Sep 27, 2012

Killer Whale and Otter

UPDATE: I like this one's color balance better.

Uh-oh.  How is this going to end?

Sep 17, 2012

Okay. Who's Going to Kick the Bucket on Downton?

Well, friends.  Next weekend, Downton Abbey begins again across the pond.  It won't premiere in the U.S. until January, but I'm sure there will be ways to find it before then.

A few months ago, one of the producers was interviewed and said that the new season will include (a) a marriage, (b) a birth, (c) there will be a storyline involving Catholicism, and (d) a death of a 'pretty key character'.  (a), subsequent interviews with various people, referes to Matthew Crawley and Lady Mary.  (b) doesn't really matter, but will probably either be Sybil and Branson's pup or one for Matthew and Mary (or maybe Anna and Bates?).  I don't think Julian Fellowes will be so lame as to introduce another Lady-Grantham-is-pregnant-with-a-boy storyline.  (c) might play into (d) (I'll explain), but otherwise is kind of a minor side-bit.  So, we're left with (d).  Who's gonna buy the farm?

Josh's List of Who Might Die in Downton and Why/Why Not

Live: He's a main character, and him dying would make Matthew the Earl of Grantham automatically, which removes any future heir storylines.

Die: It would make Matthew heir, but then we'd have two Dowager Countesses, and Cora just can't hold her own against Violet.

Live: She's a main character.  She already had a miscarriage in season 1 and almost died of Spanish flu in season 2.  Poor woman's been through enough.

Die: I don't really know...she trips on a frill in her flapper gown and breaks her neck?

Live: What on earth is the point of watching this show without the Dowager Countess?

Die: Dear God, no.  She is old (born 1845), but not that old.  She'll be 75 in 1920, so she should be around at least through World War II.

Live: I wouldn't even count her as a 'key character'.  She's a funny accomplice in the Dowager Countess's schemes.

Die: No one would really notice if she did.

Live: She's too much of a main character to die.  The entire show circles around Mary's (in)decisions and shenanigans.

Die: In childbirth, maybe?  Seems exceedingly unlikely.

Live: Poor Edith, the unloved middle daughter.  You don't like her, but you want her to be happy.

Die: No one really likes her, and if she died, it wouldn't ruin (or affect) any major plot points.  She could be a contender.

Live: She's going to have a baby.  She creates a family bridge into modernity, with her tradition-flouting marriage to renegade Irish chauffeur, Branson.

Die: In childbirth?  It would leave Branson in an awkward position as widower son-in-law to the Earl, with a kid.  I see this as a distinct possibility.

Live: Why kill Isobel?  She's such a mom and is the cause of many laughs/embarrassed sighs.  She and the Dowager Countess are great frenemies.

Die: Why save Isobel?  Her nose is always where it doesn't belong, which might yield some unfortunate results.

Live: I give a roughly 100% chance of this.  Otherwise, we have to find a new heir, and that would just be annoying.

Die: Not going to happen.

Live: Carson keeps the house running, and he's a good second father figure to Lady Mary.  Downstairs would be thrown into utter chaos without him.

Die: It would open up the chance for Thomas to become the new butler...

Live: She keeps the house running.  She gives us a lot of exposition (by listening in on people and telling people things and being a surrogate mother to everyone).

Die: I like her too much to entertain this possibility.  Anna would probably replace her.

Live: Poor man never gets a break.  He's always fighting something.  Everyone loves his and Anna's story too much to actually kill him off.

Die: He might get shivved.  Also, he never said he didn't kill his wife.  Everyone else says that for him...

Live: She's a good pseudo-bad-guy for downstairs.  She is really protective of Cora after causing the miscarriage in season one, which is vaguely endearing.

Die: She basically feels a life-debt to Cora after the miscarriage.  Might sacrifice herself or something.

Live: How else will Downton have any food?  She's also Daisy's mentor, so any development of Daisy's character will come under her tutelage.

