art: fantastic video art hidden in movie

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is a reasonably good biopic with Benedict Cumberbatch doing his reliably impressive legible acting. You don’t see someone acting, you read his interior state.

Near the end there’s an amazing video sequence of lines that blur in and out of geometric shapes and recognizable cats. I took some photos of it:

animated GIF I made from 10 photos I took of Steve Pavlovsky's analog art in The Amazing Life of Louis Wain
photos of some of the frames of Steve Pavlovsky’s analog art in The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

It’s by Steve Pavlovsky, on Instagram as LiquidLightLab . He describes:

helping create a visionary, trip-like sequence and video feedback / glitch textures to be used throughout the film

He’s credited as Analog Video Artist on the film. I didn’t realize the “feedback / glitch textures” were analog video, I thought they were more CGI. An article about its computer graphics highlights some of the mixing.

Interactive linked credits NOW!

It was ridiculously hard to find out who made this sequence. The credits for movies just go on and on; is this great work credited under VFX, special effects, art direction, or something else? Ever since DVDs, I have wanted interactive credits in which you can click on any name and the movie will jump to the best scene of that actor, or the scene with the best work by that person, be it set design, computer animation, costume, makeup, sound effect, or in this case the amazing video sequence. Amazon Prime Video’s excellent X-ray feature tells you who’s in a scene and often the music playing, but it’s no solution for the endless useless non-interactive credits.

Geek notes: making that animation

Because TV’s don’t have a [Print Screen] button, I stood in front of the TV and took pictures of the movie. Elsewhere I wrote up the gory details of cropping and straightening the TV screen in 10 photos, then turning them into the animated GIF above.

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software: straightening and animating photos of a TV screen in GIMP

TVs today are computers with a display. Any computer can take a screenshot of its display, there’s even a [PrtSc] key on most PC keyboards to “Print Screen”. My LG TV can take a screenshot of its own screen and has a USB port, but you can’t transfer the screenshots out, probably because of Hollywood copyright BS. So I have to take phone photos of its screen.

Recently I took a bunch of these to capture the feel of the fantastic analog video sequence that Steve Pavlovsky created for The Electrical Life of Louis Wain movie for another blog post.

De-warping photos

photo of a TV screen
“computer: zoom in on TV screen”

It should be simple: select the four corners of the TV screen in the photo and say “This plane in 3D space should be a 2D rectangle facing the viewer; Make It So” The free and generally excellent GIMP image editor has a dozen tools to transform an image including Tools > Image Transform > 3D Transform that sounds like it could work that way, but I couldn’t figure it out. Here’s the closest I found. I’m using the Flatpak of the development version of GIMP 3.0, which is pretty stable and getting close to release!

Theory

  1. Select the TV screen as a polygon, delete everything else in the image.
  2. Use a “Corrective (Backward)” Projection transform, settings its four corners to the corners of the remaining selection.
animated GIF of two screenshots showing the GIMP Perspective image transform in operation
the GIMP Perspective image transform in action

