Thursday, February 25, 2010

Re-enacting Bligh's epic voyage when set adrift after the Bounty mutiny

One of the greatest tales of epic seamanship is soon to be retraced as 4 virtual strangers set sail in April 2010, re-enacting the 4000 mile journey forced upon Captain Bligh when Fletcher Christian led the Mutiny of the Bounty 221 years ago:

This is better than reality TV. In a tiny boat, these intrepid seamen will sail from Tonga to Kupang, living off no more than what Bligh and his loyal crew had at the time (400 grams per day), using navigation technology dating back more than 2 centuries. No GPS, just sextants and octants, a sailor's almanac and whatever Bligh was able to scavenge moments before he was set adrift.

The team leader, Don McIntyre, is well known in Australia as an adventurer par excellence. A solo round-the-world yachtsman himself, he's spent a year alone surviving in the Antarctic and was once named Australian Geographic Adventurer of the Year. The Second in Command is a mere 18 years old, but has experience to boot. Mike Perham from the UK became the youngest person ever to sail round the world solo in 2009. They complement third crewman David Wilkinson, an ex-pat Brit now living in Hong Kong, with 53 year old American Peter Stier hailing from Minnesota.

The seven week expedition aboard the Boat – a 25ft long, 7ft wide, open wooden vessel – will subsequently see the crew face the same deprivations as the original crew that were cast adrift in the middle of the Pacific, including no luxuries such as torches or toilet paper. Will they survive the hunger? The elements? The fatigue? Each other?

But it's all for a good cause. Don and his crew are also attempting to raise over $250,000 for The Sheffield Institute Foundation for Motor Neurone Disease (SIF) which is building the world’s first research Institute into Motor Neurone Disease (MND), Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Where Avatar Leads Us

Well you know it's going to happen, and some of you are probably already working on it right now. After sniffing around for the past 10 years or so, the renaissance in 3D cinema finally seems to have come of age, and we all know that our corporate clients will be jumping at the chance to be one of the first to make their 'next bid presentation' in 3D. Won't head office be impressed!

Don't get me wrong, I embrace new technology. But we all know that the recent 3D blockbusters are produced on new technology virtually built from the ground up, much like George Lucas did when first devising Star Wars effects for the big screen.

I can't wait to forward my first 3D corporate proposal. I believe the CEO will be very excited, until we start talking logistics and cost. "I thought you just run it through some software or something". Yeah well maybe James Cameron might eventually run his old flicks "through some type of software or something" sometime in the future for his 'special edition' release, but that ain't today.

I know that by the time this blog entry is trawled by Google, some propellerhead will be compiling epic code to create a simpler method of converting our flat 2D media into the new expected stereoscopic norm (and some of you perhaps already know something of that today). Remember how Fox converted all the old black and white films to colour? Don't be surprised to the see the ‘restored’ 3D version of Gone with the Wind coming soon.

So now we look towards double headed or twin chip single lens projectors, and mandatory synchronous dual digital video feeds as the 3D vision we run to the big 3D screen has to be encoded differently to the same 3D vision we run to the 3D LCD (or rather LE3D) because the technologies are incompatible. "Oh, we do have converters, but that adds at least another frame delay" And as for IMAG, imagine the processing power required to achieve relatively realistic 3D in real time. "And for those of you who missed the presentation, the 3D render will be available for viewing in the foyer after lunch."

But I jest. When I first saw an early new-era 3D representation in 2001 that didn't require glasses, I was mesmerised to the point of undergoing a spiritual experience (it was in Las Vegas, so other factors may have been at work). And while glasses are fine for home and the cinema, the real breakthrough will come when regular folk walking in the shopping mall view 3D as easily as they ignore regular digital signage today. We might not even call the display device a screen. It might be called “Special Projected Animated Message” (SPAM) or “Character Replicated Automated Projection” (CRAP). Either way, it will probably be more than 3D. It will simply be 'real'.

This development could be the start of the next major change in sociology. If our displays generate 'real' imagery, powered by a back-end PC equipped with artificial intelligence and data feeds via what we now call wi-fi, our whole social structure could change. History shows that entertainment systems like home cinema and gaming consoles put an end to regular social events at the local dance venue, fellowship meetings at the Masonic Hall and first dates at the rollerskating rink.

