Tech Inspiration in Seattle

Animation, Inspiration, Travel / Saturday, September 19th, 2015

I visited Seattle, Washington the first weekend of September, where my good friend moved. This is the third summer in a row where I made this trip, with the last two occurring after the SIGGRAPH conference. Despite not attending this year, my northwest adventure more than made up for my absence in LA.

Have you ever had a period of time where things felt oddly connected? Or maybe you had a few unrelated classes thematically spill into one another? That was my week in Seattle. This trip had a much welcomed, consistent theme running throughout the duration, starting with the plane ride there. In the wake of the first casting news announced for Steven Spielberg’s filmic adaptation, I decided to re-read Ready Player One. The book heavily features a virtual world, OASIS, where the characters spend most of their time, and where they truly live their lives. I’ve always had a strong fascination with more technology-driven cartoons, to the point where I probably would not be working in CG animation without them driving my interest into computers. The references to some of these properties, and others such as WarGames really got me excited about these types of stories, and knowing about some of the VR and AR tech being developed, such as the HoloLens, OASIS won’t seem like a pipe dream for much longer.

In the years that I’ve known him, my friend has been a source of inspiration and assurance throughout my foray into CG/interactive technology. Working at Mircosoft, he definitely knows a thing or two about technology. We’ve always had similar taste in/appreciation for science, science fiction, art, media, and technology, so I supposed my little adventures being related shouldn’t be too surprising. ๐Ÿ™‚

One of the few things I knew I absolutely had to do was re-visit the EMP Museum–a music, sci-fi, and pop-culture museum I’ve visited before, and adored. The reason I wanted to go was due to an exhibit about Chuck Jones, one of the animator/directors behind the Looney Tunes. I had missed this traveling exhibit, “What’s Up, Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones” when it was at the Museum of the Moving Image in NYC (read a NY Times write-up here), so I was thrilled to have unintentionally timed my Seattle trip with it’s run at EMP. The endeavor was a aided by my department at SVA, the MFA Computer Art department, and as a result, the exhibit featured a segment about Chuck Jone’s lasting impact on student work today, featuring several clips and soundbites from classmates’ and their thesis work! I was thrilled with the amount of work, as well as the variety of work on display, including sketches, turntables, cels, clips, and more. I suggest watching this Tony Zhou video essay explaining the genius of Chuck Jones, if you want to learn a little more about him.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a Nintendo-sponsored exhibit about independently produced video games, aptly titled “Indie Game Revolution.” It was a small but very well-done display of current talent leading the industry. Definitely motivational for me and my desire to design a game in the future.

Another exhibit I wasn’t expecting was “Star Wars and the Power of Costume,” which, as you can assume, featured an impressive collection of costumes used in Star Wars Episodes I through VI, as well as some nice documentation in the form of concept art, interviews, and video featurettes. One of my co-workers at Blue Sky Studios, Sang Jun Lee, who was a costume designer for Star Wars Episode III, was featured, which was very exciting to see.

Star Wars concept art by Sang Jun, photo by Jon Chin
concept art by Sang Jun; photo by Jon Chin

There were a couple of exhibits that were still running from when I visited last year, including “Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction,” which featured many iconic props used in the films, “Can’t Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film,” which legitimately scared me, and “Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic” which took a look at the overarching story structures and character archetypes in the genre, and displayed props and costumes from popular properties such as Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, The Wizard of Oz, Labyrinth, The Lord of the Rings, and more. I’m sad to hear that there is an upcoming ‘Hello Kitty’ exhibit that I will be missing!

Coming home impressed from all that EMP had to offer, we opted to watch one of the films it suggested for further learning. Having already seen Indie Game: The Movie (2012), we opted for Minecraft: The Story of Mojang, a 2012 documentary following video game designer Markus Persson’s rise to fame. Also largely due to the things seen at the museum, we watched a somewhat underwhelming, if not still interesting TV special, Raiders, Raptors, and Rebels: Behind the Magic of ILM, which was a 40-minute documentary that aired on the Science Channel in honor of ILM’s 40th anniversary this year. There were a few other films we watched that were pretty inspirational.

Taking a bus home, we saw a very small independent theater advertising the new Steve Jobs documentary, Steve Jobs: Man in the Machine (2015). Having finished Ready Player One far too quickly, I brought my copy of the 2011 Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson along, in anticipation for the Danny Boyle film of the same name (due out October 9th). It’s a sizable book, and now, a week later, I am still not even half way through it. It was very interesting having read about a quarter of the book before seeing the documentary, and seeing what details are emphasized in which presentation, and it makes me curious about the film as well. It seems for certain that none of these have shied away from the fact that Jobs was…kind of a dick. So often he is placed on a pedestal, and I felt that the documentary had a nice balance presenting him as both a pioneer and a very, very flawed human.

Frida, a 2002 fictional film about Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, was an unexpectedly appropriate film for the week, despite it’s disconnect from technology. But Frida was such a strong, stubborn, often volatile creative, much like Jobs, and she was someone who lived for their work with blinders on, much like Perrson when he was initially developing Minecraft. These people had visions, very strong personalities, and the talent to support themselves.

Diggin’ in the Carts: The Rise of VGM is an amazing documentary series viewable for free on YouTube about the history of video game music. It’s not so much about the overall history, as small profiles on several key players, but regardless it’s amazing. Here is the first episode:

The one place my friend really wanted to visit was the Living Computer Museum, a small museum sponsored by Microsoft. Despite that, the museum offers a fair and thorough examination of all of the milestones and key players involved in the founding and development of this branch of science. I was amazed at the sheer number of old and working machines on display for users, as well as the digestible way the information is laid out. Fresh off my Ready Player One and Steve Jobs refreshers, it was very, very cool to actually see the old computers and game systems mentioned, and get a clearer picture of what such a pioneering, exciting, and lawless time in computing was like.

The final place I will mention is the Woodland Park Zoo, which served as a friendly reminder of the importance of disconnecting from the technology we sometimes get way too involved with. None of that really matters if we don’t have a safe and healthy planet with enough biodiversity to support our ecosystems. Perspective is always good. ๐Ÿ˜€

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#tiger #Seattle #zoo

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Seattle is a city that I never, ever thought I would pass through, but have grown to love very much. I did not have a single bad meal while I was there, and there was always something interesting to look at–whether it was street art or a sculpture or just some cool quirky shop. It’s truly a city with a lot of character. I know I sound like a tourist saying that, but that’s the nice thing about consistently visiting a place. You get all the niceties without the reality. ๐Ÿ˜›

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#hendrix #Seattle

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I took a lot of video and photographic footage from many of these places, so I will post it the future, along with more detailed write-ups about some of the locations.

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