Monday, 26 November 2007

Business Card - decisions, decisions...

I need some help. I haven't updated my business card since starting this blog and taking my artwork online last March. I am openly fishing for comments about the two designs I have cobbled together with the help of my trilobite army.

Criticisms, derisive laughter, suggestions to tweak or change, all comments are welcome. But whatever you say, at least make it funny. Scratch that - too much pressure. I am not really a designer, more of an illustrator. I am happy with both of these cards, indeed I am even leaning toward one more than the other. Can you guess?

Real printable sizes are 3.5"x2". I will likely print them on Fredrix canvas paper or Fabriano Pittura paper. The former has a canvas texture, the latter is used with oil and acrylic, but has a soft press watercolour texture, not quite as rough as a cold press. Here they are:

The Flying Trilobite Business Card concept #1 (links go to my DeviantArt gallery.)

This one has the wing, has a design of the elrathia kingii trilobite tattoo I drew that I plan on getting this spring. I usually draw the wing either with a damselfly/dragonfly concept if the trilobite is alive, or with bat wings if fossilized because mammals are so much cooler than wussy modern dragonflies. In both designs I have not included my phone number, since the email would be easy enough to use to get a contract started.

The Flying Trilobite Business Card concept #2

This one doesn't have the Mythical Flying Trilobite wings, and instead has a trilobite fossil being chucked along Galileo's concept of equations for falling bodies. As the hapless 550 million year old arthropod reaches its apex, it will continue moving forward at the same rate while accelerating downward until it reaches terminal velocity and we've lost a precious artifact. Don't worry, the bottom of the business card is padded, and it's a stunt fossil. I referenced some nice diagrams by Yuta Aoki and drew my own and tweaked from there.

So, if you've read this, may I call upon you to lend an opinion below? Whether you are an artist or designer yourself, or someone who has seen business cards before, I'd appreciate the comments.

Next week I'll put a comment and reveal which one so far I think I like better, and which one I ultimately choose. Thanks!

Sunday, 25 November 2007

The Golden Compass hullabaloo

The Golden Compass movie coming out on December 7th sure is causing a lot of hullabaloo here in Ontario. (Spoiler alerts!)

I am a fan of this series, called His Dark Materials, written by English author Philip Pullman. Here are some quick points about all this.

The Books
The Golden Compass is the first of the three books. The title was originally Northern Lights when it was first published in England, in 1995. They've won several awards. There is more at Wikipedia, and at Pullman's site. The sequels are The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.

The story starts out in a parallel universe, at Oxford. There are many differences with that reality and our own, the most striking that people's souls exist outside their bodies, and are called daemons. (You can view my damon here; there's a little quiz at the movie site to figure out your own. ) The daemons can change animal shapes until a person reaches puberty, and then they stay in one form for the rest of the person's life. They tend to be opposite the gender of their person, (except a few peoples', presumably gay? It is not explained.) The daemons can talk, and it is considered a breach of the highest order of personal space to touch another person's daemon.

The golden compass in question is an alethiometer that the heroine of the story carries. An alethiometer is incredibly difficult to read, and tells a person the truth.

The heroine of the story is a precocious and mouthy girl named Lyra, with her daemon Pantalaimon, who travels to the cold North to rescue her friend who has been kidnapped by a group called The Gobblers. The Gobblers at first sound very much like an old wives tale to keep children near home, and turn out to be very real and despicable.

The controversy in Ontario
Some Catholic school boards are reviewing whether or not to remove the books from the shelves, following complaints, seen in this article in the National Post. All of this is apparently a normal process. For a book that won the Carnegie Medal. For a book that has presumably been sitting in the library for about 10 years. While in review, students have to ask for the book at the desk. And you know how much kids love to ask for stuff from authority figures.

PZ Myers on his Pharyngula blog has brought up the major complaints with the Ontario schools for pulling the books. Namely, why stop there? PZ has his mad on, and takes the issue of censorship on books to task.

My thoughts on the issue
On the face of it, why should a religious school be expected to stock books espousing a different way of living? Easy. They already have the books. I don't know when they got them, but The Golden Compass was published in North America in 1996. It has won awards for children's literature, and the dubious distinction of being singled out by the archbishop of Canterbury as being adequate for teaching about opposing views to Catholicism in religious classes. Why pull them from the stacks now? Because there is a movie and a video game?