Steps

  1. Open the image
  2. In the Layers dialog (press Ctrl+L), right-click the image’s layer and choose Add Alpha Channel. Otherwise, when you clear (delete) part of the picture, it fills with the current background color.
  3. From the toolbox, choose the Free Select Tool (F) and click the four corners of the TV screen to start a polygonal selection, then click the starting point to close it and get the “marching ant”
  4. You want to delete everything but the TV screen, so Select > Invert (Ctrl+I) and press Del to clear the selection to the checkerboard. Then Select > Invert (Ctrl+I) again to return the selection to the TV screen.
  5. To square up the TV… I didn’t try every transform tool let alone plug-ins, but Tools > Image Transform > Perspective came close.
  6. Choosing this should make a rectangle with diamonds at its corners appear. “All” you have to do is drag these four corners to the corners of the TV screen which are the corners of both the image and the current selection, but you have to get the options right. In the Perspective tool’s options (Windows > Dockable Dialogs > Tool Options if you don’t see them):
    1. Transform layer is OK, the selection is the entire layer
    2. Direction must be Corrective (backwards), otherwise you’ll be squishing down the picture even more
    3. leave Interpolation as default Cubic
    4. Clipping I left the default Crop to result
    5. I checked Show image preview and set Image opacity to 50% to give a hint of what was going on,
    6. I set Guides to Rule of thirds to show a few lines
    7. I don’t know about the other options.
  7. Now click and drag the three diamond handles that need to move to touch the corresponding corner of the TV screen/the remaining selection. I couldn’t figure out how to make the diamond handle snap to the corner of the selection; maybe I should have turned the selection into a path because snapping to nodes in a path seems to work.
  8. Click Transform in the floating coordinates window (or press Shift+Enter) to, as Super Mario Galaxy has it, TRANSFOOOOOOOORM.
  9. The transformed pixels are left as GIMP’s ^%$#@! “Floating Selection”. Every time I use the GIMP I have to search “How do I get rid of GIMP’s ^%$#@! Floating selection”; I wound up right-clicking on it in Layers and choosing Anchor Layer

This all seemed to work! It ought to correct for camera distortion (bulging sides) and 3D shortening, but it’s close enough. I left the image selection options to anti-alias and feather edges, which probably doesn’t make sense when trying to make a hard-edged animation of the image on the TV screen.

Animating the TV images

Theory

I lucked out, DuckDuckGo found a good tutorial for this. The trick is File > Open as Layers… which opens each image in a separate layer. (The bottom-most layer will be the first frame of the animation.) Then use Filters > Animation > Optimise (for GIF), Filters > Animation > Playback, then File > Export As… GIF and set animation parameters.

Steps

Only using GIMP once a month, I never learn a good workflow for batch operations on multiple images/layers. To speed up the straightening before the animation, in Layers dialog I selected every layer and chose Add Alpha Channel. Then I made a course polygonal Free Select as described above to roughly cut out the TV screens, since I moved slightly between each photo. I probably should have adjusted the layer’s opacity so I could see all layers at once. Then I hid all layers, selected and made visible each layer in turn, deleted more of that layer’s image to leave just the TV screen, and did the Perspective transformation.

After all this, we have a bunch of images at different places on the canvas. (I blame the smartphone operator for swaying like a drunken martial arts master between each photo). There’s an Image > Align Visible Layers… command, but that didn’t put all the layers in the same spot, probably because I forgot to invert a selection or complete the “crop” to the TV screen on one layer. So

  1. in the Layers dialog make all layers visible and select them all, then Image > Crop to Content. You should have a small canvas tightly enclosing a messy stack of TV pictures.
  2. Now choose Image > Align Visible Layers…. and… nothing happens, because each layer is bigger than its contents. I forgot to choose Layer > Crop to Content on each layer. And you can’t select all layers at once and do this. So select and make visible each layer in turn, choose Layer > Crop to Content, and now try Image > Align Visible Layers. You want the Horizontal and Vertical styles to be Collect (otherwise nothing happens!?), and align to top left.
  3. The images are all nicely on top of each other, but they’re all slightly different sizes. Arggh. By selecting all in the Layers dialog, setting their Opacity temporarily to 50%, then making visible different ones in turn, I found one TV screen image was much taller than the others. So I selected it alone, and used Tools > Transform Tools > Scale to drag its bottom and right edges to make it closer in size to the others.

After all that, I was finally ready to see the animation, with Filters > Animation > Playback… It still wobbled around, but close enough. So Image > Scale Image… to 1280 wide (twice this blog’s column width), then Filters > Animation > Optimize (for GIF).

Then File > Export As… louis_wain_pavlovsky_animation.gif, check As animation, set the animation speed, click [Export], and… it doesn’t work, no file is created. I ended up reopening the multi-layer image in the current GIMP version 2.10 and exporting from that (and it worked!) Then I couldn’t reproduce the bug. It turns out export as animated GIF fails in this 3.0 pre-release if you have multiple layers selected; I filed a bug.

