Monday, May 21, 2012

2012 Waterfront Conference Raises Sails for New York Waterfront Prosperity

The panel for "Adapting to Climate Change" 
At Friday’s 2012 Waterfront Conference at Chelsea Piers, sponsored by the Metropolitan Water Alliance, major stakeholders from New York and New Jersey explored ways to make the people’s waterfront accessible and useful while fostering new plans and initiatives that will guarantee the future health and prosperity of our waterfront and coastal areas.

Several panels brought together activists, government leaders, officials, analysts and scientists to discuss solutions, infrastructure changes and policies that are needed to confront climate changes along the waterfront.

Immediate Concerns
The imminent threat to the New York and New Jersey waterfronts are the rising sea levels. By the end of the century New York’s water levels will rise from 2 – 4 inches. Several factors are being scientifically tracked to support this fact, including melting polar icecaps and global warming. Rising water levels alone are not the big threat. When considering unpredictable storm surges that will surpass the levels, the stability and health of major coastal infrastructures are in jeopardy.
Caswell Holloway

Facilities that manage power, communications, sewers, water treatment must remain sustainable in the face of the worst circumstances. In this regard I was pleased to learn that New York is regarded as the international leader in rising sea level and storm surge preparation, as reputed by the office of Caswell Holloway, Deputy Mayor Of Operations New York City, who is working with various public and private agencies to outline steps for mitigating these issues.

Chris Ward
Speakers joining the discussion were Cynthia Rosenzweig, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies; Bill Solecki, Director, CUNY Institute for Sustainable Cities; Robert Teetz, Vice President of Environmental Services, National Grid; Eddie Bautista, NYC Environmental Justice Alliance; Jared Snyder, Assistant Commissioner for Air Resources, Climate Change & Energy, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.  
The aforementioned agencies are aware that scientific data and related pipelines which deliver that crucial information evolve each year. To account for that flexibility of data, policies must be flexible as well, allowing New York to adapt quickly to new information.
Current Plans
Mark Lowery
Modifying existing sea walls and building new ones is not enough to account for storm surges and climate change. Developing policies to reduce fuel emissions will help slow climate change over the city, as will incentives like solar power and other green energy resources. Updating building codes and accountability are next on the bucket list. New York City has made it mandatory for properties to manage their own water supplies and surge plans. Equipment that an agency needs to maintain safe and healthy operations must be relocated on accessible upper levels or rooftops to preserve their integrity.

A New Way of Thinking
Other panels dealt with adapting to climate change exclusively. Panelists like Adam Freed, Deputy Director, NYC Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability; Randall Solomon, Co-Director, The Sustainability Institute at the College of New Jersey, Mark Watson, Environmental Research and Energy Resources Programs Manager, NY State Energy Research and Development; Mark Lowery, Cimate Policy Analyst, NY State Department of Environmental Conservation Office of Climat Change; and others entertained Q and A from moderator Chris Ward, Executive Vice President, Dragados, USA and presenter Ton Siemerink, Program Manager and Senior Management Consultant, City of Rotterdam. Topics included targeting flood zones and disaster prevention plans.

Adam Freed, Klaus Jacob, Randall Solomon
Klaus Jacob, Ph.D, Special Research Scientist, Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Observatory, Earth Institute and Professor, Columbia’s School of International Affairs, questioned building in known flood zones. “Let’s start with the FEMA Flood Insurance Program – it is a catastrophe!” states Jacob.

Klaus Jacob, Mark Watson
“In terms of long-term policy it has allowed us to settle in places we should not be allowed to settle in.” Jacob believes that while FEMA can help manage a crisis effectually, they could avert the crisis completely by planning to avoid it.
In addition, if you happen to own waterfront property because your “wife insisted upon it”, spend the ten thousand bucks to raise it from storm level, thereby avoiding fifty thousand dollars in damages and federal disaster relief that is sure to occur in an epic flood.

Whether or not Manhattan and other coastal areas of the city will become another Venice or just a flooded town is still being debated. With continued planning and partnership among government and private agencies, not only can the worst be averted, but New York may well prove that government is ultimately doing what many say it should do – protect the health and prosperity of it’s communities.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Storyboards, Pre-Viz and Brainstorming Move Across Mediums

One of my presentation boards for a cooking show spot 
In today’s industries of advertising, filmmaking and video games, there are many tools available for the creative agency looking to develop and flesh out their next memorable campaign.

While developing “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” Walt Disney developed the idea of using storyboards - individual drawings that stand in for yet-to-be-filmed or animated movie frames. For years, the Disney studios propelled the craft forward into a reliable technique of story refinement and, when coupled with the story reel, where the frames are run together with dialogue and soundtrack, have tested the linear flow to perfect storytelling. 

Walt introduces storyboards during Snow White production
Storyboard artists are a staple of any animated film and big budget action movie. Directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Ridley Scott and Martin Scorsese have all used storyboard artists, and many times have been known to draw their own boards to illustrate their story flow and demonstrate unique camera angles.

