Geeking Science: Capturing Bubbles in CGI and other Black Matters

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Movie Poster from Internet Hive Mind

Photography has been a white person game for a long time. The film for photos and film was optimized for light skin. When computer special effects came around, CGI illumination of skin likewise concentrated on the melatonin levels found in the layers of Caucasian skin. CGI hair mimicked either clumped animal hair or straight Caucasian hair.

Time for change.

Quick background – really, lighting for film concentrated on making white people to look good. It’s hard to make someone look good when the tools aren’t even on your side. For example

“Shirley cards” used by film-makers to calibrate skin tones and light, only featured Caucasian models until well into the 70s (and only changed because of complaints from photographers trying to advertise chocolate or wood furniture).  (Latif, 2022)

During the creation of Shrek, animators discovered skin looked more real when created with layers of reflection.

If you shine a laser pointer on a wall you’ll see just a small spot of light. But shine it on your hand and you’ll see a blob of red light because the light is spread around,” said Stephen Marschner, a professor of computer graphics at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.  (Onion, 2005)

To get skin to look real, the CGI character models needed layers to the outer shell replicating light interaction with skin. The programmers in the early oughts (00s) tapped research in the medical community studying skin for cancer and to find the difference between young and old skin to create their algorithms. (Secondary Rabbit Hole: The medical community used light refraction to study the difference between old and young skin, by analyzing “the skin between the thumb and the first finger of 400 Caucasian women ranging in age from 10 to 70.” (Onion) – and some of the discoveries are really cool and will impact makeup and health for decades to come. Note the studies used to create the algorithms were from Caucasian subjects.)

Change was needed when Wakanda Forever wanted to do underwater scenes with people of color, both Mexico-born and African heritage. Not only did they need to redo algorithms to account for different melatonin amounts in different levels of the CGI character model layers, but also deal with the underwater light diffusion.

Then the Wakanda Forever programmers had to start all over with the CGI algorithms for hair. Aquaman came first, and those movie makers said that the CGI effects for hair were tough. (Failes, 2018) Unlike Aquaman, Wakanda Forever did a lot of wet shooting and discovered something. Curly and kinky hair captures air – bubbles happen. Not only does kinky hair flow different underwater, but if reproducing people who recently went underwater, air bubbles need to be taken into account.

The science of filmmaking is worth geeking about, especially as inclusion and representation pushes technology boundaries, even in the CGI algorithms. If you are interested in photograph or filmmaking or CGI animation, I highly recommend diving down this rabbit hole.

Also check out a third rabbit hole on the hair styles for Wakanda Forever (Cummings, 2022)).

Bibliography

Alter, Ethan. “How the ‘Wakanda Forever’ visual effects team evolved the way Black skin and hair are digitally replicated onscreen.” aol.com. 12/21/2022. https://www.aol.com/entertainment/wakanda-forever-visual-effects-team-213304735.html – last viewed 12/27/2022.

Cummings, Faith. “The Story Behind the Stunning Array of Hair Looks in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” Vogue. 11/21/2022. https://www.vogue.com/article/black-panther-wakanda-forever-hair-camille-friend – last viewed 12/27/2022.

Failes, Ian. “In ‘Aquaman,’ Underwater CG Hair Was Surprisingly One of the Toughest Effect.” Cartoon Brew. 12/30/2018. https://www.cartoonbrew.com/feature-film/in-aquaman-underwater-cg-hair-was-surprisingly-one-of-the-toughest-effects-167947.html – last viewed 12/27/2022.

Latif, Nadia. “It’s lit! How film finally learned to light black skin.” The Guardian. 9/21/2017. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/sep/21/its-lit-how-film-finally-learned-how-to-light-black-skin – last viewed 12/27/2022.

Onion, Amanda. “Shrek Animators, Dermatologists Share Beauty Secret.” ABCnews. 4/4/2005. https://abcnews.go.com/Technology/Health/story?id=609818&page=1 – last viewed 12/27/2022.

Book Review (SERIES): The Deadly Seven – P is for Percherczyk

I love me some Superhero Romance – BUT the good ones are few and far between, the ones which balance Powers and Romance. Ms. Pecherczyk does so in the Deadly Seven series. I love the world concept of the Seven Deadly Sins used to power the superbeings. The challenge of balancing too much or too little of the sin. And the opposite person needed to bring balance to the powered-being.

♥Multi award-nominated series. ♥Finalist in the ARRA Award for Best Ongoing Paranormal Romance Series. ♥Finalist for the RWA Ruby Book of the Year award 2020. ♥Each book can be read as a standalone, but is best read in order to appreciate the overarching plot.

The Deadly Seven is a paranormal/scifi romance featuring genetically modified heroes who must find a lifemate or become the deadly sin they are destined to destroy. Perfect for fans of superhero shows like Batman, Arrow, The Flash and Superman… but with more heartfelt and hot romance from the hero and his love interest. For mature audiences only. Read FREE in Kindle Unlimited.

The Deadly Seven Series by Lana Percherczyk

  1. Sinner (prequel)
  2. Envy
  3. Greed
  4. Wrath
  5. Sloth
  6. Gluttony
  7. Lust
  8. Pride
  9. Despair

 

Amazon Cover

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON for SINNER

The selfie generation grew up.

And with them, the sin of greed exploded on an astronomical scale. Of course, where one went, the rest were sure to follow. Wrath, sloth, gluttony, pride, envy, lust… all climbed in severity until deadly sin consumed Cardinal City. Violence, murder, and mayhem were only the beginning. To save their city, top scientists created a band of brothers and sisters as deadly as the sins they were destined to fight. But before they were waging a war on crime, they were children born in a lab with no one to look out for them… except a deadly assassin pretending to be a nun and a tortured man running from his past.

