Thursday, 8 October 2009

Coraline 3D Telepathy

More Geek Points

This week, Henry Selick decided to leave Laika, the animation studio he joined in 2004.

After the worldwide success of Coraline, and particularly Coraline 3D, which he directed, Henry did not share in the storm of promotions that then hit Laika. His title never changed, and he was left without a new project to work on.

Henry should be used to disappointment. This is the guy whose previous masterpiece originally came out under the title Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. But Henry is also an all-round nice guy, who is never likely to say anything remotely uncharitable about those he works with. At most, he might be pressed to admit that the whole Tim Burton misappropriation of credit thing "...still stings a little."

This is my Coraline 3D story. It's also another in a series documenting how your geek credentials can earn you a big hug: in this case, a psychic one! And needless to say, I will of course get straight to the point immediately, as always, without any unnecessary diversions whatsoever.

Days Of Science

We begin at the Edinburgh International Science Festival in 1995, where we were treated to a memorable selection of top quality presentations.

There was Richard Dawkins, in the days when he was renowned primarily as an ambassador for the theory of evolution by natural selection, and as a champion for the public understanding of science, rather than today's media caricature of a grumpy old atheist. He was busily promoting his new book, yet still managed to diverge more than enough from his prepared text, to give us numerous new (to us) and fascinating insights into aspects of evolution. Afterwards Linda took my book to ask him to sign it - I was starstruck and incapable of approaching the good professor - and she even bought a wee chapbook, "God's Utility Function", so as to have something of her own to get signed.

There was Lewis Wolpert, similarly holding court and proclaiming "The Triumph Of The Embryo" to an equally spellbound and appreciative audience, another evangelist for the cause of rationality and enlightenment, and no less a model of earnest clarity and sincerity.

There was also a larger meeting involving many scientists and other speakers from various disciplines, all preaching urgently about the state of the planet, and the coming devastations in the whirlwind that we'd soon reap. The general feeling in the room was that the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio had been a missed opportunity, failing to grasp the real risk that human activities – especially the consumption of coal, oil and gas – could affect the earth’s environment to a hitherto unseen and potentially very serious extent, as foreseen in the 1990 synthesis report of the UN climate panel (the IPCC). “The earth’s future is in danger” was the message, and the imminent Kyoto Conference was widely being touted as Our Last Chance.

Ayers Rocks

For all that enlightenment, celebrity and drama, the one thing that sticks out most prominently in my memory of that year's festival, was a picture of Ayers Rock in Australia.

We saw it during our trip to the Royal Observatory. It was the first time either of us had seen a demonstration of full colour 3D images. Well, I mean apart from the stereoscopes we'd played with as children, those truly marvellous binoculars that accepted a disk with diametric set pairs of left/right full-colour slides, projecting a different image directly into each eye. My favourites were collections of stills from Star Trek (the original series, of course).

This particular demonstration in the Royal Observatory used simple passive spectacles, but instead of the traditional red/blue filters they used polarised glass, with the left and right "lenses" mutually cross-polarised at 90°. The room was darkened, and a succession of still images was shown via the special projector. Ayers Rock jumped out of the projection screen and landed, in dazzling full colour, in the middle of the floor.

Introducing: Little Niece & Nephew

It was the memory of this experience that made me want to see Neil Gaiman's story Coraline in cinematic 3D when it was released this year. Word was, this would be a narrow opportunity window, since the supply of modern 3D cinematic projectors around these parts is still a bit low, and the Jonas Brothers were in hot 3D pursuit.

With no children of our own, we obviously needed cover to get into the cinema, and so we grabbed Little Niece and her bro, Little Nephew. Having employed these two true professionals before, when we went to see The Golden Compass, I was confident they wouldn't blow our cover and croak that they weren't actually ours. They even sat through a pre-show pizza with us, smiling and chatting, utterly convincingly.

Linda, who quite understandably loves nothing better than to be out with the kids, naturally beamed with happiness throughout the meal; particularly when a pizza was dropped on the floor (by one of us), and immediately replaced by a free one, courtesy of the manager. You are The Hut, Renfield Street Pizza Hut, you are The Hut!

When we got to the cinema, we grabbed the middle 4 seats of the front row, and proceeded to enjoy Neil's story and Henry's replacement animation masterpiece. Needles were thrust out of the screen and into our gaping faces, strange creatures danced in the middle of the air, French & Saunders squabbled behind a curtain somewhere out of view. Our looks of wonder became set in skin and bone for the full one hundred minutes.

Looking along the row of smiles, I began to know that this would be an evening we'd remember. And although Linda was three seats away to my right, bespectacled eyes transfixed on a point halfway between the screen and her nose, I could physically feel her delight at bringing these two youngsters to this new experience for the first time. That, and all the other aspects of this day when everything went right, and nothing disappointed.

Later in the week she would say to me, "When that movie started, I just wanted to give you a big hug!" and I would reply, "Yes I know, I felt it! And I hugged you back!"

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