The Export GIF dialog lets you set the “Delay between frames where unspecified”, but I couldn’t remember if I had specified this delay or not; anyway, the animation was way too fast. So I used the free command-line tool ImageMagick to slow down the animation to 40/100ths of a second between frames: convert -delay 40x100 too_fast.gif a_bit_slower.gif

animated GIF I made from 10 photos I took of Steve Pavlovsky's analog art in The Amazing Life of Louis Wain
my bad capture of Steve Pavlovsky’s analog art in The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

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music: this Bach guy is seriously good

In his solid interview with Sting and his long-time guitarist Dominic Cooper, Rick Beato asked “If you were able to meet one musician, go back in time and hear one musician play…” and both immediately answered Bach. So I checked the dude out. Spoiler: they’re not talking about C.P.E. Bach or PDQ Bach, it’s Johann Sebastian Bach.

His lyrics are seriously weeeeak, but damn his instrumentals are non-stop riffing. In this rocker “Violin Concerto In A Minor, BWV 1041: III. Allegro Assai In A Minor” (his song titles suck too) the lead violinist freaks out, then plays one note 72 times! Take that, Chris Difford of Squeeze, who runs out of steam after playing the same note 34 times in “Pulling Mussels (from the Shell).”

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excess: own something owned by someone famous, for crazy money

Nile Rodgers is auctioning a bunch of guitars. I don’t think he’s selling his famous white Fender Stratocaster “the Hitmaker,” which I couldn’t afford anyway. It reminded me that I meant to blog about David Gilmour (of Pink Floyd’s) record-breaking guitar auction.

Obviously “The Black Strat” he played on their hit albums and on tour was going to go for $$$$$$$, and it did, for $3.975M!! But even utter non-entities like an Ovation 12-string acoustic bought from the factory along with several other models, that he never composed on, never recorded, never played on tour, estimated to sell for $1,500 tops, sold for $93,750, 60 times its estimate! You can buy the same guitar from a nobody for $750, tell friends it sat in a cupboard in David Gilmour’s home, and donate the $93,000 you saved to your own charity of choice. There are enough wealthy geezer fans who want a conversation piece on the wall for prices to be ridiculous. Meanwhile there are local guitar makers who will make a beautiful handmade thing to your own specifications for 1/10th the cost.

David Gilmour's "The Black Strat"
the iconic instrument of a great musician
a generic Ovation Pacemaker
an instrument a great musician left in a cupboard

“Something owned by a famous person of whom I’m a fan” doesn’t appeal much. I’d be as happy with a signed Scritti Politti record sleeve of the greatest B-side ever.

Interesting but not valuable

The prices attained by these Ovation guitars are crazy, but they’re decent interesting instruments in their own right. I even owned one. I blogged about them in The rise and fall of Ovation.

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The rise and fall of Ovation

I blogged about the crazy auction prices that guitars owned by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour attained, particular those he’d never even used. The example I gave was a Ovation 12-string acoustic bought from the factory along with several other models, that he never composed on, never recorded, never played on tour, estimated to sell for $1,500 tops, sold for $93,750, 60 times its estimate!

That’s not to say that Ovations aren’t interesting guitars.

Reinventing the back and sides of the guitar

tough as nails on the back and sides

Back when I fantasized about having musical talent beyond rote skill, I bought an Ovation Folklore. I had damaged my classical guitar, so a guitar with nigh indestructible fiberglass back and sides appealed, and the sound projection of the resulting bowl shape was extraordinary. In the 1960s and 1970s this space-age reinvention (literally, founder Charles Kaman worked in aerospace and developed helicopters) was very popular. Glen Campbell made Ovation guitars famous, then Ovation over-expanded into oddball electric guitars, supplying them to the TV show “The Partridge Family.” The show made teen heartthrob David Cassidy famous, and destroyed any street cred that Ovation had.

