In writing this post, I have started to realise that this is an impossible task. From time to time, my favourite movies change and it’s often irritating to omit some of my favourite films from the list. So all I can do is settle on ten movies that I’m big into now, and lay them down.
Carnival Of Souls 
A great b-movie, this movie was released in an era caught up in the tensions of the Cold War. It’s very much a movie akin to the story-telling popularised in shows like ‘The Twilight Zone’. Without divulging any elements of the plot, the film explores base human fears about death. I find it sweet that this movie has been done on the cheap, and it shows. Some of the acting performances on display are abysmal, which is hilarious. However, the film retains it’s status as a creepy masterpiece, and went on to inspire film-makers such as George A. Romero, as is seen in his ‘Of The Dead’ series.
28 Days Later 
Danny Boyle’s film borrowed heavily from John Wyndham’s ‘Day Of The Triffids’, which is one of my favourite books. A deadly virus fundamentally changes the nature of civilisation. Through the eyes of survivor, Jim, portrayed by Cillian Murphy, we encounter a grim tableau of a contemporary England, dramatically affected by a vicious infected human population. Alex Garland wrote the magnificent script while Christopher Eccleston provides an icy bad guy. All underpinned by a magnificent soundtrack by John Murphy including the epic post-rock track, ‘In The House, In A Heartbeat’.
Pulp Fiction 
This movie is an easy choice for the list. After having made the grisly ‘Reservoir Dogs’, Tarantino showed off his directorial skills by introducing us to the very human and believable array of characters in this superb crime movie. Whilst resurrecting the careers of both John Travolta and Bruce Willis (who were dead in the water by 1994), he also gave us hilarious dialogue punctuating the brutality that some attributed to the so-called ‘ultra-violence’ genre. ‘Pulp Fiction’ was a daring film too, as its non-linear narrative gave rise to some powerful key scenes, in which prior knowledge of a scene’s outcome could play a key role. Nicely done!
Les Yeux Sans Visage 
This movie is the oldest in the list and is another member of the creepy club. The surgeon, Dr. Génessier, lives in regret for having destroyed the face of his daughter, Christiane in a car accident. He is driven by madness to abduct women so that he might find the perfect candidate for a facial transplant in order to fix the damage, as if Christiane’s injuries were not enough. Because of it’s age, this French movie relies much more on atmosphere and implication rather than gore, although there is a particularly impressive and sickening surgery scene, which fares well for a sixty year old film. From the expressive acting performance of Edith Scob as the masked Christiane to the inevitable tragedy of the plot, this movie is seriously impressive.
The Shawshank Redemption 
Hard to avoid this movie, and it possibly makes the top ten movie list of all the people I know. It’s almost pointless mentioning the film, because if you are a movie fan, you’ve probably seen it yourself a few times. Stephen King’s short story, ‘Rita Hayworth And The Shawshank Redemption’ was extended via a masterful Frank Darabont script into one of the greatest movies of all time. With Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman playing the roles of their lives, it’s a movie that plays out a full spectrum of emotions. King’s other notable prison story, ‘The Green Mile’, also made a great film, but Shawshank keeps its feet on the ground by avoiding King’s narrative love affair with all things super-natural.
Shaun Of The Dead 
This Edgar Wright penned classic, co-written with Simon Pegg who lends his acting talents to the titular Shaun, managed to masterfully blend the genres of romantic comedy with horror. The balance is spot on, and alongside Pegg’s regular henchman, Nick Frost, this humble gem helped to re-establish the zombie as a favourite with movie goers, whilst providing a transition for Simon Pegg from the TV world of the excellent ‘Spaced’ to a pretty impressive Hollywood career.
Raiders Of The Lost Ark 
While I was always a big Star Wars fan as a child, for me, there was always something rather clunky and flawed about the big space franchise. However, these flaws were not present in George Lucas’s other big project. With Lucas penning the script while Spielberg directs, nothing goes wrong and the pair managed to reinvigorate the action adventure movie at a time when we didn’t expect to be getting excited about archaeologists tangling with Nazis on exotic treasure hunts. Raiders lent itself to decades of entertainment, and even modern franchises such as Naughty Dog’s ‘Unchartered’ series owe an undoubted nod to Harrison Ford’s heroic academic.
