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The Complete Glitchscape Series

My ruminations about Glitchscape as it was being created and evolving went on over many weeks. Here are the posts in one place.

The Complete Bosch Glitch series

I hope people enjoyed by recollection of the process of designing the projections for Hieronymous. In case you are joining us at the end of our program, or just would like to see the posts not spread over weeks, here are all the links in one place.

Bosch Glitch

Part 1: The Hermit Saint

Part 1B: The Haywain

Part 1C: The Conjurer

Part 2: Curio of Folly

Part 3: Death of the Reprobate

Part 4: Hell and the Flood

Part 5: The Hermit Saint Returns

Part 6: The Epiphany Triptych

Part 7A: Final Judgment, part 1

Part 7B: Final Judgment, part 2

Part 7C: Final Judgment, part 3

Bosch Glitch 7C—Final Judgment, part 3

Opening Night

Enough time to get back to the hotel, chill, call home, and HAVE SOME OF THE GREATEST CURRY ON THE PLANET. I'd buy extra to bring home, except that the TSA Defenders of Freedom would almost certainly confiscate the jars as a terrorist threat. So, I just enjoy the moment. Bathing in curry. Wait, what? I mean eating, eating curry rice on a plate with a fork. That's all. Hi. Yes.

At this point, there's no drama. Its all in the stage manager's hands, and she is capable as hell. There's nothing I can do. I had intended to watch from the booth even though I wasn't running the cues, just to watch, just in case. But a few minutes to curtain I realized my conceit. That was not my place, and even though I totally trust the stage manager to do everything right, it would've been a gesture of distrust on my part to stay in the booth. My job was done, it was time to let the show become whatever it would be.

It went of without a hitch. The performances were really strong, the projections went off perfectly, and the whole thing was enjoyable. Laughs in the right places, the audience felt engaged with the material. Afterwards, some folks stayed to talk and have a glass of wine to toast the show. The folks I talked to enjoyed the projections and thought they worked well, we'll see what the overall reaction is in the press.

It looked a hell of a lot better in its final form that what I had been looking at on my studio monitors. The projectors themselves were very limited—the lamps were quite dim, the focus sort of soft. The result, however, was that the images that this beautiful velvety look, and they seemed to peek out of the darkness rather than looking like they were thrown onto a surface. I'm generally pleased, I thought the whole thing looked really good.

I'm wrapping this story up in the Atlanta airport, after several cancelled and delayed flights, creeping home inch by inch. Need to play some games with my boy, be at home, and sleep. Need to give my students the part of my brain that I loaned to this show. I'm still thinking about whether I should have said yes to this gig. It was an adventure to be sure, but I'm not sure if it was worth the family toll it took, or the momentum it robbed from me for the first weeks of class. On second thought, I'm not going to think about it. A friend called me for help and I helped. I looked at what seemed like an impossible job and my gut reaction was to do it. I have the most flexible and generous family in the world, and when I asked them if I could add this to my load, and they were 100% behind it. Second guessing past decisions is stupid.

This flight is delayed again, and the other guy sharing this power outlet REALLY NEEDS TO HAVE A LOUD AND EXTENSIVE CONVERSATION. That's as good a reason as any to close this out. Thanks for reading.

Bosch Glitch 7B—Final Judgment, part 2

Opening Day/Night

The Manhattan Broadway Hotel is a hovel in the garment district. But it is a hovel with a bed and a locking door. You pay up front. It looks like it was put together from spare parts thrown out from a dozen different no-tell-motels between 1970 and 1990. Oh, there's hookers turning tricks. There's college students smoking pot. But it's safe, and close to trains.

