Archive for June, 2018

Battle by Bard, part 2

Sunday, June 10th, 2018

Continuing yesterday’s post, I will describe the “rules of engagement” of the contest I witnessed at the Hear Now Festival. In each round of “ShakesRumble”, two voice actors face off against each other, to do battle one on one.

The actors face one another from a distance of about six feet. Each contestant recites a one minute speech from one of the Bard’s plays, while staring directly into the eyes of the other actor. The first actor who stumbles over the words or looks away loses the round.

Because these are top professionals, both contestants often sail through this first battle round. At that point, the referee adds a “rub” (just as Hamlet might have called it).

The rub is in the form of an extra constraint. For example, in this second round, the contestant may be required to recite their monologue “with an American southern accent”, or “like a Millennial”, or “in the style of a 1940s movie star”, or “as a Martian”, or “as a chicken”, or “while dancing”.

The really great voice actors pass these more difficult tests with ease. And so in the later rounds, when the only contestants standing are the best of the best, the referee keeps adding additional constraints.

The final round consisted of a face off between PJ Ochlan and Julia Whelan, two of the most talented voice actors in the biz. They were both so good that they kept going at it for multiple rounds, with the ref adding on another rub each time.

By the final face-off, they were each performing with five such constraints at once. For example, Julia ended up reciting Puck’s “If we shadows have offended” epilogue to Midsummer Night’s Dream as a Millennial Martian chicken with an American southern accent, in the style of a 1940s movie star.

Like her opponent, she was able to do all of this without breaking eye contact with the other actor, or stumbling over the words. Eventually one of them looked away, but in my mind everyone was a winner.

The whole thing was funny as hell and also comnpletely awe inspiring. Sort of the comic acting equivalent of watching Michael Jordan play a pick-up game of basketball.

O brave new world that has such people in ‘t!

Battle by Bard, part 1

Saturday, June 9th, 2018

This evening at the closing night of the Hear Now Festival I saw the top voice talents in the English-speaking world do battle with one another, with Shakespeare as their weapon.

I realize that this may not make much sense, and I need some time to digest it myself. It was one of the most astonishing things I have ever witnessed.

By tomorrow, after I have recovered from my feelings of shock and awe, I think I will be ready to describe this amazing experience more completely.

Hear Now

Friday, June 8th, 2018

I am currently attending the Hear Now Festival in Kansas City, Missouri. It is a gathering of many of the greats of voice acting, film, TV, animation and audio book narration, and related fields.

I am also getting to hear members of Firesign Theater weave their beautiful insane story magic multiple times. I cannot begin to tell you how happy that makes me.

This morning I attended a round table discussion by a group of top voice actors. We were invited to listen in as they discussed the state of their field.

At one point they were discussing the long grueling hours that voice actors and readers of audio books often put in. Which led, not surprisingly, to a discussion about burn-out.

One of the panelists, Donna Postel, then said something incredibly profound. She talked about her gradual recognition that you can’t just keep working non-stop.

In the long run, in order to continue to be good at your craft, you need to take care of your general health and well being. But the way she phrased it was beautiful.

I loved what she said so much that I wrote it down: “Self care is part of my job description.”

Origin stories

Thursday, June 7th, 2018

This evening I gave the opening talk at this year’s Hear Now festival. I spoke about our work at NYU, ending with our forthcoming CAVE project, a narrative in shared VR which goes back 10,000 years to tell about the origin story of narrative in shared VR — Paleolithic cave paintings.

Yet earlier in the day I had experienced a different kind of origin story. I was taken to the place where right here in Kansas City, in 1922, Walt Disney opened his very first production house for animation: Laugh-O-Gram Studio.

Seeing this little building, the place where it all started, filled me with awe. Somehow I doubt that old Walt, or Ub Iwerks and their other colleagues, could have imagined just what sort of giant would emerge from such humble beginnings.

Then again, maybe Walt knew. He seemed to have a knack for knowing where things were heading long before they got there.

