when George Lucas made the Prequels, he was a very different person than when he made the original trilogy.
The next film that was discussed for comparison was THX 1138. Since it is his own film, the discussion obviously wasn't about whether or not he stole from someone else, but how much this was a stepping-stone to Star Wars. This gave him his start by creating a grim, dystopian world. Quiroz believed that, had he made Star Wars next, it would have been a very different film. Next he made American Graffiti, which allowed him to focus on human relationships in a more coming-of-age story. This gave his storytelling more balance, making him the creator that would bring us Star Wars. Only a brief time was spent comparing Metropolis, and it was limited to the more obvious similarities like the robot being an inspiration for C-3PO, and the two levels of society manifesting as the Empire and the Rebellion.
There was more discussion on Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces and the concept of the “hero’s journey” which is a distillation of core events that Campbell discovered in myths from cultures all over the world. The basic idea is that there is a normal person, and the call to adventure takes them out of the ordinary world on a quest. Sometimes there is a sidekick (or sidekicks), sometimes there is a princess, and sometimes, the hero will spend time in the abyss. Comparisons were also made between the original trilogy and The Force Awakens, showing that the same basic elements are there, but sometimes varied or in a different order. For example, both Luke and Rey hear the call to adventure, but while Luke seeks it, Rey tries as hard as she can to refuse it.
The discussion was eventually steered to the music that John Williams either was inspired/influenced by, referenced, borrowed, or just flat out stole from. In the discussion, the Imperial March was said to have been inspired by music from Stravinsky’s Firebird. There are also many other similarities to classical masterworks, such as Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Holst’s Planets Suite. One explanation for this could be that George Lucas used a temp score that included these works, and John Williams was trying to create the same mood. This notion related to another question we can ask ourselves, did Vanilla Ice steal the bass line from “Under Presssure” by Queen and David Bowie, or is it a different bass line because it has one more note?
One thing we can’t deny is that everyone is influenced by everything that they come in contact with. Anything that everyone creates is some kind of amalgamation of the things that shaped their set of aesthetics and is passing through them with varying levels of intention. Many people have done “rip-offs” of what came before them, but what we have to ask ourselves is, “are they any good?” Many are not. Creating a patchwork of other peoples’ work usually doesn’t create a cohesive work of art. Why not? Maybe because they don’t have the core mythology that Star Wars does. Maybe their creators haven’t honed their craft like George Lucas has. Maybe they wanted to take the easy way out and make something quick by standing on the shoulders of other, better artists. George Lucas wanted to create a galaxy, and he did, and that’s what is important, and that is the point of Quiroz’s film series and of this panel. Whatever you want to call it, if he hadn't been influenced by, referenced, borrowed, or stolen, then we wouldn't have Star Wars.
Next up to discuss from Denver Comic Con’s panels: The Sounds of Star Trek.
Written by Joel T. Lewis
The Dark Side of Fandom
Sunday, June 19, 2016 1:30pm-2:20pm
Allison Ching, Curtis Sullivan, Moriah Hummer, Nathan Morimitsu, Nathan Scott, Shane Gomes
Nerds and geeks are by definition fanatics. We have an inexhaustible enthusiasm for characters, stories, and other worlds that defines how we interact with reality. Fandoms are our communities, our family units that share the fervor, the obsession, the genuine love we feel towards content. We don’t just passively watch Game of Thrones play out on our TV screens and we don’t just turn the pages of Goblet of Fire with a critical detachment; we live in Westeros and we know that winter is indeed coming; we feel the excitement of the Quidditch World Cup as it plays out in our imagination. The Fandom Phenomenon provides fans with a community of peers that, at its best, fosters healthy discussion, speculation, communal support, and creativity. Organizations like the 501st Legion and Aurora Rise show the power of fans contributing to community outreach, charity, and recovery from tragedy.
Unfortunately, the positive impact that organizations like the 501st and Aurora Rise have on the community can be overshadowed by the Dark Side of Fandom. Whether it’s the anonymity of the online comments section or the misguided presumptions of individual fans that turns the potential good a fan community can do into the harmful reality we see all too often, a Fandom can be quite destructive. Death threats, Geek Girl shaming, and Nerd Elitism are the most extreme examples of patterns of behavior that all Fans exhibit, however innocently, at some point. It can be as simple as the tone of voice used when saying, “Actually,” when correcting a fellow fan in a discussion of Superman’s powers in the New 52 Universe, championing the book series over the television adaptation of The Shannara Chronicles, or a subtle roll of the eyes at a cosplay costume that was bought at a store.
The panelists at Denver Comic Con discussed several instances of more extreme examples of the Dark Side of Fandom, specifically the debate over the legitimacy of the new Ghostbusters film and the critical backlash received by Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. While I agree with the points that were made about the validity of an all-female cast for Ghostbusters and Zack Snyder’s humanity, I was more curious about what it is that Fan Culture permits that leads to such extreme and damaging arguments, and what we can do to change it. Now there is nothing wrong with correcting a fellow fan in a discussion or informing a fellow fan of something that they may not have read, but too often there is an assumption within the Nerd Community that a Fan with a particular lack of knowledge or a new fan is somehow lower and lesser than older fans who meet some unwritten criteria (i.e. If you haven’t read X, you can’t have an opinion, or if you like the TV series better you don’t understand the novels and so on).
This response could be said to come out of a shared history of bullying among “older nerds.” As a member of a generation where nerds were bullied and shamed by more athletic or “cool” kids in grade, middle, and high school it is not difficult for me to understand the “oppressed nerd” mentality. I do not mean to equate nerd bullying with race, gender, or LGBT injustices by using the word oppressed, (as some nerd elitists would); however, I do believe it is an appropriate word for how it felt to be bullied as a nerd. The posture of the older nerd or nerd elitist is that of, “Fans, geeks, or nerds today did not have to and do not have to suffer as a result of their interests, therefore they have not earned the right to the title of Fan, Geek, or Nerd.” This is absurd. Too often we forget that the wedgies we endured, the bullying we experienced, and the shame we were made to feel, all for the sake of something unique and creative, something that captured our imaginations, and our endurance to stay true to our passions despite such actions, paid off in the end. What we loved, what we were bruised and hurt and shamed for, now rules the marketplace. Popular Culture bends over backward to please the nerds! Our opinions and our ticket sales impact what sinks or swims at the cinema, on TV, or in print. It’s not fair to hold our having been bullied against someone discovering what we’ve loved for the very first time.
When I described scenarios where there was nothing wrong with correcting or informing another member of your Fandom I used a phrase which I believe captures the spirit of my argument here: Fellow Fan. Fellow means a person in the same position, involved in the same activity, or otherwise associated with another and that’s Fandom to a T. If we can treat fans old and new with the same level of respect, without unfair criteria for inclusion in our Fandoms, if we consider all fans to be fellow fans, perhaps the Dark Side of Fandom will fade and allow the light to shine more brightly.