Before Sunrise 
This magical film captures the excitement of meeting people and making connections in a manner so natural, it’s easy to forget that the events are fictional. The film observes a couple as they meet for the first time while travelling in Vienna. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke explore the city and each other in a manner so charming and believable, that empathising with the on-screen romance is almost unavoidable. It’s fantastic that this film may be the greatest romance film ever made, while its modest budget of $2.5 million says that it’s one of the cheapest.
Enter The Dragon 
Golden Harvest came to work with Warner Brothers in recognition of the talents of their shared son, Bruce Lee. It was an ambitious project, calling on the talents of not only Lee, but US action star John Saxon, World International Middleweight Karate Champion, Jim Kelly, Hong Kong body-builder and martial artist, Bolo Yeung, 9th Dan Karate Champion, Robert Wall, and even a young Jackie Chan. The smartest way to bring all these talents together was to build a plot around a martial arts contest, but the clever angle that the film went down was to mimic the format of the then very popular James Bond films. A movie like this will never be made again, and it undoubtably shot the profile of martial arts into the mainstream. The funky Lalo Schiffrin soundtrack is also a highly welcome partner in this wonderful film that I have seen more than any other film.
Simply the best of all the Arnold Schwarzenegger films, ‘Commando’ is great. It’s not the most sophisticated. In fact, sometimes it verges on being shit-tastic. But ultimately, it’s got the best one-liners, a ridiculously high body-count and some great action set-pieces, including an impressive Tarzan swing through a shopping mall, creative use of circular saws and steam pipes and an hilariously homo-erotic, topless rowing scene. Casting Vernon Wells as John Matrix’s adversary, Bennett may have been a mistake, as the menace he cultured as the evil punk Wez in ‘Mad Max 2’ is lost behind his moustache, beer belly and string vest combination. Perhaps this just adds to the hilarity, and Bennett’s final demise allows Arnie to rip off one of his greatest one-liners.
Many films narrowly missed inclusion on this list, so the concept will have to be revisited at some point. Ten films just isn’t enough for me to celebrate my love of movies. One thing that does surprise me is that the most recent of these movies was made over a decade ago, which is a bit of a sad statement on the state of modern movie-making. Or maybe that just means I’m stuck in the past!
I started my journey into games when I did a masters degree in Computer Graphics at the University of Teesside in 1997. The course was one of only two computer graphics masters degrees available at the time. The other being at Bournemouth University. Following that, I found work at multimedia company, Cyber Frontiers in Dunfermline. I got my first games job in 2002 at the Liverpool studios of Magenta Software. I currently work at Rockstar Games, after having worked for Extreme FX and Traveller’s Tales (Warner Brothers). I often get the chance to visit colleges running games courses. The question that often comes up is how to get into the games industry. With the experiences I’ve had in a constantly changing and growing industry, which has firmly established itself in the UK, I have a few observations that new hopefuls for the industry might appreciate.
Work out what area you want to work in and concentrate on it. Being a jack of all trades is no good to a company.
Area of Specialisation
Find your niche: Choosing to specialise as a character artist is a tricky one, as that is the role that is the most over-subscribed. Choose to specialise on something more niche, like FX Art or technical art; the smart choices. Ultimately, level art is probably the best all-round choice as the industry employs more level artists than any other kind.
Your portfolio is everything. Pack it out with high quality examples. Don’t let things get into your portfolio unless they look professional. A rich and detailed portfolio will find you work more than any amount of big talking on your cv could achieve.
Keep your website simple, clean and professional. If you can communicate your talents with clear images, a vast amount of words aren’t that important. It will be clear to any hiring company what you can do from a visual sample of your work. One word of warning: never attribute someone else’s work as your own. This will get you blacklisted! And if you work on a group project, that’s a good thing, but be clear about communicating exactly what you brought to the table in your collaboration.
Deciding which companies to work for is a big decision. Make sure your portfolio matches your choice. Having a portfolio full of zombie character models will not help you get a job as a level artist for a company making MarioKart or LEGO type games. I modelled two motorcycles to target my application to Black Rock Studios (MotoGP developers).
Incidentally, I didn’t get the job at Black Rock, but the portfolio I put in place did get me a job working at Embryonic Studios on the Wipeout Pulse team, so job done…
Foot In The Door
One common notion circulating currently is the idea that the way to get into a games company is to get a position as a games tester. In my experience, that step will get you into the company, but if your ambition is to be a developer, the chances are you’ll find it extremely hard to change track. And the long hours that QA work involves will not give you the free time necessary for putting polish onto your games portfolio.
