Sep 28, 2009

Blade Runner

Examining The Impact Of The Future

If you watch a lot of science fiction movies, you have seen movies that have been influenced by Blade Runner, even if you didn't know it. Blade Runner is arguably one of the most influential films, visually, in science fiction history. The Blade Runner "look" has been copied and emulated in many different movies, comic books (including manga and anime), graphic novels and TV shows. If you have never seen the film, or don't know what it is about, consider this an important lesson in your education of popular culture.

Blade Runner...what is it?

The film, based on a short story by prolific writer Phillip K. Dick, is about a Los Angeles in 2019 in which it is always dark and rainy and the city's inhabitants live in poverty and grime from heavy pollution. Artificially created beings called replicants have been created to be slaves to mankind, but after a violent replicant rebellion on a colony on another planet, replicants are banned on earth. Since replicants are almost impossible to tell apart from humans, a special police unit has been created to identify and eliminate them: Blade Runners. A small group of replicants make it back to earth and kill one of these elite police officers, forcing a retired Blade Runner back into service to kill them. Harrison Ford, fresh from Star Wars, is Deckard, a disillioned Blade Runner who is reluctantly drafted back into action. During the film, the question arises as to if Deckard is a replicant himself. If he is, he is then hunting his own kind.

The film's biggest impact has been its production design. Rainy, trash strewn streets illuminated by the glow of neon signs and flying cars, run down city streets crammed with people...this is the world of Blade Runner, influencing directors of TV shows, video games and movies who emulated the gritty, noirish world created by Ridley Scott, Blade Runner's director. The film has won and been nominated for many awards and honors. The movie is a classic example of neo-noir, a popular genre in film, graphic novels and video games.

In movies there are two terms that use the word noir: film noir, and neo noir. As an artist you should at least be familiar with these genres so you can recognize them; you may even want to create your own noir comics or paintings.

Film noir is a term used to describe films that have a low key, high contrast appearance; very dark shadows, bright spotlights, drifting cigarrette smoke, slightly tilted camera angles. The genre also defines movies that have characters who have less than honorable motives for what they do, or are facing hard choices and danger that force them into impossible situations. The hard boiled private eye movies of the 1940s and 1950s are considered the birth of the film noir genre, and they have been copied ever since.

Tough talking men, dangerous women, violence, mystery, suspense, all of these are characteristics of film noir. The "heroes" are not always nice people, and they don't always do nice things. Happy endings are rare, and good guys and bad guys can be very hard to identify. A lot of these films were inspired by 1940s authors such as Raymond Chandler (my personal favorite author), Dashiell Hammett, and James M. Cain among others.

Neo noir describe modern films that have these elements, but have updated themes, technology, style and other references that are more modern. Blade Runner is one of the best examples of the neo noir film genre. It's dark, mysterious style and futuristic look has influenced everything from manga and anime to TV shows, movies and even books. Many film historians consider it one of the the most visually influential films in history.

Blade Runner
's flying cars are a major theme of the film, and if you watch the movie Fifth Element you will see its influence. Another element are plumes of steam and smoke rising from sewer
grates and being ejected from flying cars. Wet, rainy streets that reflect the multitude of neon lights crowds of people holding umbrellas with lighted handles, Oriental signs everywhere, all these are signature Blade Runner motifs.

When you read manga, or anime, you will be able to see elements inspired by Blade Runner. If you have not seen this film, do yourself a favor and see it, but make sure you see the correct version; there have actually been several. The most recent one is the definitive director's cut. For more information about Blade Runner, check out the links below.

The Wikipedia Blade Runner Page - A very detailed examination of the film, its making, controversey and its impact

Internet Movie Database (IMDB) Blade Runner page

Blade Runner: The Final Cut - Excellent site that features video clips from the film. Be sure to check this one out!

The Home of Blade Runner - An extremely detailed website with all things Blade Runner

Sep 10, 2009

Dragoncon 2009

This was my first year at Dragoncon, one of the biggest costuming, sci-fi and comic book conventions in the country, attended by around 45,000 people. Three days in Atlanta, Georgia, surrounded by elaborate costumes worn by people who want to cut loose and have fun! I returned with over four hundred pictures on my camera's memory card.
There was a huge parade, celebrities, parties and a spectacular hotel I stayed in while I was there.

It was over six hours of driving from Pinellas County, Florida to Atlanta, and after checking in to the hotel the first thing to do was to pick up our Dragoncon badges that would let us in to all the events. The line stretched down the sidewalk, and attendants were allowing small groups into the building at a time, so that there would not be too many people inside. Once in the building, the line to pick up the badges filled an entire ballroom!

(click on each each picture in this post for a larger view)

Above Row Of Pictures:
LEFT: The line to enter the hotel where badges are distributed MIDDLE: The Dragoncon expedition, from left: Gary, Stacy, Rob, Myself (the person in back with her tongue out bombed the picture, oh well...) RIGHT: The line in the ballroom to get the badges

So what was my costume? I was Snake Plissken, the character Kurt Russel played in Escape From New York, one of my all-time favorite movies, which is why I grew a beard.
My girlfriend made me promise to shave it off before I came back home.

This is the Marriott Marquis, in downtown Atlanta, my hotel, and the most spectacularly beautiful building I've ever seen., looking like the inside of some beautiful alien spacecraft, a perfect place to stay for Dragoncon. There were five of us sharing a hotel room to save money, which was not as uncomfortable as it sounds. Many Dragoncon attendees practiced hotel-room-Tetris, in which everyone's luggage is rearranged and stacked to make room for sleeping. I had an inflatable mattress against the back wall, next to the windows looking over the city from the 22nd floor and I was very comfortable.

UPDATE: Thursday, October 1st was the first day when reservations were able to be made for the Marriott for Dragoncon 2010, and every room in the hotel sold out in an hour. A single hour!

