Goodbye, Children

Henson and Kermit.jpgYesterday was Jim Henson’s birthday, and I believe him to be one of the most innovative storytellers of the 20th Century along with Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles, so please forgive me for a moment as I talk about something he wrote.  There’s a part of me that has always felt drawn to fatherhood (and this was long before the 6 years of trying to have a baby and failing, this goes waaay back to when I was a teenager).  Most of the stories I have written address the idea of fatherhood in one way or another.   I’m not quite sure if the appeal is the idea of guiding and teaching someone from the moment they breathe air for the first time…that idea of total mentorship…or the simple act of loving someone that deeply.  Honestly, both notions are pretty attractive.

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Jim Henson died at the way-too-young age of 53.  He knew it was coming.  So did his family.  And he wrote this note to his children before he went:

First of all, don’t feel bad that I’m gone. While I will miss spending time with each of you, I’m sure it will be an interesting time for me and I look forward to seeing all of you when you come over. To each of you I send my love. If on this side of life I’m able to watch over and help you out, know that I will. If I can’t, I’m sure I can at least be waiting for you when you come over. This all may sound silly to you guys, but what the hell, I’m gone—and who can argue with me?

Life is meant to be fun, and joyous, and fulfilling. May each of yours be that—having each of you as a child of mine has certainly been one of the good things in my life. Know that I’ve always loved each of you with an eternal, bottomless love. A love that has nothing to do with each other, for I feel my love for each of you is total and all-encompassing. Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It’s a good life, enjoy it.

Those last two sentences are the thing that resonates like a tuning-fork…Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It’s a good life, enjoy it.

That’s a piece of advice we all could use a bit more of.

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Programming by Any Means Necessary

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I’ve been a part of a lot of projects while working under weird circumstances.  Build a completely new stage for a show overnight by 10am?  Done it.  Rip out an entire broadcast news camera setup and replace it with robotic cameras in four hours?  Cakewalk.   Make up a commercial on the fly while shooting on a frozen lake with Santa Claus in -21 degrees?  Easy.

Ken“This is the last take, right?”   “Just one more Ken, just one more.”

Being in the entertainment industry we get more than our fair share of weird situations.  But the one that stands out recently happened on the Black Jack App last week.

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This thing.  It’s a book for your iPad.  It’s awesome.

There are four of us working on the app right now and we’re all busy.  Getting all the developers together into one room took about 40 days to wrangle.  We had reschedules, last-minute bailouts and even a trip to the hospital for acute abdominal hemorrhaging.

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Why, O why did I get the BK Triple Whopper?

 But at long last, we all got together.  We had a nice dinner, sat down in our chairs ‘round the ol’ app-making table to hash out all the remaining issues with the app and…blackout.  Total darkness.  Pitch black.

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It was so dark even Vin Diesel was scared.

I run upstairs and check the breakers.  Nothing.  Check the rest of the house.  All dead.  Run outside the check the neighborhood.  The entire development is lights-out.   It’s like a satellite picture of North Korea at night.  The entire township is so black it would leave fingerprints on charcoal.  It’s so black—

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So here’s the problem:  we’re all there to work.  And rescheduling is not an option.  So this is it.  There’s no lights.  There’s no power.  The solution?   Well, let’s go all Little House on the Prairie on this biznitch and get some beeswax & string working for us!   We’re programming by candlelight!!

Candlelight HelmetI have seen the way, and the way is the antler-lamp.

So here we are, the four of us, sitting in the dark, digging through creative problem-solving, iOS menu interfaces, UI layers, binary trees, responsive user input and conditional code paths, all in the warm glow of a half-dozen Yankee Candles.  And when you mix that aroma of Apple Nut Butter with Seagull Wind plus a little Cranberry Chutney you can start to trip out a little.

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         “…then the pixies come out and crawl up your fingers and whisper a Push Notification in your ear…”

We hunkered down at the table for the next several hours; nobody missed a beat, nobody griped, nobody complained, everybody just buckled down and got to work.  It’s amazing to work with a crew like that.  When you’ve got a team constructing 21st Century software by 6th Century technology, you know you’re working with good people.

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Honor the Old Lady

As Black Jack is rolled out, you will notice that virtually every aspect of the Moving Novel is a different take on an old idea (including the novel).  One of the things that was very important to me was that we not fall into the trap of the Standard Fantasy Novel and tap into the same old Western European design elements that have populated everything since Tolkien.

rivendell_ink_drawing_by_fansonWow it’s just so stunning.  I am stunned.

Toward that effort, I included an Asian and Middle Eastern feel in the writing, mixed with a variety of cultures both real and fantastical.  When we reached the art & animation stages, we made an effort to make sure the architecture took its cues from the Far East.  One of the samples we used is this:  Himeji Castle.

White Heron Castle, Japan

Yeah, it doesn’t suck much.

The fortress is frequently known as Shirasagi-jō or the White Heron Castle because of its shape of a bird taking flight (architects have a weird imagination, forgive them).  It’s a cool place, in part because it has withstood so many attacks, and not just from opposing armies.  In the Meiji Period (think Tom Cruise’s Last Samurai) many Japanese castles were destroyed in a national effort to modernize.  Himeji was abandoned and set to be demolished save for the efforts of Nakamura Shigeto, an army officer who thought it was too beautiful to be leveled.  A statue to his honor now stands at the first gate to Himeji.

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Translated, it says: “This is the jerk who wouldn’t let us knock this place down because castles are stupid.”

Later, the castle was purchased by a Himeji resident for 23 yen (about $2,000).  He wanted to raze the castle and develop the land, but the cost of destroying the castle was more expensive than the endeavor was worth, so it survived one more time.

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If only there were more money in beet farms…

It was attacked repeatedly in 1945, to the point that a bomb was dropped through the ceiling but failed to detonate.

girl-with-bomb-stencilThanks for not a’sploding.

In 1995, the Great Hanshin earthquake shook Hyōgo Prefecture to rubble, but the castle survived nearly intact – quite a feat considering some parts of it were 662 years old at the time – so stable that the bottle of sake placed on an altar on the top floor didn’t even topple.

Unfiltered_Sake_at_Gyu-KakuWhat, you call that an earthquake?  Fukushima me!

Black Jack animations are 100% complete and coding is going well – we should be ready to tell you an amazing story in a little while…and celebrate with an (unexploded) sake-bomb.