If you’re obsessed with superhero movies, but want more romance, then The Deadly Seven is for you. Featuring fated mates and a band of brothers and sisters, tortured alpha heroes, kick-ass heroines, vigilante justice and a steamy romance in each book.

MY REVIEW for SINNER

The prequel to the Deadly Seven series, Sinner follows the relationship the Deadly Seven’s parents, Mary and Flint, as they rescue the children. The manuscript is a novella, far too short for the explosive and powerful love between the pretend nun and the curious nerd. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table for the series, except give a glimpse of how Mary and Flint actually see each other and what drives them to devote their lives to raising seven superpowered beings.

And that is worth the price of admission, especially since the price is free (at the time of this writing 1/12/2021).

I’ve read books 1-6 of the series. I am waiting for Pride to come out in July (ugh – 6 more months) and then Despair. Reading the Prequel may help tie me over.

Superspy romance feel. Good fun and good story. I really like the fact that Mary and Flint had been working up to full being-in-love for over a year. Yes, we only see one day of their lives, but what a day!

 

Amazon Cover

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON for ENVY

Disgraced hero Evan Lazarus punishes himself in the underground cage fighting scene. He blames himself for the tragedy that tore his family apart and left the city without its saviors. Traveling a dark path toward vengeance, if he’s not careful, he’ll become the evil he was created to fight. And then he meets her—a woman who embodies his sin’s opposing virtue. She’s smart, relentless, and electrifying… She’s everything he secretly craves.

Grace Go almost died in the blast that killed her parents and now seeks justice for the survivors. When her investigation crosses paths with a fiercely protective but damaged hero, she is intrigued. The more she sees him, the more he ignites a desire she thought long gone, and the easier it is to stay ignorant to the secret that could ruin her opinion of him forever.

When a figure from Evan’s past emerges, in league with the evil Syndicate, their scheme threatens to destroy everything he holds dear. Pushed to the limits, he will have to pull his family from the brink of oblivion and become the hero the city needs… or will envy drive him to destroy Grace and his only chance at love and redemption forever?

MY REVIEW for ENVY

Envy is nearly completely consumed by jealousy and covet-ness. He is lower than low, the youngest of his family, with no one believing him. His art brings him little joy as others only want his skill.

Then he meets his opposite. Someone who looked life in the eye and said “enough is enough, I’m going to build everyone around me up”. At times Grace is nearly too good – but it is needed to offset the Deadly Sin in Envy. She is a doctor and Envy is in need of a cure before his sin consumes him. Can Grace kiss it enough to make it better?

 

Amazon Cover

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON for GREED

Griffin Lazarus’ restraint is notorious within his heroic family. His mastery over the sin of greed is second to none. What they don’t know, is a shameful secret drives his discipline and one slip could mean fatal consequences for anyone close to him. When he’s forced to work with a beautiful, feisty reporter poking around his personal life, his control swiftly unravels. Everything about her throws his beliefs into chaos. She’s arousing, loud and infuriating, and craving her could be his undoing—or his redemption.
Lilo Likeke, an altruistic reporter for the Cardinal Copy, is hunting the story of a lifetime. Who are the Deadly Seven? If she can nail her unicorn story, she’ll finally prove her apple falls far from her corrupt family tree. But when her mobster father is kidnapped, and she’s drawn into his web of chaos, she soon learns you can’t outrun your past, but you can choose your family. Trusting the man behind the mask might kill her story, but it also might save her heart.

With the Syndicate breathing down their necks, none of it could matter if they don’t live to see another day, and Griffin has no intention of losing the woman he covets, even if that means embracing bedlam…

MY REVIEW for GREED

Ms. Pecherczyk gets both romance and supers – and has made an excellent addition to the Superhero Romance Genre with her The Deadly Seven series.

The world concept is seven brothers and sisters were genetically engineered to hunt down sin and destroy it. They were stolen and raised to be heroes instead of killers, but the base nature remains. If they don’t fight it – seek it out and remove it – the sin will consume them entirely. If they do too much good, they also will unbalance.

Greed has experienced directly – the unbalancing – waking with too much blood on his hands. Now he is obsessed with being balanced. For every good act, he does an evil. Then he meets the woman who is the opposite of Greed – who gives everything she has. Can she help him find a healthy balance; can he teach her to be be greedy for one thing — him?

Oh, and another superhero standby, the two meet in a newspaper office. She is a reporter. Superhero tingles all the way!

 

Amazon Cover

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON for WRATH

Betrayed. Alone. Angry.

Wyatt Lazarus’s ex-fiancée betrayed him in the vilest of ways, and he failed to see it coming. Now alone and ashamed, the unquenchable influence of his sin fuels his anger. Instead of redeeming sinners—he ends them. Wrath becomes his identity until a brutal mistake throws him into the path of a cheeky yoga instructor in need of a savior.

Misha Minski believes in karma, but after years of suffering blackmail from an old mafia acquaintance, it’s hard to stay strong. Soon her number is up. Rather than spend her last days wallowing in self pity, she’s determined to enjoy one last night of pleasure with her new mysterious protector, but instead, finds something much more—a future.

But when the evil Syndicate join forces with Misha’s psychopathic blackmailer, Wyatt must push through his bitterness and reunite with his heroic family, or the woman who gave him back his voice will be lost to him forever.

MY REVIEW for WRATH

Third of this superhero romance series, Wrath follows the troubled Wyatt – who is drowning in his Sin, and not just using being a vicious celebrity cook as his outlet anymore. He looks for opportunities to beat people, and one is delivered at the back of a neighborhood greasy spoon which is being shaken down by the local “protection” racket. Turns out they needed protection from him.

