Art & Design, Culture, Music, TV & Radio

Choice Cuts: Danger Doom – The Mouse and the Mask

Lex Records, 2005Danger Doom - The Mouse and the Mask (800x450)Danger Doom’s album is high-wire fun that’d be an offence to anyone who takes themselves too seriously. So you can bet it’d go down well with smiley Liam Gallagher and today’s hardline extremists, right?

A collaboration between enigmatic super-producer, Danger Mouse, and equally reclusive masked rapper, MF Doom, The Mouse and the Mask is a marvel of audacious jams and masterful short stories, spliced with animated skits and more humour than a Hanna-Barbera classic.

Culture, TV & Radio

The decline of children’s TV

Kirsten O'Brien, SMart, CBBC, 2011It was a time of innocence, of compassion, of playfulness. A time before the Nanny State, rampant gang culture and too many road accidents caused parents to forbid their children from “playing out.” Before the web became everyone’s favourite distraction, before video games conquered the home and before Toy Day was brushed aside by schools for being “too childish.” It was the golden age of children’s television, and I never imagined I would feel such an attachment to it.


You’ve Got a Friend in Me

If the Toy Story 3 game isn’t like the first three minutes of the film, I don’t want to play it. The film perfectly encapsulated what playing with toys looks like through the eyes of a child. I remember when my brother and I used to play with our Lego Bionicle sets. From the highest point of Mata Nui (which happened be our staircase landing), to the lowest depths, everyday was a new adventure, and it all came to life in our imaginations.
The feeling of playing with toys with my brother when I was young was just one warm emotion that Toy Story 3 brought forth within me. I caught the film yesterday evening with my brother at an Enfield cinema we used to visit a lot as a family. Beyond a few brief glimpses, all I knew about the film was that Woody and company are back and Andy is all grown up. And this is all I wanted to know. I’d heard people mention they had a powerful reaction to the film and I didn’t want anything to lessen my own experience of it.
Toy Story 3 was an acutely personal and supremely poignant film for me. It had me welling up with tears, and that’s something that no other film has done to me in months, possibly years. As Randy Newman’s synonymous track ‘You Got a Friend in Me’ picked up during the early montage of Andy growing up, I could feel myself drifting back to 1996. My memory of the CG characters trigged a swirl of nostalgic emotions, framed by a reflection on how far I’ve come since then and where I am today.
There was plenty of laughs and action of course, and Buzz’s impressive Prince of Persia-like acrobatics made me wish to applaud loudly – I would of were it not for the viewers around us who seemed to be without a pulse, so I just clapped discreetly a couple times. I laughed at the call-backs and running jokes. I felt nervous excitement as the toys found themselves in deepening peril. And I swooned as Andy and Bonnie played together, visualising my thoughts and feeling about growing up.

I knew it would be powerful, but I never expected it to be wiping at my puffy eye lids as 14 years of memories washed over me – it was the same for my brother, who surprised me by insisting we remain right through the credits. Seeing Andy’s mum give her son a hug and tell him how much she loves him touched me, and I know it touched many others who have grown up and are now studying away from home. Pixar truly are masters of their art. Toy Story 3 pulled my heartstrings like nothing else has this year. I grow up with Woody and Buzz, and they’ve grown up to bid my childhood a fond farewell. May our friendship never die.


Mutant Crackdown

It’s time to crackdown on the lowlife scum of Pacific City. And by that I mean watch the prequel web comic produced by Microsoft for Crackdown 2. If you’re unfamiliar with the original, it was a functional, if noticeably jerky, open world action game. It had a pretty laughable co-op mode which was just ripe for goofing off, but it’s mostly footnoted as being the carrier for the Halo 3 beta – a mass market success that saw Crackdown shot up the charts.

Crackdown 2 (from Ruffian Games, some of the guys who brought you the original) is out in Europe today. So what better way to celebrate this year’s most likely candidate for the ‘sequel that never should have been’ by reviewing its animated backstory?

Seems themed gangs aren’t outlandish enough these days. Introducing Pacific City as once again becoming a haven for crime and civil unrest, the Crackdown 2 web comic aims to make its implausible plot something to buy into. There are mutants in Crackdown 2. Yes, angry, drooling, deformed mutants. It’s total B-movie cheese. The five episodes (written by Ed Campbell) don’t follow a linear narrative, but rather summarise a brief history of events, treating you as a law abiding citizen and vigilant eye of the Agency. Catalina Thorne and the Sunburst project are introduced as two objectives that will be central to the game, but true character is thin on the ground.

I did find the art style (by Alex Ronald) to be quite striking for what they’re going for – although it’s more vivid than the game’s cartoony art direction. The slight shaky cam effect also helps set the tone for the rough, urban wasteland that is presented.

If these episodes appeared as a series of public announcements they could easily be watched out of sequence and still be understood. That’s a testament to the fact that the Crackdown 2 web comic makes some positive use of its medium. However, its lack of character means motion comics like Metal Gear Solid: Digital Graphic Novel and Uncharted: Eye of Indra have the edge in terms of engagement. Like the game it’s based on, repeat viewings of this web comic will unearth little you haven’t already seen in one sitting.


Coraline: Shock, Horror and the Other Mother

Over the Christmas break I finally had the chance to sit down and watch Coraline in the comfort of my living room. I had been intrigue by this film ever since I came across the large poster ad for it at Cineworld, Nottingham.

Based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name, after discovering a door to a ‘perfect’ dream world, the titular character is caught up in a manner of strange encounters. Coraline is forced to grow up, which is something only a handful of Western animated feature films really challenge with young protagonists.

Dramatic, with lots of black humour and rather more scares then I had bargained for, Coraline is an exemplar piece of stop-motion animation. One of the spookiest and most twisted tales I’ve seen in a long time.


Brick Yourself

During my time at GameCity this year I was flat-out blown away by the creations of the inventive, but admittedly oddly named, Spite Your Face Productions.

I wasn’t able to pen news stories for their two events at GameCity as I missed most of them and only collected limited information. However, here’s a video of what they got up to (backed by the very cool Vib-Ribbon theme): GameCity LEGO Workshops.

Take a look at some more of their awesome stop-motion animations parodying some iconic films, using LEGO sets for Spider-Man and Star Wars.

Another animation studio, Alaskan Military School, also created an intriguing viral campaign for the festival. Recognise any of those sound effects?


The Promise of Pre-rendered Video

Have you ever wondered who creates all of those fabulous pre-rendered CG trailers for video games?

Well you might expect some of them to be made internally, just as SCEE’s Creative Services Group do, and you’d be right.

But, in addition to internally developed assets, many of the CG clips that end up in some of our favourite game trailers, TV spots and promotional campaigns are actually created by external companies.

Companies such as Realtime UK, a CG production company based in Lancashire, UK. Just recently, it came to my attention that they were commission by SCEE to produce the original eye-watering announcement trailer for MotorStorm that was shown at Sony’s E3 2005 press conference.

What you may not have seen is the uncut version of that trailer. Take a look at Realtime UK’s portfolio. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. I also recommend the ‘Agrobot’, ‘Split/Second’ and ‘Reel 2008’ videos.

Though they can be misleading – sometimes pre-rendered concepts can be criticised for making games look better than they actually are – these cinematics are still fascinating.