Moana and Wayfinding

The movie "Moana" is big at our house. I'm lucky enough to get screeners and Moana was one of them so we've watched it quite a few times. The soundtrack is on heavy rotation in the house and car and Harper often looks askance when I start doing fake hula and maori dancing in the kitchen, though she's getting used to it now.

While the song "You're Welcome" (Sung by Maui) is super fun, my favorite song is "We Know The Way". It's the song about Moana's Polynesian voyaging ancestors teaching her who they were and it makes me cry every time. The first half of the song is sung in Samoan and Tokelauan and the second half in English.

Here is the full video for the song:

Being from Hawai'i, the northern most tip of Polynesia, and growing up when I did, the navigation story point hits deep in my heart.The song tells the story about ancient navigators, wayfinders, who learned to read the elements to find their way across the Pacific and back. This kind of navigation was almost dead but came back to a full life in the 70's when The Polynesian Voyaging Society built a replica canoe called Hokule'a. Master navigator Mau Piailug from an island called Satawal decided to share the ancient knowledge with the Hawaiians, even though he was not Hawaiian and this knowledge was held in secret. Thankfully he did share so that this knowledge would not be lost (there were 5 other master navigators on his island, but Mau was the only one to share).

The Hokule'a set sail in 1976 and made it to Tahiti from Hawai'i and then back, using only ancient navigation techniques. It was a huge touchstone in the life of everyone in Hawai'i at that time. I still get emotional when I read stories about the current voyages that the Hokule'a makes. (She was in Boston last summer!)

With all that in mind, the moment in the video that slays me every time. EVERY TIME is this moment right here:

A bird means land. Land means you found food and water and you navigated correctly. I love the look of relief and pride that the navigator conveys and the acknowledgment of the other crew members. That's powerful stuff, but might not register for a lot of people.

Aue! I just love it.


David Bowie Can't Die

Zoolander was the first movie we went to after 9/11 happened. It seemed the no-brainer choice -- total escapism. I was having a good time, laughing an enjoying the ridiculousness of it all.


Then came the moment where the two models have their "Walk-Off" and they need a judge. I knew, I KNEW it was going to be an amazing cameo by someone huge and I was so excited SO EXCITED to see who it was going to be. Then this:


And I felt like nothing bad could ever happen again. David Bowie was there.

It was not dissimilar from the scene in Extras where Ricky Gervais' character is in the VIP section and tries to connect with the genius who is David Bowie. I'm sure I did a spit take when Bowie just launches into singing with "Poor little fat man..." Then a bigger spit take as he swivels round to the piano and just launches in to the full song.


I don't know Bowie's music very deeply. I don't relate to Ziggy or The Thin White Duke. I was about Putting Out Fire With Gasoline and China Girl from Let's Dance. I could probably sing all the songs by heart if you played it for me right now as it came out when I was in high school. I have fond memories of listening to it at Lisa's house in Makawao. I do know all his greatest hits, though, and have been surprised this week to realize just how many there are.

Of course I knew who he was and that there was a big important history to him in the music world. And yet, I truly fell in love with David Bowie in the movies.

Now you are going to scoff at me because having said that, I will confess I've never seen The Man Who Fell To Earth.

I know, I know.

I think I first heard about David Bowie in any serious way from my friend Jai. When I knew her she was just Karen. But she came to Seabury from Honolulu with a stack of records that blew my little Maui mind. She might have had Bowie, I don't remember (Adam and The Ants stood out to me more). But she talked about Bowie and about The Man Who Fell To Earth. This was back in the day when you couldn't just pop over to the video store and grab it, much less download it. But the way she talked about him and the movie and how much she admired him really stuck with me. It's almost like I don't want to see the movie because it might not live up to what I heard about it from Jai.

Jai died in 2003. I miss her so much.