But he discovers his temporary fix has permanent consequences and agrees to hang around for the follow-up. Hiding in the kitchen, he discovers the owner’s daughter is his fated mate. Opposites attract for the Sins, and this Yoga-teaching woman quickly becomes his everything.

Now all he needs to do is stop the local mobster, convince her he is the real thing, and deal with the Syndicate trying to use the opportunity of him being separated from the family to “recruit” him one way or the other.

A strong superhero romance series with each story focusing on different romance tropes, but keeping tight to romance AND superhero themes.

 

Amazon Cover

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON for SLOTH

She’s a hacker, a legendary gamer, a badass vigilante… if she can get herself out of bed. Read Sloth now in Kindle Unlimited.

Nothing much appeals to Sloan Lazarus, except the burning hatred for the man who stole her heart and then ghosted her—right after she confessed her crime-fighting secret. When he turns up two years later, completely complacent and hot-as-sin, Sloan is determined to make his life a living hell. Then she discovers he is her lifemate… and her unstable powers kick in.

After being dishonorably discharged from the army, Maximillian Johnson has come to the sin-soaked Cardinal City to make a difference. A dark secret drives his motivation, and coloring outside the lines of law enforcement with the Deadly Seven is just what he needs. It doesn’t hurt that he gets to work with the beautiful woman who still holds a long denied place in his heart.

Problem is, the fanatical Syndicate are closing in, and just when the Deadly Seven think they’re making headway, they take two steps back. Sloan must learn to make peace with the brooding security specialist, or suffer the consequences of being imbalanced. If she can’t learn to trust again, and control her devastating new powers, life will be worse than a living hell… it will be deadly.

MY REVIEW for SLOTH

Finding breakouts in the genre of Superhero Romance is hard – few authors understand the need to both Wow with Power and Wow with Romance. Ms. Pecherczyk manages it perfectly.

The world concept for The Deadly Seven is these genetically engineered superbeings were created to hunt down sin and destroy it. They were stolen and then raised to hunt down sin and contain it. Now they are grown, their creators are trying to get them back, get them fully activated, and then release them to destroy the world.

So the seven brothers and sisters are fighting the bad guys, fighting their own programmed natures, and fighting for what is right.

I’ll be honest, I read Sloth out of order – as the second of the series rather than the fourth. And it worked okay. The books have self-contained romances which allow for stand-alone. But the overarc of the bad guys gave me a couple spoilers as I returned to the earlier books. But I had to read Sloth first – a gamer, a computer nerd, and … well, how do you super and sloth at the same time? I just had to see.

Oh, and her opposite. At one time, she asks him, do you ever slow down? (BTW, I can’t wait to see how a romance works between Lust and her opposite. But I’m gonna be good and not jump ahead again, … I think.)

 

Amazon Cover

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON for GLUTTONY

Tony Lazarus is a man who seems to have everything. Money, fame, movie-star good looks, women… but appearances can be deceiving. Behind the million-dollar smile is a hero losing his battle against the sin he’s supposed to have complete control over. Instead of fighting to keep the city safe, alcohol and drugs are his life until a chance encounter places him at the wrong end of sassy security agent’s ire.

It’s enough to shake sense into him, but now he has a new addiction, and her name is Bailey Haze. She is his lifemate, ex CIA and she wants nothing to do with him. He represents everything she’s been fighting to overcome her entire life – he’s cocky, smug, and entitled.

When a Syndicate failed experiment terrorizes Cardinal City, the two must work together. As their fates become forever entwined, and desire ignites between them, can they forget about their prejudices and join forces? Or will their inner demons dig a grave they can’t hope to get out of alive?

MY REVIEW for GLUTTONY

The opening might throw off readers for a moment. It’s Tony in his movie character. Aside from that distraction – this book is perfect.

Tony has long been so charismatic he has been impossible to not love, and so broken, impossible to love. You want to eat all of him, yet doing so leaves you feeling so full you hate yourself. A constant situation Tony lives in – surrounded by celebrity excess, both loving and hating it and himself.

Then a threat emerges against his secret identity and the studio insists he gets a bodyguard. Overkill for the superhero, but necessary if he wants to continue the acting he loves so much. Bailey Haze isn’t just any bodyguard though; the ex-fed comes with her own problems, many related to dealing with addicts. But his opposite number – Abstinence to his Gluttony, makes Tony’s genetic programming draw them together.

In the background is the stalker, the Syndicate, and … a mobile sentient plant?

Oh joy!!! Ms. Pecherczyk goes all in with the Superhero Romance Genre with a purely absurd villain of the story. …. Only the plant as absurd as Toad in the X-Man movie (hopping and killing people, freaked me out after seeing him usually portrayed as a loser in the comics) and Gorilla Grodd when he is influencing Gorilla City (trust me, the mind control aspect are chilling when written right).

Each encounter with the plant just gets better and better. This whole story is Superhero Romance at its best!

 

Amazon Cover

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON for LUST

Lies among friends Liza Lazarus’s devotion to the law is only eclipsed by her loyalty to her vigilante family. The tough, no-holds-barred, city detective crushes it on the outside, but on the inside, she’s losing a battle for her sanity and heart. Sensing lust makes her physically sick. It’s great for catching rapists and murderers, but for finding love? Impossible. Then a childhood friend comes crashing back into her life, and she finds the impossible isn’t so out of reach… if they can get past decades worth of lies between them.