Atheism, fantasy and skepticism
It's a strange thing about these books. Are they really atheist in nature? By the end of the series, we do meet the powerful being known as the Authority who tyrannizes the afterlife and started many biblical legends. Is it the all-powerful God? Hard to say. The Authority 'has no clothes' by the end, and very little power above some of the other characters who do his bidding (Metatron) or challenge him (Lord Asriel). Where all these dimensions come from is not discussed in detail.


These books are fantasy. There are plenty of sci-fi elements, like dark matter and multiple dimensions, but also things like witches flying on tree branches and astrology-like predictions from the golden compass itself. It is not as though the books are about Lyra showing the witches that their incantations do nothing without medicinal ingredients, or that she proves that the daemons are just imaginary friends and everyone has gotten carried away. Skepticism and debunking are not present. Attacking authoritative tyranny over life and death are certainly Lord Asriel's goals, but the point of view is Lyra's.

His Dark Materials have magic and adventure, and an unlikely hero triumphing while trying to save what matters most: her friends. Kids should read them if they like, and make up their own minds about talking polar bears, the nature of their conscience, and where the universe came from.

Edit: The National Post, which carried a below-the-fold front page story about all this in the weekend edition, also carried a massive flyer about the upcoming Golden Compass movie. It unfolds into a poster, Chapters/Indigo/Coles will give you movie snack coupons if you spend money in their stores...it's huge. It's great. It flopped out and dominated the other flyers. Nice giant pic of Iorek the polar bear-blacksmith. The Post's story was largely uncritical of the issue, and tried not to come down on either side.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Beyond Good & Evil - A Review

For skeptics and naturalists, what could a videogame look like? How about a game where one of the main objects of the game, is to photograph as many vanishing species on the planet as possible? How about using those photography skills to find solid evidence of a government conspiracy? A future where different races live together without strife?
Beyond Good & Evil is that title. Created by Michel Ancel, this game came out back in 2003, and won tons of praise from critics, and failed to sell enough to the public to warrant a sequel. I played it a few years ago, and now I'm photographing my way through it's pretty natural environments and industrial rust once again.

The setting is the planet Hillys in the distant future. Humans and other races based on animal-human hybrids inhabit the pastoral and island-dotted land peacefully. An alien invasion by a species known as the DomZ disrupts day-to-day life, the invasion consisting mainly of aliens crashing like meteors from the sky. An army known as the Alpha Sections attempts to protect the populace, usually arriving too late.

The protaganist is a brash and confident 20 year old orphan named Jade. Jade is presented in a much more realistic fashion than most women in games, and there is no need for a love interest for her to hang her feminity on. Her endearing, tough-guy adopted uncle Pey'j is a Sus Sapien, or pig-human hybrid. The pair live on an island in a lighthouse, struggling with money while taking care of orphans who've lost their parents in the war. Jade and Pey'j own a hovercraft, an airship, and eventually a spaceship. Jade works mainly as a photographer and reporter, taking stock of the planet's biodiversity before too many species are wiped out in the fighting. Eventually, she joins the Iris Network as a photographer, a pirate broadcast group trying to expose the government's lies.

The game still holds up graphically, and the soundtrack has some excellent music, latin techno and classical score, depending on the scene. I love just toodling around in the hovercraft, visiting different islands through the night and day cycle, especially after a long steathy trip through industrial buildings exposing the conspiracy taking place. It's one of those games that just makes you want to revisit it from time to time; hang out at the Akuda Bar, talk to the kids at the lighthouse, or just explore the oceans of Hillys.

The details in the game are interesting and scientific, though fictional. Aim your camera at the sky, and it will label the different constellations, even indicating how much radiation comes from celestial objects. Each new species, like the anemonia mutabilis pictured at right is fascinating, and many of them fly or hover through the air. You can interact to some degree with each animal as well, and you find them all over the planet. There are different whales in the ocean, nautilus creatures that float in the humid air, and even a trilobite crawling around if you look hard enough. This part of the gameplay, cataloguing the different species, is made to feel so crtitical, I even found myself getting bitten by more aggressive species in my unrelenting effort to take their picture.

(This whole idea of taking photos would be great in a game about prehistory and dinosaurs...as fun as the fauna in Beyond Good & Evil are, imagine a similar game where one had to catalogue dinosaurs from each era? Tutorial in the Devonian! Bonus level in the Pleistocene! Since Michel Ancel also made the prehistoric-looking King Kong game, he'd be just the guy to blend the two ideas. ) Evidence is a key to winning this game. There are occasionally some battles which Jade handles with her fighting stick, but methodical presentation of evidence and love of family are the main triggers to propel the plot forward. Rumour has it Michel Ancel might finally be returning to this story again - I hope! - and who knows what alien fauna might be found on the next planet? I hope Jade brings her zoom lens.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Have you seen this Barosaurus?