Rethinking the front of the guitar

cover art of Adrian Legg's "high strung tall tales" album showing his custom Adamas
“High Strung Suite” is great, like the guitar. Photo by Jeff Sacks, © 1994 (probably) Relativity Records

Ovation later rethought the front of the guitar, coming up with the gorgeous Adamas with sound holes in the upper bout, instead of a gaping hole under the strings that requires lots of bracing to avoid the guitar self-destructing. The wonderfully talented Adrian Legg played one. But tastes have shifted back to authenticity and “naturalness,” plus as I understand it guitar makers have figured out how to get as much projection from conventional all-wood guitars, and Ovation is a shadow of its former self. A nice history.

Here’s Adrian playing “Cajun Interlude” off Guitars and Other Cathedrals on his Ovation Adamas.

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eco: YouTuber hypes Plasma Kinetics hydrogen nonsense

Hydrogen, the clean fuel of the future (as long as you ignore the problems of making it cleanly, distributing it, and storing it, and its inevitably worse efficiency than electrifying all the things) keeps getting hyped by people who choose not to know better. The latest credulous nonsense is YouTuber “Undecided with Matt Ferrell” thoughtlessly parroting the claims of Plasma Kinetics in Energy Storage Breakthrough – Solid Hydrogen Explained. This company has a poor computer rendering of a cartridge containing a tape that can absorb lots of hydrogen and then release the hydrogen when it’s unspooled past a laser. It’s like LaserVision meets 8-track cartridges (two failed media formats, kids).

Here’s my comment (this link may work to view it in context on YouTube, where the timestamps should jump to the right part of the video).

What an utter garbage dumpster fire of a video. The nonsense starts in the first seconds with “Being clean and abundant, green hydrogen…” Green hydrogen is almost non-existent! “As of 2020, the most common source for global hydrogen production was methane via steam-reforming [i.e. dirty unnatural gas with massive CO2 emissions], with renewable electrolysis only accounting for 0.3 percent” [source]. That’s why fossil fuel companies and their shills promote new uses for hydrogen, because it means DECADES of increased demand for their dirty product. We definitely need to switch the 70 Mt of dirty hydrogen that industry already uses annually to green hydrogen, but that will take 400 GW of electrolyzers if they run 24 hours a day, requiring 1 Terawatt of dedicated renewables and storage.

You mention the grim reality of today’s high-carbon hydrogen production at 6:55, suggesting that “Plasma Kinetics zero-carbon capture could have a massive environmental benefit.” But there’s no connection. The only way to get a stream of hydrogen for their film cartridges to absorb is… to make hydrogen. 3:54 “The device could extract metric tons per day of 99.99% pure hydrogen directly from smokestacks” is, haha, a nonsensical smokescreen. There’s minimal hydrogen in what comes out of a smokestack, but there’s a crapton of CO2 in it.

Hydrogen storage is a challenge and worth addressing for air and land transportation and long-duration energy storage. But Matt Ferrell, you utterly failed to do any kind of critical reporting on this “breakthrough.” At a bare minimum, you should have contacted manufactures of hydrogen storage equipment – tanks, pressure vessels, compressors – and asked for their take, instead of parroting the company’s highly optimistic claims. And they aren’t that impressive. 9:03 “by loading their containers on a single ship, they can safely move 20,000 tons of hydrogen”. Oh wow, cool! But Kawasaki has built the Suiso Frontier H2 transport ship that it claims carries 1,250 m^3 of liquid hydrogen. That’s… 87,000 tonnes, four times more. Anyone who thinks shipping hundreds of thousands of 8-track cartridges will be cheaper than filling a liquid hydrogen tanker is a fool.

The obvious problem with this is power density. Look at the stupidity of the animation at 9:00. There’s one open tray containing 4 cartridges among 120 more trays. Presumably some robotic tape loader crams the 8-track into the 8-track player that shines light on it. (Does this sound cheaper than a large pressurized container? but anyway…) But how much hydrogen per second, and thus power does the player produce? Matt Ferrell, nowhere does your awful video give a figure for this. The idea that unspooling a thin tape can produce gobs of hydrogen strains credulity. I suspect to power a truck you’ll need dozens of the players feeding hydrogen into its fuel cell.