Die: Um, she's oldish?  It could give Daisy the chance to be a cook?  No, Daisy's too incompetent for that.

Live: He's the bad guy of the series.  The preview of the new season indicates that he's going to be involved in some illicit love polygon.

Die: He would've certainly earned it.

Live: Her husband is in jail for life.  She's too likeable to die.  She and Mary are palsie-walsies.

Die: Maybe she stages an ill-advised prison breakout scheme and is killed in the process.

Live: Why kill Daisy?  She's got a really adorable thing going on with poor William's dad.  She's his "someone special."  Don't ruin that, Julian.

Die: That would just be silly.  Maybe she burns herself on an oven or something.

Live: Allows there to be many, many episodes of arguing with the good Lord Grantham about politics.

Die: He's my #1 contender for this.  He's angry, he's Irish, and I think he might be Catholic.  That all indicates that he might go fight in the Irish Rebellion of 1919-1921.

Side question that I want to know the answer to: If Sybil and Branson have a boy, does that baby become the new heir, displacing Matthew (since the baby would be a direct male descendant of the Earl)?  Probably not, right, since it's still through the female line, which is a gigantic no-no?  And, anyway, all Matthew and Mary would need is their own boy, and it would go to him through the primogeniture of Mary.

Sep 15, 2012

I Made A Dory!

In trying to learn how to be a better modeler, I decided to try and recreate a nice, recognizable character that doesn't have too many frills.  Dory the fish (who is totally copyrighted by Disney and Pixar, with all rights reserved) from Finding Nemo seemed like just the ticket!

So, I found some pictures of her and came up with a nice front/side modeling guide for myself, and then set about creating her, alternately in Maya and ZBrush.  About halfway through, I decided that instead of just having her with a boring closed mouth, I'd have her open her mouth in all her Dory goodness.

For a first try, it turned out pretty well!

Model Sheet that I drew up

Final render!


I like this one better:

Sep 11, 2012

Casting That New Lincoln Biopic

I've been following, with some interest, the happenings of the new Spielberg movie, Lincoln, which is supposed to come to theaters in November.  I am, of course, interested in pretty much anything Civil War related.  Also anything presidential-history related.  Also films.  So, this right up my alley.  It's based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, which is an excellent book that you should go read right now.

They just released a 45-second teaser for the film; it looks OK.  I want to see more before I make a more substantive pronouncement.  It sounds like Spielberg has given Lincoln an appropriately high and nasally voice, with a slight southern accent (as his contemporaries reported about him):

Casting in biopics is always interesting to me.  I like to see how careful various directors are in finding actors who look like their historic counterparts.  Of course, that can be very difficult to do.  Sometimes, however, they are able to achieve some impressive results.

Lincoln is both really simple and incredibly difficult to cast.  The man's face is so burned into our national consciousness that we'll be able to tell very easily if something is off.  But, it's a unique face: long, with a big nose and deep-set eyes and a high forehead, and--most importantly--the famous chin beard.  There's also his incredible height.  Combined, those characteristics make Lincoln readily identifiable, but hard to perfect.

Originally, Spielberg had cast Liam Neeson for the role of Lincoln.  Not a bad choice on the looks; Neeson is tall (6'3", I believe), and, with a little makeup could easily be turned into a believable Lincoln.  He's a little thick for rail-thin Lincoln, but that wouldn't be the end of the world.

However, Neeson left the project in 2010, saying he was 'too old' (really?).  So, he was replaced by Daniel Day-Lewis.  I think he's a reasonably good choice.  He doesn't have the built-in schnoz or the height of Liam Neeson (he's only 6'1"), but the released photos look pretty good.  The two things I wish they'd do to his face are (1) make his lips a little bigger/droopier (can they even do that?) and (2) give him those deep lines between his nose and his mouth.  Day-Lewis doesn't seem to have those lines at all.  On Lincoln, they were very defined (plus that little mole on Lincoln's right).  Still, that's just me being picky.

