Tag Archive for video

Slipstream #2: The Cinema of Lovecraft

Hey everyone. The second episode of Slipstream, my pulp culture vlog is now up. This time, I break down the essence of Lovecraft through the lens of three very different films that really captured the style, mood, and psychology of the reclusive horror/sci-fi master.

Watch the video here, share it with your friends, and get the word out about the new project.

Here’s your behind the scenes details for the episode:

  • My lavalier microphone got destroyed at that terrible AnimeNEXT convention. I had to use the shotgun mic that unfortunately pics up a bit of the buzz from the camcorder. I’m loud so it’s not too distracting.
  • I’m working on a much longer project inspired by Lovecraft on film. I want to test it out at a convention this fall (NYCC, maybe? We’ll see what they say about press running a panel) before committing to the nitty-gritty of putting pen to paper.
  • I previously did a huge podcast just on the score of Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural and could probably write a book just on that film, its literary references, its style, and its connections to Night of the Hunter.
  • For all the horror conventions I’ve been to that have advertised Jeffrey Combs’ (star of Re-Animator) appearance, I’ve yet to meet him. Someday, I’ll meet the closest we have to a Lovecraft parallel to Victor Price’s mastery of Poe onscreen. Someday.
  • “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” is my favorite Lovecraft story. I’ve been writing a musical inspired by it and “The Music of Erich Zahn” for, I want to say, four or five years now. It’s finding the balance between loyalty and accessibility that’s tripping me up.

Slipstream #1: Welcome to Pulp Culture

I warned you about this on Saturday and it’s here already. This is Slipstream, my vlog on pulp culture. Pulp culture is a catch-all for horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. The first issue is all about my background, the draw of the genres, and how they’re all related to each other and reality.

This is also my entry for the Geek & Sundry Vlogs channel. They’re looking for 10 new vloggers to join the channel. Even if I don’t get selected, I plan on keeping up with the videos. I don’t want to set a schedule just yet, but I’m thinking two a month is pretty reasonable. Besides, I have other video series dedicated to art/craft and home haunting planned that will debut this month.

Insider trivia from the episode:

  • I prepared a huge visual aid for the Neil Gaiman segment that I couldn’t get into focus on screen. My scanner is too small to pick it up, either, so I went straight up competitive forensics with the hand signals.
  • This took 9 takes with a loose outline memorized in my head. The camera fell over after take 5, hence the perspective jumps.
  • The Geek Love segment came to me on the spot in my last take. It really was just window dressing. I filmed similar segments on The Handmaid’s Tale, District 9, Friday the 13th, Jason and the Argonauts, Marie Christine (musical), and Star Wars.
  • The painting in the back is one I took over for a family member who abandoned it. I also painted the fire dragon, rusting robot, and stained glass Gin Gwai (The Eye) fan art in the back.
  • That is the piano I arrange all my music on and, yes, I was working on some Nightmare Before Christmas and Legend of Zelda arrangements.

Like, share, comment, and subscribe. The Sketchy Details YouTube channel is where all the con videos are going to go. The vlogs will be there. The art and haunt videos will be there. I upload the occasional cover song, as well.

Tropes vs. Women in Video Games: Damsel in Distress (Part 2)

Anita Sarkeesian’s new videoTropes vs. Women in Video Games: Damsel in Distress (Part 2) premiered today on YouTube. Sarkeesian, the creator of Feminist Frequency, lays out her purpose in creating videos right at the start. This is the clearest I’ve ever seen her (or any media critic, for that matter) explain why we find it necessary to closely examine media we’re drawn to.

Over the course of this series I will be offering critical analysis of many popular games and characters, but please keep in mind that it’s both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy a piece of media while also being critical of it’s more problematic or pernicious aspects.

This is not about instantly being against a subject because it features something objectionable under a certain school of theory. This is about examining something you enjoy to understand the quirks of how it works and why it chooses to characterize certain aspects with certain tropes and shorthand. It’s about the impact of the institutionalized choices of media on the greater world.

tropesvswomeninvideogamesblog Tropes vs. Women in Video Games: Damsel in Distress (Part 2)Unsurprisingly, before I even got a chance to watch Tropes vs. Women in Video Games: Damsel in Distress (Part 2), the trolls that attempted to destroy Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter campaign already got it falsely flagged off of YouTube. It was an easy enough fix to get the video online again since there is no hate speech or TOS-violating content contained within.