Love among enemies FBI Special Agent Joe Luciano has been in love with Liza since they were kids. The kind of soul-wrenching, heart-clobbering love that can send a man insane… except she only ever saw him as a friend. When a secret investigation brings him right into the Lazarus family war-zone, he learns they’re not as virtuous as he once believed. They’re the very criminals he’s been hunting. The more embroiled he becomes with Liza and her vigilante family, the more his black and white world crumbles until he’s forced to make an impossible choice… arrest her, or love her.

Betrayal among family As a child, Despair Lazarus was forsaken by her family, and left to the mercy of the evil Syndicate. She became a brutal, heartless warrior, and the Lazarus family never forgave themselves. So when she finally comes knocking at their door, they welcome her with open arms, blind to the danger they’ve invited into their midst. With the Syndicate, old enemies, and the FBI closing in on her family’s secrets, Liza must learn to control her new deadly powers and piece together where the real danger lies… with her lover, her long-lost sister, or herself.

MY REVIEW for LUST

I jumped ahead to read Lust. Had to. The conundrum of how can you do a romance without Lust being involved.

Simple just have …. oh, spoilers, never mind.

This is a Friends to Lovers trope story, as well as a superhero story, and a romance. Ms. Pecherczyk writes a Powered universe well and I continue to fall deeper into the Deadly Sevens standoff against the Syndicate every story.

Total love for Lust!

 

Amazon Cover

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON for PRIDE

Genius. Billionaire. Arrogant. Vigilante. Liar.

There are many words to describe Parker Lazarus. Some call him stubborn. Some call him impossible. Some call him a liar. He doesn’t care what anyone calls him, as long as he fulfills his destiny to rid the world of the fanatical Syndicate and leads his family to victory. Of his seven siblings, six have found their lifemate. But it should have been him first. He battles the deadly sin of pride, and he accepts no failure. Especially his own.

When Parker finds out his mate has been under his nose for years, an assassin masquerading as his assistant, his controlled world is thrown into chaos. Not only does he lose his arm because of his unwillingness to accept this truth, but he loses himself when she challenges him in ways he’d never thought possible. How did this woman slip past his defenses? How does she continue to defy him at every turn? Why does he risk everything – even his secret identity – to keep her safe?

Pride becomes more than another word to describe him. It becomes his downfall. And if he can’t learn to open himself up to failure, and to trust the help of loved ones, then his pride will pave the road to destruction. Not just for the Syndicate, but for all mankind.

MY REVIEW for PRIDE

Of all the books of this series, I liked this one the least. I’ve even given some of the other books of the series five stars, I loved them so much.

Pride is, well, prideful. His fall is obvious and painful. He is so deep into his Sin, and his siblings so used to him wallowing in it, that the fall is evitable. The boy needed a spanking more than his preferred fetish.

Overall, the story was a workable romance – but in a series with as many gems as this, workable looks like a lump of coal.

Pride does move the overall plot of the Deadly Seven forward. It does introduce some interesting turns, especially among the Sinners (an upcoming series is hinted at for them – and I would love to see Mary and Raven gets some true love of their owns). The metaphysical hints from the start of the series are finally condensing.

One of the worst parts is the huge payoff of the central relationship – is buried as a email-collection by the author presented as a special bonus epilogue available exclusively through her newsletter. Maybe if I got that relationship payoff, I would be happier with the book – but as it is, the conclusion feels very behind closed doors – even with the hot, hot sex scenes found throughout the book.

Final thoughts: If you are already invested in the overall series, it will be worth a read. Otherwise, read Gluttony or Greed or Sloth and get invested first.

 

Amazon Cover

BOOK BLURB ON AMAZON for DESPAIR

Do villains deserve their happy ever after?

Daisy Lazarus is the genetically modified warrior of the forgotten deadly sin despair. After spending most of her life as the villain, she has finally been brought back into the fold and wants nothing more than to fit in, to find herself, and to prove she was worth saving. But the more she tries to be like her heroic siblings, the more her fears try to pull her back into the darkness.

Firefighter Axel Alvares has done bad things, including being one of the Syndicate’s fanatical thugs for hire. But after refusing to turn a blind eye to Daisy’s torture, he learns the right reasons sometimes have devastating consequences. He’s pulled into the midst of a deadly battle to save the world, to the center of despair, and to the woman who sits at the heart of it…

As the mad leader of the Syndicate diverts from his original plan, kicking up chaos no one saw coming, family bonds will be tested, personal growth may be for nothing and love may not conquer all…

The thrilling, epic, and the heartfelt conclusion to the Deadly Seven Series.

MY REVIEW for DESPAIR

Book number 8 of the Deadly Seven series. All her younger siblings went first, now it is Daisy’s turn in the spotlight – otherwise know by her superpower vice name of Despair. She is paired with a hope-filled firefighter.

While each of the Deadly Seven works as a stand-alone, the overarching story is just as engaging and comes to its cataclysmic conclusion as the superpower groups nemesis continues his descent into madness, sewers, and multi-dimensional planes. Despair must stand between heaven and hell, and reconcile her past of being a villain with the desire of everyone else to see her the hero. Will she heal enough from the damage Justin inflicted on her, both mental and physical, in time and enough to save the world and her family?

It’s been a year since I read the rest of the series, waiting for this conclusion to come out. I am still in love with the superhero prose Ms. Pecherczyk writes so well, I had forgotten how good her sex scenes can be, and the family drama just tickles me (wish there was more of it).

Movie Reviews: Hitman, Freaks, Super Detention, and The Magic Kids

I get niggles (yes, actually a word!) in my brain when I don’t read for a while. It’s usually the worst on Friday nights, but I’ve been hitting the books pretty hard this tax season so the niggles that have been growing and growing are just demanding to be transported away in a story. They wanted to WATCH a story; be totally passive and absorb someone else’s opus.

