The blog of one Michael Heilemann, expatriated Dane coming to you out of New York City. Half machine, half grapefruit, Interface director at Squarespace, design lover, film enthusiast, Star Wars historian, creator of the Kubrick and K2 themes, and holder of opinions, many of which are shared on his Twitter account.
Well into my twenties, there was nothing I wanted more than to somehow work on the kinds of movies I had grown up with, and which I love to this day. And aside from perhaps Apple (which may finally be outgrowing it's underdog appeal somewhat) which other companies have had the same kind of mythic quality as Lucasfilm and its subsidiaries? Pixar for sure, but then that came out of Lucasfilm, and who knows if Jobs would have been able to return to Apple if he hadn't taken Pixar on to great success after he bought it from Lucas?
Lucas is most known as a myth-maker in terms of his role as a creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but it's remarkable how well he managed to position not just his films, or himself, but also his companies in a way that made them seem like places Willy Wonka himself would be envious of. I love the franchises and the 'fantastic cinema' Lucas and his peers brought to the forefront back in the 70s and 80s, but I have an equal love for those companies and the work they did back then. Work which often outshined the films in which it was featured by a mile.
All of this is a long way of saying that the single best book out there on this subject (no, seriously), Michael Rubin's Droidmaker, is finally out for Kindle (and coming for ePub), and if you haven't already picked it up, you should run on over and pick it up now, cancel your evening's appointments, and find your favorite reading spot for a history of the digital age in entertainment.
Spent the last few evenings glued to the screen, bouncing from hotel to hotel, trying to find the right fit between price and location for our stays in LA, SF and Vegas. Maybe I’m picky, but that stuff is draining. I don’t know what I’d do without Trip Advisor to be honest.
Originally we had planned to stay wherever, but as our plans started crystalizing, we decided for peace of mind, to book places while in the cities, rather than trying to find something in the stress of it all.
So now we’ve got the car ready, hopefully a true all-American Mustang V6 convertible, what other way is there to roadtrip the US? We’ve got hotels in the major cities, we’ve got our 4000+km route. We’re going to see Pixar and Skywalker Ranch! I’m meeting up with various people, including the venerable Michael Rubin, and we’re going to see both John Williams and AC/DC while in LA.
Oh, and I’m still hoping for some NIN tickets for LA on the 7th, though that’s looking remote, to put it mildly. I might be able to convince Rikke that we go down to the venue on the night and see if we can pick up some tickets; it being the last concert of the tour (and supposedly for a long while), it would be epic.
And once we get home? Well, someone has to figure out how to convince our bank how we could possible be considered responsible and grown with spending habits like the ones we’re about to display. I honestly have no clue about that one. But this is once-in-a-lifetime stuff, and as such, irresponsibility is part and parcel.
The worst part? Three weeks doesn’t look like a whole lot anymore.
It’s an exciting time to be a Pixar/Lucasfilm nerd, to be sure. Michael Rubin let me know—and posted about—that Loren Carpenter, co-founder of Pixar, put a copy Vol Libre, his 1980 CG fractal mountain short, online for our viewing pleasure. And it’s quite something.
The audience erupted. The entire hall was off their feet and hollering. They wanted to see it again. “They had never seen anything like it,” recalled Ed Catmull. Loren was beaming.
“There was a strategy in this,” said Loren, “because I new Ed and Alvy were going to be in the front row of the room when I was giving the talk.” Everyone at Siggraph knew about Ed and Alvy and the aggregation at Lucasfilm. They were already rock stars Ed and Alvy walked up to Loren Carpenter after the film and asked if he could start in October. - Page 77, Droidmaker.
Though it’s only related to Loren Carpenter and not so much Vol Libre, Chapter 2 of Out of Control by Kevin Kelly has a very interesting mass-experiment by Loren Carpenter which is worth reading as well. And incidentally, this coincides with the release of the, as usual, wonderful trailer for Toy Story 1 and 2 in 3D.
I know, I know, it’s starting to look more and more as if Binary Bonsai was reborn as a Star Wars and Droidmaker-reblog site after its hiatus, but if I merely updated the older entries with this information, it wouldn’t propagate, and dammit, when I have something to take credit for I’ll damn well use every excuse in the book to take it!
Then there happened to be an unusual series of events at the end of June, 2009, when a couple interesting Lucas stories were emerging. An old home movie from ILM in 1977. An older interview with young George Lucas from the BBC in 1972. My book gives some context to these items.
On June 30 I got a wild hare and generated a PDF of the entire book. I posted it on my blog and I made two public-ish announcements: I posted it on my Facebook page, and I emailed a note about it to a blogger in Europe who had just written something nice about Droidmaker a few days earlier. So I emailed “Binary Bonsai” – he posted it. And that was it.
