But hopefully entertaining...
- Where were we?
- Web site story
- The way we used to be
- Anime super robots in (italian) pop culture
- The SFX factor
- Giant robots go the cinema
- Any rabbit left in the top hat?
- Self-criticism & second thoughts
- The time being...
- ...and the future
Where were we?Good question, especially after nearly 15 years the first version of this site went live. I think it's safe to say that reality always takes over sooner or later, for good and for bad, and no one is allowed to pursue any pattern of life for an arbitrarily long time: perhaps luckily.
So, after the official release of this site, happened on november 19th of 1999 (jesus, I had to go back to the site log page to dig out the exact date, which I totally forgot myself...), and a short lived subsequent round of minor modifications and upgrades, my beloved brainchild was eventually left alone in the boundless ocean of the internet (which was such then already), a place full of dangers, by far the most fearsome being wild inflation of contents (very often of outstanding trashy quality), information obsolescence rate beyond coping and, ultimately, systematic light speed loss of interest due to frantic and compulsive consumption of quite about everything.
After that, a lifeline made bumpy (to use a graceful image) by events that delivered nasty blows to the last remnants of child enthusiasms – the same that made me embrace 3D modelling as a modern substitute for pencils and crayons – added to an ever increasing professional commitment too often not driven by personal choice or ambition (but under this respect, I'm pretty sure out there life has become harder for everybody these latter years...), ultimately steered me away both from the regular practice of 3D modelling and the general anime fandom.
But not completely and not irretrievably, like I'll soon say.
Web site storyThe true embarassing (to me) issue of the lot.
Considering that since long I have acquired the technical capabilities to directly run a simple web site, considering also the huge offer of specialized infrastructures and fully customizable facilities available across the net, along with the more than affordable fees of a basic web hosting service, the inertia this site has faced this last decade and ultimately its (luckily temporary: I'll get to that shortly) disappearing from the net on 2012, are not excusable: my fault.
Ok, let's make a distinction here between the two issues: adding new 3D content and sheer minimal web site maintenance.
Delivering good, or at least decent, 3D stuff is something I've taken extremely seriously since the beginning (“seriously”... but don't amateurish 3D modeling belong to leisure? Who said that world would be better if “adults put in their business the same seriousness kids show when playing”?). Sure I'm not the “best or nothing” kind of person (very improductive attitude if you ask me) but I'm not the “keep 'em entarteined!” type either. I take pride in what I do, so I do care about minimum quality standards: feeding the web site every now and then with half hearted, lame, unconvincing works would have kept me more unsatisfied than delivering just nothing. And that's exactly how it went.
On the other side, the total lack in commitment towards small maintenance duties has been really dumb of me. In an age in which a billion people or so apparently are constantly and morbidly preoccupied to leave behind them every kind of bits and hints concering their private as well as professional lives, dismissing an outlet a bit more genuine and less affected (to my humble optinon at least) than, say, the mainstream Linkedin or Facebook, has been almost absurd. Not to mention that having neglected the maintenance of such a basic feature as the site email has very likely cut me off from a wealth of connections and awareness: unforgivable stupid waste.
A closing anecdote.
My “historic” www.superanime3d.com URL – right after it expired and before I could be able to acquire it – has been squattered (nothing illegal mind you) by a parasitic junky “routing” site, one of those typical mindless cyber crossroads crammed with nothing (endless lists of hollow links, each one forwarding to other endless lists of hollow links, and so on and so forth – curse them). I resigned myself to wait another whole damn year before trying another attempt to reacquire “my” address (and who knows whether by then I'd have had any will to do anything) when unexpectedly – and unexplicably - to my utter joy such site proceeded to release the URL after only some months use. Imagine my surprise when, weeks ago, sadly and purposelessly typing “my” URL on the address bar of my browser, I got back the “404 page not found” message. I bought the address rights that very same day's evening.
Lesson learned: indeed lazyness never pays.
And luck matters.