In addition, filmmakers and video game developers have been using Digital 3D software programs like Maya, 3d Max and Cinema 4d to build virtual environments that directors can film from any angle, then cut together to prove a concept or solve complicated logistics. When I was Art Director at EA Sports, I created numerous prototypes this way, which I was able to “sell” to producers, execs and other teammates before spending a dime on man-hours. In this way, resources could be planned and scheduled down to the last detail. 

Storyboards for Hitchcock's "Vertigo"
Stephen Spielberg used “virtual” environments before committing to animated renders in the recent “The Adventures of Tintin.” George Lucas pushed virtual visualization while directing his last three “Star Wars” movies. According to a story artist who worked with him, Lucas might suddenly decide midway in production to change the structure of a scene, and would test it via virtual environments and cameras before deciding. Regardless what you think of Lucas’s results, these methods help the imagined become reality quickly, thereby allowing filmmakers the confidence to commit to final production whatever the media.

Since my full-time services of storyboarding, cinematics and art direction was launched over three years ago, I have experienced an evolution in the methods of storyboarding and pre-visualization among the advertising industry. Where once I was given a shot list and asked to create roughs, submit them for approval, and then worked up finishes from the solitude of my studio, I soon found creative directors, art directors and writers were interested in having me work on-site. In this manner, I have been invited to collaborate and brainstorm on early concepts. Teaming with writers, editors, and designers in group sessions, agencies can witness the strengths of each contributor. 

Depending on the direction the ideas take, the creative lead may quickly assign roles with clear directives and deliverables, tuned to each person’s skill set or interest. Not only have I enjoyed adding my input, but I have been able to quickly demonstrate that my skill goes beyond that of someone who makes pretty pictures. I believe I have grown to be regarded as a thoughtful, service driven team player who wants to create the experience that will best reach the intended audience. I get a sense of ownership and a contribution I may not have had in other cases, and enjoy the side-by-side partnerships.

One of many storyboards I designed for a music video
I recently designed a music video concept that was embraced by the director who hired me. As a result, I believe said director values me not just for my line quality and sense of story, but also as a collaborator of the highest mark. I am grateful for opportunities like this.

Whatever your creative goals may be, using storyboards, story reels and team brainstorming can get you there. In the process, you may have an experience that is marketable as well as memorable.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"The Avengers" are Here!

For starters “Marvels The Avengers” is a pure blast of summer fun. By carefully introducing the film’s major franchise characters through other Marvel Studios films like “Iron Man”, “The Incredible Hulk,” “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Thor,” Marvel has put it’s money where it’s mouth is. Fan boys everywhere including me has awaited “The Avengers” like a dog waiting for a bone.

The story is thin. The action is big. The dialogue is treated with the brief sensitivity and economy of TV show. Each character manages a moment or two of obligatory self-doubt, and with little provocation turn on one another like bickering twits. Thor illustrates this when he claims, “you people are so petty,” reaffirming that you should not expect too much austerity from “The Avengers.”

Contrived attempts at plot and emotion hover just long enough to suspend disbelief. But overall the visual delight and combined dynamics of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black window and Hawkeye convince the viewer sit back and enjoy the show.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created “The Avengers” for Marvel Comics in 1963, as an attempt to cash in on the popularity of their super hero line-up. Within the monthly continuity of “The Avengers” there were character rosters changes, major and minor plot developments, and a plethora of action. In film, you have twenty minutes to grab the audience and get them to buy into the story. “The Avengers” as directed by Josh Whedon just makes it. When the story by Whedon and Zak Penn gets questionable, something happens to bring you back in.

SHIELD, the secret military law enforcement and espionage agency of the world, head mastered by badass spy Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is researching a power source called the Tesseract (in the comics it is known as the “Cosmic Cube” – I guess the filmmakers thought “tesseract” sounded cooler and had to Hollywoodize it). When Thor’s magic half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddelston) emerges out of the Cube’s dimension door, Loki quickly hypnotizes Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) the archer assassin and the Shield-employed scientist professor Erik Selig (Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd) into his pawns. The evil trio grab the Cosmic Cube and drive away in a jeep (because Loki needs a jeep), shooting it out with Shield Agent Maria “I’m so hot AND I can shoot” Hill (Cobie Smulders). For some reason SHIELD, who is supposed to make J. Edgar Hoover look like a piker, must have been victim of government-funded cuts, because they don’t have any security measures installed in their massive underground complex. Only a dozen agents stand between Loki and his escape. You would think a top secret military facility from comic book lore has security doors that seal the decks like in Star Trek. No security monitors notify back-up troops. Heck, they can’t even afford a security guard at the underground parking lot gate as Loki and company drive away.

 Agent Hill (remember, she is hot AND can shoot) gives chase and fires bullets through her windshield at Hawkeye 5 feet away, but no one gets hit. The only thing Nick Fury can do is activate the compounds self-destruct mechanism in hopes of burying Loki and the Cube under a thousand tons of rock, but instead destroys the SHIELD compound and cuts Agent Hills’s forehead. Realizing Loki intends to use the Cube to transport a race of flibbertigibbet aliens to invade the earth, Fury prompts “The Avengers Initiative.”