The word spread globally in a few moments, and in 24 hours there were around 2,000 downloads of the book. A few weeks later there was another spike of interst, bringing the total downloads to about 13,000. In 14 days, more people have read my book than in the prior 4 years. And I finally feel like my work with this is done. #
Exciting for me, as I’ve been a fan of Droidmaker since it came out. I plowed through it in a few days, which is honestly rather rare for me. I hope to have the chance to meet Michael when we’re in California; a fitting encounter on a trip which is already taking us to see Pixar, Skywalker Ranch and a John Williams concert.
I honestly don’t know how all of this could get much better…
The whole company was sent packing for their annual summer vacation today (as per tradition, a thunderstorm over Copenhagen is welcoming them). I’ll be working throughout most of the next three weeks, with the exception of a short stint to England, for a friend’s wedding, as Rikke and I have finally manned up and gone ahead with our plan for a roadtrip through California (and parts of Arizona).
But those wonderful three weeks are all the way over at the end of August, so I get to stay behind and work while my buddies are drinking longdrinks indoors, imagining they were vacationing around the equator. Suckers.
At the top you can see the approximate route we’ve got so far. We’re obviously still adding and subtracting, but the basic idea is to gt around to all that’s worth getting around to (so feel free to drop address, maps, vague suggestions, food places and whatever else you can come up with), as we probably won’t be coming back to that neck of the planet for a good while afterwards.
One of our destinations we’re looking forward to the most is of course Pixar. I was there in 2005, but that was far from enough for me, and Rikke’s never even been on the westcoast, so we’re both giddy as children (and heavily indebted to the wonderful Kate for giving us this opportunity):
I’ve been trying to cash in some old favors/promises to get us into Skywalker Ranch, an honest to … boyhood dream (if you hadn’t guessed), but so far it doesn’t look too good. I’m still hoping though.
Either way, I’m well-excited about this trip, and not a little intrigued about the idea of circling California behind the wheel of some American monstrosity of a car.
Anyway, this entry was a) to inform you of our plans, and b) to try out some map embedding, which is generally done way to rarely on blogs, considering how awesome it is. I of course plan to do a travel blog of some sort, but I haven’t quite figured out the format yet, and I don’t know how much time I’ll have to play around with it either (both before and during).
Should I do it on Tumblr? Would make it easy, but on the other hand I want to keep it for posterity, so a local blog makes more sense. But then I’d want to do a roadtrip theme and that’d just turn into a major thing and I wouldn’t finish it in time and…
Either way, that’s what’s what from my neck of the planet on this, the most grey of fridays.
Its more important to me that the story of Lucasfilm be shared and circulated than for me to profit directly. So if you wanted to add that to your blog – you’d be the first!
Thanks for your kind words and support.
I don’t know what you’re still doing here, when you should be over there, downloading the hell out of that thing! It’s gorgeous; the full 518-page book, complete with photosRare photos I might add, plugged in many cases straight out of the Lucasfilm vault or even personal collections from the people who were there., index and whatever else you’ll find in the printed version, covering everything from Lucas’ earliest years up through the creation of ILM and its struggle to put Star Wars up on the silver screen, down through Coppola’s experiements with mobile film making, the creation of Pixar, non-linear editing, digital sound editing, the creation of the Games Group and much much more. It is in actual fact, a book about the creation of modern filmmaking (and to some extent games even) as we know it. Don’t let the technical foundation scare you off though; it’s not only accessible, but centered on the people, not the tech. It was easily one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in years.
As he does, I obviously suggest you just go ahead and buy the real thing, should you like what you see.
Michael Rubin, author of Droidmaker (a fantastic look at what is essentially the genesis of modern Hollywood) reposted the ’71 Lucas interview from last week, which reminded me of The Human Story of Pixar, a celebratory panel from 2005, in which Rubin interviews Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton, Alvy Ray Smith, Ed Catmull, some of the great minds behind Pixar and just about ever single technology that make 3D graphics as we know it, possible.
You may already have seen it, but even so, and especially if you haven’t, it is a truly inspiring hour and forty.
For following up, I suggest Droidmaker of course, this interview with Rubin on the subject of Droidmaker (though I don’t normally care for Pirillo and the on-going chat on that video shows exactly when the social web has been taken too far) as well as The Pixar Touch and The Second Coming of Steve Jobs.
The disclosure came at the end of the short, but extremely enjoyable, discussion (excerpts of which will be published here soon), when a writer from Suite101.com asked about Stanton’s next project, to which Stanton mentioned (not too loudly) ‘John Carter of Mars’.
