PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

An Animated Childhood

Elsewhere here at thegazz.com, you’ll find articles about Wallace and Gromit I wrote with my partner in animation crime, Melanie Larch. You may be wondering how we know so much about the process of creating clay and stop-motion animation. The answer is simple… for most of my life, I’ve been an eyewitness to it.

I had the unique experience of growing up in a house with an animator. My older brother, Frank, started making his own animated films as a young teen in the late 1960s. Being five years younger meant that, not only was I likely to hang around watching him do this, but I was also pressed into service as something else to be animated. Yes, I was a child animation model.

It was better than getting beat up for not doing it.

Now, back in those days, Frank had to use Super 8 film to create his masterpieces. He experimented with all forms of animation. I was used to mimic the popular gas station commercials of the day that had pixilated humans scooting around like they were driving, only without cars. I ruined many a pairs of pants doing that. This technique is still being used for commercials today. In addition to little brother animation, Frank also tried his hand at using typing paper, Terry Gilliam-style cut-out animation, notebook paper, and clay.

It was tedious and expensive work. Film cost nearly $20 for three minutes, when you figured in the processing costs. This was before home video had revolutionized the home movie market. Back then, it was so rare for anyone to shoot home movies that people would actually watch them, as opposed to today, where more than half of the home movies shot on video are never seen by human eyes again.

Frank would work for weeks on some of his clay-animated films. He’d move the models, shoot one frame, move everything else again, and so on. It might take several minutes to move each model for each frame of film, and it takes 24 frames of film to add up to one second. So, there were many days where I would have to be quiet and still for hours. Loud noises or sudden movements could upset the models, which were often precariously balanced.

Frank managed to do some pretty impressive things with the limited resources he had available to him. There were cute alien cartoons, dinosaur fights, and the bloody ultra-violent finale to his “Mugger” series. I remember after the final shot was completed for that one, the set with the dismembered Mugger was left on display in the basement for weeks. Every time Mom did the laundry, she’d have to walk past the table with the little clay guy with his entrails strewn about. I think she eventually made Frank clean it up.

Aside from clay, Frank also made movies starring action figures. The epic adventures of “Captain X” spanned several films, and featured special effects ranging from scratches on the individual frames of film to the later years, when real pyrotechnics came into play. I still have film of my GI Joe Space Capsule getting destroyed. Somewhere in the basement, we still have a Latex-covered animation model of a monster for a film he did in college. Thirty years on, the latex smells just as bad as it did the day it was brewed up.

Anyway, these days Frank is using a new medium
for his animation. He’s pretty much mastered computer animation. He has done commercials, educational films and television shows, and is currently working on a movie, which stars IWA East Coast wrestler Mad Man Pondo. While he used live-action actors, all the backgrounds, most of the aliens, and all the vehicles and special effects are computer-generated. You can read more about REPERKUSSIONZ over at Frank’s production blog, here. Frank shot the live-action earlier this year, and expects to be working towards finishing it sometime next year.

Making the story complete, I also show up in the film for two brief appearances. I play a giant spider-legged creature. That’s me up at the top of this post. I don’t really have spider legs. It’s just my amazing acting ability. I also play a few hundred tree-headed monsters. Nearly forty years after first being used in one of Frank’s films, he’s asking me to share my incredible screen presence. I couldn’t turn him down.

It’s still better than getting beat up.

Art Blogging

Scape Number Four

The series continues.

Music Blogging

So I decided to attempt to write something Jazzy sounding. Despite using saxophone and marimba, it still came out sounding like soundtrack music to a bad suspense film. Listen for yourself to a Jazz Sketch.

I wrote this in July of 2004. Since then, I have recycled it through the wonders of Midi, and I’ve incorporated parts of it into one movement of my symphony. It’s in the “Anxiety” movement. The most striking feature of this tune is that it’s at least a minute too long. There really ought to be a prize for anyone who makes it all the way to the end.

But there isn’t.

Don’t even ask about the symphony.