There were two movie theaters in close proximity to me on Maui and I lived in them. In 1985 a movie came out called Into The Night with one of my favorite actors, Jeff Goldblum. It looked funny and I went to see it. (Probably alone as I loved going to see movies alone!) In the middle of this wacky awesome movie comes this scene:


Bowie playing a hit man, out to get Jeff's character. Bowie is suave and smiling and charming and amazing. He's in the movie for about 5 minutes but it made me happy and surprised. I also thought, "How cool that this amazing musician (so I'd heard) was just having a laugh doing a little part in this movie!" (I own this movie and can watch it over and over. I also love it because it is such a loveletter/postcard/snapshot to LA in the 80's for me as I was just about to move there.)

Also in 1985 was The Breakfast Club. That seminal John Hughes movie that defined a generation (I can use that phrase, can't I since I'm that generation?). And what was the opening visual of that movie?


I'm not sure which movie I saw first that year (They both came out in February of 1985), but David Bowie just seemed to always be there, always kept showing up. (Let's Dance came out in 1983.) And again, I didn't know much about him, but clearly he was important.

Important is not quite right. Significant. Exceptional. Vital.

One of his last big roles was playing Nikola Tesla in The Prestige.


If you know anything about Tesla (and you should because he's astounding - read this from The Oatmeal) you know that he's otherworldly in his genius. I believe he was also kind and open minded and misunderstood. Who better to play this wonderful soul, but another wonderful soul?

And while everyone is posting images of Bowie from the Glam Rock period  -- you know the one with him and the big painted bolt on his face -- I will always remember him like this - impeccably dressed, handsome, gorgeous, enigmatic. Those eyes.


As my friend Laura said upon hearing the news: "Bowie seemed timeless, so his passing just feels incongruous with reality."

Incongruous with reality.

That is the truth to me. How could this ethereal, otherworldly, but oh so human being actually die of something so crass, so low as cancer?

Bowie just keeps showing up on social media this week and I'm glad. I don't want him to ever go away. I want to be surprised by his cameos forever.

Maybe he'll make a cameo in my dreams.










August Fun Miscellany

This week has been SO hot. And only a month ago it actually rained for a day. I can't wait for this much ballyhooed El Niño to kick in. Harper is going to need new rainboots



Willoughby likes to play outside in the rain, but not always.


Mostly, it's just hot and a little pool time is needed.



Movies are a good place to cool off. Harper and I went to a couple this summer. Minions was first (or "Funny guys" as she likes to call them). Mostly she found it loud and covered her ears 2/3 of the way through.


Next we went to see Shaun The Sheep. But first - movie snacks!


Again, a bit loud to start, but she put her hands down about 1/2 way through Shaun.


Afterward - cool treat!


When it's hot - cooking is really a pain! Always nice to go out somewhere else and eat. Especially when there is pasta.

Much concentration.




Getting Up Early To Write - 2015 Edition

For one reason or another, I've gotten behind on my early morning writing. So this my transition week to get my momentum going again. Waking up pre-dawn* has been a little tough, but not bad. I've had years of training and I'm not talking about Harper.

In college I rowed on the crew team and learned to get up in the dark and get moving quickly. If you hesitate, you are done, asleep again until it's light out. Back then you did have the safety of roommates who would roust you if you fell back to sleep. But now I have the motivation of middle age. "Do you want to accomplish something more? Then GET UP AND WRITE!" is the voice in my head.

I am also very lucky to have the ability to wake myself up without an alarm. When I go to bed I'll tell myself "Wake up at 5:30" and I always do. Though usually I wake up around 5:15. This is the danger time - I can't just "close my eyes for five minutes" because I might be asleep again for another hour. I tend to just get up at that point.

The cats get excited when I get up, but are then disappointed that I don't open the door for them. (I don't open the back door because it's right by Harper's room and shares the wall with her bed and I need her to sleep as long as possible while I'm writing.) Except Dynamo sometimes pushes his luck. I'll sit for a few minutes, getting the blog set up, waiting for the coffee to brew. Then I'll get up for a cup, turn and see this:


Dammit Dynamo!

Dynamo is not a small cat and not easily nudged from a spot. But nudge him I do so I can get on with the business at hand.


*Fun fact: Dawn is not sunrise. I learned this from working on a movie. The opening scene took place at dawn and we learned that dawn is "the first appearance of light in the sky before sunrise." So the opening scene looked like this:


Watch the whole opening sequence here. It's really good and I want you know that except for the interior helicopter shots with Jamie Foxx, the whole scene/city/everything is fake, CG, visual effects. Full credit to Luxx Studios in Germany for that job. Also, the movie is pretty fun. But I digress.