Sally Field is playing Mary Todd Lincoln.  The facial structure isn't too bad between the two, but Sally Field is really skinny (especially in the face) and Mary Todd was much rounder:

I'm actually not sure who I would cast instead of her.  Most actresses these days are all really skinny with long faces, big lips, and big eyes.  It seems like a character actress would be proper for Mrs. Lincoln (she was quite the character anyway!). Maybe Edie McClurg?

Or Mare Winningham?

Yeah, I think Mare Winningham, just based on looks.  She is thinner than Mary Todd Lincoln as well, but I think the shape of her face is much better than Sally Field's.  Look at this picture of her from Hatfields & McCoys (the recent History Channel miniseries):

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been cast as Robert Lincoln, which is fine, I guess.  I think that Leonardo DiCaprio would be a perfect fit for Robert (though, in all fairness, Robert was in his early 20s at the time of Lincoln's death, which is much harder for Leo to pull off these days).

Gulliver McGrath looks like he'll make a good Tad Lincoln:

Tommy Lee Jones will play Thaddeus Stevens, the radical Massachusetts Republican.  He doesn't look a ton like him, but I think he'll do a good job pulling off the character.  David Strathairn is playing Secretary of State William Seward, and looks a lot like him:

Ulysses S. Grant is the last one I'll look at (there are like 80 historical characters in this movie, and I'm only going to hit up some major ones).  He's being played by Jared Harris, who has kind of a smooshed face, but should work all right.

I don't expect Grant to make a big appearance in this film, since the events covered are going to be from Lincoln's perspective at a time when Grant was in the field, accepting Lee's surrender.  The surrender at Appomattox will probably not be shown in the film, partially because Lincoln received notice of the surrender on the evening he returned to Washington from conquered Richmond in order to visit recently injured (and soon-to-be-almost-assassinated) William Seward, and partially because there is no one listed as playing Robert E. Lee on Wikipedia.

Events that will probably be covered (at least I hope, based on the casting and Wikipedia page) are the passage of the 13th Amendment in January 1865, abolishing slavery, the Hampton Roads Conference (more on that in a moment), Lincoln's Second Inaugural ("With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations."), Lincoln's tour of conquered Richmond, and Lincoln's assassination.

The Hampton Roads Conference sets the stage for one of my very favorite paintings in the White House Collection.  I've spoken of presidential portraits before, and this one ties into that.

The week before the Hampton Roads Conference (the final peace negotiations between the Union and the Confederacy, before the surrender at Appomattox), Abraham Lincoln was in City Point, Virginia, visiting Richmond (which the Union had recently captured) and Ulysses S. Grant in order to discuss how to bring the war to a close.  William Tecumseh Sherman happened to be in City Point at the same time (he was on leave from rounding up Confederate General Joe Johnston in North Carolina, after his famous "March to the Sea").  The three men, along with admiral David Porter, met to discuss the Union's negotiating stance for the conference. Given the Confederacy's utter destruction, their negotiators wouldn't have much leverage, so, like the Versailles Conference of 1919, it was left to the major players on the winning side to get together and determine how the peace would look after the war.  It was the only time the "big three" of the Union Civil War leadership would be in the same place.  Three weeks later, Lincoln would be dead.

George Healy was the artist that painted the now-famous portrait of Lincoln that hangs in the State Dining Room of the White House (which Robert Lincoln called the best portrait he had ever seen of his father).  However, that portrait was actually based on his earlier portrait of Lincoln that was done as part of his painting "The Peacemakers," memorializing the famous meeting of Grant, Sherman, Lincoln, and Porter.

It's a beautiful piece, which Healy painted in 1868.  He was actually able to get Grant, Sherman, and Porter in for sittings to make sure their likenesses were properly done.  He used an older live portrait, photographs, and a similarly tall model for Lincoln.