And most importantly, it is next door to Go Go Curry. I became hooked on Japanese curry in Tokyo, when I accidentally stumbled into the only place in the Tsukiji Fish Market that didn't sell fish. It was horrible looking brown stuff over rice, with some shredded cabbage. And it is the food of the gods. I discovered Go Go Curry years ago when staying at Manhattan Broadway for the price. It's the only curry shop in New York. It was filled with Japanese folks, so I figured what the hell... and it is world class. So good in fact, that I specifically choose that hotel so that I can easily get curry. But it doesn't open early enough for breakfast (which is nuts, because it's totally breakfast food in Japan. Sad.

I turn the other direction and slam into a line stretching down the block, leading into a little place on the other side of the hotel. All Chinese folks in this line, and I'm not in Chinatown, so another good sign, so I get in line to see what's up. It's a Chinese bakery of sorts, with a notice that it's too new to have a rating by the health department. But the line is crazy. But the health department. But the line. Oh shit pork buns I'm staying in line. I get to the counter fast, which is good because it's freezing.

YES? A pork bun please. WHAT ELSE? Um, I can't see what else there is (he sort of wipes the steam from the window so I can sort of kind of see). Um, the cabbage? CABBAGE? That's not cabbage? MAI FUN! Oh, I meant mai fun please. OK, TWO-THIRTY. Huh? TWO DOLLARS THIRTY CENTS.

Hm. Don't judge, don't judge. No worries. I squeeze in and sit down. A little chili sauce aaaaaaand pork bun. OH DEAR GOD IT'S GLORIOUS. It's like eating a cloud that's been stuffed with braised pork shoulder. Best I've ever had. Mai fun was pretty good too, not oily, very simple. There was no health issue, either. Other than the fact that my intestines were very upset at the surprise onset of a huge ball of gluten. Totally worth it, though.

On to the theater. Still no coffee yet. MUD is across the street from La Mama, thank God.

I load all the changes onto the computers. The ancient 17-inch MacBook Pro with no battery running Jaguar is relegated to the single projection on the rear screen of the Pig-Nun. Q-Lab won't run on Jaguar, so my first logical plan was to update it to Lion and then get Q-Lab running on it. Then I realized... now the rear screen is only a single cue... and that's why God made Powerpoint. Actually I had to use the original version of Keynote, because version of Powerpoint on it was so old that the only fade duration controls were Slow, Medium, and Fast, and slow wasn't slow enough. Still, it got the job done nicely.

We still stumbled over the cues on the front screen in the last rehearsal—we'd been making changes every single time, we never had a nailed down run through of the projections. Even in the dress rehearsal we had to stop and make changes to transition duration, minute on-screen geometry. We knew it was over when I had to declare "the choice now is to accept this sequence as it is or drop it from the show." And we were done. Four hour break for the actors to rest, then curtain.

Then the text came from Jen: my flight home was cancelled. Snow coming.

Bosch Glitch 7A—Final Judgment, part 1

Opening Day

My alarm tone (the Super Mario World Theme) let me know that it was 7am. I was not able to do that much work after getting to the hotel around midnight. To be honest, I haven't been able to do much serious work after 10 pm for years, unless my world literally hangs in the balance (which is almost never). Better to punt, reset my system, and start early. Tech call (my time to show up) is 10am. 15 minute transit, maybe a little food, I should be fine.

Looking over the notes from last night, they're not extensive, a resize here, a tweak there. A slide show. However, this show's projections are not "performed" in the way that my stuff typically is done (like in TIA MAK or New Islands Archipelago). In those shows, every on-screen gesture is a tiny little nugget that exists independently of every other nugget, and the presentations are designed to be played live, much in the way that the actors have a script that they stick to but interpret with differences each time they do the show. The projections for this show are a lot more conservative and traditional, each sequence is pre-rendered and fixed, almost a complete little movie, and the only variation is in the exact moment that the GO button gets mashed. A lot more like a lighting cue. This means that any small change actually entails re-rendering the whole sequence.

