Mar 30, 2012

Rain Over Rushmore

Our final day in South Dakota was filled with a rainy trip to the Cosmos Mystery Area and a visit to the Berlin Wall display in Rapid City, but what we really had in mind to do was visit Mount Rushmore one last time before leaving.  With heavy rain blanketing most of the Black Hills, it would prove to be a different experience than our first visit to the site.    
On the plus side, hardly anyone else was out exploring that day.  We arrived at Mount Rushmore and almost had the place entirely to ourselves.  Of course, once you looked up it was easy to see (or not see rather) why most people didn't bother.  A low lying fog was rolling through, and in only brief moments could the actual landmark be seen.  On one hand, I would've been disappointed if this had been our only visit, but on the other hand, because we got in a sunny visit earlier it was actually kind of cool to see the site in such a different context.

We made the most of our afternoon there and also spent some time in Keystone taking pictures with the various statues.  I posted a few that Andrea snapped of me below. Sometimes rainy days are a lot better than they're cracked up to be.

Mar 29, 2012

Around the Hat: A Photo Series

It struck me recently after seeing a series of vintage postcards and images from around Medicine Hat (my hometown) that this city in Southern Alberta has far more history than most of us give it credit for.  What's also commendable is that a lot of it is still around to explore.  Granted our history is relative to other parts of the world, but many local sites have just recently had centennial celebrations and I have to admit, it's the fact that these places are not necessarily well-known that has really hooked me.  In some ways I feel it speaks to North American history in general, especially in the west, where so much was built upon, developed, torn down, and modernized as quickly as communities could possibly grow during the 20th century.

Starting next week, and for several months to follow, I'll begin posting brand new photo sets that I've shot of some of Medicine Hat's most notable areas, buildings, and landmarks. Along with these I'll be including (when possible) some of the original photos and postcards that inspired me.  I've already begun experimenting with comparison shots, trying to match up old photos with their modern equivalents.

There are several reasons I'm really excited about this project.  It makes for great blog content for starters, but more so it's an ambitious and theme-based creative exercise that allows me to experiment and try new things with my photography - especially in how I edit my images.  Secondly, I feel like this kind of shooting hasn't really been done much around the Hat.  In searching for images online, so many pictures are nothing more than point and shoot snapshots.  Of the best images by photographers, there are mostly just one-offs with no detail shots. I want to improve on that.

My goal with this project is not to just feature locations, but to give you a sense of the atmosphere that surrounds them.  There's something cinematic about the challenge in that it becomes more about the combination of elements to create a complete photo set over just a single image. I've already completed around 8 unique photo sets so far and the pictures have surpassed my expectations. I think this is going to be a lot of fun and if you're familiar with Medicine Hat at all, I think you'll see some of the landmarks in a new light.  I hope you check back to watch the series unfold. 

The day I got the idea to do this project I started snapping instagram pics on my way home. Things kind of snowballed from there, going from iPod snapshots to calculated angles for some of the historic photo recreations.  Yeah, I'm addicted now.    

Mar 28, 2012

With the Odds In My Favor

The unfortunate reality is that planning to take a vacation actually takes a lot of effort. After coordinating our schedules though, things are looking promising for a Vegas vacation with a few of my friends this September.  Should things go to plan, this would mark my 5th trip to Sin City since my first visit after turning 21 in 2005.  I love kicking back in a place where the potential to win money is waved in your face almost as shamelessly as the cheap booze and scantly clad women.  What can I say, I'm a romantic at heart.         

Honestly, it's just a change of pace.  Going with a small group will provide a different vibe than my previous visits, and I'm keen to check out a few new sites and rediscover Vegas with people who haven't been before.  There's a lot to get excited about, and now that the ball is rolling I can't help but have it on my mind.  It's going to provide a great finale to what is sure to be a pretty hectic summer.  Check out a few of my previous Vegas adventures here - 2010, 2008, 2005.   

Mar 26, 2012

Losing the Saskatchewan Film Industry

For many the idea that a province with just over a million people even has a film industry is surprising, but considering that I attended the film school at the University of Regina and lived in the province from 2002-2008, you could say that I was always rooting for the underdog that has been the Saskatchewan film industry.  Last week it was announced that the provincial government was cutting the film employment tax credit from the budget, essentially crippling what had become a noticeable industry in the province over the last decade.

There's no question that this a complex issue, but looking at the basis of what a tax credit even is, the money that the government was rebating was often the result of projects outside of the province coming in to spend money.  Cutting the credit doesn't mean that the government is suddenly privy to those full taxes, it means an even bigger loss because it won't be collecting any tax at all on productions that don't exist.  This is emphasized by the fact that neighbouring Alberta and Manitoba do have these tax credits in place - as does pretty much every other region of Canada as incentive for this business to even exist.

I think what many tend to forget about the film industry in a place like Saskatchewan is that the money surrounding new projects isn't simply inclusive to that project.  There is a direct impact on numerous local businesses who provide services to make it possible. Everything from catering, set design, print shops, etc. are bolstered by the influx of funds from projects shooting around the province.  And more often than not, a great deal of these funds are sourced from places like Toronto, Vancouver, or the States.       