Just for the record, I have a lot of respect for games testers. They are an essential part of the development team. A good QA engineer can develop to become a high-level games producer, but you should only pursue a career as a games tester if it is your dedicated ambition.
Because of the highly desirable status of being able to work in the games industry, many games companies take advantage of this. With large torrents of potential employees knocking at the door, the wages get driven down and the crunch hours get piled on high. Working in the games industry is tough, but rewarding. If you want to make your fortune, it may be wise to look at more traditional areas of software development. But if your passion for games and determination to succeed in the games industry has you still reading these words, then good luck!
Just over 39 years ago on the 20th July 1973, one of the most talented martial artists to emerge onto the world scene passed away. Bruce Lee was about to have dinner in Hong Kong with George Lazenby of James Bond fame, but failed to appear. The previous May, he had been hospitalized with a cerebral edema, but had made some recovery. After having complained of a headache earlier in the day, he had taken aspirin and a muscle relaxant. Lee had failed to wake up following a subsequent nap, and a sensational talent was lost to the world. As we approach an exciting period in time, in the event of the 2012 Olympics, it is worthwhile spending a moment to lament the memory of this fine Chinese athlete who brought his enthusiasm for martial arts to the world forum in a way that revolutionised not just Hollywood, but also awakened peoples’ awareness of the martial arts, and also changed the way people thought about fitness. His hybrid martial art style, Jeet Kune Do, was integral in laying down the path for contemporary fighting styles, which ultimately lead to Gracie Ju Jitsu and the formation of UFC fighting. His understanding of fitness nutrition had him drinking home-made protein shakes decades before they became a must-have for any professional sports professional.
I put together this little tune in memory, and can only wonder at what else this wonderful character may have achieved had he not lost his life at the tragic age of 32.
Enter The Dragon 
‘Enter The Dragon’ was Lee’s big Hollywood break. It was a joint production between Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest studio and Hollywood’s Warner Brothers studio. Featuring a host of martial arts stars and actors, such as US karate champion Jim Kelly, Chinese body-builder and martial artist, Bolo Yeung, and US actor, John Saxon, it was a global celebration of the martial arts. It was the breakout film that was to project the name of Bruce Lee to a global audience. With it’s combination of Bond-style espionage plot elements, fighting, lavish sets and a cracking score by Lalo Schiffrin, it became the film I’ve watched more than any other. Sadly, it was released after Bruce Lee’s death, so he never got to witness the global recognition that the film brought him.
With the fortieth anniversary of Lee’s death just one year ago, there have been calls to remake ‘Enter The Dragon’, despite protests from the Bruce Lee estate. It is truly difficult to envisage how such a seminal film could be remade in a way that would pay respect to the original movie. No actor could successfully recreate the presence of Lee. Perhaps advances in synthespian technology can recreate Lee in 3d, but looking at the following early Maya demo animation, this technology has a long way to go!
The 1973 appearance of Lee on the Pierre Burton show gives us a glimpse into the mind of Lee, as well as showcasing the man’s evident passion and charisma, despite the almost cringe-worthy naivety of his interviewer.
RIP Bruce Lee – legend
I’ve been playing the guitar for around 24 years, and despite my lack of acclaim and evidence of any music releases, I reckon I’m a pretty decent guitarist. I can pat my own back here, as far as I have to admit that my talent hasn’t put me in a financially-free position, and I am still time-constrained by an involving day-job. However, I think I have something to offer to the guitar-playing community, so here it is.
I began playing electric guitar, and had a great teacher in the form of Kip Whitehead, but when I bought my first steel-string Yamaha in 1999, I really started to excel. Now, 13 years later, I’ve developed a style based on the inspiration of several musicians.
- Jack Rose – pure inspiration from his hypnotising and psychedelic fingerstyle technique
- Jimi Hendrix – marrying the different components of guitar music: bass, rhythm and lead, into one fluent technique
- Michael Hedges – making full use of the guitar as both a melodic instrument and a percussive instrument, and freeing both hands to play notes
- Kaki King – being flexible, using the right technique for the right job, and creating a genuinely interesting sound without over-complicating
- Erik Satie – communicating powerful emotions with simple motifs
- Jimmy Page/Peter Gabriel – looking to different cultures for musical inspiration
- Maurice Ravel – painting a visual picture with a musical piece, and the power of achieving virtuoso technique
- Russ Shipton – whose book ‘The Complete Guitar Player’ gave me my first finger-picking experience
- Kip Whitehead – my awesome guitar teacher who taught me everything from theory to technique to spirituality in music
- Troy Stettina – whose speed lead technique books taught me the importance of doing drills in order to gain speed through muscle memory
- Bruce Lee – merged several different styles of martial art to create one effective composite fighting style in jeet-kune-do (ok not technically a musician, but he was an awesome dancer!)