So learning about dawn was three years ago. But it took me until just recently, and listening to that damn Elsa Letting It Go that I realized what the term "break of dawn" means.


Dawn=first light

Sunrise=sun above the horizon.

So the sun coming up is what breaks dawn. Need a graphic? Here you go:




I love words and wordplay!

Harper's First Existential Question

Harper asked me an existential question the other day. She didn't realize it, of course.

We were driving along, listening to the soundtrack of this little indie film called "Frozen" - have you heard of it? We were listening to the showstopper (and my personal favorite) Let It Go and Harper asked:

Mama, why does Elsa throw her crown away?

ElsaCrownIf you haven't seen the movie, (and I really assume most of you haven't) the quick recap is: Elsa is born with magical powers to create ice and snow. She accidentally hurt her younger sister Anna when they were little and has spent rest of her childhood hiding her powers (and her feelings, which express themselves with her powers) out of fear of hurting anyone again. Their parents die in a shipwreck (Disney movie!) and Elsa becomes queen. She accidentally reveals her powers in front of the whole kingdom (essentially) and runs away so that she never hurts anyone again and then she embraces her power. As she runs, she sings Let It Go and transforms into the image you've seen of her, sans crown.

So, while listening in the car, Harper is clearly watching the scene in her mind and asks the question. Why does she throw her crown away?

I was excited by this great question, the topic of power, and authority and symbols! My mind raced with all the potential answers:

The crown represents a life she doesn't want, authority she doesn't feel is rightly hers.

The crown is a symbol of restriction and she's letting that all go.

The crown is a reminder that her parents are dead and she's had to pretend not to feel anything about it since they died.

The crown represents masculine power and she'll be queen any way she wants with whatever symbols she chooses. (Giant ice palace, anyone?)

The crown is about small earthly human power and she is a goddess, filled with infinite power to create the world as she desires. This puny piece of metal can't represent all that she is!

All these variables raced through my mind in about two seconds. Then I remembered: Harper is three and a half. Hmmm.

Mama, why did Elsa throw her crown away?

Me: Because she didn't want it anymore.


Sigh. I just have to be patient. There will come a day when we can discuss the real reasons Elsa tossed that thing, but for now, I'll stick with mostly literal ones.



Another Harper First: Disney's California Adventure Part 3 of 4 - The Celebrities

Read Part 1 here. Read Part 2 here.

What California Adventure is complete without celebrities? We bumped into our share and Harper seemed to enjoy them, though she preferred to have at least me by her side while posing.

As previously mentioned, we ran into Lightning McQueen first thing. (And I finally got our official picture - click to see it bigger.)


I'm pretty sure there is someone in the car who drives it and I can't decide if that is better or worse than being in a sweaty costume.

Later, just walking along Paradise Pier, we bumped into Buzz Lightyear OMG! Harper was pretty stoked to see him and waited patiently.


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After the lunch and nap and second traumatizing ride, we decided to head to Hollywood Land to see Olaf and the snow room. And we didn't have to wait long thanks to the guy running the pager line.

Okay, so the deal was, you wait in line outside to get a pager (like in restaurant) so that you can walk around and shop or whatever and when it is your turn to see Olaf, your beeper goes off and you just go in.

So we got in line (behind about six people) and the Cast Member, Brandon, said, "Oh just come in, I'm not doing beepers, it's not that crowded." Um, okay! Always nice to go to the park when it's not crowded.

Inside the building was Olaf's Snow Fest with a space full of actual snow that we watched them make and groom. There was an Oompah band, snack and gift stands. And Olaf of course.

We waited patiently and finally we were next when the Olaf attendant said that Olaf needed to go on a quick break "to have some hot cocoa" and he would be right back. I looked at her and said, "Do you mean bourbon?" She looked at me and laughed a little, but said, "oh no, of course not! Just cocoa!" Sure thing lady.

The Olaf person was very sweet and nice. I love Harper's little hand in his.