Much like Part 1, I’m going to do another response to Sarkeesian’s video. I walked away very impressed with the construction of the argument and the research the last time. Will Part 2, dedicated to the “dark and edgy” Damsel in Distress style, be as strong?

Part 2 is grounded in Sarkeesian’s research into games that teetered on multiple tropes. It’s hard to argue against anything she says when she can reduce plot points for many games in a row to “his wife is murdered and he must save his daughter.” The exercise becomes so frustrating that, when exploring how game developers combine the Damsel in Distress (female character kidnapped and incapable of being freed without a male character’s help) with the Woman in the Refrigerator (female character brutally murdered to advance story/character arc of male character), Anita Sarkeesian actually facepalms. No, seriously. Look.

tropesvswomeinvideogamesdamsels2smh Tropes vs. Women in Video Games: Damsel in Distress (Part 2)

Bionic Commando is the game that broke Anita Sarkeesian

It only gets worse from there, people. Sarkeesian starts discussing the combination of the Damsel in Distress with the Mercy Killing (where a character is killed to save them from a worse fate). She’s defined a lot of terms in her Feminist Frequency series but none have hit me so strong as “The Euthanized Damsel.” We’re led to believe that the best thing for a female character who has already been trapped in a perilous situation she can’t get herself out of is death. Not freedom, not a chance to return to a normal life, but death.

When was the male hero who couldn’t even stop the bad guy the first time they met suddenly upgraded to the status of God? How is it that game developers think executing the victim is a compelling or thought-provoking ending? I share Sarkeesian’s disgust with this trope combo. Most cases are lazy, manipulative writing and their screenwriters deserve to be named and shamed. There is a world of difference between double tapping a zombie bite victim who played a big role in the story before they transform and double tapping a victim whose only role in the story was a treasure to be reclaimed by another character.

tropesvswomeinvideogamesdamsels2domesticviolence Tropes vs. Women in Video Games: Damsel in Distress (Part 2)

All of these games feature violence against women to free loved ones

The next segment focuses on an even more absurd spin on the same trope. The only difference is that you beat a woman who you are dating or related to until the evil escapes or she dies peacefully. The only way to advance in the narrative is domestic violence and the women are literally asking for it. This is the part where I facepalmed. I don’t know how I managed to avoid so many of these games, but I’m kind of glad I did.

This is also the part in Part 2 where I disagree with Anita Sarkeesian’s analyis. She attempts to tie real life violence against women to in-game violence against women in the same way the NRA attempts to tie violence in video games to violence in real life. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that playing out these terrible scenarios in games actually has an impact on how the gamer behaves in real life. She backtracks in her conclusion, but the rhetoric is briefly identical to anti-video game advocates. The trivialization of the social narrative surrounding violence against women is all too real, but her attempt to tie-in real life violence is a stretch.

Her conclusion, however, is very strong. The discussion of mechanics as an accidental function of sexism is brilliant. If the most popular video games rely on violence to tell their story, the only way to conclude the story is with more violence. If the story hinges on abducting a female character, violence must be used to resolve the abduction of the female character. Until game developers find a new way of telling these stories, the darker spins on the Damsel in Distress trope will all too easily rely on violence against women to create a grander story.

Keep reading.

Watch: Silicone by Willam, Detox, and Vicky Vox

I think it’s pretty safe to say that a trio of drag queens are now some of the sharpest musicians around, YouTube or not. Willam, Detox, and Vicky Vox broke out last year with their scathing parody of Chick-Fil-A’s anti-LGBT policies in “Chow Down (At Chick-Fil-A).” Then they went for pure laughs with the considerably more NSFW “Boy Is a Bottom,” a parody of “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keyes.

Their third single is their best yet. It’s a darkly humorous tribute to black market silicone injections set to Robyn’s amazing song “Dancing On My Own.” “Silicone” is also a succinct and effective take down of critics who spoke out against Detox for discussing all of her plastic surgery on RuPaul’s Drag Race this season. The arrangement really shows off Detox’s style and the group’s strong harmonies. I, for one, can’t wait for the Willam, Detox, and Vicky Vox album.

Check out the NSFW track.

Little Witch Academia

Remember when that short animation test of a swim team anime became so popular the animators actually got the series picked up? There’s another animation team attempting the same trick with social media. The difference is that they created an OVA (original video animation) pilot for a series that doesn’t exist yet.