L to R: Sherman, Grant, Lincoln, Porter
Sherman wrote later about the painting:

In Chicago about June or July of that year, when all the facts were fresh in my mind, I told them to George P. A. Healy, the artist, who was casting about for a subject for an historical painting, and he adopted this interview. Mr. Lincoln was then dead, but Healy had a portrait, which he himself had made at Springfield some five or six years before. With this portrait, some existing photographs, and the strong resemblance in form of [Leonard Swett], of Chicago, to Mr. Lincoln he made the picture of Mr. Lincoln seen in this group. For General Grant, Admiral Porter, and myself he had actual sittings, and I am satisfied the four portraits in this group of Healy's are the best extant. The original picture, life-size, is, 1 believe, now in Chicago, the property of Mr. [Ezra B. McCagg]; but Healy afterwards, in Rome, painted ten smaller copies, about eighteen by twenty-four inches, one of which I now have, and it is now within view. I think the likeness of Mr. Lincoln by far the best of the many I have seen elsewhere, and those of General Grant, Admiral Porter, and myself equally good and faithful. I think Admiral Porter gave Healy a written description of our relative positions in that interview, also the dimensions, shape, and furniture of the cabin of the "Ocean Queen" ; but the rainbow is Healy's—typical, of course, of the coming peace. In this picture I seem to be talking, the others attentively listening. Whether Healy made this combination from Admiral Porter's letter or not, I cannot say; but I thought that he caught the idea from what I told him had occurred when saying " that if Lee would only remain in Richmond till I could reach Burkesville we would have him between our thumb and fingers," suiting the action to the word. It matters little what Healy meant by his historic group, but it is certain that we four sat pretty much as represented, and were engaged in an important conversation during the forenoon of March 28, 1865, and that we parted never to meet again.

The painting is one of the best in the White House collection.  It was formerly in the president's living quarters on the second floor, and can be seen in George H.W. Bush's official portrait:

Currently, it hangs in the president's dining room in the West Wing:

Sep 7, 2012

Your Weird Fact For The Day

So, I recently learned something that I've been telling everyone, since it's fascinating.

The modern dog's scientific classification is Canis lupus familiaris.  That means they are a subspecies of Canis lupus, which is--wait for it--the Gray Wolf.

So, as if it isn't weird enough that a Chihuahua and a Great Dane are the same species...

It turns out that they are all simply wolves that have been selectively bred.

But wait, there's more!

Asian and African elephants, on the other hand aren't even in the same genus.  That's right, two species that are, in most respects the exact same, save a few small differences, only share the same taxonomic family.  African elephants are under the genus Loxodonta (with two species, no less!).  The usual one you see in the savanna is Loxodonta africana.  The less known species is Loxodonta cyclotis--the Forest Elephant.

Loxodonta africana

Loxodonta cyclotis

Asian elephants, however, do not belong to the Loxodonta genus.  Instead, they are classified under the genus Elephas, and species Elephas maximus.

Equal rights for all elephant species were upheld in the landmark Supreme Court case, International Brotherhood of Loxodonta v. Elephas Maximus Society of Elephants

The differences seem so trivial.  Asian elephants have two humps on their heads, a smooth(er) trunk, smaller ears, a hump on their back, one 'finger' at the end of their trunks, five toes on their front feet and four on the back.  African elephants have one hump on their heads, a wrinkly trunk, larger ears, a concave back, two fingers on the trunk, four toes on their front feet, and three on the back.  In human terms, that's like one person having a cleft chin and missing a finger and toe on each hand and foot.  Apparently it's more than that, though.

Also, Asian elephants are more likely to submit to human authority.  African elephants are fiercely independent and difficult to control.

In fact, there has only been one hybrid elephant, born in the late 1970's in England.  His name was Motty, and he had an Asian mother and African father.  He only lived for two weeks (got an umbilical cord infection), and he had mixed traits--African ears and back, but Asian trunk and toes.

Motty and his mom

Alas, I can't find any examples of a wolf/chihuahua hybrid, though it is theoretically possible.

So, a chihuahua and a wolf are effectively the same animal, but an African and Asian elephant are not.  Biology is strange.

And here's a guy riding an elephant's face.  That seems risky.