The way we used to beWhile browsing my old site pages I came across lots of internet fossils (once again, we were in the 1996/1997 years, not really the Precambrian of the net, but definitely the Neolithic of it) which raised lots of nostalgic memories along with interesting topics. To start with, that was the age of telephone dial modems (do you still have in your ears the white noise and above all the characteristic chimes of the handshaking phase, especially the three starting “dang”s?), the age of the (then) still revolutionary Windows 95, of the enduring (and apparently everlasting) Explorer vs. Netscape battle, the age of the oracle-like Altavista with its yellow banner. Moreover, if your personal web site was into specialized content or belonged to some specific niche, you had the chance to get further exposure by enrolling it to internet “rings” (where did they all go by the way?), and you couldn't help but proudly adding to your main page a hit counter (which practically no one uses anymore nowadays, I wonder why) as a direct measure of your page popularity. But above all, it was the age of no Google!
Anime super robots in (italian) pop cultureThis is apparently quite a local – I mean country related – topic, probably not terribly exciting to foreign friends, considering that, as far as I know, japan superrobots have known a very uneven and erratic success around the world.
I'm aware for istance than Mazinger Z is known in the States as Tranzor Z and that is nowhere as popular as, for instance, Gundam, which apparently in his own times has met a discrete success on the other side of the ocean. I also understand that characters like Grendizer and Jeeg – which here in Italy are sort of bywords to indicate the sweeping tide of japan cartoons that deeply and indelebly impressed the imaginations (mine included) of millions of kids between the late 70s' and the early 80s' – are barely known in the rest of the world.
Yet, as the years have gone by, I've been more and more amazed by the relentlessly growing success met by many anime icons – particularly those related to super robots – in the italian pop culture. The many web sites – carefully updated and maintained – devoted to the subject, the opening and closing orginal theme songs of the TV episodes – some of them huge hits when they first came out – still hummed and whistled by so many people of all ages (not to mention local bands specialized in covers), the wild choice of models and action figures of every size (I was to say “toys”, but if you look to the perfection – and the cost! - of many of them, you'd understand beyond any doubt that such stuff is pretty aimed at adults) punctually coming out each and every year, the DVD home editions of the TV shows, even of the less known ones, but beyond all this, the sheer persistence of countless references – in the everyday language of adults as well as of kids (which is really amazing to me) – to the the deeds and the features of fantasy characters from cartoons aired more than fourty years ago, speak of a mark which very likely will stand the test of time for the decades to come.
What about the reasons of this success? Hard to say, unless invoking a simplistic, trivial, catch-all explanation (but the best so far to me): it was stuff conceived during the early 70s'.
Someone could scoff to this umpteenth display of nostalgic feelings towards those “magic years” – apparently a widespread attitude though, very common especially among pop music lovers – but the freedom from mainstream stereotypes and cliches, the blessed naivety in shaping plots and characters (untainted by the fear to come up with something “ridiculus”), the total lack of concern towards people's tastes and expectations (may the god of cartoons & comics deliver us from the cursed writers struggling to come up with “what people want”), and, last but not least, a then general conception of “action” – be it in comics, cartoons or movies – not yet corrupted by today's revolting rules of “entertainment” (“cram into it as many chasings, shootings, explosions, deaths and, in general, as much blood & violence as you can ”) all conjured up to create something dear to remember. Yes, I prefectly know that every episode of every super robot series ends up in the inevitable fight with some giant foe – who's invariably utterly destroyed by the way – but I challenge anyone to honestly say that the spectacle of those minutes of “violence” was the reason why he couldn't wait for the next episode to air – or the kind of images that would stick in his mind in the years to come.
The SFX factorIntroducing a much debated theme: I included it here considering that, in theory, I qualify to belong with the number of the radib supporters of pervasive use of 3D graphics in cinema productions. But just in theory.
My interest in 3D modelling roughly started in an era when adding computer generated effects to live action scenes was an ultra expensive not to say overwhelmingly resurce consuming luxury reserved only to the few movies backed by mammoth productions and directed by water strolling dudes: Jurassic Park and Terminator 2 defintely being the more impressive – and still more than valid – results. Years in which a feature length 3D cartoon like Toy Story (timeless milestone) had been regarded as sort of an experiment – fostered by no other than Steve Jobs in person: I learned that years after – middleway between exotic oddity and pure wizardry, whose future – in terms of public acceptance and financial feasibility of general productions – was far from being certain or established (such an era should be contrasted with today's mainstream, where traditional 2D animation can be considered virtually extinct).