Rise of the Ti-vangelicals

Once in a while, something becomes so ubiquitous that I get sick of hearing about it. I have now reached that point of burnout critical mass with TiVo, the subscription digital video recorder service.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with TiVo, it’s basically a hard drive in a rudimentary computer that is connected, via phone line, to a database that contains all the TV listings for your area. You can do some cool things with it, like set it to record a program every time it airs, or record one program while you’re watching another. You can do a few other things with it, but basically, you’re paying $10 or $12 a month for a machine that does the same thing that VCRs have been doing for decades.

How cool is it?

The die-hard TiVo loyalists will go on and on about how cool it is to fast-forward past commercials, or how nice it is that TiVo automatically records their favorite shows (even though it occasionally records the wrong programs or cuts off the beginning or end of a show). They talk about the days before they got TiVo as if those were the dark ages. In their eyes, TiVo is the greatest thing since sliced bread! They’ll never miss a TV show again.

To which I have to reply….Big freakin’ deal! I’ve been doing that for over 20 years with my VCRs, and I don’t have to pay a monthly service fee. Essentially, TiVo is for people who have been too lazy to figure out how to operate the timer function on their VCRs. Whenever I talk to these Ti-vangelicals they get a peaceful, spiritual glint in their eyes while they talk about how easy it is to record a show when they’re not home. I feel like I’m dealing with a lapsed Amish person who’s experiencing electricity for the first time. Where have you people been for the last quarter-century?

Watch this?

Last year I made the leap and bought a DVD recorder. One of my VCRs crapped out on me, and I lucked into a great deal and upgraded to a wonderful Panasonic model. Now, I never missed taping a show that I wanted to watch before that–and I tape obsessively–but the DVD recorder added the one feature that TiVo offered that I couldn’t duplicate with a VCR. I can now start recording a show, and then halfway through I can start to watch it from the beginning while it’s still recording. This is the major selling point for TiVO. It’s the big feature they hype in all their ads.

But you know what? In the 13 months that I’ve had the DVD recorder, I’ve never had any need to use this feature, even once. I haven’t decided which it is yet, but in terms of necessity, the “watch while you record” function is either a bell, or a whistle.

Now that Charter, my cable company, offers Video On Demand, the need for something like TiVo is even more questionable. I can choose any program from the movie channels and watch them whenever I want to. So I don’t even have to bother taping “Rome” or “Extras.” They can be summoned up at the touch of a button. Charter also offers a TiVo-like DVR, but it costs an extra ten bucks a month and isn’t much better than TiVo. I can do a better job with my various recording devices, and I don’t have to pay any extra for the priviledge.

What’s more bizarre about this phenomenon is that TiVo does some really horrible stuff, too. I mentioned that it can cut off the beginning and end of some shows. It also records shows that it thinks you might like.

Republicans are watching

Let’s say you record an episode of “Beverly Hillbillies” because it had an interesting guest star on. TiVo will remember that, and one day you’ll come home and your TiVo will be filled with dozens of episodes of Beverly Hillbillies. And TiVo keeps a database of what you watch, to allow it to do this. You just know that information will find its way into the hands of Republicans, someday.

Do you really want a record kept that shows that you watch “Saved By The Bell” and “Real Sex” back-to-back? Also, when you fast forward past a commercial, TiVo has developed a method that gives you a pop-up ad for the same product while you’re skipping the commercial. Pop-up ads? On TV? And people are paying for that?

And the disc does fill up, so you have to go through and delete shows every so often. If you want to keep a show, then you have to record it to a VCR or other outside device. One report says that 30 percent of the programs recorded on TiVo gets deleted without being watched. It seems to me that TiVo causes more headaches than it cures.

“TiVo” has become a generic term for a DVR (digital video recorder), which can’t be good news for the folks at TiVo. Every week or two a new article pops up in a trade magazine about how TiVo is doomed. Yet the Ti-vangelicals still run about, blathering about how “I TiVo’d this last night” or “I’ll be sure to TiVo that.”

Come on people. Say you recorded it, and get over yourself! It’s just a video recorder. You pay extra each month because you can’t figure out how to set the timer. We get that. Now move on.