It’s called Little Witch Academia and it’s cute. It’s like the Harry Potter series with a female lead and all the quirks of super cute anime. The style is quite lovely with really expressive characters and a strong world.

You can watch the full episode below.

On Gaming, Inclusion, and Fan-Fabricated Console Wars

Geek & Sundry has a new series from some of the Robot Chicken creators called FetchQuest. Each week, they release a short animated video looking at various aspects of the video game industry. It’s sharp and committed to the theme of the episode no matter how many people it may alienate in a given week. It’s not my fault that some people don’t understand Journey, so I can’t be too mad when their indie game episode boiled down to “indie games have no point other than to make you feel stupid.”

The newest episode, “It’s Not Wii U, It’s Me” actually hits on a rather raw subject in the gaming community. Watch the catchy and provocative music video then continue on down the page.

I knew what would happen when the video was released on Wednesday and I was right. The fanboys in the YouTube comments (I know, never read the comments, but I find them so inspiring) are flaming each other non-stop. There are a lot people who believe “It’s Not Wii U, It’s Me” is some official declaration of Nintendo being a bad company because casuals, lol. It’s supposed to be a joke, but it’s a joke about an issue that’s actually fought over at this point.

gaminginclusionconsoles On Gaming, Inclusion, and Fan Fabricated Console Wars

I don’t think FetchQuest realized how accurate they were

For me, the entire point of video games is to have fun with interactive media. There’s no room for excluding any gamer from the community. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft all target every demographic from young children to the self-declared hardcore gamer. There’s room for everyone on every console. Excluding people from the discussion because they don’t play x, y, or z is not doing anything to elevate gaming beyond children’s toys in the greater cultural discussion.

The idea that Nintendo is the only console that targets children is a laughable one. Every console targets children with colorful games, recognizable mascots, and huge advertisements in TV shows and ad circulars. Why? They’re the largest market. So long as gaming, as a whole, is viewed as something for children to do, the entire gaming market is going to target children on whatever consoles are available.

Each console gets the same shovelware–fast and poorly produced video games designed to turn a profit on a small amount of sales because they were developed for so little money–yet Nintendo is the company stigmatized for it. The motion control for the Wii made it so that a bunch of generic shooting, sports, and point and click games could be developed for home consoles instead of arcades. They wound up on the PS3 and Xbox 360 anyway with d-stick or even Kinect control schemes.

gaminginclusioneternaldarkness On Gaming, Inclusion, and Fan Fabricated Console Wars

No, but seriously, we need a sequel to Eternal Darkness.

Furthermore, each Nintendo console generation since the SNES has been accused of being just for kids when it was released. It took years for people to acknowledge that the N64 had great games beyond Goldeneye, Super Mario 64, and Super Smash Bros.. The same cycle happened with GameCube (Metroid Prime and Super Smash Bros. Melee) and is, unsurprisingly, starting up with the Wii already. If everyone who now claims to have played Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, an M-rated horror exclusive, when it was released on the GameCube actually played it, we would be swimming in sequels by now. Hindsight is 20/20 and people get lost in hype, positive or negative, when dealing with any kind of technology.

The bigger accusation against Nintendo is that the company only targets children. It’s simply not true. The common argument is that since Nintendo has cute games, they’re for children. I remember being pretty shocked the first time all my Pikmin were swallowed whole by enemies in Pikmin for the GameCube where my older brother just thought it was funny. A game like Animal Crossing, all about free exploration and interaction with NPCs and fellow players alike, could probably hold a child’s interests for a few hours but will keep an adult coming back to build, customize, and collect all the items for months.

There’s a distinct difference between producing a game for children–an educational title featuring Dora the Explorer or a point and click adventure game featuring Mickey Mouse–and producing games that can be enjoyed by anyone–the entire Mario series, Super Smash Bros., The Legend of Zelda series, Pokemon, etc.. The latter are probably only going to be mastered by more mature gamers.