Nowadays, practically no production, including those involving themes, stories and characters which on paper shouldn't call for the support of any digitally generated imagery at all, does without some amount of computer effects. On the other end, extremes like Avatar in not too a distant future may (yes, I'd be very very cautious on the point) become a regular fixture of the big screen's offer. So truly the term “ubiquitous” couldn't be used more properly than to define 3D presence in today's cinema productions.
But what about quality? Credibility? And above all enjoyability? I personally really have a lot to say – I'm afraid very (and I mean very) unpopular judgments. So I'll be as brief and diplomatic as possible. I think that the actual use of 3D imagery in movies is seriously disappointing not to say spoiling, and for a number of reasons.
First, it more and more frequently conceals chronic shortage of ideas and orginality (but that's such a trivial – although hardly arguable – remark), secondly it is an unjustifiable replacement – this is an old timer sci-fi addict speaking – for animatronics in lots of situations where such a technique would deliver far superior effects and feeling, additionally it often makes movies all look alike (I get the videogame feeling almost regularly) therefore boring and predictable, and ultimatley – well, that's the toughest one to spit out – the average quality is shockingly poor. From texturing to basic physics/kinematics, from lighting effects to the rendering of natural elements like water, flames and smoke, and finally to the mimicking of muscles, skin and bones (will they be EVER be able to reproduce a detailed convincing movements of a human hand?), I guess it's a ground breaking let down. But they are winning nonetheless, by foul play, thanks to sort of a mercyless attrition war directed against our visual perception. How? Tampering systematically with photography and optics (damn postproduction), messing in every possible way with colors channels, saturation levels, hue values, contrast, processing and altering every detail of every frame, blending everything – including the actors, increasingly smaller details of the whole canvas – into a quick sand of phoney chromatic tones and ultra fast sequences where the defenseless eye has no references anymore and ultimatley surrenders to flat, cold and lifeless scenes. The new movies, more and more pervasively ridden with special effects, add up to build this sort of global Fakeland, where manipulated imagery and scenery set the standards for the eye.
Now accuse me of seeing evil plots and conspiracies behind every corner.
Giant robots go the cinemaA film genre of this last decade's (actually it all started officially in 1999, with Brian Singer's X-men) that almost annually has managed to deliver big – when not huge, like The Avenger's case – blockbuster flicks has definitely been the DC/Marvel characters'. Super heros live action adaptations gushed out vigurously as soon as technology was ripe enough to build the ultra demanding comics' world in a barely convincingly way.
So why not giant robots anime adaptations? My feeling is that we're getting there, slowly, tentatively, but quite positively. I mean getting to the digital incarnation of my childhood mecha icons in the form of live action movies. Or TV serials for that matter (which is actually the real secret wildest dream to me). The only problem is the actual palatability of robots like Grendizer, Mazinger, Jeeg and others to the international audience – mainly the american one, the real king maker when it comes to decide the most likely profitable commercial targets. Will they have a worldwide market?
A zillion years ago, a truly cinematic oddity like Robojox came out of the blue, to quickly disappear without much ado and only to be remembered by the very few. Much more recently rumors have been around for some time about live action renderings of, respectively, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Gaiking: unfortunately such “projects” have finally revealed themselves as belonging with the misty and alluring world of the internet cybermyths (but apparently Captain Harlock is for real: ok, it's not superrobotic stuff, but it may work as a forerunner).
Is there anything a bit more concrete out there? Definitely. First, the hugely successful Transfromers' saga (which left me totally cold, to use a very polite understatement, but at least it has supposedly made a wider audience hot for super robots badasses) and the soon to be released released Pacific Rim robots vs. monster movie. On this latter work – so far I haven't but the few minutes from a couples of traliers to judge from – I have great – not to say wild – expectations: unless the full feature movie will turn into a monster let down, I guess I've seen the future...