(niggle as a noun means: a trifling complaint, dispute or criticism; niggle as a verb means: cause slight but persistent annoyance, discomfort, or anxiety)

(opus is either a collection of musical compositions OR any artistic work, especially one on a large scale)

This is a challenge because I don’t have a television nor cable, nor did I really want to commit the time and money to go to a theatre, but yesterday (Friday … always a Friday), went looking for a TV show to watch. Even five years ago, that was possible on many of the network websites (like SyFy), but now they are all behind cable sign-up paywalls. I finally found tubi.com, and then proceeded to watch four movies back-to-back. Hopefully satisfying the niggles for a while.

While watching, my inner editor did not go passive. She was mostly turned off, but every now and again she went – “oh, that is good!” And this morning while waking up, she started going – “and this is bad.”

Below are my Movie Reviews for the four movies I watched. They were all genre action-oriented. I made sure to choose recent movies (within a decade) to help keep my finger on what is happening NOW. The Reviews are more an editing, tearing apart the story to see what makes it tick than the normal is it a good movie.

Hitman: Agent 47 (2015, rated R)

The establishing scene shows a hitman competence while a voiceover gives us an infodump. Hitman is based on a series of video games so for the dates getting dragged into the movie, the infodump fills them in quickly. Lots of glossy action, quickly to get you hooked. Hitman definitely meets genre writing expectations of dumping you in the middle of the action. At the end of the scene, the goal of the movie is established in big clear letters: find the girl and she will lead you to the creator. The Hitman needs to do this before the bad guys who want to reactivate the Hitman Project.

Next scene introduces the “girl”. Throughout the movie she continues to be referred to as the “girl”. (When the movie was released, Hannah Ware was thirty-two. My fingers are pinching the bridge of my nose right now. Big Sigh.) The daughter of the geneticist who created the Hitman Project, Katia is looking for the father who abandoned her. Her “normal” is established next (the Hitman’s normal was the action-pack opening scene). Katia is in a repository of knowledge trying to find clues. She talks with another woman.

Editing brain kicked in. Great – a woman-to-woman scene … and we are only talking about a man. (Another sigh.) Bechdel Test fail.

(Bechdel Test – To pass the Bechdel test, an fictional opus (usually a movie, but the test can be applied to books as well) must feature (a) at least TWO women, (b) the women must talk to each other, and (c) their conversation must concern something other than a man.)

The Bechdel Test is not a hard one – a movie or book can be 90% male characters, just so long as it has two female characters talking to each other about anything other than a male. How hard can that be? In 2022, 30% of all movies (45 of 153 movies on the Bechdel website) still fail the test even after being created in 1985 (https://bechdeltest.com/?list=all).

Back to the movie, this morning I scrambled in my head for any other women in this movie. We have the mother on the elevator with her husband and child; we have the woman Katia bumped into to steal her medicine, and we have Agent 47 handler. So five women in the entire movie. Elevator woman and medicine woman are “sword carriers”, scenery people. There might have been a couple more scenery women, but nearly everyone in the Hitman was male.

This is likely related to the original source material being a shooter assassin story centering around Agent 47. The target audience was male and the target audience for the movie were fans of the game, so again male.

We never see Agent 47 take off his shirt, or, if so, I didn’t notice. He takes off his jacket so we see his guns sometimes. Katia, on the other hand, goes swimming in a bikini, changes into a ribbed white shirt with no bra so her nipples show, has her undressing and the camera staying in the room, etc. Yes, it was noticeable and annoying. Why? Because Katia was the ONLY person in the entire movie sexualized. And they kept calling her “girl” … grrrr.

Aside from the Bechdel Test failure, the other Editing Mind moment was admiring the scenery. The location scout for Hitman did an outstanding job, using Berlin and Singapore for a glossy, shiny backdrop, with just enough dirty and dim to make the tech-shine that much brighter. The scene in the arboretum is outstanding location-wise – a combination of Gardens by the Bay, The Cloud Forest, and the OCBC skywalk. I also loved the scene cut to the subway. Again, glossy and yet darker for being underground (with the required fight around trains).

Takeaways from the movie:

  • Be aware of the limitations of the source material.
  • When writing a book, choose locations that fit the material.
  • Watch out for sexualizing when it is not needed, or if you want the flesh pop & sizzle, give male and female equal time in the risqué viewing.

For action, Hitman: Agent 47 clicks all the tick boxes. For visuals, really clean, crisp and easy to see.

Freaks (2018, rated R)

Let’s check off the Bechdel test right off the bat. Freaks totally, totally passes. It helps that the main character is a seven-year-old female, Chloe. She talks to her mother, the child across the street (Harper), the mother of the child across the street (Nancy Reed), the girls at a slumber party, and also the special agent hunting the Freaks. Being so young, Chloe is an extreme narcissist, everything is about her. Yes, sometimes she cares about her dad, but mostly it is all about her: her wants and her needs. That being said, of the characters listed on the imdb (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8781414/), 11 of the 17 (64%) are male. All the “sword carriers” are male.

The location scout wasn’t quite as out of the ballpark as Hitman, but the outside of the home where Chloe and her father are squatting, is beautifully rundown. The sets for inside the house fit well.

What hit the Editing Brain on this one was the beautiful integration of the backstory. Everything was seamless. No info dumps to be found, but you can get everything from contextual clues.

The first time the backstory made me sit up and go “wow” was going past the TV, where the anniversary of the loss of Dallas (or was it Detroit?) is shown. It’s easy enough to put together superpowers needing to hide with the destruction of a major city to understand what happened. And any adult would understand the fallout from there. A seven-year-old, not so much.