In the same way, the first vestiges of modern 3D herald another shift in what people expect and how they might interact with the rest of the world. No longer will we merely click on an icon to order a pizza or pay a bill. With 3D screens and technology, we might 'reach-in' to select our choice of toppings, or hand over 'cash' to the merchant virtually standing in our living room. And as for 'adult entertainment', those opportunities are inappropriate to discuss here, although that industry will probably lead the technology charge, as it often does.

Depending on how it's developed, these 3D representations could ultimately be projected to act as virtual fascias overlaid on our real world. The cost and effort put into shop fitting, theatrical designs and architecture could all come to a grinding halt. The environment we live in could become nothing but mammoth 3D displays through which we spend our regular lives. Staging and lighting for our clients’ next event could be 'constructed' entirely on a laptop at the office, and then merely 'applied' to the venue's '3D environment display system'. Much of this we already do today, but only ultimately in a 2D environment. Add technology that simulates the sensation of touch when stimulated by virtual 3D ‘textures’ and we’re well on the way to transforming our world. It would spell the end of many auxiliary construction industries. The new world millionaires will the "3D habitat designers".

And it all started with 3D movies. Viva la revolution!

(A version of this article originally appeared in AV Magazine)

The Australian Accent for foreign actors

As with most countries in the world, there is no single form of the Australian Accent. In basic terms, academics who study language recognize three main types of the Aussie accent, being Broad, General and Cultivated.

An example of the broad accent would be that spoken by the late Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin. The population that live in rural Australian often speak with an extreme version of this Broad accent, characterized by very little opening of the mouth when speaking. This is colloquially described as “not letting the flies in”.

Movie star Paul Hogan could originally be described at having a broad accent, although his exposure to other international accents has now turned his regular speaking voice towards being General. Due to the obvious characterization of the Broad accent, it is the one most likely to be mimicked by non-Australian actors attempting the accent. It’s derived from cockney English, transported to Australia with convicts from the late 1700’s, but little of the cockney twang remains today.

The General Accent is the most easy to understand, but can be the most difficult to master for the foreign actor

Of all non-Australian actors, those from New Zealand and surprisingly South Africa appear to master this accent the best. Spoken mainly in cities (with variations across the country) it often includes affectations from other countries, due to the high level of cultural assimilation in Australian cities. Of the variation between capital cities, most surround the emphasis on syllables and vowels. For example, the town ”Newcastle” could be pronounced either as “New-Carrs-ell” or “New-Cass-ell” depending on the speaker’s native town. The General accent is also commonly used by TV and radio journalists.

The Cultured accent can easily be mistaken for an educated British accent. Most Australian’s can achieve this accent by ‘rounding the vowels’ and concentrating on speaking ‘properly’. It’s the native voice of actors such as Geoffrey Rush and Sam Neill, although it is an acquired accent for Sam as he originally hails from New Zealand. Many Australian actors find work in the UK using this accent to play native British speakers. This Aussie author has been mistaken for a Brit in the UK itself when using this accent.

It’s difficult to phonetically describe or teach the Australian accent without one-on-one tuition and exercises. The teacher needs to identify the underlying accent of the non-speaker and then tailor a phonetic guide specifically for the student. This is not required in all cases of course, as some actors do have a ‘knack’ for accents. Listening, repetition, recording and listening again is another way of mastering the accent. This is the next best thing to immersion, which would require the actor to live among the native speakers for a longer period of time.

Speakers from North America usually nail the Aussie accent after taking the journey via a New Zealand accent. The New Zealand accent is similar, but with some significant vowel alterations, which an Australian can spot a mile off. As a brief example, a New Zealander would say “thes” instead of “this” and “eccent” instead of “accent”.

Generally, only Australians will identify a phony Australian accent. Non-Australian speakers can usually be convinced of the accent, unless they have spent some time Down Under. Your best Steve Irwin impersonation might work in most territories around the world, but for any Australian or New Zealand market work, a native speaker is a must.

A recent popular TV campaign in Australia for orange juice made a point of this. Ronn Moss from the Bold and the Beautiful is seen in the commercial dressed as a traditional Aussie horseman, touting the worst Australian accent ever. The tag on the commercial says “You can tell when it’s not Aussie”.

You can see the commercial here:

and learn more about what Ronn Moss thinks of his accent here:

Of course, using the Internet, a native Australian voice has never been easier to source. Many Australian voice-artists do significant international work at 24 hours notice from their own home studio (myself included).

Now, that ‘fair-dinkum’ Aussie voice for your kangaroo steak restaurant commercial is dead-set simple to source, mate.

(this article originally appeared at