Monday, July 27, 2009

S'Cool Find

I found this a few weeks back, it's one of my favorite early '70s models, The S'Cool Bus. It has been done as a Kit, a Hot Wheels car, and more recently a larger die-cast toy. Mattel purchased Monogram around this time and some of the best cross-over Hot Wheels and Model Kits came out of this era. The S'Cool bus is a Tom Daniel design, and so outlandishly sweet, it's easy to see why people like it so much. It's a funny car School Bus with a lift-up body, and powered by two massive Hemis.

This model is an original (it has been re-issued over the years) and fairly well done. Some early built-ups are done poorly, so when you find a good's a keeper. I like the fake windows with the kid silhouettes in them. Nothing like getting to your school a quarter mile away in 10 seconds...

Check out Tom's site over in departures. You'll freak out over all the customs he's done through the years.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Broken Promises

I want my flying car, my food synthesizing machine...heck, I'd even settle for a simple robot maid. Here it is 2009 and none of those things are a reality. I think that's what interests me about "retro futurism", what they thought was going to be the case in the future...just didn't come true.

The "they" I'm talking about is anybody from the past that speculated about things to come, from the writers of magazines like Popular Science, to the animators of the Jetsons. I guess it's easier to point out the things they got wrong, rather than all the ones they got right, easier...and more interesting.

The mice and men just assumed we'd be living on the moon, using jet packs to get to work, and eating food in pill form. They never stopped to think why any of those things would make life better... I mean really better. Moon living sounds kinda cool in some weird retro lounge way...but it would pretty much suck (literally sometimes). Food in pill form, kinda takes away the charm, and jet pack commuting...lots of corpses on the ground wearing ties.

The one thing they sorta got right was computers, in fact I think they underestimated their value by a long shot. I now carry a powerful computer in my pocket (iPhone), something I couldn't have even imagined ten years ago. Early visionaries still had computers taking up full rooms and spitting out punch cards, they didn't see the shrinking of the hardware or the potential of a virtual world. They got it wrong and right at the same time. They thought computers would be used for only big things, like to pick out the perfect mate or make important government decisions, and while those really did come true, we now know they do so much more than that. It's obviously tougher to predict the future than one would think. Thank goodness, because it gives "Retro Futurists" something to do.

The ultimate Futurist event was the 1962 Seattle Worlds Fair, AKA The Century 21 Exposition. It offered the promise of a sleek new world, but one of a 1950's consumerist optimism rather than what the '60s would later come to represent. As an example, the technology showcased for a woman was kitchen or home-maker based, no social or sexual equality was represented. Technology was our saving grace and America was king, as long as everything remained status quo. The Monorail, the Space Needle, the Science Pavilion, these are monuments to that age, or more accurately, the end of that age. I'm not saying Retro Futurism predictions didn't take place beyond the early '60s, but as the '70s approached, the plastic chrome plating wore off and the cynicism started to show through. It became more "Logan's Run", looked good, but with a serious downside. Now I'm just referring to mainstream pop culture and design, not so much deep science fiction literature. There were cynics in that realm long before the 70's (Brave New World).

My wife and I collect Seattle World's Fair stuff, and I could go on and on about all the neat-o items that were available. But to fit with my "flying car" theme, I'm highlighting this little paper pamphlet from the Ford Motor Company showcasing their Seattle'ite XXI concept car. It's an example of sweet retro-future styling, with some pretty accurate predictions. It predicts Fuel Cells, a Travel Computer, a GPS Map (it's in the rear view mirror), and a version of solar glass. These are all fairly accurate, and most more recent to the automotive world. It was styled like it was ready to take off and fly, bubble top, wings, and faux rocket tips on the rear end. It represents Retro Futurism pretty well. Seattle...Seattle' age cool...but still no flying.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Cool Find: July 3

I've wanted one of the "Rat Fink" type label makers for a long time,
but in the box? Me so happy! It's totally like a Hot Wheels "Farb".