How I spent this evening

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

In Kansas City
As folks from Firesign Theater
Told us jazz stories

A great idea, but…

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

I greatly enjoyed the moment in Solo where Lando Calrissian gets his drink refilled by a hovering drone. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “that is a great idea. We could totally do that today — and we wouldn’t need to be in a galaxy long ago and far away!”

So I started thinking about the idea of a bar where the “bartenders” would be drones that came to your table to bring you a drink — or refresh the drink you have. What could be cooler?

But then I started seeing the difficulties. What happens if a robot drone bartender gets it wrong. What if it knocks over a drink or accidentally injurs a bar patron?

And how would those expensive drone bots fare in the presence of inebriated customers? Would they be able to avoid playful swats from overly enthusiastic drunken patrons?

As cool as it sounds, I’m not sure we have reached the stage of Moore’s Law where robot drone bartenders could really be a thing. Like many cool ideas, it may sound great on paper, but in real life it probably wouldn’t fly.

A new daily blog

Monday, June 4th, 2018

Today I am very excited to announce the beginning of a new daily blog. Unlike this one, the new blog will be a collaboration of all the members of our NYU Future Reality Lab.

Since there happen to be fourteen of us, each of us will write a post one day every two week. Each person will write about what cool things they are thinking about or working on (or both) as members of our lab.

Today I wrote the inaugural post. You can follow the daily evolution of our blog — and our lab’s research — by going to our lab’s website.


Watching Solo solo

Sunday, June 3rd, 2018

This evening I went by myself to see Solo. All of my fellow Star Wars fanatics had already seen it, and the name itself suggested that a solitary experience might be apropos.

I found it to be an excellent action adventure film, and I liked the way it smoothly filled in the gaps in Han Solo’s history. Weirdly, though, he was definitely not the character that Harrison Ford played more than four decades ago.

This guy is simply too nice. Han Solo is one of modern pop culture’s best exemplars of that classic literary figure, the lovable rogue.

He is our era’s equivalent of Lord Byron, who was, as Lady Caroline Lamb famously quipped, “Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know.”

Back when Star Wars first came out, everybody fell in love with Han Solo precisely for that wild streak. For all his charm, there’s something dangerous about him, and that’s his real super power.

Kind of like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, come to think of it. Which is why I was vaguely disappointed when the movie ended and our hero never actually said the line I was secretly hoping to hear: “Chewie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

The magic coin

Saturday, June 2nd, 2018

I’ve been mulling over the concept of “the magic coin”. In my thinking this is the sort of fantasy story where a stranger gives you a magic coin, and says “use it wisely”.

At first you don’t know what it’s for, or even if it’s all a joke. But then one day something happens and you realize that the coin is giving you a super power.

In order for this concept to really work, the super power cannot come for free. Every time you use the magic coin, there is a cost.

In really good versions of this, there would be something poetic about the relationship between your super power and the price you pay for using it. For example, the coin might let you repeat any day — and thereby fix any mistakes you had made on that day.

But then an appropriate price would be that you lose two days off the end of your life. It seems like a fair trade: one special day for two regular days.

So that is the basic set-up, the space in which to play. What is the super power? What is the price it will exact? Is the benefit of the former worth the cost of the latter?

I could imagine an anthology TV series, “The Magic Coin”. In every episode there is a different super power and a different corresponding price.

Each episode would be written by a different guest writer, and every writer would have a chance to create his or her unique vision. I don’t know about you, but I’d watch it.

Oulipo sequences

Friday, June 1st, 2018

After yesterday’s post, now I am starting to wonder about questions that touch on sequences of words with mathematical properties embedded in our English lexicon. For example, what is the longest run of words like the six words (Cave, Dave, Eave, Fave, Gave, Have) in yesterday’s post?

More specifically, what is the longest run of words created by marching the first letter up through the alphabet? Allowing slang and technical words makes it easier, as in: Bat Cat Dat Eat Fat Gat Hat. But that may be cheating.

If you make easier rules, as in “all words that vary in just their first letter”, then the space grows considerably larger. For example: Bar Car Ear Far Jar Mar Oar Par Tar War Yar.

Under that second set of rules, what is the largest set of words possible? Can somebody reading this figure that out?