Without coffee, I fire up After Effects and start to plow through the changes. And immediately the crashing begins. New crashes for me. Each time I manually resize something in a composition, After Effects chokes and says it can't find my particular localization. I haven't paid for hotel WiFi so I can't effectively troubleshoot. And I don't exactly have time to do anyway. After my tower's hard drive episode, I finished the show on this laptop. It's new, fresh installs of everything, it's already my favorite computer ever. I heard my students' past laments echoing in my head... "it was working before and now it's not working and I can't figure out why and so the render started late and that's why I missed the deadline and can I have an extension and...."

I like a lot of things about working live theater. The best is the adrenaline high. Look, curtain is at 10pm. Full dress rehearsal is at 10am. These changes have to be done and rendered, the cues rebuilt and set up in the booth, tweaked and adjusted so that they will all fire with no mistakes the first time the tech hits "go." If anything fails between now and then, you cannot look at the entire cast, the rest of the crew, a full house on opening night at La Mama that "you see, it was working before, but then I wasn't able to do the thing and render it in time to run through..." It doesn't matter that I was brought on two months later than I should have been, it doesn't matter that I might not have gotten the clearest notes at the beginning, it doesn't matter that I got a change list later than any reasonable person would expect. There's no postponing, no rescheduling. There's no reshooting. No going back for pickups. No second takes. You. Just. Fucking. Do. It.

I figured out a temporary workaround. It involved saving the file every 30 seconds just in case, and never touching any objects in the composition window. All changes handled only numerically in the timeline itself. Not the most intuitive way to go about it, but it stopped the crashing long enough for me to get the final files out. Done by 8:30. Gotta find breakfast.

Bosch Glitch 6-The Epiphany Triptych

The Day Before Opening

I've got everything in my backback go-bag. Teaching animation class, then jumping into the car, Jen takes me to the airport. CAE-ATL-LGA. Q33 bus-7 train to Astor. On to La Mama. There's a show in the theater below ours, so there can be no work until 10pm, so I meet up with the person who will be letting me into the dorm. Artists can actually stay at the theater, which is great since it can cost a small fortune to stay in New York.

I look around, and it's super cute. Bohemian to a fault. Sheets draped everywhere separating where people are sleeping. Wait what? Um. No, it's cool, I can hang. When in Rome and all that.

A gesture to a vinyl rectangle in a hallway. "That's where you'll be." "That's where I'll be what?" "That's where you'll be sleeping."

beat

"The hell I will." Not to be a diva, but if any other professors were staying in an open hallway on a cracked orange vinyl rectangle with eight grand in production gear in a backpack next to them, it would've ended there with me shacking up on the vinyl. I don't require creature comforts, I require my gear to be absolutely safe. And I really don't like being an afterthought. I'm certain it's a misunderstanding about the parameters of where I'm to be sleeping. I decide to take it as a misunderstanding. Luckily I'm a local enough to know a cheap dive of a hotel in the garment district where I can get a locked door for very cheap on short notice. Problem solved (assuming the reimbursements go well).

An aside: barring the comedy, assumptions, misunderstandings, and creative omissions... it's a really bad idea to have me sleep in a situation like that. Exhibit A is my colleague Will Akers from Vanderbilt, author of the fantastic book Your Screenplay Sucks. We roomed together at a UFVA conference, and I had to be relocated due to my snoring. They put me in another building, as far away from others as they could. I'm not making this up.

Before setting up and running cues, I have a bite at a new place. Bareburger. I had a wild boar burger. Amazing.

10pm hits, and i set up the projections. The rear screen is much, much (much much much) smaller than indicated. The first thing I do is get rid of all the projections on the rear screen except one section where an Inquisitor points out all the heretical aspects of a pig in a nun's habit. I move some of them to the front screen, which is not nearly as weird as I thought it would be. The front scrim get drawn back and forth several times during blacked-out sections of the play, and when it's there, it sort of gives this cool halo around the actors. Looks good. Looks amazing with the projections over them.