A little less pretty in its integration, is Chloe being indoctrinated by her grandfather into certain actions and then her mirroring those actions later. Chloe, as a child, models her behavior off of those around her, and she is a quick learner. Her father would have been better off raising Chloe among other children, so she would have seen compassion, compromise, and care-giving modeled instead of just hiding, fear, and demands. Back to the circle of action: someone doing an action, then Chloe doing it. It was too exact in the modeling; unlike the backstory smoothly revealed, the learning to kill then killing was a club to the head. But very Hollywood in the mirror aspect, and acceptable for the genre. Just disappointing given how well done the other reveals were.

Having a story anchored on a child is never easy, especially a young one, but the actress who played Chloe is Lexy Kolker and has been acting since she was a toddler. She deservingly got a lot of recognition for her efforts in this role; she has been in nine movies and four TV series. (https://www.imdb.com/name/nm7652057/?ref_=tt_cl_t_5) The limitations on hours, and with nearly every scene centered around her, made a lot of the reaction shots be done in extreme closeup. That way for the adult reactions, Lexy wouldn’t have needed to be on set. As a minor between six and nine, she is limited to six hours, with one hour of rest and recreation required. (https://tophollywoodactingcoach.com/2012/08/work-hours-for-minors-in-the-entertainment-business-2/) Basically a good director would shoot everything for her in the long distance, and all her closeups, and then send her home with her parent/guardian (who also has to remain on set the entire time she is present). The adult actors then get to do more long hours once the child has left.

As with Hitman, Freaks does an opening scene to define the “normal” for the characters. In Freaks, I think it ran a little long – but the screenwriter and director worked so hard on Show Don’t Tell, and that always takes longer. Voiceover cuts down on establishments scenes, for the Hitman. Freaks instead has to take the time to show us and let us figure things out.

For example, we see the father cry a blood tear and he tells his daughter to tell him if she ever starts leaking blood from her eyes. We also see him cough a lot. And this “bong” effect. None are explained directly. As we go on, we learn that using the powers make blood tears, and if you really push your powers, you might end up in coughing fits. We discover how long and how the father kept his child safe; how much he pushed his powers. But all of that comes from inference, no one turns to face the screen and goes “When one uses the powers, one cries red tears.”

One way to bring out how important this is, we inference from watching the hypervigilance of the normal humans and their immediate, crazed reactions to seeing blood running from eyes. The combination of the loss of a city and how really powerful everyone with powers actually is, makes the overwhelming reaction by the normals understandable, and yet, still horrific. Again, SHOWN how this works, not TOLD.

We, the watchers of the movie, discover the mother being alive, how the family across the road get roped into things, the ice cream truck. Everything is this wonderful Show Don’t Tell reveal method throughout the movie.

I think part of it is we are seeing and understanding everything from the child’s point of view. She isn’t being told things; she is discovering them. And each new reveal rocks her world – and changes her emotions. She loves her father and hates him, wants a mother but angry when she isn’t loved immediately. Every emotion is out there and flips fast. For a seven-year-old, the emotions are matching action – but in an adult, we would have been like “you can’t change this fast”.

Takeaways form the movie:

  1. Backstory integration can be seeded throughout.
  2. Point of View (POV) can drive how the story is presented.
  3. Make sure any heavy-handed tropes match the genre expectation.

Slower than most of the recent blockbuster superpower stories, this movie delivers everything from unique powers to strong worldbuilding to believable characters. It strays a breath into the horror genre.

Super Detention (2016, TV-PG)

After two movie theatre movies, I switch to a “Disney” show. Basically teenagers with silly adults. Why do we make children movies with incompetent adults? Is it because we can’t have children realize that adults can’t protect them all the time, so we have to make the movies be pure farce? Kids today face active shooter drills, they can handle a little less farce in their life.

Bechdel Test is easier when you have an ensemble cast. The six supers in detention are three females and three males. Two of the females have a “cat fight” … yes, the males call it that while it is happening (fingers pinch nose again). But that fight counts as meeting the Bechdel Test.

Now let’s dig a little deeper. One of the three females sleeps most of the movie – she ends up being integral to resolving the Big Bad situation, but is kept quiet, to the side, before the big reveal. Her underutilization is sad, but I understand her power is needed for the surprise twist.

Therefore, the main cast is two women and three men. They split up the large team often into two groups – one female in a group of two, and one female in a group of three. The bad guys are made up of a lead bad guy, and his female support assistant, and bodyguards of two males and one female. (Again the two to three ratio.) The adult support of a male principal and a male superintendent continues the lean into the preference for male roles.

Other character comments. In Hitman, no real people of color are shown even though set in Singapore. In Freaks, two cops were of color – basically sword carriers. In Super Detention, we have one of the main five, a female be of African descent, and the secret weapon female is Latino. Everyone else, especially those higher in the political totem pole, are white, and usually male. I don’t think Liv and Lunam actually talk to each other – so the PoC Bechdel test is not passed, but this is the first of the three movies where it was even possible.

(PoC Bechdel Test – this I made up, it’s basically the same as Bechdel, only its (a) two PoC appear in a movie; (b) they talk to each other; (c) about something other than white people.)

More caricature than characters, especially the adults, the acting is very made-for-TV-movie level. The plot is simple and straight forward.

Now on to the Editing Brain. The constant clapping in the auditorium made no sense, and all the children willing to stay there from the beginning of school to nightfall without food or bathroom breaks is more of a fantasy.

We had a full moon hitting at sunset – Yay! Correct timing with that.