And here’s the next problem, the economics of it. The claimed cost reductions for H2 storage undoubtedly hinge on reusing the tape and cartridge 150 times, amortizing the high cost of the cartridges and the tape player. Well, we’ll see! But even accepting that projection, how much does it cost to send the cartridges back to Plasma Kinetics for a top-up? How much will this elaborate robotic videocassette rewinding factory-cum-green hydrogen facility cost per kg of hydrogen going out the door?

Pretty damn shameful, Mr. Ferrell.

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eco: let me de-junk my order!

When you order stuff, you get unwanted crap. Why send me stuff that costs a non-zero amount that I’m immediately going to throw away or struggle to recycle!?

  • order food for takeout or delivery, you get sauce packets, chopsticks, plastic utensils, napkins. I usually don’t want any of this.
  • order electronics, you get another unwanted USB charger
  • order other goods, you get unwanted stickers, storage bags, assembly tools, etc.
  • donate money, you get unwanted bumper stickers, tote bags, Christmas cards, calendars, etc.

A lot of this is cheap goodwill: the customer might want this stuff, so provide it for free. But the real goodwill ensues from giving customers a choice, and I hate companies that send me stuff I didn’t request. Let me uncheck all these items when I order!

It’s a no-brainer for restaurants that assemble each order, though the staff tend to be on autopilot and often include napkins and utensils even if I specifically and repeatedly tell them to leave them out.

It’s harder for companies that obsess over having a minimal number of SKUs (stock-keeping units) that end up on the shelf of a reseller such as Amazon; they want to default to having a single box that gets shipped out. But we have robots! It must be possible to pre-assemble, and eventually assemble on the fly, the add-ons that most people don’t want.

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music: The Sundays trounce Joni Mitchell

You dance with the lady with the hole in her stocking
Didn’t it feel good?
‒ Joni Mitchell

Oh, you see me in a cardigan
In a dress, dress, dress that I’ve been sick on
Oh, how are you?
Can’t say I really care at the end of it all
‒ The Sundays

Harriet Wheeler by a knockout! 🏆

Harriet Wheeler’s brutal self-awareness, hard-won from recollecting key youthful experiences (“It’s the memories of the shed that make me turn red,” “I won the war in the sitting room… but it cost me,” “Call it young and wild But I ran a mile in a minute and there’s no going back”), is more interesting, though more elusive, than Joni Mitchell mining her emotional states.

Today I learned from Genius that Joni was probably riffing on “Dance with the Dolly with the Hole in her Stocking” by the Andrews Sisters.

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music: Alan Tarney, solid producer

Leo Sayer’s “Once in a While” affected me as much as any other song. His urgent, increasingly desperate vocal stands out against the pleasant pop-rock stylings. After playing it 7 times in a row at increasing volume my landlord called: “There have been complaints…” Here’s the song. There was a music video but it was inappropriately jokey and embarrassing; Leo is singing his heart out.

off Living in a Fantasy album from Rhino/Warners

I’ve remarked before about the vital contribution of the producer, people like Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers of Chic, Arif Mardin, and Trevor Horn. Alan Tarney wrote and produced this and he’s little heralded unlike those titans. This effusive Guardian piece reminded me of his songs that really stand out.

Alan Tarney’s first big hit was 1979’s “We Don’t Talk Anymore” that he wrote for Cliff Richard. It’s OK and melodic, but nothing special, maybe because he didn’t produce it. I assume that big hit let him produce his songs. He spent 1979-1981 locked into a certain sound, exemplified by Barbara Dickson’s “January February”. Fairground organ, twelve-string strumming, workman-like drumming, good backing harmonies, and a great vocal performance – gotta be Alan Tarney.

from the Barbara Dickson Album on Epic

Thrice in a while

Alan Tarney liked his own song “Once in a While” so much he recorded it on two more records that he produced for Cliff Richard and Dan Seals.

off Wired for Sound album on Parlophone UK

Cliff Richard’s version gains an extra half-verse, a nice “Digging on this every night” pre-chorus, and he inserts some interesting vocal syncopations, but he doesn’t sound emotionally shredded. “What’ll I do if you walk away, Well I haven’t a chance” needs to leave blood on the floor! Cliff’s version is off his album Wired for Sound, whose title track is a rare piece of music about listening to music.

