Sunday, December 12, 2010

Well. That Was Kind Of Epic.

Rincewind And Death.

Yes. The hat does have the word 'Wizzard' on it in badly-glued sequins. Just so you know.

Indeed, today was Younger Son's birthday party. And if you'd forgotten, the theme he chose was 'characters from books.' Aside from himself as Rincewind and Jake as Death from the Discworld novels, we had a Harry Potter, a colour-blind Robin Hood (grey? Whoever heard of 'Lincoln Grey?) a Joker (dodgy!) and... er... some others. Yep.

Friday was big. I made it down to the school with the kids, grabbed a few things, and promptly spent nearly four hours doing some basic stop-motion animation with some of Jake's class. In the space of an hour and a half, we took over a thousand 640x480 photos, and then for the next few hours I sat down with a little piece of wonderful freeware called "Monkeyjam", and turned the photos into avi files. Finally, I stitched the avi files into a final rough cut using the school's copies of Windows Moviemaker (which was horrid, but workable), and left it running for the kids to see. I still have to put together a clean copy here at home with my own editing software, and add a soundtrack (courtesy of Audacity - another brilliant piece of freeware). I figure by Tuesday I'll be able to duck back down to the school and hand each of the five kids in my group a DVD with their movie on it.

The movie was pretty basic. I used the kids as subjects. They rode around on 'invisible motorcycles'. We had a couple of bad bikers, a moped-riding victim who got her revenge, a couple of police (one of whom rode in a sidecar, which was funny to see) and even a train. The whole story ended in a big crash, and the moped-rider comes through at the end to laugh at the fiendish bikers who knocked her over at the start of the story.

The kids had a great time being filmed, and they were all fascinated to see the photos come together into basic video footage. Huge laughs as the ridiculous poses linked into animation and movement, exclamations of delight as the story unfolded... if you've never done basic stop-motion work with kids, you've missed out. You need a digital camera, a functional computer running Windows... and a bit of time and imagination.

If that sounds like fun to you, I really need to draw your attention to the Monkeyjam people, courtesy of this link here. It's a lovely, simple, easy and intuitive piece of software, with a surprising degree of utility and flexibility. It's small, easily downloaded, free -- and if you like it, well worth supporting it. Stop-motion animation is enormous fun, and this is the simplest, cheapest way I know to get involved.

Strangely, I can't recall a lot of Friday afternoon or evening. There was cooking. And costume preparation. And some more work on Moby Playset, though not a lot. Actually, I thought I was stymied there. According to the diagrams, I was short by three vital pieces of timber. And of course, there was a lot of other stuff going on.

Like what? Oh -- well, Saturday afternoon and evening was the pizza and Kung Fu movie night for the ju-jitsu group. The older ones, anyhow. So of course, I made a truly terrifying quantity of yeasty pizza dough, laid in a mountain of tomato, mozzarella, pepperoni, mushroom, pineapple, ham, capsicum, onion, olives, feta and so forth, and went through the movie collection. And sure enough, roundabout four in the afternoon, they arrived.

It's been a good year in ju-jitsu. We've picked up some older students - high school, and even adult - and they're a likeable crowd. I particularly wanted to give the teenage mob an entertaining evening, so the whole pizza-and-kung-fu movie thing seemed a good plan. It went over pretty well in the end.... tonnes of pizza, followed by about forty litres of popcorn, and a mass exodus to the Loft of Doom. (Carefully cleaned and tidied. And I had to pull a goddam starling nest down from one of the beams. Why didn't my wife notice that birds were nesting over her head when she's been exercising up there?)

We watched an atrocious episode of "The Samurai", providing our own vocal tracks and commentaries, which was fun. Then we cranked up the original "Street Fighter" movie, with Sony Chiba as the deadly 'Terry Tsurugi'. I'd forgotten how over-the-top that film is. There were some scenes that had us howling with laughter, and I suspect I'll be hearing students whine "Te-rrri! Terr---rri!" in piteous voices all next year, after the annoyingly pathetic death scene of one particularly crapulous character. But in general, it was good for a laugh.

We took a break then, and because so many of the audience were teenagers, I actually cooked up another twenty or thirty litres of popcorn. Man, did they put that stuff away!

We finished up with Bruce Lee in 'Way Of The Dragon' -- another classic film. Unfortunately, I'm never going to view it the same way again. First of all, the cries of horror at Chuck Norris's chest bathmat during the final fight sequence were kind of alarming. I mean, yeah, Chuck was a hairy bastard, but I'd never really thought about it before. Now, of course, if I watch that scene again all I'm gonna see is a walking wall of chest hair. As Jake put it: "Holy crap! I think that guy's chest hair has chest hair!"

Worse though, was Norris's first scene. He arrives on an aeroplane, and disembarks in his classic Seventies ensemble - tight brown pants, off-brown shirt, brown sunglasses, etc. As he walks across the tarmac, a kettledrum matches him step for step. Unfortunately, Bruce Lee directed the film, and I don't think he'd done any direction before. Mostly it was good -- but in this scene, Norris keeps walking towards the camera which is ostentatiously focused on his tight-trousered groin. Said groin continues to get bigger and bigger, pace by kettledrum pace, until it fills the whole fucking screen.

Which is a lot more of Chuck Norris than I ever wanted to see.

The straw that broke my brain was the sudden realisation that I wasn't actually hearing a kettledrum at all in that scene. Nope: that deep, hollow, booming sound that matched Norris stride for stride was clearly the sound of his enormous testicles swinging back and forth, clanging and gonging as they went.

I managed to explain that to everyone else. And we all kind of fell apart after that.

Today, I fed some breakfast to a couple of the lads who stayed the night - they live out at Ringarooma - and then dashed down to do some party shopping. Then, of course, it was time for Younger Son's birthday party. Costumes, cake (did I mention I baked a really good chocolate cake in between creating breakfasts and shopping this morning? 'Cause I did, yeah. Props to Natalie for frosting it, though. Damned if I could have found time.) balloons, presents, games, and an archery competition involving balloons. Younger Son did me proud: nailed a balloon with his first arrow, at about 20 metres - when even the older kids were struggling just to reach the target.

Finally, after the crowd took off, we were left with just a couple of lovely medical students, Grace and Chrissy. They'd helped us through the party and all, and then picked a bowl of fresh early raspberries, so I improvised a meal: enormous mushrooms (from the mushroom-composted strawberry patch) sliced thin, to line a casserole dish. Then a spicy mix of chicken, onion, garlic, tomato and chorizo, and then more slabs of mushroom for a lid, and a nice dusting of mozzarella on top, all baked into a delicious, tasty mass. The mushrooms were wonderfully flavoursome, and the whole dish worked out a treat.

Best of all: Natalie read the instructional notes very, very carefully, and discovered we can work without the missing bits of timber. So we're back on track with Moby Playset.

Hip hip hoofuckingray.