Nintendo’s goal is not to appeal only to children but to create games that can be enjoyed on different levels by different gamers. Let’s take Pokemon as an example. My OCD self will spend hours grinding up a small roster of Pokemon to equal standing before developing different team combinations to use against real world and NPC challengers. My younger OCD self would level up the starter Pokemon so high that it could beat any gym leader by itself; I would also only choose the water starter because it was blue and I liked blue. And other people memorize rankings, stats, and develop game-breaking training techniques to max out the perfect team from the start.

gaminginclusionevtraining 300x188 On Gaming, Inclusion, and Fan Fabricated Console Wars

EV training is a real thing. (click for full) from http://www.deviantart.com/morelikethis/156325700

As the series grows, new features are added to appeal to even more gamers. You can go all The Sims on Pokemon Black/White by building a shopping mall from the ground up or training Pokemon to star in movies and beauty pageants. You can buy stationary to send notes to your friends or spend hours mastering the Pokemon battle subways in multiple battle formats. The ability of a child to play the same game as an adult does not mean that the game is being explored or appreciated in the same way.

Most major triple A titles get ports or specifically designed releases on Nintendo’s consoles, including the Resident Evil series, Call of Duty and even Mass Effect. The Wii U already has a ridiculously hard M-rated exclusive, Zombie U‘s one life and you’re done mechanic is certainly not aimed at children, and will have another this summer with Bayonetta 2. Nintendo doesn’t typically design M-rated exclusives themselves, but neither do Sony or Microsoft.

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Watch: Cosplay Piano Episode 1: The Walking Dead

I think it’s no secret at this point that I love a good geeky cover song and some cosplay. YouTube is filled with musicians doing really cool things with video game, film, and TV show music and getting tons of hits for it.

Now, Stan Lee’s YouTube channel World of Heroes is launching a new series dedicated to just that. Cosplay Piano features pianist/arranger Sonya Belousova performing pop culture music while cosplaying. The production values are really high and the results are very entertaining.

cosplaypiano1.01walkingdeadpiano Watch: Cosplay Piano Episode 1: The Walking DeadThe debut episode features The Walking Dead theme originally composed by Bear McCreary, Steven Kaplan, and Michael J Beach. Sonya wakes up in an abandoned hospital right when the zombie apocalypse begins. She finds a wrecked piano–scratched with torn off facing and missing keys–and hammers out a really impressive arrangement of the theme.

The zombies begin to stalk her, only pausing when their leader is confronted with a violin. She (Eriko Tsuji) tentatively scratches at the worn strings before taking over the melody. The only thing stopping Sonya from being destroyed by the creatures is the rhythmic duet she leads with the walking dead.

cosplaypiano1.01walkingdeadpresent Watch: Cosplay Piano Episode 1: The Walking DeadThe action inside the hospital is presumably one of those great The Walking Dead flashback sequences. The footage is inter-spliced with shots of Sonya on top of a hill playing a much nicer piano. She’s dressed like she’s ready to work on the farm, sword harnessed over her shoulder as the zombies wander aimlessly around the abandoned hospital. She is strong there, more determined, ready to take on the world after her near-death experience.

I cannot say enough good things about the quality of the arrangement. I’ve had to condense a lot of intricate string arrangements to keyboard in my day (thanks, low-budget educational theater productions) and it is no easy task. Sonya Belousova takes it a step further. Her arrangement takes the moderato looping of the full orchestral arrangement of “Walking Dead Theme” to a frantic allegro. Where the original version is brooding, Belousova’s version is panicked. There is no time to rest when your life can be taken at any moment and this cover screams desperation and fear.

I’ve embedded the first episode of Cosplay Piano below. You can find out more information about Sonya Belousova’s music at her homepage and subscribe to Stan Lee’s World of Heroes at YouTube. Share your thoughts on the new series below.

Tropes vs. Women in Video Games #1: Damsels in Distress: Part 1

tropesvswomeninvideogamesblog Tropes vs. Women in Video Games #1: Damsels in Distress: Part 1Anita Sarkeesian’s new series of Feminist Frequency videos debuted on YouTube yesterday. Tropes vs. Women in Video Games is the Kickstarter project that the trolls didn’t want you to have because of misconceived notions of what feminist criticism actually is. The fact that Sarkeesian covered really nerdy topics from an academic perspective meant nothing once she tried to raise money for an educational series about the role of women in video games. Hate mail, cyber attacks, and death threats followed in short order, causing the opposite effect the trolls hoped for. Their malicious actions resulted in a wildly successful Kickstarter for Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, earning over 26 times the amount she asked for in short order.