I like small speakers, I like tall speakers
Wall speakers
but most of all, I like loudspeakers.

Corny, but earnest, a nice fit for Cliff. The music video (on Vevo and pulled from YouTube, but here it is on Tidal) has Cliff roller-skating while listening to his Walkman. Peak 1981!

Why don’t you sell it?!

off unobtainium A&M single!

One lost excellent Alan Tarney song is “Why Don’t You Say It” by Elkie Brooks, another British singer (her biggest hits were “Pearl’s a Singer” and “Sunshine after the Rain”). Fairground organ, good backing harmonies, increasingly impassioned vocal – here we go again. I think I have the 45 RPM single somewhere, but let’s give her and Alan Tarney some money… you can’t! “Why Don’t You Say It” is not available on streaming services, or for purchase and download from any merchant ☹. It seems to be a one-off single release. It isn’t a lost B-side unlike these hidden gems; just another popular single lost in the transition to digital music, along with Prince’s singles on Paisley Park 😢 and so many more. Trying to find it I learned Elkie Brooks recorded a version of Peter Frampton’s wonderful song “Putting My Heart on the Line”; she’s got great taste. I wound up buying a used UK CD of her greatest hits to get the one song.

A-ha, the big kahuna

Alan Tarney is most famous for producing a-ha’s smash “Take on Me” and four of their albums. That’s very different and shows his versatility, but no fairground organ.

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music: Fred Astaire swings his sing

Everybody reveres Fred Astaire’s dancing, but he’s an underrated singer despite his light thin voice. The way he swings and syncopates “Let the rain pit-ter pat-ter but it reallydoesn’tmatter if the skies are gray” in “Isn’t it a Lovely Day” by Irving Berlin is sheer delight. This recording (can’t embed it) is a spectacularly good version with Johnny Green’s “tea-dance orchestra” bouncing along on the balls of its own feet.

Here is the song with dancing from the movie Top Hat, not quite as delicious:

Let’s Kiss and have the fire squad mop up the incinerated remains

I watched “Funny Girl”, an OK satire on the fashion business and left-wing philosophizing with an unconvincing romance between a bookish younger woman (Audrey Hepburn) and the world-wise older man. The Paris scenes are nice. But in the middle of it Fred takes “Let’s Kiss and Make Up” by George and Ira Berlin, turns the knobs up to 11, swings SO F***ING HARD and torches the movie set. Here are the opening lyrics:

I didn’t mean to
start any scene to,
Make you sigh
hope to die.

It’s most immoral
for us to quarrel.
Why can we both agree?

Don’t you know Ben Franklin wrote about this thing at length?
On the proposition that in union there is strength?

Why raise a storm up
if we’ll just warm up?
We’ll be much stronger
and live much longer.

You can hear the syncopation begging for someone with superb rhythm to NAIL IT TO THE F***ING WALL, and Fred does. Listen for the onomatopoeic (probably not, some other Greek term for poetic adjustment) pun where he sings “at length”… at length, then Fred jumps all over the long lines like he’s dancing up a giant-sized keyboard. And of course “much longer” runs subtly long. Then on “Let’s kiss — and make ——up, Come-on Let’s —break ——up” he’s so far behind the beat the VOLTAGE GOES INTO OVERLOAD. And of course on the couplet “No use to break up When we can work in harmony” he goes for divine musical joke #4 in 50 seconds by detuning “harmony” like a METAL GUITARIST WARPING HER WHAMMY BAR. And he dances pretty well, too. 🎤😙🕺🏻❣️

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