How The Absence Of CGI Can Affect The Viewing Experience

Recently I’ve been going back and watching a lot of must see films, a lot of which are older, and there’s something I’ve noticed that’s different when watching them: they’re pre-CGI. This has more of an effect on how I watch a movie than I thought it would.

If I’m watching a modern movie there’s always this little thing in the back of my head that’s trying to work out whether something is CG or not. I try and look at the lighting or the compositing to see if I can tell. Often I’ll think something’s CG when it actually isn’t just because I’m hyper-aware of it. The end result of this is that I can never trust what I’m seeing. I don’t know whether the thing I’m watching ever actually happened.

Not only can I not trust what I’m seeing but I find that often it has a negative impact on the look of the film. Not that the CGI just looks bad, although that can be the case when studios are rushed to finished, but that it often still looks to clean. I’m no VFX artist but I think it might have something to do with lighting?  I don’t exactly know why but most of the time CG still ends up in the uncanny valley, at least for me. A some-what recent example of this that stands out to me is the new Star Wars films. Technically the CGI  incredible, and far superior to that of the original or prequel trilogies,  but it still just looks off.

Another negative impact CGI can have, less on the viewing experience but on the actual making of the film, is a kind of ‘fix it in post’ attitude. This isn’t really a direct effect of CGI, and most good directors aren’t guilty of this, but occasionally this is the reason a film may have turn out less than stellar.

This may sound like I’m a purist who thinks that CGI has ruined the art film making but that is definitely not the case. CGI has made possible so many things that wouldn’t been just a decade ago. However, for me at least, I have an extra appreciation for movies made before it mostly because I know that everything I’m seeing is real; it might be a matte painting, but it’s real. That space ship in Alien: that’s a model. Those explosions and helicopters in Apocalypse Now: they’re actual explosions and helicopters. That water buffalo being brutally sacrificed be tribesmen, also in Apocalypse Now: that actually happened.

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My Journey Into Music

I mentioned in a previous post about my effort to listen to more new music after realising I hadn’t actually listened to many albums. It went quite well (certainly better than I was expecting). I listened to 50 LPs in the first 6 days and almost 300 in the first six months. I have learnt a massive amount about music and it’s history as well as gained a much better idea of what genres and styles I like. I’ve kept a record of what I’ve listened on what day and any thoughts I had on them so I thought I’d go over a few highlights and some other stuff that I thought was interesting.

I started my sonic crusade in odd place: Vaporwave and Future Funk. The first album I listened to was Derelict Megatower by Death’s Dynamic Shroud which is a gargantuan four hour long journey up the floors of an abandoned skyscraper (and yes it is as weird as it sounds). Just the sheer size of the project alone is impressive, however it’s certainly not for everyone, or even many people at all. A lot of it sounds very similar and most of it would be better described as a soundscape, meant to create a certain feeling, rather than anything musical. It’s definitely interesting but not something I’d listen to often.

Derelict Megatower – Death’s Dynamic Shroud

Just before I started actively listening to albums, I discovered that I really enjoyed Daft Punk, so when I discovered that there was a whole new genre heavily influenced by their music called Future Funk, I fell down the rabbit hole very quickly. Future Funk mostly consists of short samples taken from disco and 80s Japanese city pop songs, which makes most tracks of the genre guilty of copyright infringement. It does bring up an interesting discussion about copyright but I’ll save that for a future post. I quickly found that there is a lot of very mediocre Future Funk and the albums I really liked were ones that deviated from the standard formula. Two of these albums are Chromafunk by Pure Colors and Forget by ev.exi, both of which have their own twist on the genre which makes them unique and significantly more interesting. Chromafunk focuses specifically on the funk parts of Future Funk and Forget adds in more elements of older house and electro house.

Forget – ev.exi

Whilst I definitely like Future Funk, it’s not the most interesting genre. I’ve found it’s best for when I just want to listen to something simple that will keep me entertained. On the opposite side to that is something that demands you’re full attention, not necessarily because it requires all of your brain power to be enjoyed, but because it’s so good that it removes any other distraction: Pink Floyd (specifically Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here). Both of these albums have become my favourite albums. I’m not sure where it comes from but I love the saying ‘the Dark Side of the Moon is the best album of all time and it’s not even the best Pink Floyd album’. It makes absolutely zero logical sense but it just seems true. ‘Pink Floyd are excellent’ isn’t exactly an unpopular opinion and it’s probably been talk about to death but that’s not going to stop me. Both albums blew my mind, especially WYWH. I didn’t think I liked super long songs but this completely changed my mind. The soundscapes that build up over the span of what would normally be considered a long track are beautiful. The synth sounds that Richard Wright managed to create are not only incredible for the time but still stand up today, which I something that cannot be said about most synth sounds from that time.

Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd

I could go on a very long time about these two albums but this post is already long enough. Obviously, having now listened to close to 400 albums, I couldn’t cover everything in one post so I will probably revisit this topic in future posts.

Front Page Music Sebastien Marc

Dreams – Fleetwood Mac (House Remix)

A remix I did of Dreams by Fleetwood Mac for another school project.

Samples from: ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac

Made with: Cubase 9 Artist, Adobe Premiere & Photoshop.

Media Studies Uncategorized

A Review Of My Week In Movies

Last October I realised I had a lack of understanding when I came to music, troubling considering my interest in the topic. So I started on a journey to absorb as much music as possible in the form of albums. I’m happy to report that it’s been very successful as I’ve listened to over 300 albums in six months. But, this post is not about my music crusade rather the fact that I realised the same thing about films. I realised that my music crusade had almost entirely stopped me from watching any movies. So I did the same thing I did with albums for films: I created a list of over 200 films I should watch and started watching. This list includes, but is not limited to: The Shinning, The Great Escape, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, No Country For Old Men, Good Will Hunting, Dr Strangelove, Reservoir Dogs and many more. So here are some short reviews of a few I’ve watch over the past weekend. 

Blade Runner (1982)

I feel the need to preface this short review by underlining the fact that this is my first viewing and I expect, or at least hope, my opinion will change over time. This is a movie I wanted to like but I did not. I certainly didn’t hate it, I’m glad I spent the time watching it rather than mindless scrolling through reddit or YouTube for and hour or two, but I wasn’t taken by it like I have been with other classics like Apocalypse Now or 2001.

It felt overall very slow in terms of pacing, which usually I don’t mind if it’s still interesting, but I didn’t find it interesting enough to justify the slow pacing. The fact I didn’t find it interesting could be down to a couple of things: I probably didn’t pick on a lot of the more subtle things that make the film engaging as it was my first viewing; it’s portrayal of the future and concepts relating to A.I. may have been some-what revolutionary at the time but I have seen many movies made since inspired by Blade Runner such as Terminator and Ex Machina (which I also watched this weekend).

Despite the fact that the experience wasn’t as positive as I’d hoped, I can still appreciate it’s influence and impressive visuals, or at least I can try. Streaming services such as Netflix, YouTube and Sky, which is where I watched Blade Runner, have agreed to downgrade the quality of their content as the EU was worried the increased traffic, due to… well… you know, would ‘break the internet’. So everything I’ve watched was quite heavily compressed and blocky.

Ex Machina (2014)

Overall, I’d describe Ex Machina as an uncomfortable experience but not necessarily in a negative or unintentional way. From the get go things seem off. The fact that the facility is so remote and that Nathan (played by Oscar Isaac) holds such power over Caleb, being his boss, makes it feel as if Caleb (played by Domhnall Gleeson) is closer to a prisoner than a guest. 

Often plot twists can get irritating but in this movie, despite their frequency, they serve a purpose. Their purpose being to make the viewer flip flop between siding with Ava and Nathan. The morality and intentions of both come into question throughout the film and in the end it turns out neither were in the right. Ava and the other A.I. manipulated and trapped Caleb and murdered Nathan. However, Nathan enslaved as well as physically and emotionally abused the A.I.

Despite the fact that it’s not entirely original it does bring up some interesting concepts relating to consciousness and morality. It is also very well shot and the CG is realistic to the point where you don’t even realise it’s there. 

The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club is a film that has been so frequently referenced I pretty much knew the entire plot before I got to actually watch the film but I still enjoyed it. Viewing it now it’s a very stereotypical teen film but at the time it wasn’t nearly as stereotypical as it is now. The Breakfast Club acted as a kind of base that movies such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, movies I prefer, used to build upon.

I did also watch Ocean’s Thirteen, Airplane!, Cast Away and Beverly Hills Cop this weekend but I don’t feel like I have much to say on any of them, plus this post is already 750 words long.

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The Seiko 6105 and How Movies Can Influence Demand

Apocalypse Now is one of the most interesting movies ever to reach cinemas. I could do an individual article on every single scene from the film (and I might) but in this piece I’m going to focus specifically on one of the stars of the movie, not Captain Willard but his watch: the Seiko 6105-8110, and how movies can greatly affect the value of items featured in them.

The Seiko 6105-8110 worn by Martin Sheen

First, a small bit of history. The Seiko 6105 was never actually issued to U.S. troops during the Vietnam War, although another Seiko, the 7005-8030, was. Only specific personnel, such as Air Force pilots, were provided watches. Most troops were expected to source and buy their own: most commonly at Post Exchanges. One of the most popular watches for troops to buy was the Seiko 6105-8110, making it a fitting choice for the character.