Many changes needed. No surprise there, I was prepared for that. A lot of the really intricate animation I did ended up getting thrown out. There's a sequence at the end where Bosch's paintings sort of flow around him as he prays to keep his fearful visions. I had all kinds of motion and dimension, it was maybe a little over the top, but I understood the notes to require that. The new notes are "more like a slide show."

Now, if you've ever had an animation class with me, you know that during critique if I tell you something looks like a slide show, that's what in the business we call a Big Fucking Problem. You also know that I'm not a man of small ego. So I'm quite proud of how little it bothered me to chuck all that work and build a sequence that is essentially a big slide show. It looks good, I don't think it messes up the scene.

Part of doing client services and design work is making your case, selling your idea to someone who disagree with you. If you can't make a case for why you think something should be the way it is, then you shouldn't be designing. And this one was not worth going to the mat. Plus it was 1am, and I had to be back at the theater at 10am, with all my changes rendered and set in their cues.

Bosch Glitch 5-The Hermit Saint Returns

Written at T-minus 2 days.

I finished advanced drafts of every scene and upped them to Dropbox to get notes. Everything looks good to me, but I wanted to get the final sign off so I can get to building the cues. Also there's this moment he hinted at where lizards are supposed to skitter over the bad for a few seconds right at the end of a scene. I think it looks sort of odd, out of place with the other stuff.

They've been working like crazy in NYC, so I haven't gotten any notes yet. The word on the lizards is that there'll be time to address it when I get there. Heh. Why do I get a bad feeling about that? cough-fix-it-in-post-cough

later

Built the cues in Q-Lab. What a weird program. Typically I'd set up a show like this with Isadora or Max or VDMX, and then make the fine adjustments to timing and such right there as I perform. But the complication is that I'm not actually performing this in the same way that I usually do. I'm pre-building all the projections so that a technician can mash the spacebar at the exact moment of the cue and trigger the event. For that, you use Q-Lab, which is sort of a nifty app, because it can trigger pretty much all aspects of a stage production. It can do very rough, ham-handed adjustments to scale and position, but it can't even come close to the precision that you get from a performance app like VDMX or Max. But it's a lot simpler.

Every app I've used that is created by theater people takes a while to get used to. There are never any timelines, events are always depicted as "cues" and "events". So, loading a file into memory at 0% opacity is a cue, fading it up to 100% is a cue, fading it back out is another cue. Strange.

Two cue files, one for each projector. I'll load both cues and all the media onto both of the machines incase there are any changes of mind as to what shows on what screen. There are two computers (MacBook Pro laptops) because we couldn't get a hold of a MacPro that would have enough outputs to drive the projectors. There's one "solution" to this that some theater tech geeks bring up to me often: Matrox makes these boxes that act as a sort of video-out splitter/multiplier. They're awful.

Must prepare for class.

Bosch Glitch 4-Hell and the Flood (Seagate Is Dead to Me)

Written at T-minus four days.

Hieronymous was going pretty well. I was even a little ahead of schedule. After a big render, I put my machine to sleep to have some dinner and maybe read to my son a little bit. When I woke the machine back up to continue, the system was non-responsive. Reboot.

Then, the Click.

I have lost many Western Digital hard drives. MANY. So many, in fact, that I only buy Seagate enterprise-class drives, because they are more reliable and have a longer mean time before failure (MTBF). Of course, this drive was the one that failed. One terabyte. Of video. Mostly not backed up. The good news is, the files for the Hieronymous project are totally safe. The bad news is that another film I shot is completely gone.

Further reading revealed that there was a known firmware issue with this line of drives, one that should be rectified immediately. In some cases before you update the firmware on the drive IT WILL BECOME NON-RESPONSIVE. Jesus. But the data is still there, they say. It's there, you just can't get it. Because of this firmware issue, if this happens, Seagate says they will recover the data.