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Disney's, A Christmas Carol: Train Tour

The Summer is an odd time to be thinking about Christmas, but if you're Disney Marketing and you only have five months to run a promotional train tour cross country, it's the perfect time. The Christmas Carol Train Tour stopped here in Portland yesterday (one day only) and my wife and I took the tour and checked out a sneak peek of the stuff.

Disney, like always, runs a class act. They had period costumed carolers singing while you waited in line, provided cold water, and overall keep things running smoothly. As you approached the train, the platform was decked out with old style gates and lamps, plus vintage style itinerary kiosks which billowed fake snow out of the top...kinda comical in the heat of July, but still pretty neat. The train itself was completely "wrapped" in the art of A Christmas Carol, one big moving billboard. Disney doesn't really mess around.

Inside? Well one word As you made your way through all the train cars, you saw production art, costumes, maquettes, models, technical explanation (this film is done with Motion Capture) and there were even personal items on loan from the Charles Dickens' museum...actual letters, pens, writings, and books. I really liked seeing them. A nice touch near the end of the tour was the "morphing stations". You could turn your face into one of four characters from the movie, they send it to you later in an E-mail. This was slightly better in theory than it was in reality, but cool nonetheless. I made a weird Benjamin Button'esque Tiny Tim. Lastly, you get off the train and then head to a large inflated tent (that looks like a brick building) where they show you roughly 10 minutes of footage. I was pretty impressed with what I saw.

So far rendering people and facial movement in CG has been less than convincing in the movies. I think that's why Pixar stylizes humans so much, they understand the creepiness factor. We know what a close-up of a human speaking looks like, how the face moves and contorts...and CG hasn't really captured that convincingly yet. Maybe it isn't a matter of the quality of the animator, maybe the problem is in us...the viewer. We know it isn't real, so our brains don't accept it. It appears to me (from just the small bit I saw) that Disney is trying to walk the line with facial features in this movie, somewhat stylized, somewhat real...a balance. Jim Carrey's Ebenezer is real...yet exaggerated. His face is pointy and wrinkled, but he looks like a real old man. If you were to see somebody like that in person, you'd freak out. The distraction of the acceptance (or not) is most likely the hardest thing to overcome in these CG movies. That remains to be seen in the case of this film.

I was satisfied with the overall design look, the interiors, the cityscape of 1840s England...all as wonderfully done as you'd expect it to be with carte blanche computer graphics at their disposal. I liked how Big Ben was not quite finished being built, accurate for the period when Dickens wrote it.

If it seems I'm taking a "wait and see" attitude, it's because I am. Disney is usually a safe bet to produce reasonable quality, but now they're taking one of the best stories ever written, and feeding it through their merchandising machine. A Christmas Carol is one of my all time favorites (my wife certainly knows this) and if you're going to do'd better do it well. I realize there have been lots of crappy versions over the years, great stories get told literally 100s of different ways, that's just a testament to their greatness. But when Disney takes a story and elevates it (Disney'fies it), it's no longer just some stupid Lifetime Network re-make with Meredith Baxter Birney and that guy from Animal gets pushed up to the front of Pop Culture's line of honor. That's why it'd better be good.

Surprisingly, one of the best versions of Mr. Dickens' beloved story is the 1962 Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol. I'll wait while you stop laughing........ (whistles, looks at fingernails). The 1962 airing is not only the first animated Holiday Special ever aired (Rudolph came out in 1964), it's in my opinion, one of the best of all time, AND one of the best re-tellings of the Dicken's classic. It has sadness, heart, wonderfully surreal animation, the voice talents of the great Jim Backus, and the all original music is fantastic. The music was written by the Broadway team of Jule Styne and Bob Merrill (Funny Girl). The actual story is framed in the typical Mister Magoo cartoon shtick, like he's blindly rushing to perform in a play, but when the curtain opens and the actual story starts, it's like Magoo is truly a thespian master! It's a friggin cartoon, yet wonderful in its simplicity.

Sadly, it gets lost every year in the hype of all the other specials. I recommend taking the time and searching it out.

As far as the Disney's, A Christmas Carol goes? I'm excited to see it, but it'll have to work real hard to be "Magoo Good".

Check this out: So much sadness captured in one song. He's singing a duet with his young self, my goodness...pure genius!