I returned home to Alberta after film school and began working in corporate video as an editor, but one of the joys of attending the University of Regina was the belief that the film industry was really finding some traction.  Shows like Corner Gas (one of the most popular Canadian shows ever produced) were in production during my time in school and I knew a handful of people who found opportunity there.  Here are a few snpashots I took of the location if you're interested.  Other films like the Ryan Reynolds vehicle Just Friends, Terry Gilliam's Tidelandand the CBC produced Tommy Douglas movie also shot in the city while I was in uni, and they certainly wouldn't have without the tax credit as incentive. 

If you consider the loss of jobs for those already in the business, the fact that media students will have no choice but to leave the province to find relevant opportunities, and that eliminating the incentive created by the tax credit will put many existing businesses and production companies in the lurch, the expectation for the film industry to improve in any capacity seems unlikely.  There's also a significant cultural loss involved. The frustration from losing SCN just a few years ago seems to echo this point.

One of my former film profs, Mark Wihak aptly addressed the tax credit issue on CBC Radio - listen here.

All and all, it's unfortunate because the film industry has shown a lot of promise, but simply won't find footing without the government nurturing it like it does with so many other industries.  Global Regina reported that the government says it has spent $100 million on the program since 1998 and it isn't sustainable anymore.  However, sources from the Canadian Media Fund say that for that money, the province has gained $623 million from productions and over 1200 jobs in that time.  The decision to cut the tax credit then seems short sighted, and as mentioned above, negates the other revenue actually created by the investment.

It's really too bad. Cutting the tax credit comes with far greater implications than I think the government has considered with their cost cutting measures.  Not to mention, this is a significant step backwards in terms of all of the strides that have been made in growing the industry in recent years.  While I willingly made the choice to return to my home province of Alberta to find work in video after uni, it seems those who graduate from the University of Regina's film school now will have no choice but to look elsewhere - much like Saskatchewan can expect outside film productions to do now too.

Mar 23, 2012

Cutout - Animation Test #3

One of the final animation tests we did in Film 203 was with jointed construction paper cutouts that we each made.  This form of animation has been most notably popularized by the South Park series, and although my test isn't much to go on, it was a lot of fun to make.  I animated a cowboy who shoots his gun and the bullet bounces around the frame until it hits him.

With each test we learned a little bit about the patience and subtly required to create movement in inanimate objects.  What resulted from all of these was one final project that we could create in any medium we wanted.  I opted for a claymation/stop motion project titled, Over at Grandpa's.  More on that soon.

Mar 22, 2012

High Desert in Nevada

On the home stretch of our 2010 road trip, it was a long day of driving from San Francisco to Salt Lake City.  Having spent a week in Southern California, we made the trip up to San Fran for a couple of days, and then were in a rush to get back home to Canada.  To be honest, this leg of the trip was actually the perfect opportunity to reflect on everything we had done.

We made it to Reno in the afternoon, but from there it was nothing but open desert in front of us.  Unlike the interstate we took heading south, the highway from Reno to Salt Lake was eerily quiet.  Aside from a few trucks here and there, there was hardly anyone around.  When we stopped in the middle of nowhere so Dave could use the bathroom, the only place around was this dive of a little bar called Water Hole #1.  I waited in the car, but I've never seen Dave move so fast to leave.  I'll never really know what happened in there.

The sun set before we reached Utah, but I remember the cluster of casinos right on the Nevada border.  With it completely dark out you could start to smell the Great Salt Lake and we knew we were getting close.  It was a long day, and I drove the entire way.  What were casual conversations in the moment though, are some of the things I'll never forget about Dave.        

Mar 21, 2012

Winter's Last Hurrah

On Monday (March 19, 2012) literally the day before the first day of spring, winter decided to do a bit of last minute showing off.  To put all of this in perspective you have to understand what an unbelievably mild winter we've been having here in Southern Alberta.  I was able to have the sunroof open on certain days in February, and throughout March it's actually been nice enough for shorts for several days at a time. Somewhere along the way I guess we were going to have to pay for all of that good luck.

On Sunday there was no snow, and although the blizzard was in the forecast, come Monday morning it was simply raining on my way to work.  Our office is located just outside of town along the Trans Canada highway, which makes for a nice enough work environment, but then things like this happen.  By noon the snow had arrived in full force and we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a blizzard.

With temperatures hovering just below zero, the snow falling was heavy, wet, and it stuck to everything.  My office window was quickly glazed in ice, and for a few hours it hid how bad it was getting outside.  By around 3pm I glanced outside to snap a few quick pictures and realized that there was over a foot and a half of snow piling up around some of the cars.  I started to dread the thought that we might actually get snowed in. And what's that? Oh, the plows won't come out here until the evening. Sh*t.