The watch is on his wrist throughout most of the movie and can be seen in some of its iconic scenes. Due to the watch being prominently featured in such a beloved movie, the watch has gained significant popularity, especially with watch collectors and film buffs, and is highly sought after. This brings us to the main point: how movies can create a demand for items featured in them and thus raise their value.

The Seiko 6105 now commands a relatively hefty price (for a vintage Seiko) of around £1500 to £3000 for a good example. Although it’s not a direct comparison, compare that figure to the price of a similar vintage Seiko dive watch like the 6309, which you can get for under £500. This is far from the only example of this effect, even related to watches. The Rolex GMT worn by Marlon Brando as Colonel Walter E. Kurtz in the same movie is one of the most expensive watches ever sold (at $1.9 million), same for the Rolex Submariner worn by Sean Connery in Goldfinger. 

The Rolex GMT-Master (ref 1675) worn by Marlon Brando

In conclusion, Apocalypse Now is an incredible and immensely interesting movie that I shall continue to talk about. But more to the point, movies in general have a great ability to affect the world around them, one example is they can greatly increase the value of items featured in them.

Music Sebastien Marc

Distorted Pulse Wave | Future Bass

Sebastien Marc · Distorted Pulse Wave

A future bass track I worked on for a while and totally forgot about!

Made with: Cubase Pro 10.5, Adobe Premiere & Photoshop, Blender 2.81 and Xfer’s Serum.

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Why The Original Star Wars Trilogy Has The Superior Lightsaber Duels

The debate around which Star Wars trilogy has the better lightsaber fights has existed since Star Wars was expanded beyond the original three films. Many people who aren’t fans of the prequels as a whole still argue that, despite their many other flaws, they have the superior duels.

The Darth Maul Vs. Qui Gonn Jinn & Obi Wan Kenobi from The Phantom Menace

I can see why some people hold this opinion. Other than the excellent world building and score, the combat is possibly the only other redeeming quality about the prequels. The scale and impeccable choreography are certainly a feast for the eyes. You gain even more appreciation for them after watching the behind the scenes. Despite the backgrounds being plastered wall to wall with rapidly aging CG, there is nothing CG about the combat. The actors really did spend days practicing and, whilst some of it was done by stunt doubles, most of it was done by the actors (Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Ray Park, etc.).

However, despite the well executed visuals, they evoke almost no emotional reaction. Most people when watching them are impressed by them but not actually that engaged. The closest they come to anything emotionally engaging is the battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin/Darth Vader at the end of Revenge of the Sith but unfortunately the robotic and unnatural dialogue, that sounds like it’s written by a poorly coded machine learning algorithm fed cheesy romantic novels, almost completely undercuts any emotional reaction someone might have. The main reasons that duel in particular is loved by some fans is the incredible score by John Williams, who is in my opinion the real star of the prequel trilogy, and the extra context added by The Clone Wars, which a topic of itself for another time.

Obi Wan Vs. Darth Vader duel from A New Hope

The main criticism of the lightsaber fights in the original trilogy is that they’re boring. I completely disagree. Whilst they may be less choreographed and less spectacular than ones released decades later, I find them to be so much more engaging to watch. My favourite out of the trilogy has to be the battle between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker at the end of Empire Strikes Back on The Cloud City of Bespin. This is a bit of a cliche opinion but it’s cliche for a reason. It’s shot so well. The fact that the environment around them is so dark allows the lightsabers themselves to really pop. It’s not all action, all the time either. It’s a lot slower and frequently pauses all together, not to let you breathe but increase tension: almost in the same way that a horror movie does. Because they knew that, if done well, silence can be be louder than action. Another reason that the original trilogy’s fights carry so much more emotional weight is because the writing and direction is significantly better than the prequels, in fact it’s probably the most stark difference between the two. The characters talk like real people and thus we are much more invested in them because they feel real, the consequences feel real.

Darth Vader Vs. Luke Skywalker duel from Empire Strikes Back

In summary, I think that, due to better written characters and the creators’ restraint in how the fight are presented, the original trilogy has more engaging, emotional and suspenseful lightsaber combat (although the prequels fights are still fun to watch).

Obi Wan Vs. Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader duel from Revenge Of The Sith

P.S. I didn’t touch on the sequel trilogy because I didn’t think they are worth mentioning when it comes to lightsaber combat. In my opinion they have neither the spectacle of the prequels nor emotion of the originals.

Front Page Music Sebastien Marc Uncategorized

Approaching Spaceport 5555 | Orchestral Synthwave

I recently wrote a short piece on production techniques used to create 80s pop. It inspired me to try some of the techniques myself: this is the result.