The first video in the series is Damsels in Distress: Part 1. Sarkeesian obviously used every cent she earned on producing an excellent series of videos. The production quality is higher than some of the premium YouTube channels paid for by YouTube itself. The images are crisp, the audio clear, and the editing flawless.

tropesvswomeninvideogamesdamsels1crystal Tropes vs. Women in Video Games #1: Damsels in Distress: Part 1

Wait a minute. This isn’t the Krystal that appeared in Star Fox Adventures…

The research on the Damsels in Distress trope alone is quite extensive. Sure, she covers the extensive history of Princess Peach and Princess Zelda. Did you expect her to cover the ridiculous studio blunder of Star Fox Adventures? What about name dropping Splatterhouse, Super Adventure Island, and Adventures of Lolo? I actually remember renting Adventures of Lolo and being confused by the gameplay footage on the back of the box that showed the girl as a playable character when you could only start as the boy.

The key to understanding this video is understanding what, exactly, the damsel in distress is. Simply put, when a female character is abducted or put in danger she herself cannot get out of as a plot point, she becomes a damsel in distress. It doesn’t matter if the plot point is resolved in five minutes or five hours. When the female character is reduced to a stolen artifact in a game–like a legendary sword or staff–she becomes the damsel in distress.

In the smartest move of the entire project, Anita Sarkeesian has disabled comments on this video series on YouTube. If you doubt the choice, check out any comment thread about this video on a gaming site. Once again, her opinions are dismissed by listing arguments she herself did not make or with straight up lying about what she meant. Of all places, the PA Report thread has one of the more bone-headed discussions going on, with users arguing the video is poorly researched by putting words in Anita’s mouth. She does not say that the Damsel in Distress trope is inherently harmful. Her clear implication is that the Damsel in Distress trope is harmful when nothing is done to develop a character beyond her victimhood and the character makes no effort on her own to escape. She obviously did play and research these games, as the trope has no time requirement or even gender/species rescue requirement. If the female character cannot get out of the perilous situation herself, she is a damsel in distress.

Other sites have trolls already bringing up “what about male tropes?” as a way to dismiss her criticism. If you want to start a feminist research project on pervasive male tropes in video games, be my guest. That has never been announced as a goal of this series by Sarkeesian and is nothing more than a strawman argument and a moving of the goal posts when she failed to be the villain the trolls painted her as.

And don’t forget the people who claim the video is poorly researched because she didn’t cite every example of the Damsel in Distress trope in a 30 minute video on video games. Apparently, not saying that modern romance novels do this, too, invalidates her argument somehow. I don’t know how. It’s like saying your knowledge of the latest Super Bowl is invalid because you didn’t also list every winner of the World Cup when stating the Ravens beat the 49ers. I have to use a troll to English dictionary when I troll trolls for fun and research.

Watch: “To This Day” by Shane Koyczan

Bullying is one of those subjects that gets talked about a lot in modern media. Yet, from my own experience, it’s very rare that a film, TV show, web series, etc. actually hits on the lasting impacts of bullying. I’ve been out of the public school system for just under nine years now and I still wake up sometimes with the words and actions of my bullies running through my mind. Bullying can shape your life in fundamental ways that don’t just go away because it’s not happening five times a week anymore.

Last year’s documentary Bully showed how bad the behavior can be and how readily it’s swept under the rug for the school’s reputation. The It Gets Better campaign attempted to show just how many people are impacted by bullying and how it is possible to get through it.

Now, poet Shane Koyczan is taking this slowly emerging wave of reality-based activism to the next level. He wrote a spoken word poem called “To This Day” about his own experience being bullied as a kid. It starts with the lead-in to the first real bullying he experienced, then really takes off. The whole thing takes a turn for the dark and shocking with his perspective on the attacks.

Then he pulls in two other stories from his friends to broaden the range and blur the meaning of bullying. Koyczan’s own bullying stemmed from a silly misunderstanding. His friends were bullied because of their appearance and medical condition.

If bullying really were just a case of kids being kids and something everyone experiences, then everyone would be able to share a story as unsettling as the stories in “To This Day.” There’s a world of difference between having someone take your lunch money and having someone systematically attack you for weeks at a time, vandalizing your property, insulting you, and physically attacking every time they see you. While both are examples bullying, the persistence of bullying over a long period of time is what’s going to cause lasting damage. It’s also very rare for the one incident that’s so easily pushed aside to be the only incident in the involuntary relationship between a bully and a victim.