I also took great inspiration from Devendra Banhart’s folk music compilation, ‘Golden Apples Of The Sun’ of 2004. This album revealed the emerging sound of the modern folk scene in the United States, which represented a revival of the folk roots scene from the 1960’s, but with a modern and quirky spin that gave it a fresh sound. As far as genre-ists go, the scene was labelled as ‘New Weird America’ and ‘Freak Folk’, but genres aren’t that important!
Fingerstyle is a very old way of guitar-playing. Indeed, classical guitar grades feature the implementation of finger-picking. Spanish flamenco style and traditional African guitar also use such techniques, but it was the blues, jazz and country music of twentieth century America that brought a modern and contemporary spin to the style. The technique that I have developed involve a combination of fingerstyle with open strings, open-tunings, capo use, percussive technique and use of digital looping technology. This all starts with an introduction to the arpeggiated finger-picking technique that I utilise.
In folk guitar, there are two schools of thought when it comes to right-hand technique. The conventional style is known as ‘Travis Picking’. This involves allowing the hand to anchor onto the guitar body by resting the little finger on the guitar surface on the far side of the strings. Then the thumb, index and middle finger are free to pluck strings. This strategy allows the guitarist to achieve stability with the guitar, and accuracy with the string-picking. However, I favour using a free-hand technique, where the hand doesn’t rest on any part of the guitar. Contact is made with the strings directly without the use of anchoring. With practice, the whole arm develops an awareness of where the strings are without the need for an anchor-point. Travis pickers will argue that this is wrong, but then they can’t do things like pluck five strings at the same time or play five-finger arpeggios, so stick with me on this one!
This is a tutorial that assumes basic knowledge of guitar tablature and music notation. Further notation of picking patterns is explained below. Psychedelic fingerstyle guitar, or “freak-picking” (to coin a phrase), is a straightforward technique that can be picked up very fast. The underlying principle is in maintaining a daily routine of practicing the drills and exercises. What at first feels awkward to play eventually becomes a natural and automatic response as the muscle memory learns the techniques. Muscle memory is bascially the brain optimising the execution of a commonly performed manual task. The only way to ‘program’ your brain to gain muscle memory is constant repetition. Fear not, however! This does not mean that you are to lose hours of your life every day dedicating yourself to learning dry technical guitar technique. I once heard that John Williams, the classical guitarist, stated that to learn an instrument, one has to devote only 15 minutes a day of practice. As long as you can fit in 15 minutes of these drills every day, you will get the techniques, and more importantly, build up speed.
There are several ways to notate finger-picking technique, so we’re going to pick one:
Basic Quaver Picking Pattern
This set of exercises demonstrate the basic starting point for beginning freak-picking guitar. The exercise is in common time (ie 4:4 time signature), and has you picking eight notes within a bar. The pattern for your picking hand is as follows:
T – 1 – 2 – 3 – T – 1 – 2 – 3
Exercises can be performed in two ways. Firstly, you should look at nailing a steady pace for the drills by using a metronome to space your timing. Aim to get the notes bang on, so that you have a smooth regular picking motion. Secondly, you can look at building speed on each drill. Start off at a steady pace and build up speed after each iteration until you are playing the drill at as fast a speed as you can manage, while still being able to space the notes out evenly.
Exercise 1 – Basic Quaver Pattern in A Minor
This exercise introduces you to the technique with a simple arpeggio.
Exercise 2 – Alternating Bass Quaver Pattern in A Minor
A slight enhancement to the first exercise, where we alternate the string picked by the thumb.
Exercise 3 – Alternating Bass Quaver Pattern in E Major
A further variation of the alternating thumb picking pattern, this time with three different bass notes being played, and on a new chord.
Exercise 4 – Putting It Together
Now you’re going to try joining the two chords together to focus on using the technique through a chord sequence.
You should now have a pretty good handle on the basic quaver finger-picking technique. From the fourth exercise, you should be able to formulate your own methods as to how to apply the technique to other chord sequences you know, and how to handle chord changes. Freak picking offers plenty of opportunities to explore acoustic guitar and to create very unusual textures, which we shall investigate in future tutorials.