Fury’s right hand man Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) couriers over to Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) new green “arc reactor” powered skyscraper over New York’s Grand Central Station. This is what skyscrapers should look like. Reprising her “Iron Man” role of Tony Stark’s girlfriend/assistant Pepper Potts, Gwyneth Paltrow returns long enough to shake her booty shorts in our face and remind us that Marvel comics (and movies) are aimed at adolescent boys. Pepper convinces narcissist billionaire Stark that if he helps Shield get the Cosmic Cube back and save the world she will give him a happy ending.

Meanwhile Agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson) - code named the Black Window gets a phone call telling her she must stop letting a Russian mafia boss torturer her because her ex-boyfriend Hawkeye has been compromised by the enemy. Shield sends her to recruit Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) - the world expert in gamma radiation (some expert – we know how that turned out, i.e. “The Hulk”) to help shield locate the Cosmic Cube along with Loki, Hawkeye and Professor Selig.

Nick Fury grabs Captain America (Chris Evans), who since being reawaked from his WW2 suspended animation deep freeze spends all his time destroying punching bags in the gym instead of acclimating into today’s society. Together with Banner’s help, Cap and the Black Widow locate the Cube in Germany, where Loki is crashing a fancy museum fundraiser. Apparently even though Loki wields magic he needs Hawkeye to help him steal a rich guys retina scan so he can break into some vault and steal something similar to Stark’s arc reactor. When powered by the Cube, the arc technology will open the alien army doorway and hordes of flibbertigibbets will crush earth under Loki’s feet. Loki gets his jollies being worshipped, and demands subservience from the rich crowd of cocktail patrons. But here in Germany, where the echoes of past dictators cannot be forgotten, an old holocaust survivor with more guts than ear hair refuses to bow to Loki. Just as Loki is ready to blast him to back to Kristallnacht, guess who shows up? That’s right, Captain America! With stars and stripes akimbo, Cap shield-slings Loki where it hurts, long enough to save the crowd, but not long enough for Hawkeye to steal the arc thingy. Iron Man drops in to kick Loki further in his nuts, and amidst the legendry meeting of these two Marvel super-hero icons, Loki surrenders.

Now is it me, or should an evil magician from another dimension be able to disappear anytime he wants? Any disbelief is once again waylaid in “The Avengers” as Thor show’s up in a grand entrance to put a whipping on his brother Loki for his bad behavior. Iron Man and Thor duke it out because Thor is messing with the possibility of finding the Cube. Cap, ever the do-gooder proves his shield can take a hit from Thor’s hammer, and the three heroes call it a truce. All the while Loki is hanging out enjoying the escapade. And so is the audience.

And hence “The Avengers” escalates. Hawkeye turns good again, Loki opens the alien portal and the alien flibbertigibbets attack Manhattan. But Nick Fury has done one thing right…he has created The Avengers. The ensuing battle is both enjoyable and ridiculous. Acting as a team, Captain America falls into his natural talent of leadership, and dispenses orders. Butts are kicked. People are saved. Monsters are smashed. The Avengers win. Audiences cheer.

Watching The Hulk was a treat, especially in the context of how he interacts with the other Avengers. Mark Ruffalo is a warm spot in the group, a character of quiet wisdom and calm, who is in charge of his Hulk-ego more than the previous Hulk movies. A bit ape-like and rubbery in his animation and rendering, the Hulk via motion capture technology is nevertheless a visual reward that elicits laughter from his spontaneous eruptions of brutality. Captain America is played perfectly by Chris Evans, whose civilian wardrobe of high waist pants and checkered shirt matches his man out of time conflict. I craved more astonishing displays of his shield wielding skills, like the best comic book depictions. Instead, Cap’s shield throwing feels conventional and obligatory. Robert Downey Jr. amuses as Iron Man once again, delivering dialogue with vanity and humor. Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye provides a cool and focused talent, letting his arrows do the talking. A sliver of back-story tells us he once saved Black Widow from a life of crime and recruited her as a Shield agent. She perseveres with the Avengers because she has “red on her ledger,” a line that must have been included for the accountants in the audience. Johansson smolders where possible and tries to get vulnerable as needed. Chris Hemsworth as Thor is a powerhouse slugger, with more determination here than in his own titular movie.  Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury stands around in a giant leather coat that must be heavier than his paycheck. One can’t help but wonder what his performance would have been if Fury had more conflict and determination, with dialogue to match, aka Tommy Lee Jones in the Fugitive.

The action is scattered evenly enough to cut the mustard. But adding more intense jeopardy for each of the characters would have delivered more satisfying results. Never did I really feel like Iron Man or Thor or Captain America was in danger, nor their livelihood intertwined, as they skip along in battle to regroup now and then. When Iron Man shoots an array of repulsor blasts at the enemy, one ricochets off of Caps shield to destroy an attacking alien. It feels accidental, not planned like it should have been, in order to show the avengers are meshing as a team and can utilize each other’s strengths to augment their effectiveness.

Despite some holes in plot credibility and shallow character arcs, The Avengers will leave you satisfied. It is a good movie to enjoy and not analyze much unless, like me, you think about it on the way home. I look forward to the next one.