“To This Day” is hopefully going to turn into a much larger project that explores how a single act of bullying cannot be isolated from the collective experience of bullying. Shane Koyczan has already made the poem into a collaborative project, inviting artists to submit animated segments for a beautiful video illustrating the “To This Day” poem. He encourages you to sign up at his website for e-mail updates so you’ll be one of the first to know about the next phase of the project.

So what do you think? Share your thoughts below.

Best Music Videos of 2012

2012 was a really interesting year for music videos. A lot of great videos came out from independent and international artists that became far more popular than anything put out by the major labels in the US. Many times, these were low budget affairs with excellent execution. Other times, they were elaborate collaborations with animation studios and large casts. And then there’s a Korean rapper dancing like a pony to mock a certain cultural stereotype in his country.

These are the Best Music Videos of 2012. Six honorable mentions followed by a ranked top six. You can also click on over to the fourth page for a YouTube playlist of all the videos.

Honorable Mentions:

bestmusicvideos2012honorablementions Best Music Videos of 2012

  • Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra, “Want It Back”
  • Ben Folds Five, “Do It Anyway”
  • The Guild, “I’m the One That’s Cool”
  • Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, “Fashion Monster”
  • Le1f, “Wut”
  • Manlia Luzon & Latrice Royale, “The Chop”

Watch: Gersberms (Yer Gervin Mah) by Hard ‘n Phirm

Comedy music duo Hard ‘n Phirm (Chris Hardwick, Mike Phirman) put out a new video last week that’s pretty special. The pair was inspired by the Ermahgerd meme to write a midtempo love song.

gersberms Watch: Gersberms (Yer Gervin Mah) by Hard n PhirmNot familiar with the meme? It’s a silly image macro that started last March on Reddit. Someone found an old photo of a preteen girl with braces, pig tails, and an exaggerated excited expression passionately responding to a fistful of Goosebumps books. The image was captioned “Gersberms! Mah fravrit berks!,” in an attempt to capture the lisp created by heavy orthodontic gear. It quickly went viral, with the Ermahgerd (Oh my God) dialect applied to everything from pugs chasing tennis balls to random movie stills.

According to the Know Your Meme database, the popularity of Ermahgerd actually began to decline in September. I think that’s more a reflection of image macro sites moving onto new subject matter. From my own experience, I see this spreading over a wider swath of the online world and even sneaking into the daily speech of some of my students. The image macro creation might be falling, but the play on language is possibly becoming more widespread.

This loops us back around to the Hard ‘n Phirm video. Hardwick and Phirman got a number of notable guests to participate in the insanity of “Gersberms (Yer Gervin Mah).” Hayley Williams, lead singer of the Grammy award nominated band Paramore, sings the hook in Ermahgerd speak and appears in the video. The Big Bang Theory‘s Melissa Rauch plays a grown-up version of the original Ermahgerd girl and is almost unrecognizable. Artist Crystal Natsuko has a quick cameo as Bjork in the swan dress.

Then there’s the Swedish Chef. Every good throwback midtempo love song needs a guest rapper. Who better to bring the incomprehensibility of the Ermahgerd vowel swapping dialect to life than Mr. BorkBorkBork himself?

The video is mercifully subtitled so you can get all the jokes. It really classes up the whole thing.

Watch: Try This at Home with Crabcat Industries

Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, Morgan Spurlock’s documentary on San Diego Comic-Con, came and went without much fanfare. It was a portmanteau documentary, telling a handful of stories about people attending the convention for various reasons. It did a few festivals and conventions before opening in limited release and VOD on the same day.

The subject who stood out the most for me was Holly Conrad. She was running a costume workshop out of her garage, creating an elaborate set of Mass Effect costumes for the Masquerade at Comic-Con. Her team wound up winning the judge’s award for their execution and innovation.

trythisathomedoc Watch: Try This at Home with Crabcat IndustriesHolly stood out from the other subjects in the documentary because she didn’t view the convention in the same way. With a dry wit and a laser focus on one aspect of Comic-Con, she was not the typical comic fan you would expect in this kind of documentary. Obviously she’s a fan. She was just really focused on showcasing her work in that contest.

Holly Conrad now runs Crabcat Industries with Jessica Merizan, the person who never left the sewing machine when Morgan Spurlock filmed the workshop. The duo now have a costume and fabrication how-to show on the Nerdist Channel called Try This at Home with Crabcat Industries.