We had isolation of the school actually making sense (though the parents not coming to get their kids when school ended didn’t). That is one of the challenges of writing a story where the children have to be the heroes; why aren’t the parents doing their thing? Why are the adults not helping? This movie explained it adequately. A bit of a fantasy level in isolation, especially in an age of cell phones and every classroom wired for wi-fi, but I’m willing to spend a belief coin on that.

(Belief Coins – I’ve used this term in the past within my blog, but for those new, basically it is the amount of good will you have with your readers to break outside the “normal” but to keep the story “true” and “real”. Depending on the genre, some things are cheaper. For example, in a romance “love-at-first-sight-and-instant-trust” is one coin. But in a mystery, it might be five or six. You got a finite amount to spend. So in the genre of children-in-danger-but-saving-the-day, defining why adults aren’t part of the save usually is only one belief coin. The non-stop clapping and the children staying still for hours with just one person guarding them, and no one killed or injured to convince them to stay put, that was more like three or four coins in this farce – and in a thriller, I wouldn’t have accepted it at all.)

The superpowers had a nice mix to them, and each had an occasion to shine. I really enjoyed Déjà vu as a character, because even with all his multiplying power, his true strength was political (not tactical) leadership. He knows how to play the game at a level equal to the adults in his life; yes, Déjà vu made some mistakes, he is still a kid, but you can see him winning governor twenty years down the line.

Bad continuity included burning the edge of the table and the next scene, it is fine. Just keeping that damage in would have been great, but likely the “broken firey scar” was just CGI and they didn’t keep it going. One plus to writing rather than video storytelling, you don’t have to worry about a CGI budget.

Another CGI mistake was when the puppet master, who kept her hand up correctly for it, didn’t have the line to the character’s head she was controlling.

Really the CGI creators on this one sucked. I can handle bad CGI, but when it breaks continuity, that is on the CGI company and the director.

The one scene (aside from the bad continuity), that made my Editing Mind sit up, is when Principal Hughes uses his powers. A level one, he locks and unlocks things. We first see it in action when he locks the kids in detention and no one can leave. When the bad-guy minions attack him, and he locks them in position, the power really starts taking off. And it’s important in the final scene. With all the pieces in place, I figured out what was going to happen the minute I saw the principal on stage all tied up. That part was good storytelling.

One theme for the movie is everyone has an ability, and they are all worthwhile.

All the powers are needed to get to the Final Confrontation, and nearly all are needed to actually win the battle.

The movie has several expected beats – breaking up of the party, the individuals failing (and succeeding), the villain monologue, the big fight at the end, the VERY quick ending tying up everything (including the clever use of Déjà vu against the superintendent).  And, of course, the establishment scenes at the beginning to show the “normal”. These scenes do double duty of (a) showing each power in action, (b) defining what drives each character, and (c) setting all the students aside in detention.

For the location, the school is brightly lit, colorful, and open. Clothing/costumes of the main group work well individually, but not as good together (three dark and three light in the final scene actually looked bad enough to make me notice and wince).

The pattern to filming scenes was fairly clear – the long time in the auditorium was likely a single day shoot – don’t need to pay that many actors for more than a day. I would say this movie shoot took a week, maybe two, with another week or two for CGI. When you are kicking out movies to TV, you can’t spend a lot of time on each. Just like a TV show takes a week, a two-hour movie needs to take two.

Takeaways from the movie:

  • Continuity is important. Don’t break things unless they are going to stay broken. Especially when they are a plot point.
  • Make superpowers visible whenever possible, and show their versatility as well.
  • Have Powered people be more than their powers; show their strengths and weaknesses outside of the power.
  • For Young Adult, make the locations be generic, for Adults, make them far-flung. This way the children can put themselves in the story, and adults can escape. (Comparison of Detention to Hitman)
  • Make sure things are believable whenever possible, so that when you have to break that guideline, you got the belief coins to spend. Even in a farce.

Super Detention is a farce superhero school story in the made-for-TV Disney tradition. It’s a good watch and forgettable entertainment.

The Magic Kids: Three Unlikely Heroes (2020, foreign)

Filmed in Germany, Die WolfGang was released first in Germany and Austria and is based on a book series by Wolfgang Hohlbein. The version I watch was dubbed into English and renamed for the American audience.

I tried watching another foreign movie Friday night which had subtitles, but I wasn’t interested in reading, just watching. I enjoyed the dubbed for the most part, but sometimes the words and the lips didn’t match up.

Two of the movies I watched were translations from other mediums, Hitman and The Magic Kids, and the other two were original productions. Changing mediums means that while you get a plus from a ready-made audience, you have to meet the expectations of that audience. Meaning, you can’t change the characters too far from what they originally appeared to be in the other medium.

The first thing that struck my Editing Brain was how painfully close Magic Kids tried to match the Harry Potter format for certain visuals, down to the red-headed boy. The school’s principal was a flamboyant witch. And the three “best friends” (note the period of the movie is less than three days, the BFF vibe grabbed a belief coin or two from my purse) are two boys and one girl.

So onto the Bechdel Test. The main family unit is a father-and-son, most of the talking is between them. The bad guy has a female assistant. The red-head child has a mother and father. And I *think* the female friend has a mother-and-father set, but we never really interact with them. We do see Faye initially with her two BFF female friends, but they are little more than sword-carriers and quickly turn on her when she has a problem and drops in popularity. The talking of the fairy set vs. the pig set clearly show the preference of male speaking parts. When the fairies do talk to each other, it is about helping a boy.

I don’t think there is a scene where two females talk to each other for real. Again the lack of main female parts preclude that, and the fact most bit parts, like the bicyclist, are written for male actors doesn’t help. (A quick fix would have been make the constable or the custodian-mentor be female.)