After Olaf we played in the snow for a bit, then went out side where a parade was going to start in 10 minutes. Perfect. We got seats on the curb, a quick snack and waited. Then Harper got to see one of her all time favorites - Mater.


These were some prime time celebrity sightings, I'll tell you! Alas, no Anna or Elsa as they were hard to come by (without the extra time, patience and scheduling). Gotta save something for next time!

Another Harper First: Disney's California Adventure Part 1 of 4 - Cars Land

Disney_California_Adventure_logoWe decided it was time for a trip to Anaheim to visit the Happiest Place on Earth. Well, we actually visited the place next door to the Happiest Place on Earth. ("Happy Adjacent"?) Harper is fully potty trained, still fits into her stroller (barely) and loves Cars and Frozen so it was a good time to hit the theme park for the first time.

First of all, big ups and many many thanks to our friends who work at Disney who got us free tickets into the park. This is a huge deal, saving us hundreds of $$. So much less pressure to HAVE FUN when you haven't paid the entrance fee. Very grateful for that.

Second, we chose California Adventure over Disneyland proper because Harper doesn't know the old school Disney stuff. She knows who Mickey and Minnie are, and knows some of the princesses, but her real love (at the moment) is Cars. (She likes Frozen as well, but not quite as much.) So off to Cal Adventure and Radiator Springs we went!

We got dressed and ready to go and Harper accessorized with the hat. That's my hipster girl. She also stuck close to Kurt who was doing a last minute bathroom stop before hitting the road.

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LightningMcQueenUpon arrival we raced over to Cars Land and found Lightning McQueen! Okay sorry, no picture here of him with Harper, we didn't take our own photo and are waiting for the official one to arrive... but here is "LaQueen" (as Harper calls him) so you know what he looks like.

I think Haprer was a bit confused, overwhelmed by this giant theme park that looks like the movie she loves. Or we were doing too much "Oooh look Harper! It's Radiator Springs! Lightning McQueen! Mater!" etc. Either way she was a little fussy at first. Then we got in line to ride the Radiator Springs racers and she settled down during the 40 minute wait.

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There is much to look at and lovely views while in line. The bottle walls were cool. I looked at each little crevice and wondered how much gum and trash got jammed into those things. Then I wondered whose job it was to clean those tiny openings every day (every few hours?). Glad it's not me.

While in line I was worried she'd have to go potty right as we got to the loading platform. Luckily she didn't. (Wouldn't it be genius if parks had bathrooms in the ride line? If you have to wait over an hour in line, a bathroom might be handy...just sayin'.)

So then we got on the ride and traumatized our child. Parenting win! Okay okay, Harper was big enough for the ride (just barely) and it's mostly a little car ride through Radiator Springs and Ornament Valley. Here's a picture I ganked from the web of the ride:


Well, it's called "Racers" for a reason as you "race" the car next to you. And you go fast! And you go up and down a lot and whip around tight corners! Oh boy. Luckily the seats were three across so Harper was between us. She didn't cry but when it was over and we were arriving at the unloading spot I asked her if she was okay and she kept saying, "I'm scared, Mama." Knife to my heart! So when we got out, I held her and we told her how brave she was. She seemed to recover quickly though and we bought her a hat and a t-shirt. Shopping makes everything better!

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Harper wore her hat for about five minutes so I made it my own.


By then it was time for a snack and what better place to get one than Flo's V8 Cafe. (There's a great christmas card picture if I ever saw one! Thank you kind strangers who took the pic!)


Harper loved the Cozy Cone and kept wanting to go into them, but they are just little snack shops with windows. So we took a selfie instead.


We almost went on Mater's Junkyard Jamboree ride, but when it was our turn, Harper said no. No problem! Enough trauma for one day. Or so we thought...but that's for another post.

We departed Cars Land and headed for the Pier. Stay tuned for another installment of our California Adventure!










You Learn Something New Every Day

I'm working the Your Turn Challenge and today is Day 4. Here is my post to answer the question: Teach us something that you do well.

Wow, this is a tough one. It took me all day to come up with something. I had a day full of “What in the world do I know well enough to teach?” Then I got over that silly thought and came up with this.