The first episode showed a clear direction for the program. Holly and Jessica have fun doing this work. They also have really sarcastic personalities and love a good awkward moment.

The first episode focused on setting up a workshop. They ran down their recommended safety equipment and tools before they really start fooling around with their friends/coworkers. Since there’s no right way to set up a studio (other than what works for you while still being safe), the episode doesn’t focus too much on how this team set up their studio. You get enough shots of their shelves, wall units, and hanging system to inspire your own set-up without dictating what you have to do.

Try This at Home is a very relaxed DIY show. Fabrication and costume design are wide fields with no definitive solution to any challenge. Aside from the tools (heat guns, sealants, vacuum forms, sewing machines, rotary tools, etc.), all you need to declare success is a safely completed finish product. Whether you do it in foam, recycled materials, or latex casting, all that matters is that finished product. Does it look good? Is it durable? Does it do everything it’s supposed to? Then you’ve succeeded.

trythisathomegauntlet Watch: Try This at Home with Crabcat IndustriesThe second episode focused on creating an Infinity Gauntlet (a super-powered weapon wielded by Thanos in the Marvel universe) and is a fast look at fabrication. Holly drafts a quick paper pattern, then cuts away at foam until she has something resembling the Infinity Gauntlet. Then it’s all carving, gluing, sealing, and painting from there.

At first, I questioned whether going through the steps so quickly was a wise decision. If someone wanted to make the exact same Infinity Gauntlet featured in this episode, they would have to watch a few times and parse out some of the unnamed extra steps. The edit assumes that someone who wants to do this project has a good sense of intuition.

Then I realized that, with editing for time, this became a sort of introduction to this style of fabrication. Holly runs down all the equipment she used to create a metallic texture on the foam. It’s up to you to follow the product directions and experiment with application techniques.

As I’ve learned from a lifetime of ceramics and crafting, there is no one right way to create a fake finish. This show is telling you what you need to get to experiment with this method. Do you want your gauntlet rough or smooth? How much gold is enough gold for your design? Do you want to do the bulk of your work in carving or painting the piece? Those are the choices you have to make when doing any kind of DIY project.

The important takeaway for me with Try This at Home is the no stress atmosphere. Making things is frustrating. The last thing you want to do is be so serious that you lose out on any fun in the process. You’re making costumes and props. It should be fun. You should be able to fool around with your friend and get the job done.

If you have any interest in design and fabrication, it’s worth checking out Try This at Home. It’s a fun introduction to how his process works.

SimCity: Day by Day

I’ve already said how excited I am for the new SimCity game coming out next year. EA put together a beautiful trailer that showed off the newest version of the popular city management and creation simulation very well.

Now, they’re releasing videos exploring how the game actually plays. The first video focuses on what you have to do in the early stages of SimCity. It shows off features like a free landscape to build upon, “paint” zoning, and the early stages of large industry specialization. The menus look intuitive and the landscape responsive to the basic actions you have to perform.

It might seem silly to point out how easy it is to build a city in a city simulation game. The fact is that many simulation games in the SimCity fold–all those theme park, mall, and even farm simulators are cut from the same cloth–are so complicated that you lose interest quickly. An intuitive menu system and responsive layout are not a hindrance to difficulty settings. Challenge comes from deciding which path is the right path for you and handling the consequences.

Watch: Wookie Bellydancing

If this video doesn’t make your day better, I don’t know what will.

We’re dealing with a video that promotes peace and unity with absurdity. A band of Klingons performs a Wookie song that translates to “Peace.” Then, a Wookie maiden enters the stage to bellydance with a prop.

The performance is the work of il Troubadore. Their goal is to perform all the Klingon music known in the universe. Originally founded as a period and world music group, they claim to know over 700 songs from 60 different countries and add new songs to their set list every week.

They have been collaborating with bellydancers from the start. Including a bellydancer in a routine for a sci-fi bellydancing contest only makes sense. Having the bellydancer dressed as a Wookie rather than as a Star Wars slave girl is an odd stroke of genius. The crowd laughs at first until they realize that the dancer in the costume is as skilled as any other participant in the contest. It’s an interesting moment of self-reflection in sci-fi fandom that can create laughs and discussion.

Thoughts? Share them below.