Bush Watch: The Good One

I’ve always been drawn to music that has the air of obscurity about it. The less likely someone is to appeal to a mainstream audience, the more likely it is that I will become a fan. In 1978 I became a fan of British singer/songwriter Kate Bush after seeing her only appearance on Saturday Night Live. It took me months to track down her album (I finally found it at the Budget Tapes and Records in Cross Lanes). I’ve been a follower ever since, even though she almost had a hit one time. Her only brush with mainstream success in America was the top-40 hit “Running Up That Hill” in 1986. Even when she didn’t have a US record deal, I made it a point to get her albums. I, like many other Kate Kultists, am an obsessive Kate Bush fan and admirer. Tracking down all her music has been rather easy of late. Kate has taken more than a decade off to raise a family.

Now, after 12 years of her self-imposed exile, Kate Bush is finally releasing some new music. A double-CD collection titled “Aerial” will be released worldwide on November 7th. The lead single, “King Of The Mountain” debuted on BBC2 last week, and through the miracle of streaming audio, I was able to give it a listen.

It’s pretty good, mellow and in the mold of her 1989 album “The Sensual World.” My tastes run to her more experimental work, 1980’s “Never For Ever” and 1982’s “The Dreaming,” but as any Kate Bush fan will tell you, even lesser Kate is good music. The new song is not bad at all. It’s a dreamy surrealistic song about Elvis, with a looping rhythm and ethereal production.

While it’s a great song, I’m hoping that the Aerial CD will offer a little more diversity of style. Kate’s last album, “The Red Shoes,” was her most disappointing. It was hurt by a sameness that resulted in a lackluster album that probably convinced Kate that it was time to take her long vacation.

So hopes are running high that Aerial will be a major return to form. In addition to the import single available from Amazon, “King Of The Mountain” is available on iTunes. I don’t use iTunes, so you’re on you’re own in terms of finding it there. If you’re a die-hard Kate fan, it’s worth the effort. Of course, if you’re a die-hard Kate fan, you’ll spring for the import single anyway.

Twelve years is a long time to do without that angelic voice, so anticipation is high. It’s so nice to know that somewhere in the world, somebody named “Bush” is doing something useful and entertaining.

Photo Blogging

C-130 over Summers Street.

Great Escape from the Marquee Malaise

I’ve never made any secret of my intense dislike for Marquee Cinema on Corridor G. I don’t like the layout, the crowds, the thin walls, the sound system, or much of anything else about it.

So I was thrilled when I learned that we were getting a new multiplex in Nitro, just a ten-minute drive from my house. Mel and I have seen two movies out there, and I have to say, I’m delighted. The sound system is great, the movies are in focus, and get this, if you have to stand in line to buy a ticket, YOU CAN ACTUALLY DO IT INSIDE!

One of the things I hate most about Marquee is that you pretty much have to stand outside while waiting to buy tickets, rain or shine, heatwave or torrential downpour.

One thing I’ve noticed about Great Escape is that the crowds haven’t been too big. Now, as a person who doesn’t buy into that whole “movies are better if you see them with lots of people” claptrap, this doesn’t bother me, but as someone who likes to have a shorter drive to go to a theater that isn’t Marquee, I’d like to see more folks flocking to the theater. It’s like I have a choice between lamenting the size of the crowds, or watching the place go out of business. I’d like to see them stick around, so I’ll deal with larger crowds.

So what I’m saying is, get yourself out to the Great Escape in Nitro. You can wait in line inside, the service is better at the snackbar, and there are no stairs to deal with. Also, you don’t hear the movie that’s playing next door. It’s a first-rate operation.

I like Park Place, but I don’t care for the parking building, and this is even closer to me, so it’s Great Escape for me from now on. And they’re listed in the Gazz theater box listing thingy “Movie Finder,’ which is cooler than chocolate-covered robots!

Art Blogging

The Library
Digitally Assaulted Photograph, September 2005

Music Blogging: ‘Ode to W’s Brain’

dumb-ass-bushWhen I see our President on television, like many of us, I wonder just exactly what is going on inside his head. I don’t have any solid answers about his thought process, but I have a feeling that inside the presidential cranium, it sounds something like this:Bush Thoughts

Photo Blogging

Window Planes

I had to grab this cool reflection from the window of the Art Emporium on Hale Street. It’s got that whole disorienting thing going on.