Again, we see the ratio skewed to the male. One in three  of the children group are female (vs. the two in five for the teens in Detention). In all the movies but Freaks, the Big Bad was male and if they had a female in the mix, she was a loyal assistant. Freaks, the Big Bad was the system, but the face of the system was a female agent trying to capture the child – though NONE of the other people in the system interacting with the female agent was female: not cops or the TV reporter.

Big take away from movie night – more women in stories are needed at every level; we writers got to start writing stories about women for all ages. And be aware the ratio of male to female in the world is 1:1 – fifty percent of the characters in movies should be female, and not just mothers and assistants. In addition, females shouldn’t just be defined in their relationship to males. The ratio shouldn’t 33% to 40% among the lead characters. We as creators needs to change this, whether writing novels to be made into movies, creating the screenplay, making video games, or directing television show and movies. It’s up to us to make representation matter.

(Related: People of Color – really!!!! They need this even more than women. Though statistically, the split is less obvious.)

After the limited people and costumes in the last three movies, the expansive sets chocked full of people in costumes, really hit me. They would have had three days of shooting I think, maybe one, if they moved fast, because that was a lot of makeup and costume. One is the initial scene arriving to town, one is the school auditorium when the seven years are being check in, and finally is the watching the solar eclipse scene. A producer wouldn’t want to pay for all that makeup and costume work more than once; they had a tight schedule for a few days on the shoot.

Speaking of the solar eclipse, my Editing Brain loved seeing a sliver of the moon in the one night still going “yay, not a full moon”. But this morning, when I added the solar eclipse in the mix I went Double Yay! Because the next day within the story was the solar eclipse, and that can only happen on nights of the New Moon. They got the moon cycles right, and that hardly ever happens.

The thing I would fix for this movie is make the father scenes less farce. I understand the “there is no danger here” vibe they were going for the children book remake, but I would have really loved to see the father be … better? I guess. He is a single dad, a three-hundred year old vampire. Make him more … well, more.

Again, one of the big things when children have to be the heroes, is how to dump adult support. In this movie, the children all had good relationships with their parents. Parents who didn’t always understand them, but always supported them. When the children figured out enough to clearly articulate the issue to the parents, they agreed to go and tell the adults – splitting up to head home. Then the moment that made my Editing Brain go “Wow!” with magic sparkles is the Reverse Curse spell, making the children say the opposite of what they want.

Instead of “There is a great danger” out comes “Everything is fine and I’m fine.”

Beautiful (sniff).

The children couldn’t tell the adults. They wanted to, they turned to them, but they couldn’t.

The presentation of that issue was farce, but the dealing with the fallout wasn’t.

The isolation was well done and spent NO belief coins. I was really impressed. The isolation from adults added to the danger, was integrated into the story, and had only a minuscule info dump needed to pull it off.

The scene I would have fixed is when dad showed up (late) to rescue the children from fighting the big bad, I wouldn’t have made that part a farce. He had scratches – I would have made the damage more … that he fought tooth and nail to be there for his son and his son knows it. But then, I’m not a fan of farce. The world is both much more scary and more amusing than most main-stream producers of entertainment present.

Takeaways from the movie:

  • When isolating children for YA hero setup, try to integrate the isolation into the story.
  • Get the science right.
  • You can make a movie with a ton of magic while spending very little belief coins, if you make the characters real.

That last one is key to this movie. The three main characters are believable pre-teens. When faced setbacks, there is an amazing transition scene with each of them crying in bed – turning over (and transitioning to the next child). They think about running away. They make friends and face their fears.

The only farce aspects with the children is when manifesting their magic – especially the werewolf and the vampire. A lot of the adult interaction is farce, but very little of the children interaction is.

Summing Up

I think my brain was right in wanting to watch rather than read, and I’m hoping the niggles back off, because I can’t do this too often.

I did learn a lot about storytelling last night.

Flash: Sleeper Agent

Photo provided by freedigitalphotos.net

I keep my head down beside my sleeping coworkers, cursing quietly in my mind. Our new boss is a mentalist. Fuck, fuck FUCK! No wonder O’Connell sold the startup for a song. We all had thought he had caved because the new release had been pushed back until after Christmas.

The Sleeper stood behind Emily, caressing her long blond hair, adjusting her thoughts to be more accepting of the new direction to take our app development Kingsley had announced. And maybe a little more. I had seen how he had looked at her when the powered started the meeting.

What to do before he got to me, the project manager for Boundless and unregistered powered.

I don’t have a clue. I know I’m a neutral, because my brother can’t burn me. He’s a minor pyro – like can create a single flame about the size of a match – and I think the only registered pyro in existence not dragged off immediately to become a solider, but with his eyes, bottle caps glasses are the kindest description, spaghetti muscles, and limited powers, what would they do with him? Me, powers don’t work on me, but it won’t be obvious until the asshole touches me. I’m as much a nerd as my brother and have similar lack of muscles, so punching his lights out isn’t an option.

Jason is getting the treatment now, whatever it is. One more body between me and him. Time to make a decision.

(words 245; first published 3/12/2023, from a FB visual prompt for a writing group I belong to – aiming for 50 words

Flash: Performance Anxiety

Image by Erik McClean on Unsplash

“Behold two houses, alike in dignity.” The Performer hovered midair, holding his victims inches above the asphalt on the lowest level of the car port. “That is to say, they have none. So hero, which one will you rescue, your sister or your wife?”

(words 44; first published 11/30/2023 – created based on a visual prompt for a Facebook writer’s group, aim is about 50 words)