Friday, November 6, 2015

Songs of Exercise and Inertia: Day 1

My body calls to me
From a past once lived
"Dig through the sediment and rust
And let me breathe again."

Friday, July 3, 2015

On Criticizing Criticism of Modern Special Effects and CGI in Movies

Somewhere, George Miller is shaking his head sadly. Maybe laughing a little.

Two articles have appeared recently, one on Gizmodo railing against modern special effects in movies and one on CartoonBrew, not so much arguing in favor of them as simply criticizing the first article. See below:

Gizmodo - Against Modern Effects

CartoonBrew - Against the Against

The Gizmodo post has a good point about using real backgrounds vs fully generated ones. However, much of his supporting "evidence" is flawed. Using the box office receipts and ratings of just plain bad movies (i.e. King Kong) to show the ineffectiveness of their CGI is ridiculous. It's like putting me in a pair of Air Jordans and, after I fail to dunk, blaming the shoes. And the "WETA effect" comments also miss the mark - the look of the LOTR films is a conscious, art direction choice, and is actually what he should be arguing for, not against.

Likewise, the CartoonBrew is equally ridiculous in their pro-VFX artist stance. Just because something is hard to do doesn't make it worthwhile. Anyone claiming that effects are as good as ever and that people criticizing them are silly, old-fashioned and uninformed has drunk their own lemonade and stuck their heads in the sand.

As always, the answer lies somewhere in the untapped middle, and it's more than one thing. For one thing, in the old days, when a big effects or spectacle movie was in the works, we always heard stories of directors going to the old masters for advice. This wasn't like "chin up" advice, this was nuts and bolts, "how the hell do I do this thing" advice. That's because directors used to be more more directly involved in the special effects going into their movies. They would see the models and matte paintings being made, they were intimately involved in every step from blue screen to compositing to color correction. The meant constant quality control - the reason CGI hasn't improved since Lost World is because Spielberg oversaw every aspect of that bastard (sadly, no one oversaw his inability to make kids interesting after E.T...). That direct involvement is way less nowadays, especially with the proliferation of effects houses, many not even in the same country as the director.

Another reason for the downgrade in effectiveness, and for me this is probably one of the biggest, is because effects were so prohibitively expensive, they had to be used sparingly! Every frame of use had to MATTER, and so every use of VFX moved the story forward. Now, as mentioned above, studios find the cheapest overseas effects crew they can find (I'm looking at you, South Korea...). Then they squeeze every last bit of CGI blood out of that stone to get their money's worth. A good example of this is Lucas cramming mostly useless CGI animation into his re-release of the original Star Wars trilogy, most of which either didn't serve the story, or actually slowed it down. Pointless.

And this discussion doesn't even include all the crappy 3D conversions out there. 

I'm sure there are a half dozen other reasons why CGI is overpoweringly meh and overused in most of today's offerings. At least the CartoonBrew calls for a more nuanced discussion of VFX artistry, but then doesn't do it, settling instead for slinging arrows back at the original article.

VFX and CGI are just tools, and like any tools, they can be used to make great art, or utter crap. Story, story, story!!!

Now, I'm going to go watch Mad Max: Fury Road again...

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Funeral for Dr. Virachai Theerakulstit

Funeral services for my father, Dr. Virachai Theerakulstit, will be this morning, February 12, 2015, at 11:30am, at Perman Funeral Home, 923 Saxonburg Boulevard; Pittsburgh, PA 15223.

It will be a Thai Buddhist ceremony conducted by monks from Wat (Temple) Padhammaratana, followed by cremation. The monks will take lunch at 10:30am at Thai Gourmet restaurant for those interested in making food offerings. The service should last about 1 hour.

A water burial will follow, likely occurring on the Ohio at some point this weekend, if anyone is up for a somewhat frigid boat ride.

Anyone wishing to contribute to funeral services, please contact me directly or through the funeral home, and those wishing to make a charitable contribution may do so in his name to the organization of your choice.

Friday, January 30, 2015

An Open Letter to Paul Feig, Regarding Ghostbusters 2016

Dear Paul Feig,

Please reconsider making the new Ghostbusters movie a reboot rather than a sequel. Your all-female cast is terrific, but rather than erase the legacy of the previous film with a reboot, the characters could easily be the daughters of the original team. Imagine that they are now accomplished scientists themselves, who decide to investigate the disappearance of their fathers upon discovering a hidden cache of old notes and equipment while clearing out the old firehouse.

"Is that thing safe?"
"It's a 30-year old nuclear accelerator dad built in an abandoned firehouse... what could go wrong?"
"Cool. I'm gonna step out for a smoke..."

The script practically writes itself. Having Kristin Wiig and Co. be the next generation rather than rebooted characters allows the original cast be in the movie as little or as much as they like, helps explain the absence of the late, great Harold Ramis, and gives the characters, and the actors portraying them, an extra layer of emotional nuance that will only serve to enhance the comedy/horror aspects of the movie.

I am actually a big fan of your past work and think you have a great talent for comedy and off-beat timing that fits perfectly with the Ghostbusters franchise. But everyone, even the greats, will occasionally start down the wrong path, and that seems to be the case here in thinking that a reboot is appropriate.

Please contact me for a better screenplay than you currently have. I can have it to you in two weeks.


Shyaporn Theerakulstit
Actually Old Enough to Have Seen Ghostbusters in a Theater

Thursday, January 29, 2015

So, my father has died...

I arrived in Krabi, Thailand this past Sunday morning and received a message to contact the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office. My father, Dr. Virachai Theerakulstit, had been found deceased in his home by the police, after being alerted by some friends of his that he wasn't answering the door.

To say my father and I weren't close is a bit of an understatement. We were estranged for nearly 20 years, only reconnecting a few years ago when it became clear he wasn't in a great place and I went back to Pittsburgh, PA to see if there was anything that could be done. Seeing him again, any wrongs done to both my mother and me were quickly forgiven, as there was little left of the person who had committed them in the frail, quiet, aged man I saw before me.

But growing up, he was, as with most young children, I believe, a presence I yearned to be around. He was strong, charming, assured and aggressive, with skill and talent to back it all up. As one of the top cardio-vascular surgeons in the area, he, no doubt, helped numerous families and individuals, saving and improving countless lives. He was creative and artistically gifted - I remember a beautiful, half-painted sketch on stretched canvas which I kept proudly on display on an easel in my room for years. His friends, neighbors and patients loved him. And so too, did his demons, which he never did quite manage to conquer.

In his final years, he lived with much shame and regret about the things he had lost and squandered after so many years of impressive accomplishment and hard work. He had withdrawn from his remaining family and the world when I encountered him again after our long absence. This was, perhaps, his last valuable lesson he had to teach me; showing me a glimpse of a very familiar and possible future which I am now all too mindful of avoiding.

But in his last years I had heard that he had reached out again to his sister's family, and did have some friends with whom he communicated regularly, such as the kind Myers family who finally found him. I can only hope that he found comfort for himself there, and passed with some semblance of contentment.

I am now using my remaining time in Thailand to plan out how to handle my father's affairs and put him to rest, consulting with relatives and Thai temples on the East Coast for advice, and simply to meditate upon his passing, before returning to the United States.

Rest in peace, Dad. May you now find the tranquility that you long sought in this life.