I called Seagate and they asked me a couple questions. Does the drive show up in BIOS? No. Does it make a click? Yes. Does it spin up? Yes. Does it grind? No. Based on that thorough assessment, Seagate told me that it's not firmware, it's mechanical failure, and therefore they won't cover data recovery. The yes answer to the clicking question gets them out of it, apparently. My options are a.) send it in for data recovery (super expensive) or b.) get the warranty replacement drive. I told the rep that a.) I can't really afford their data recovery and b.) I'm pretty much done with Seagate, based on that bullshit diagnostic. "Well, sir, you're holding in your hand one of the .07% of our hard drives that this happens to." OK, That's a pretty small percentage. Given the circumstances surrounding an admitted firmware issue, I think you should recover the data anyway. "Well, sir, we can't really afford to do that..."

WELL WHICH IS IT? Is it a rare screw up that you can own up to because you're professionals? Or do you make unreliable commodity crap?

Yeah yeah, my bad, I didn't back up. Look, I back up EVERYTHING. And for stuff that is too huge to back up as often as my work files, I use the more expensive drives so they don't fail. EXCEPT WHEN THEY DO. I have a plan C in terms of data recovery, so I'm not too dejected, and now I know I need to move on to Toshiba or Hitachi drives.

Sorry Seagate, I'm morally OK with failing drives. It happens. I'm NOT ok with a documented issue, utterly dismissed by a half-assed Q and A over the phone. You fucked up a batch of drives, and you know it—own up and recover the data lost from drives in that serial number range.

The best part? I was ready to pay for an expedited warranty replacement after being on hold for 45 minutes, but I have to call back later because their payment systems weren't working. "Maybe you shouldn't use Seagate drives," I said. "I don't think this has anything to do with our drives, sir."

That was a joke. Sort of like your company.

Bosch Glitch 3-Death of the Reprobate

Written at T-minus five days

I only had a few scenes ready to show drafts, it was a pretty significant affair just finding high enough resolution images of Bosch's work from which I can pull characters.

Found out that the rear screen will not be 12' x 22', but actually 12' x 15'. That's quite a different aspect ratio, and I'll need to rebuild the compositions from the ground up, since instead of a long rectangle-shaped screen, it will actually be almost square.

Many of my cues are wrong. Not sure why. My notes say that there is a sequence of deformed faces in judgment during scene 8, but that's not even close. We see those judges show up very early, in scene 2.

Not a lot of time for major changes and corrections. Hope there are not many (any) more. I'm often wrong about that.

Bosch Glitch 2-Curio of Folly

Written at T-minus one week.

Attended my first rehearsal today, sat in for one and a half run-throughs. Marked all the cue points on my script.

It's the story of the life of Hieronymous Bosch, framed with sequences of imagined judgment for heresy. His wife runs off one of his apprentices to join a colony of Adamites, the Plague decimates the town, and his world collapses. Very black humor, twisted imagery, and sexual intrigue. Fun, because it stuff I like, but I don't do in my own work.

There are two screens, both 12 feet high and 22 feet wide, and those are for me. One is the rear screen and it will stretch across the back of the whole stage, actors and scenes will be in front of it. The second screen will (get this) stretch in front of the whole stage. It will be a translucent scrim that the audience will see through until I project images onto it. The few times I've seen this in practice, the scrim retracts when not in use, but as I understand it, this scrim will be there the entire time... weird. I wonder if that'd piss off the actors. Now that I have those measurements, I can ubild the compositions so that they will fit the screens exactly.

The projections are generally written into the script, but I've been told by the director to go off as I like as long as I stay true to the spirit. Generally, the projections come alive during sequences when Bosch is interrogated and tortured by the Church and visions of his dead brother. Also, there are a few flight-of-fancy monologues where Bosch sort of explains where his imagery comes from.

Similar to the work I did with New Islands Archipelago, the projections are completely non-real as they relate to the diegesis, primarily illustrative of the internal conditions of the characters, maybe seeming out in extreme circumstances. Now to fire up After Effects.