RIGHT: View of hotel interior looking up to the rooms from the ground floor LEFT: View looking down onto the atrium levels from the 22nd floor
. A long way down!

(click on each picture for a larger view)

The hotel looks like a building you might see in a Star Wars movie, with artistic curves, exotic angles and designs, and subdued lighting. I've never seen such a gorgeous building.

The entrance driveway of the Marriott is dominated by a huge inverted bowl that sits atop a gushing fountain. It looks like the underside of a flying saucer. Very appropriate for Dragoncon!

The Costumes

During the days, there are dozens of discussion panels about almost everything; JRR Tolkien, manga, copyright law, self-publishing, art techniques, role-playing and video games, amature film making and animation and, of course, panels with celebrities from movies and television. This year the lineup included a huge number of stars, most notably William Shatner, Leonard Nemoy, Patrick Stewart, Kate Mulgrew and Garret Wang (Star Trek Voyager), and actors from such shows as Battlestar Galactica, Dukes of Hazard, Stargate SG-1, Incredible Hulk, Babylon 5, Buck Rogers, and many others. At night people put on their costumes and mingled, taking pictures, meeting old and new friends and enjoying the carnival atmosphere. That was my favorite part, seeing how much work, talent and imagination went into the costumes. Costuming is a fun way to express part of yourself and meet a lot of interesting people. It was like a three-day-long Halloween party!

From left to right:
Myself with Gary, Bender from Futurama, posing with The Blues Brothers

Characters from The Big Lebowski, a Star Wars clone trooper who figured out how to do the impaled-on-the-lightsaber trick (a very cool effect!), and Bumblebee from the Transformers movie

Myself with another Snake Plissken, a walking Barbie Doll still in the box, some sort of alien, and Edward Scissorhands

There were quite a few R2-D2 units there; there is a club of people who build movie- replica robots. Wish I knew how to do that!!

LEFT: This character sat quietly, patiently ignoring the passers-by who kept stopping to take his picture

"Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice!"

Left To Right: Two 501st Legion members as Will Riker and Captain Janeway, from Star Trek; no costume convention is complete without zombies!!;

Below Photos: a phenomenally excellent costume based on a character from the video game Bioshock
; a screen shot of this character in the video game is on the right. I don't even want to know how much that costume weighs.

To get a sense of how much work and ingenuity goes into such an elaborate costume, click on the link below. The person who made this costume has put together a very detailed step-by-step instructional website describing how he made it, with lots of pictures. Costuming is a lot of effort, but it's also a labor of love.

I understand that they used the hotel's freight elevator to get the costume wearer to the ground floor!

Such a costume requires a lot of stamina and dedication, as they are most certainly not comfortable!

Left To Right: The comic book character Silver Surfer; costumes from V: The mini-series; two ladies hamming it up outside the hotel

The 501st Legion had a table at Dragoncon (as they do at almost all cons), and I volunteered to put in an hour's table duty. My buddy Mig, who is from Miami, poses with me in the picture on the right

The Parade
Saturday morning there was a huge parade that wound its way through the streets of Atlanta, with all of the costumed characters in attendance. The streets were crammed with people who had come out to watch an amazing collection of characters, celebrities and vehicles. Marching with the 501st Legion in my Imperial Officer costume, I was once again holding the banner at the front of the 501st procession, and I was able to interact with the crowd, even snapping a few pictures. This was the largest parade I have marched in and it was by far the most fun.

A large park downtown was the staging area as different groups assembled while waiting for the parade to begin. The day was overcast and a few raindrops fell, but the rain held off, fortunately.

The Batmobile from the 1960s TV series. I so want one of those!!

BELOW: A Dukes Of Hazard General Lee; the 501st Legion group picture; and a human-powered AT-AT Imperial walker

Left To Right: Angie, a 501st member in a V costume, complete with hanging flap of skin. Very cool! Cardboard Star Wars characters dancing to a drummer; Predators from the Predator movies. The costumes encase the entire body in rubber, with nowhere for the heat to go; one Predator told me he loses an average of five pounds each time he wears it!

Ancient Romans from the movie 300, Richard Hatch, who played Apollo in Battlestar Galactica; a replica of one of the vehicles from the Mel Gibson movie The Road Warrior. Even the people on it are movie-accurate!

My point of view while marching in the parade. The pom-pom girl in front is a Sith cheerleader.

Catherine Bach and John Schneider from The Dukes Of Hazard, the General Lee and Batmobile

Now THAT'S dedication: an old Ford Fairlane modded to look like a Klingon battle cruiser. If that isn't Star Trek fandom, I dob't know what is!

Mini pirate stroller, speeder bike, myself with the other banner holders pausing during the parade route

If you don't like crowds, don't go to Dragoncon - it's all about crowds. The elevators, stairs, vendor areas, escalators...all are jammed with people. Sometimes it took fifteen minutes to find space in an elevator heading up to the hotel room, the elevator cars were so crowded. Moving from one of the five Dragoncon hotels to the other often felt like being squished into a closet with throngs of strangers. That's why people go back to their hotel room for brief rests before plunging back into the sea of people again.

Tables at the hotels are covered with flyers, leaflets, business cards and postcards advertsing all manner of artists, websites, events and programs

MIDDLE: On one floor of the hotel 501st Legion members trade patches. The 501st creates a huge collection of patches, which are very collectible among members
RIGHT: One member has a trenchcoat covered in 501st Legion patches

Time To Go Home

As the long, busy week-end concludes, it is time to pack up and leave Atlanta. By this time I am "conned-out", so to speak, and ready to be home again. The ride home seems to take longer than the ride up. It was a great time, and I have already bought a pass to return next year. Hope you enjoyed the pictures!