In closing, a melodramatic dilemma: do we die hard old timer anime nerds really need live action adaptations of our childhood heroes? Curiosity is strong, but the danger is high. What sort of a danger? Well, of course the danger of being bitterly disappointed by the outcome, but that's not the main point, because the real threat is the risk of seeing your own fantasy usurped, overridden and ultimately silenced by someone else's. A great italian writer used to say something like this: “why writing a book when it's so sweet just dreaming about it?”.
I warned you it was melodramatic...
Any rabbit left in the top hat?A handful, but I'm afraid not suitable for the stage. Not yet at least.
When I opened the site splash page a couple of months ago I quite surprisedly noticed that the SA3D logo is actually sporting in the top left the severe ruby head of Dragon, the leading character of the Getter Robot G trio: but such a robot is not actualy included in the galleries! It turned out that back in the good ol' days I did made a decent model of the forementioned robot but never proceeded – I wish I knew why – to grant it a deserved spot among his colleagues, despite it was one of the first to be completed. But I recalled something more: as a matter of fact the very first robot I ever modelled – and whose renderings I showed to the amazed people of the office I happened to work in back in the spring of 97' – was a very crude model of Dragon (yet my favorite ones have always been Grendizer, Jeeg and Mazinger: a weird first choice indeed). Who knows where that model but especially those renderings all ended. In addition to Dragon, the other “rabbits” napping at the bottom of the top hat are Getter Robot 1 (the very first version), Gaiking (whose logo I devised and posted in the “coming soon” page) and finally the giants of the giants, namely Danguard and Daitarn 3, both finished but sadly not dignified by any logo whatsoever.
So apparently, in order to add new members (quite a lot actually: quite as many as those actually on line... makes my mouth water) to the family, I supposedly had no choice but to blow the dust away from the rusty pc where my 3D package still dwells (but, alas, also from the user manual of said 3D package), fetch the models, strike some poses, pull out some fine renderings et voilà le jeux sont fait (well, I'd also have to figure & sculpt a logo for the wretched two, Danguard and Daitarn 3, poor things). Don't know whether being discouraged by the perspective or challenged. We'll see.
What new robot I'd model if I had the chance? ... (drum rolling) ... I guess Neon Genesis Evangelion - the 01 model.
Self-criticism & second thoughtsHow do I like my works looking at them after 15 years?
I confess that I'd change very little of my “creatures”, though this may sound a bit presumptuous. Yes, by and large they are poorly detailed, they tend to look a bit too toyish, plasticky maybe, and – but that wouldn't sound as a criticism to me – they are too a verbatim rendering of the orginal cartoons. Too fatihful ergo too boring. Maybe.
But I guess I had no choice. Adding, say, array of bolts, visible seams between metal plates, hatches here and there, venting slots and the like wouldn't have improved one bit the overall enjoyability of the final outcome (with the single possible exception of Gundam naturally). After all they were supposed to be “toys”, and striving to make a toy “closer to reality” would be like trying to make habanero peppers taste less hot: much more practical – and rational – to change the spice altogether.
I admit that conferring a true machine look to say Jeeg or Grendizer would have been quite intriguing, not to say truly challenging: but in that case I'd have had to nosedive into a very – and I mean very – serious “next level” of 3D modelling, which at that time was way beyond my reach in terms of specific skills (and I mean texturing, surfacing and lightning). Besides, I wouldn't have gone for models at lest one – better two – orders of magnitude heavier in terms of point/polygon count, which, for gear then operated by 486/pentium CPUs, would have been a totally unmanageable computational burden.
Second thought about changing my original works: I'd probably shorten all the robots' legs.
The time being...Adding this page and giving the whole site a due although skindeep beauty treatment (the original site was structured with frames and had no CSS, just to give you an idea: but it was 1997 for crying out loud, so I'm sort of justified I guess) seemed to me worth the effort in itself, not to mention the hidden hope that the whole thing could ultimately tease a surprise comeback to more specific (i.e. new 3D works) challenges.
...and the futureThe future sits upon Zeus' knees, so technically we'd have to ask him.
June 27th, 2013