Made with: Cubase 10.5 Pro, Adobe Premiere & Photoshop, Blender 2.81, Xfer’s Serum and Analogue Dreams by Native Instruments.

Front Page Media Studies Music

80s Pop Production

80s pop manages to have both a complex and yet uniform sound. It was still largely based on traditional elements from rock, funk, etc. (drums, guitar, bass and vocals). The bass and guitar were often heavily influenced by funk (‘My Own Way’ by Duran Duran and ‘Pretty Young Thing’ by Michael Jackson are two examples of this).

Roland Jupiter 8 (Used on Thriller, Rio and many other records)

However, on top of those traditional elements, or occasionally in place of them, were electronic sounds that had previously been reserved to more niche genres or artists (Kraftwerk and Jean-Michel Jarre, for example). It was the first time that synths like the Roland Jupiter 8 (used on Thriller and Rio), Yamaha DX7 and Mini Moog, as well as drum machines such as the Linndrum (used on Thriller), Oberheim DMX and the, now wildly famous, Roland TR-808, had entered the mainstream in a big way. But, it was also before they diverged from mainstream pop into there own electronic genres in the 90s. It also came at an interesting point in the timeline of synthesizers as the early 80s was when digital synths, like the DX7, started to replace analogue synths: the Mini Moog, Jupiter, SH-101, etc (which had been used since the late 60s).

The Yamaha DX7 was the first successful digital synth and changed the way music was made

Glam Rock and ‘Hair Metal’ were also popular at the time and influenced pop. That influence often came in the form of massive, screaming guitar solos (for example the solos throughout Prince’s 1984 album ‘Purple Rain’ and the Eddie Van Halen solo on ‘Beat It’). This style of guitar solo was created with a high output humbucker, usually on a Les Paul or Super Strat, with a floating style bridge (in order to achieve the immense pitch modulation and dives) and an extreme amount of distortion.

Eddie Van Halen playing alongside Michael Jackson

Possibly the most famous/infamous and recognisable production technique of 80s pop is gated reverb. Gated reverb was most commonly used on drums (specifically snare and toms). It allows you to create a sense of massive ambience without flooding the mix with reverb that tails on for too long, muddying the mix. The technique was discovered accidentally by Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins and their audio engineer Hugh Padgham when the drums went through the talk mic on the studio’s new mixing desk. The talk mic had a gate followed by heavy compression causing the natural reverb from the room to be amplified and suddenly cut off. It became a defining technique throughout the 80s after the first digital reverb units came equipped with the effect as a preset: making it much easier to achieve the sound. Prince was especially fond of the sound and it’s noticeable across his music from the 80s but it’s possibly most prominent on the title track to his previously mentioned album ‘Purple Rain’.

These production techniques and the overall style of 80s pop is still influencing current music. It inspired relatively new genres like Outrun, Retrowave and Synthwave that first started in the mid-2000s with artists like Kavinsky and later became massively popular in the 2010s after being prominently featured in films and TV shows (Kavinsky in the 2011 film ‘Drive’ and S U R V I V E who created the soundtrack for Netflix’s hit show ‘Stranger Things’ in 2016). These artists still use techniques/equipment from this period of pop such as gated reverb, a similar style of guitar solos as well as a lot of the same hardware synths. However, most (if not all) artists now use digital interfaces, DAWs and some digital emulations of analogue synths and equipment to record and produce their music rather than tape due to the flexibility and ease of use that a digital workflow provides.

Kavinsky was one of the first artists credited with starting the revival of 80s style music

Digital was still in an early stage of development and hadn’t yet been adopted by larger studios so 80s pop was still almost entirely recorded fully analogue on tape. This was generally 24 track, although 16 and 12 track formats were also occasionally used (for example the entire rhythm section for Thriller was recorded on 16 track as the noise floor on the 24 track was too high). Since digital systems like Pro Tools were introduced there has been a debate about whether analogue or digital is better. Some claim that tape has a warm sound caused by subtle, natural distortion and compression that can’t be replicated digitally. However, tape has many disadvantages, namely: it degrades over time, its sound can be affected by environmental factors like humidity and temperature, it’s limited to 24 tracks, it can be very expensive and takes up a lot of space. Roger Taylor (Duran Duran’s drummer) said that, due to the nature of tape, he’d often have to start over on a 5 minute take because overdubbing small mistakes was too difficult.

The 24 track tape machine was the best way of recording music for a large portion of the twentieth century

Overall, new technology such as synths and drum machines entering mainstream popularity gave 80s pop a futuristic sound that continues to influence modern music.