Any panic and frustration I felt about getting my car out of our lot only worsened when I realized what was happening in town.  The highways were all being closed, power outages were reported, and dozens of accidents had already occurred.  From then on I wanted nothing more than to get home that night and I joined the rest of the guys in the web department shoveling, digging, and pushing as many people from our parking lot as we could.  In a making-the-best-of-a-bad-situation kind of way, it was actually fun being out in the snow - especially because people were actually starting to get out of the lot.  

By the time I was ready to go I was relying entirely on the chains that my Dad insisted I hold on to the last time I got my Jag stuck in the snow.  Once again, they were a life-saver.  Had it not been for everyone else's vehicles making tracks before me I'm not sure I would've cleared the lot.  I trudged all the way to the highway with those chains on before removing them, and by the time I got back into town, the roads (although still awful) seemed better by comparison.

It's still amazing to me how much snow fell so quickly that afternoon.  For it to go from clear to a real possibility of being stranded out in the country, like a bunch of school kids in Irvine were, you have to be thankful that in the end it was mostly just a temporary inconvenience.  Now, in truly predictable Alberta weather fashion, the snow is disappearing relatively quickly as temperatures are predicted to return to the teens. As far as I'm concerned, winter can take a break now.      

My office window.

This isn't overexposed, it literally was white out conditions.

The snow piling up.

Mar 20, 2012

Calgary Auto Show 2012: Part 2

While the trip to the Auto Show over the weekend may have been inspired by my desire to see all of the new Jaguars, the other big draw was seeing a bunch of the latest supercars up close.  They were all there too.  Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Bentley, and even the first Canadian supercar, Plethore all had their own sections.  Here are a few of my favorite snapshots I took at the event.

For even more pictures, check out my series of posts on Jeeves and the Jaguar about some of the various cars I liked at the 2012 Calgary Auto Show. 

Mar 19, 2012

Calgary Auto Show 2012: Part 1

On Friday I took the day off work to head up to Calgary with my Dad to check out the 2012 International Auto Show.  I'd been interested in going since last summer, and thought it would be a cool experience to drive up in my XJ8 and see some of the newest Jaguar models on display.  Of course, it was also an opportunity to bond with my Dad over world class supercars and encourage him to buy me one for my upcoming birthday. I have a strong suspicion that it didn't work, but that could just be part of the surprise.

We drove up that morning and had lunch at Denny's when we got into town.  A meat-lover's omelet and beer is clearly the perfect fuel for an afternoon of walking a trade show, and I'm proud that my Dad and I both share an affinity for all-day breakfasts. I knew it would be a good day once we pulled up to the gate of the BMO Centre where the Auto Show was, and the parking attendant quipped, "You drove this car here just for me, right?"  Just one of the many reasons I love my Jaguar (pictured below). 

Inside, my Dad suggested that we go to the Jaguar section first.  It turned out to be a really good idea as I ended up shooting so many pictures on our way there - and of all the Jaguar's on display - that my camera's battery died shortly after. You can't really blame a guy for being a bit trigger happy with that much eye candy in one room. Thankfully I had my iPod Touch to shoot pictures of all of the remaining cars. 

We were looking at a Jaguar XK and I was telling my Dad about how they'd changed the gear selector to a dial that rises out of the centre console when the car is turned on. One of the Jaguar associates overheard me and approached us. "It sounds like you know a lot about these cars" he said. I admitted that I owned an old Jag and that I had paid a lot of attention to the redesign of the brand.  This was where his tone changed, as suddenly I wasn't just a fan, but a potential customer.  

He told me all about how I could get a discount because of the car show and an added loyalty discount of $18,000 because I already owned a Jaguar.  This was perfect, because it meant that I'd only need to come up with another $100,000 to buy a new XJ. I'm most certainly on the fringe of the Jaguar clientele, but it was flattering to be treated like a member of the club anyway.  Then again, he probably knew right off the bat that I was a man of importance because of the shorts and sneakers I was wearing. 

So, while buying a new Jaguar XJ was never in the cards, it wasn't a total loss as I was incredibly happy and surprised that I did get the opportunity to sit behind the wheel of one.  My brief discussion with the associate also landed me a beautiful (and clearly expensive) card stock booklet about the new XJ and the personalized options available for ordering one.  I figure if I hold on to it for 20 years it could really come in handy when I'm ready to buy a used 2012 Jaguar.  And on an interesting side note, they still do the burl walnut veneer finish that's in my existing car - thank you XJ booklet for that.

All and all it was a really enjoyable day.  We spent about 4 hours wandering around checking out all of the different displays and sharing car stories.  While the supercars were all roped off, it was nice that you could get up close and even sit in a lot of the cars to get a feel for them.  My Dad seems to be on the fence about springing for a Cadillac, but I think with a bit more time I can get him to go for something far less practical - like a Maserati.  It'll take a lot of work, but there's always next year.

Come back for Part 2 tomorrow where I'll be posting more pictures from the Auto Show, including some of the nicest cars we saw from Bentley, Aston Martin, Lamborghini, and Ferrari.  Also, check out my other blog, Jeeves and the Jaguar for more original photo sets of my favorite vehicles at the 2012 show.