A missing Barosaurus skeleton, 45% intact, has been found in the stygian depths of the Royal Ontario Museum.

Dazed and blinking, the barosaurus known only as Gordo was led out of the basement of the R.O.M. by his rescuer, Dr. David Evans. Gordo has not seen daylight since 1962, or his parents since 145 million B.P. (before present).

An appalling quantity of coprolites were found in Gordo's confined area of the museum's basement.

It has been speculated largely in the media that it may be difficult to reunite the long-confined sauropod with his family. Sources say they have not been sighted for about 145 million years, and were last seen carrying what may have been luggage, or a fern. Why they chose to leave the vulnerable 20 m ton Gordo behind remains a mystery.

Gordo, obviously shaken by his long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long ordeal, tried to lash out at photographers with his whiplike tail, and knocked a hotdog cart onto the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art's staircase. No one was injured and the steps are in good condition. Sources on the scene speculate this act may be due to Gordo's vegetarian lifestyle.

Artist Glendon Mellow rendered this conceptual drawing (above left) of what a missing poster may have looked like during Gordo's original estrangement from his parents and subsequent disappearance. An image like this is thought by some to have been circulated, possibly on a milk carton, or at least the Jurassic equivalant. Sources inside the museum claim there were no cows yet evolved when Gordo went missing. Other sources say, any artist who habitually paints wings on extinct aquatic arthropods is just nuts, but Mr. Mellow claims they are understandably jealous of his genius.

An excellent rendering by Michael W. Skrepnick of a barosaurus accompanied the newstand version of the story in the National Post.

Dr. Evans, the hero of this news story, has plans to reintroduce Gordo to society at the R.O.M.'s unveiling of its revamped dinosaur exhibit in the new Crystal galleries. The late Dr. Gordon Edmund is credited with the acquisition of this exciting fossil skeleton.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Hyperferrule - a painting device

Brushes are much like pencils, in that they are a simple and effective design, and they have changed little in conception since they were first made.


Most brushes consist of a handle, usually wood or plastic, followed by the metal ferrule, and finally the bristles or hairs that contact with the surface. Artist-scribes in ancient Egypt used reeds, and spread apart the fibers to lend flexibility, binding the brush at the point of of the split fibers to make a ferrule that way. There have been some variations of design, constrained by local materials and ideas.

Sometimes I toy with a sci-fi novel that warps and moulds inside my head. One of the ideas I drew for it was this piece, called The Hyperferrule. Paint tubes surround the forearm, using vacuum-suction and a tiny valve to release paint. The crinkled, discarded tubes are popped out. Microservomotors control the teeny robotic arms while delivering the paint into the brush-hairs. Directions: Make a fist, hold forearm parallel to the painted surface, and concentrate on the image in your mind.

Some artists enjoy the process of making art more than the result. For better or worse, I am not in that category. I enjoy painting some of the time, but much of it is a struggle, (I've talked about my
Ugly Phase before), and much of that struggle is against time. I have lots of ideas, but it takes me time to put them down onto paper or canvas. I'd love a wired-up ferrule that could take the image in my head, and manipulate multiple brushes to quickly scatter and refine the paint. Happy accidents would still occur, as the image in my head and the image on the canvas would grow together, and my internal concept image would refine with the picture. The same device could be used by hyper-adept trauma surgeons.

Perhaps after the transhumanist movement finishes making everyone immortal, idle body modification like cyborg paintbrushes will have their day. (Thanks for George Dvorsky over at Sentient Developments for introducing me to the modern concept of transhumanism...radical and hopeful and strange, like the future. )

Of course, to lend the artist that tragic air, the Hyperferrule would not be able to be removed. I find the image above a bit steampunk-ish in my execution, which I think comes from drawing organic rather than industrial forms most of the time.

Okay, now Paleo-Future can bookmark this, wait 40 years, and laugh at me after all art takes place inside Matrix-style virtual galleries. Or wait 3000 years for us to use nebulae gases to make portraits of Carl Sagan across the night sky.

Uh-oh. Speculation is running rampant. I'd better finish packing for my trip to Montreal.

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