How to Create a Visual Effects Shot Breakdown For Feature Films. (This does not include budgeting or other production related items, simply a list of potential shots for a movie.)

Prologue: What is a visual effect “shot”? Each cut in a movie is an individual shot. When you add VFX to that shot or create shots whole cloth in computer graphics, it costs money. In VFX we budget down the the frame. There are 24 frames per second. Also, your job is to guess what the VFX might be and how they might work in the movie. My technique is to edit the movie/scenes in my head as I do the breakdown, and count how many cuts that might be.

Let’s get started!

1. Create an excel spreadsheet with two tabs. Label the first tab “VFX Shot Breakdown.” Label the second tab “CG Assets” (CG = computer graphics). Save the document as “[MOVIE TITLE] VFX Shot Breakdown”

2. on the VFX Shot Breakdown sheet, create these column headings:
    Ref. #
    Page #
    Scene #
    Production Provided Practical Plates/Elements
    Digital Elements/Processes
    FX Notes
    # of seconds per shot
    # of shots
3. On the CG Assets sheet, create these column headings:
    Ref #
    Page #

4. Read the script. Note any possible visual effects shot on each page and either highlight or mark with a pencil. Also note what CG Assets need to be built. (CG Assets are things you build once and use over and over again in the VFX. For example, for White House Down, we needed a CG White House for the majority of VFX Shots. This CG model is then used continuously over the course of the movie. CG Assets can be everything from Godzilla to skyscrapers to spaceships to aircraft to people, cars, objects in the street.)

5. Go back to page one of the script and begin to fill in each box of each row in the “VFX Shot Breakdown.” If there is no scene # leave it blank, just include the page number for each shot (there will often be multiple shots per page.)

6. Copy the script description exactly from the script “Luke looks across the dessert at the two setting suns of Tatooine."

7. The "production provided plate" will be the live action part. This would be Luke standing in the dessert. That is called a Foreground Plate because the VFX will be added to the Background. This “plate” may or may not be shot on green screen.

8. The "Digital Element/Process" will be to add the second sun, and to match move and composite the final image.

9. If there are any notes or assumptions, include them in the FX Notes. For example “Assume will shoot live action sun and simply composite in the 2nd sun."

10. Most shot durations for bidding purposes are 3-5 seconds each. Action shots in big actions sequences can be three seconds, more dialogue heavy shots can be five. If there is an establishing shot, make it 7-10 seconds.

11. Good rule of thumb: a script page = 1 minute. There are 12, 5 second shots per page or 20, 3 second shots.

12. For each shot you anticipate, make it a new line item. However, if there is a series of shots that are all going to be relatively similar, you can lump them into one line item. For example, if you have people driving in a car that is shot on a green screen stage with the background image shot on location, and the scene is 1 page long, then you can say that the number of shots is 12.  (But later you’ll have to break these down into different categories of “easy/medium/hard” depending on what is in the BG.)

13. As you come to what you estimate to be a new CG Asset, go to the CG Asset tab and add it to that document with a brief description.

Do this for the entire script, for every single shot you estimate to be in the script. A “small” VFX movie might have 100-400 shots in it. A major action movie (The Avengers, Transformers, etc) could have 1500-2000 shots. Each one needs to be accounted for. And yes, you have to guess a lot.

If you have a digital copy of the script and can copy/paste the scene descriptions, a major action movie script should take you about two to three weeks to break down (if you’ve never done it before.) That includes time to consult with your VFX Supervisor to make sure you have included all possible shots. You will not have done so, and so it will take you another week to fix it up.

If you are me, it will take about three days with a digital script. I am that good and that damn proud of myself.

Let me know if you think it sounds easy.

We All Saw A Movie

Harper went to the movie theater and saw her first feature film last Saturday! We chose the Disney Nature movie "Bears" and it went great. I wasn't worried that she'd be scared or upset (I went knowing that only fish were killed in the movie) but I did think she might get bored. She stuck with it the whole way, sitting in my lap once or twice. We were the only poeple in the theater so I wonder if she'll be distracted by others the next time. I'm just glad her first movie experience was a good one. We plan on raising a movie lover!