Doubting what I’m hearing, I interject, “What is that?” “John Carter of Mars, Stanton replies.” “You’re confirming John Carter? Are you serious?” At this point, I turn my tape recorder back on, “...say that on tape!”, I tell him. Stanton: “I am writing John Carter of Mars right now.” “Oh man, you just doubled my page views!”, I say. Everybody laughs. #
It’s long been rumored, but that’s word straight from the fish’s mouth.
For those of you not in the know, John Carter of Mars is a series of ultra-pulp sci-fi books by Edgar Rice Burroughs (yes, he with the Tarzan) which strictly speaking is the the foundation upon which Star Wars is built. Yes, Star Wars was very much inspired by and conceived from, Flash Gordon. But Flash Gordon is pretty much a re-thinking of John Carter.
And I love it!
And I love Andrew Stanton. He seems like such a likable guy, and his work at Pixar, I think, pretty much proves he knows his way around storytelling.
But the question is whether or not John Carter is meant to be developed in the traditional Pixar family-friendly style (which I love), or whether it will, as I hope, lean more on the pulp genre’s roots. I mean, love Pixar; I really do. I’m so psyched about WallÂ·E that I’m willing to go so far as to use the word ‘psyched’. But in the strictest sense, John Carter should probably be done by some maniac like John Milius or Sergio Leone (was he still alive).
I mean, the women on Mars are NAKED! As in, they do not wear clothes!
And the sight which met my eyes was that of a slender, girlish figure, similar in every detail to the earthly women of my past life…. Her face was oval and beautiful in the extreme, her every feature was finely chiseled and exquisite, her eyes large and lustrous and her head surmounted by a mass of coal black, waving hair, caught loosely into a strange yet becoming coiffure. Her skin was of a light reddish copper color, against which the crimson glow of her cheeks and the ruby of her beautifully molded lips shone with a strangely enhancing effect.
She was as destitute of clothes as the green Martians who accompanied her; indeed, save for her highly wrought ornaments she was entirely naked, nor could any apparel have enhanced the beauty of her perfect and symmetrical figure. #
But most of all, I’m just so relieved and overjoyed that this project doesn’t fall to the dozens of other guys out there who were overzealously grabbing for it as it’s been making the rounds in Hollywood, because as with everything else, this needs more than fan-love; this needs a great script at its heart. And if that means giving up naked women for this:
Then I can live with that. You hear Andrew? (Yeah, this would be from Tarzan, but in the world of Frazetta, it’s all the same; in the good way).
No, but seriously, it would be a shame if this movie didn’t live up to the larger-than-life sexuality and violence that these books embody; though since this is Disney, one fears that it probably won’t.
Now having grown old and bitter, I find myself ranting and raving more and more against Hollywood and their creative bankruptcy of piss-poor sequels and remakes (we don’t need a new Highlander or Robocop FFS!), but I’ll go so far as to say that the John Carter novels really deserve to be up there on the silver screen. I just hope that as they go into pre-production, they pay homage to Frazetta and his awesome work on this series, which I’ve fallen head over heels in love with since I first laid my eyes on it.
Pixar and Disney have been developing John Carter of Mars? No sources, but still… Now I know Rodriguez had worked on it at Paramount (with Frazetta, which between the two of them would have been a dream matchup), and I know that Harry Knowles has been doing something with it (though that so far seems to be a ‘we wish we could do this so we wouldn’t have to be flamed constantly on our own site’ kind of thing).
Pixar could potentially do this… It would mean no naked hotties and a rather adult film, but still; they could really nail the retro style. I’d still wish Frazetta had a run with it, but nonetheless.
When Rasmus and I went to visit Pixar in May, 2005, we happened upon a car dealership of sorts, Fantasy Junction, just down the road from Pixar’s HQ (luckily, taxi’s are impossible to get from the sidewalk in Oakland).
They were incredibly sweet and let us walk freely amongst these insanely expensive and positively steamingly hot cars, despite our rugged looks and Danish demeanor.
The reason I’m mentioning this now, is that in the CARS video podcast (xml) episode from the 16th called ‘Talkin’ Cars’, Jay Ward (whom we met while at Pixar, seemed like a standup guy) and some dude from an auto magazone visit Fantasy Junction and check out the cars.
And yeah, I’m all won over for Cars, it looks awesome. It’s beaaautiful.
Anyway, I put together a Fantasy Junction Flickr set (nice new organizr by the way), I would’ve liked to have taken some more shots in there, but this is what it amounted to.